notes – ohhh I rewatched some bits of the Magician SL to help me along with this fic, and it reminded me why I love Junpei and why I mourned over the fact that he couldn't be a lover when I first played P3P. Ahh, good times.
"your qualities surpass your charms"
Minako is quite possibly the hottest pal he'll ever have, and Junpei is completely cool with that. Why date a pretty girl when you could be her friend? Right?
Her intelligence could give her beauty a run for its pretty-little-money, because the way she grins at him when they walk home after school tells him that she knows what he's playing at, and she isn't entirely pleased about the prospect of being hit on. Junpei can't blame himself if he likes her, can he? So Minako shouldn't hold it against him.
(And she actually doesn't.)
She goes along with his insistence on treating her to the best beef bowl at Iwatodai. She returns him the money by buying him a box of takoyaki that he can't refuse because she gives him an expectant expression.
She laughs off his compliments and doesn't bat his hand off her shoulder. She looks at him with eyes that aren't suspicious - more accepting than anything else - and she can play a mean game on the playstation. He doesn't need to rely on reused jokes or goofy tricks to keep her interest becase she approaches him after class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, eager to hang out, and he feels special for once.
Somewhere along the way, he stops glancing at her chest, and begins looking straight into her eyes instead. He knows she won't fall in love with him (maybe it's got to do with that handsome boxer staying in their dorm), and he thinks that it's fine like that, because he's warming up to the idea of them being plain old bros.
There's a problem though, and the problem is the fact that Minako's perfect.
She's smart and she pays attention in class. She balances between a bevy of friends and club activities and even has time to attend Student Council. She changes her persona whenever she feels like it, and she fights beyond the capability of a sixteen-year old girl. She fuctions like a warrior, with her sureness in footwork and how she cleaves the Shadows with the sharp edge of her blade. She knows how to lead them and knows when they should stop for the night – Akihiko and Mitsuru are generous with their praises. Junpei just loiters at a corner kicking at the ground, secretly hoping for any scraps of compliment.
Maybe he's jealous, maybe. He isn't quite sure. And Minako, being perfect, wonderful Minako, can tell that he's not in the best of moods. She speaks softer, brings her elbows closer to her body, and her eyes clear up and she tries to see everything from his point of view. But this isn't about her, it's about him.
Maybe he's just ashamed that a girl, shorter and smaller and so much more fragile than him, is able to outdo him in everything. Junpei struggles with coming to terms with being Minako's friend, learning to endure the aura of perfection that she emanates. In the end, it's not so much of 'struggling', because it comes naturally to him. Minako heals the team with a mother's heart and disregards her own safety all the time in Tartarus. She buys them the latest gear and weapons, and she pushes him out of the way of a wayward attack more than a couple of times. It's hard not to like her.
Junpei thinks that sometimes, he'd like to protect her too. Friendship is mutual, after all.
Minako's perfect at being imperfect too. She talks to herself on the fortnights before the full moon, and she's constantly replaying the same playlist in her headphones, and she cries mercilessly when she assumes no one is in the dorm.
He isn't flawless like Minako, he's very aware that he's got a temper and a whole wagon of issues that he blows out of proportion – that's just the kind of guy he is. Junpei tries his hardest to celebrate everything about himself, about showing that he's got the gall to look at Minako with something other than adoration and impress.
But Yukari's sighs are full of blame, and Mitsuru watches him with careful attention and a worried half-smile. Fuuka offers to bake him cookies and Akihiko knocks on his door sometimes, just to see if he's on his bed doing nothing again. He feels like they all care too much about him, a boy in a worn out cap who only knows how to swing a sword and sulk over girls who are far better than him. But they never stop, and Minako's the kindest of them all. She treats him like she usually does, with a smile and a wink and an offer to help him with homework.
It takes time, but he realizes he's been wrong about some things and perfectly justified in others.
In the end, when he's over and done with the envy, Minako welcomes him with a grin and a laugh and an invitation to go out and grab a bowl of noodles; he nods his head and they walk out the door.
"You should really stop coming up here," Minako comments from her desk as he seats himself onto her bed. She has a pen in hand and half of the day's homework left to do, but she lets him in anyway.
"Oh, come on, Mitsuru-senpai enjoys chasing me out," Junpei reasons.
Minako can't help but chuckle. She covers her mouth because she doesn't want Mitsuru overhearing and barging in to drag Junpei by the ear down to his rightful place on the second floor.
"If you want to hang out, we should just meet at the lounge or something," Minako suggests, furrowing her eyebrows as comes across a particularly tough question.
"That's not what you tell Akihiko-senpai now, is it?"
