Story Title: Whatever It Takes
Fandom: Persona 3
Warnings: BL, October spoilers
Summary: When the money to fuel Tartarus trips runs dry, Minato does whatever he can to make money. Akihiko finds out and is not pleased.
Disclaimer: I don't own the elements of Persona 3; I'm just here to play.
Notes: Completed for the Persona kink meme prompt here: shirakawablvd. livejournal. com/ 1014. html? thread=665078#t665078. Yes, I somehow turned that into a 10000 word fic.
Safely ensconced in his own room after the passing of the Dark Hour, Minato grimaced at his wallet. It was depressingly light. No matter how many enemies he fought, how many times he grabbed those Coin Minor Arcana while ignoring the Persona or Wand cards he could be using to better himself and his team, he never, ever had enough money. He did everything he could: he rationed his cash, got away with using spells and Chewing Souls rather than items, and returned to the tower's entrance to rest as often as possible, but he still ended up blowing all the money he had on healing items, weapons, and armor. Minato was reluctant to even experiment with his Compendium anymore, as the Personas needed to fight at his current level cost too much.
Additionally, his tired mind refused to acknowledge his grumbling stomach. For a moment, Minato thought about regretting dipping into his monthly stipend, the one that was supposed to go for living expenses, to pay for it all, but... No, this stuff had kept him and his friends alive. The armor he'd given had saved his friends from what could have been mortal blows, and the weapons had ended dangerous confrontations that much quicker. The items? Dis-Charms often meant the difference between life and death at times, and Minato knew he burned through Revival Beads like candy against guardians. He did not and would not regret money spent to protect he and his.
But today's run had shown that their equipment was growing outdated. Attacks that should have felled some of the weaker foes weren't quite cutting it, while Yukari, Akihiko, Mitsuru, and Ken had had to use their healing spells far too much. And, well, he was getting quite hungry while rationing his food to one, maybe two meals a day.
Minato frowned as he came to his only conclusion. He'd have to do it again. This was becoming far more often than he would like, but...
In his mind's eye, Minato saw what could happen. He remembered the splash of red against black as he desperately chanted Dia to heal the slash on Akihiko's gut. Or when a Mudo drained the life out of Mitsuru's eyes, or how Junpei screamed when that Gigas broke his arm.
No, Minato swore, no sacrifice was too little—not for his friends.
And so that was how Minato found himself walking down the steps to the lobby the next night while dressed in a large hat and a thick coat. Akihiko, perched on the couch, looked up from his book and said, "Hey, heading out again?"
Minato nodded once at his senpai. "Yeah."
"Don't stay out too late," Mitsuru warned from where she was perusing the day's paper. "You've skirted curfew the last couple of weeks."
"I promise, Mitsuru-senpai," Minato said.
He exited with Fuuka's soft call of, "Be safe!" in his ears. Now subject to the cool night air with no witnesses, he let out the frown that had been building on his lips. Yeah, he'd nearly been late the last couple of times, barely making it back before the Dark Hour started, but he didn't think it was something to comment about. Or maybe it was... He wasn't sure how many times he'd done this, after all, and with things getting exponentially more expensive...
It wasn't long before Minato slipped into Club Escapade and began divesting himself of his bulky jacket at the entrance. His appearance drew stares immediately, as he knew it would. Everything he wore was calculated to draw attention. As he walked towards the club's bathrooms, he attracted stares which focused on the shifting of his tight, dark button-up shirt and the way that every movement displayed the muscle he'd built through repeated Tartarus visits—not enough to be bulky but enough to emphasize his willowy grace. With the soft sway of his hips, Minato entered the men's bathroom and slid up to the mirror.
The face that stared back at him would barely have been recognizable as his own. As Minato carefully clipped on silver earrings, he swished his hand through hair mixed with enough temporary black dye that it looked more like black highlighted with blue rather than the other way around. He also carefully applied enough eye-liner to make his eyes look bigger and younger. A few more touch-ups later, Minato changed out of his slacks and exited the bathroom.
Every eye was on him once more as he sauntered over to the check-in once more to drop off his pants. Minato knew that their eyes were probably focused on the hypnotic sway his ass, outlined perfectly with narrow-fit jeans which ended in dark, shiny shoes. There were a few burning gazes mixed into the normal appreciative looks, and blended into the club's regulars Minato thought he saw a few familiar faces.
Well, it looked like his reputation was starting to precede him.
Minato headed over to the bartender and asked, "Anyone ask after me?"
The bartender looked at him with barely disguised disdain, but Minato was used to the feeling. "A couple. They've been tagged."
He nodded once and sauntered away. Minato began to sway with the beat, letting the music course through him. If he closed his eyes and blanked his mind, he could pretend that this was his earphones pounding bass through his body with enough force to take his breath away. His moves weren't flashy, but they drew attention with their quiet grace, and it wasn't long before someone heeded the siren's call.
Minato felt strong arms reach around him, and then there were harsh breaths in his ear. He drew away far enough from the lips to see the orange band on his wrist, and then he asked, "Well, do you want to stay here or head out?"
Dark eyes glittered as a rough voice said, "Let's head out, baby."
Minato let the man draw him out of the club while enduring his intoxicated kisses and unsubtle gropes the entire time. Every so often, the man would demand he be kissed in return, and Minato would oblige just enough to get him hot. At the rate they were going, however, it wasn't long before they arrived at their destination.
The lights of Shirakawa Boulevard glinted in the night sky, and Minato didn't protest as he was led to a love hotel. Soon, he was pushed onto a waterbed, and his shirt was unbuttoned to allow the man to kiss his way down his chest and unsubtly grope at his crotch.