Junpei barely dodges the pen she hurls at him. It bounces off the wall of the room and lands on her bed sheet with a muffled 'thump'.
"Junpei was sleeping in class again," the girl in the pigtails whispers loudly to her gaggle of friends. "Why are you even talking about him?" a second girl snorts. They exchange looks and stare disapprovingly at him – Junpei chooses to shift his eyes away. They wouldn't understand, would never know what he did at night and how much sleep he lost over shooting himself in the head and slaying the armies upon armies of Shadows. Yukari looks ruffled on his behalf, clutching her books to herself and giving the gossips sidelong glances.
"Junpei! Yukari!" Minako calls out with spirit as she marches up to his desk.
"C'mon, we've got beef bowls to devour, places to see, things to do, certain people to ignore," she whistles, grabbing onto his wrist and tugging Yukari along by the strap of her bag. As Minako hauls them out of the classroom, Yukari offers him a knowing smile, and Junpei sticks his tongue out at the gawking girls.
"Went and found yourself an even loonier girl to flirt with, huh?" Yukari jibes casually.
It's the first time Junpei doesn't respond to her snide remarks with a laugh or a cheap comeback, because it's the first time they actually, truly hurt him. He stares at her, before shrugging off the couch and heading back to his room. Aegis informs Yukari that he's probably insulted by her rudeness, in that robotic tone of exposition.
Yukari apologises, grudgingly, the next day, and Junpei forgives her by faking an attempt to flip her skirt.
It might be because he thinks that she wasn't entirely wrong when she said those words.
All he knows is that Chidori isn't a substitute for Minako, she never was.
She's a completely different world, with her frowns and her long train of cherry red hair, her skinny bandaged wrists and low, gloomy voice. It's strange that he falls in love with a girl like Chidori – maybe because he's just as crazy as she is, maybe he's got more screws loose than she does – but sometimes when she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and opens her mouth to talk to him, every questionable thing seems worth it.
And while she doesn't express interest in ramen or know how to play games on a handheld console, the way she looks when she's drawing a masterpiece no one will see, and the smile she accidentally lets slip through the barricade she's so firmly set up, are the things that matter the most.
He visits so often that the nurses know his name and the doctors sometimes ask him for directions when they are swarmed with paperwork. He visits and plonks a fresh stalk of flowers into the vase at her bedside and watches her watch him from under the white sheets of her bed. It's crazy, but it's romantic in a twisted way, and this is probably all he and Chidori can be right now.
He's glad he didn't fall in love with Minako, if only because on the occasions when Chidori smiles, she honestly means it.
When Chidori crumples into his arms, and they hug for the first time since the day they met on that bench in the sunlight, Junpei can't quite register the sensation of her against him – he can only hear his heart pounding in his ears, and feel her heartbeat fade through his fingers, underneath the ruffles of her stained dress. She looks beautiful even as the ugly twilight of the Dark Hour sinks onto her pale skin – prettier than Minako and every other girl on the planet just then – but if only she'd open her eyes and give him that withering, uncertain stare, just once more.
"You know, from the way Chidori used to act, I always thought she was living to die," Minako mumbles, her hands lacing together behind her head. She watches him tip the bill of his cap and hold back an unpleasant swear word.
"But then she met you," the girl continues, placing a hand on his shoulder. It feels warm and real, but it's not Chidori – and he can't really deal with that now.
"… and she started dying to live."
It takes Junpei a week, but he takes the first step forward by mounting a potted plant (he doesn't know the name, but it's pretty and white and it looks like Chidori) on the windowsill of his room and reminds himself to water it every day before bed. He gets better and he starts joining them for dinner and tugging his lips into a ghost of a smile. Minako expresses hope that they'll be able to play video games like they used to.
She'll let him win the first couple of rounds not out of pity or anything of the sort, but more for the simple pleasure of seeing him smile and laugh and pump a fist in the air. And Junpei appreciates it, he really does. Minako earns the title of greatest rebound buddy ever, and best friend too.
"If someone like you could trust in me, maybe I'm worth something," Junpei smiles despite the swelling bruise under his eye. The photographs of her have been disposed of, torn and thrown into a waste bin in the second floor of the school. The punch had come out of nowhere and fazed him, but in the end Yukari saved him from the brewing of a fight when she wandered by and fended the prepetrator off with one nasty glare.
Minako is speechless for once, and it's rare to see his leader dumbstruck. She's showered with flattery all the time, so it's odd that she should find this, of all things, surprising. Maybe it's because he's never given her enough credit, maybe it's because she knows that he knows that she isn't as perfect as she pretends to be.
She reaches a hand out to touch his arm and leans up to kiss his cheek lightly. "I'll always trust you, Junpei," she answers. And just then, he knows that he'll be passing her his pig keychain next time, because she's the one he can trust too.
Minako teases him for blushing and Junpei has to remind her that she's still a (hot) girl despite the fact that they are official bros. They spend an hour at the playground with no swings, him perched on the top of the slide and her sitting near the bottom, exchanging the mythical, unsaid things that go on between friends.
"Woah! Now hold it right there, young lady!" Junpei gasps as he steps through her door.
Minako is decked out in a miniskirt and a sleeveless top that shows off the curve of her shoulders and the dip in her back, and that's definitely something she shouldn't be wearing, even if she is going out on a date with Akihiko.
Junpei jabs an accusing index finger at her and keeps her locked in his sights, sidestepping to her closet and proceeding to rummage through the array of bras and the tacky clothes. He throws a turtleneck sweater and a pair of jeans at her, and Minako catches them half-heartedly. She bats her eyes and lowers her chin, but Junpei will not be budged. He harrumphs and shakes his head, and Minako bursts out laughing because there's nothing else she can manage to do.
"When have you ever wanted me to show less skin?" she asks as she wipes a tear out of her eye.
Junpei only smirks in reply. He doesn't know when that happened either.
"One more floor," she tells them as the group halts at the foot of the staircase, all visibly tired from clamoring up the last seven floors or so. Junpei is almost glad that Ken and Akihiko are there to pick up the slack. If only they could stop fighting for Minako's attention for once.
"Alright, leader!" Junpei salutes.
Minako wipes the sweat off her forehead and, suddenly, she looks like she's got what it takes to save the world from Nyx. It's in the way her eyes are flooded with hope and belief and the things he'll never be able to understand no matter how long he hangs around her. The fact that she's still smiling and pressing on even though they might drop dead and roll over at Ryoji's ankles in the end.
"You know, I've been checking out that mysterious blonde beauty that stays next door, and I think I might have a chance if I just chat her up," Junpei narrates, drawing elaborate schemes in the air.
When Minako doesn't reply him, Junpei looks up from his seat near her television as he flicks blindly through the local channels. "What's wrong, Mina? You still feeing sick?" he asks, voice a little tighter with concern.
"… Graduation's tomorrow," Minako says from her place on the bed, tucked underneath her sheets.
"It's not like we're the ones graduating, why do you sound so down?" he asks, scooting over to the foot of her bed and poking the middle of her foot with a finger.
"I… don't know, it makes me feel like it won't be too long before we're going to part ways too," she rambles, absently kicking back and almost hitting his nose.
"What're you talking about?" Junpei laughs as he jumps onto his feet.
"We'll be friends forever, you know that?" he says, even though he can't quite remember why.
He doesn't remember how he got so close to the girl with the twenty-two in her hair and a pair of really nice legs. He doesn't remember why he's not hitting on her, and why he likes them just as friends even though she's really stunning, even when she looks so tired and worn out in her bed.
She's pretty as a girl, but maybe even more beautiful as someone who he can hang out with and slurp ramen and talk about things that don't matter like they actually do. She's pretty because she's a friend, not because she's a girl (well, not entirely).
It is then that Junpei realizes: he'd prefer standing around rambling and punching game controllers with her, to kissing her. He feels like he needs to kiss someone else, but doesn't quite remember ever knowing a girl like that. He feels like he shoudn't kiss Minako – that he should hold her hand instead and thank her for being the friend she's always been, because something itches at the back of his mind but he doesn't know what. It might come back and bite him in the butt later, like it always does.
"That's a big promise," she muses. He pinches her nose and if she had the sufficient energy, she'd probably punch him in return.
"One that I'll keep!" Junpei draws an 'x' over his left shirt pocket with one serious finger.
"As long as you promise you'll get better by tomorrow and go to school," he disclaims, folding his arms.
Minako smiles like it's the last smile she'll ever give him, because it's amazing and beautiful and if friendship could ever be described, it would be the way the corners of her eyes crinkled with happiness and the way her lips curved up into a grateful smile.
She extracts one hand out from under the blanket and marks a cross over her heart.
- The mignionette is a type of flower, and it means that "your qualities surpass your charms", which I feel perfectly describe Junpei's relationship with Minako. She's beautiful to him because of what's on the inside. And I think it applies to Chidori as well, especially to Chidori in fact.
- Headcanon: Minako and Chidori may be exact opposites on the outside, but they are pretty much the same on the inside, powerful women with big hearts. Chidori, unlike Minako, is able to show all that fear and raw humanity, and still be confident with herself. Maybe that's what Junpei fell in love with, the only thing Minako lacked as a character.