Yes, this was how he made his money.
By selling his body, he made enough to support his friends. His friends, who were all so willing to follow him into danger—no sacrifice was too small for them.
None at all.
Not soon enough, it was over, he collected his free, and his client was snoozing away on the bed. Minato had been doing this long enough that the feelings of self-disgust had mostly faded away under the sweeping, all-encompassing reason of necessity. It'd been far too long since he had friends he was so close to. For them, he'd do whatever it took. Sighing to himself, Minato slipped out of bed and padded over to the room's attached shower.
Stepping underneath the scalding hot spray, dye bled out of his hair and took with it the flecked remains of sex on his skin. With the loss of his disguise, he let everything he was holding back flood in. No matter how many times he did this, he ached in places he wished he didn't, and a hot shower only went a little way in melting the soreness away. But every little bit helped, and after a few minutes of soaping and shampooing, Minato finally felt like himself again. He dried himself off quickly and checked in mirror one last time to make sure he was presentable before leaving. A look at his cell phone told him that he didn't need to rush back, but still he quickened his steps anyway. It wouldn't do to make anyone worry, and maybe if he showed up early then Mitsuru would let up on tracking his comings and goings.
Back at the dorm, he was greeted with Akihiko's faint, "Hey." Minato noted that he was the only one in the lobby and returned the greeting.
"You're out late," Akihiko commented.
"Just at the café," he replied, knowing that his reputation for liking Pheromone Coffee would be enough for a plausible excuse. He intended to slip past the boxer and head to the room, but then Akihiko sniffed and, looking perplexed, stood. Before he realized it, Akihiko was smelling his hair and asking, "Is that cinnamon?"
Minato froze, his "What the hell?" stilled on his lips (though he ignored the small part of him that said he liked Akihiko's warm breaths against his head). Oh shit. He thought the shampoo might have been scented, but damn... Quickly, he covered himself by saying, "It's a new shampoo I'm trying."
Akihiko looked at him a bit weirdly but relented. Minato was surprised to see a small blush cross his face as he asked, "Uh, do you think I can borrow a bottle? It smells kind of good, actually."
Damn it. Minato scrambled for an answer, well aware of the suspicion creeping into Akihiko's gaze with every passing moment, before settling on, "I'm on my last bottle."
Too late to dispel the wariness though. "Do you think I can get the brand?"
"I'll get back to you on that," Minato replied. "I'm tired Akihiko-senpai; I think I'm going to head to bed."
"Good night then." Minato didn't need to have eyes at the back of his head to see Akihiko's gaze focused on his back as he headed up to his room, so he kept his pace unhurried the entire time.
What kept him steady was one thought: for them, he would do anything.
After class the next day, Minato was packing up to head down to the Paulownia Mall when, surprisingly enough, Akihiko sauntered up to him. "Hey, Minato. Do you want to hang out today?"
For a moment, Minato thought about refusing. But, no, he liked hanging out with Akihiko, and between school, work, and Tartarus, it never seemed like they had enough time to simply chill. He admired the older boy's strength and, well, found it amusing how downright awkward he could be when placed in certain situations.
"Sure. I want to stop by Paulownia Mall first, though."
"It's fine with me. C'mon, then."
Minato refused to let the budding smile show on his face, but he thought his eyes may become a bit warmer at the edges. From Akihiko's widening grin, he seemed to realize it as well.
Minato followed Akihiko as they exited the school building, chatting about whatever came to mind. They avoided topics related to Tartarus and the Dark Hour, but almost anything else was fair game. One of the few subjects Minato could talk about at length was music, and he easily bombarded his senpai with enough information to cause his eyes to glaze over.
When he paused for breath, Akihiko shook his head and chuckled. "Man, I didn't know you could talk that much."
Talking about something he so thoroughly enjoyed loosened his tongue and his hold on his facial expression. Minato let a rare impish smile cross his face, to which Akihiko widened his eyes. "Well, music's awesome!"
Minato was already planning on dragging Akihiko to Power Records when they finally arrived at the mall. He headed over to the police station, where Officer Kurosawa greeted them with a, "Hey Arisato, Sanada."
"Can we get a look at your wares?"
"Sure." Minato and Akihiko ducked into the back where Kurosawa kept his weapons and armor, splitting apart to find what suited them. The moment he saw the prices, however, Minato bit his lip so hard that it nearly started to bleed.
When had this stuff gotten so expensive?
Acutely aware of Akihiko's presence going through the gloves, Minato didn't bring out his wallet but did a mental tally. To afford new equipment for everyone, even if he slowly phased out their old ones, sold them, and with Tartarus runs in between to help things out... It would still be too much. Minato was getting good at eating the bare minimum required to stay in fighting shape, but he was also knew that lately his body was getting too thin to handle fighting, and while he could, in theory, cut back by not eating out often, he didn't want his friends (and by extension his Social Links, though he pained him to think of them like that) to feel neglected.
This was getting bad, very bad.
As he gnashed his teeth over his options, Minato's eyes strayed to Akihiko and all thoughts flew out of his head. Akihiko's face lit up in pure delight as he discovered one of Kurosawa's newest additions. Never before had Minato seen such a look of childish glee on his senpai's face as he tried on a pair of gloves that seemed to fit him just right. As he shadow-boxed with them on, the way that Akihiko's eyes crinkled and how the edges of his mouth just wouldn't stay down stole Minato's breath away.
When Akihiko finally got down to looking at the price tag... There was no other way to describe it. His face fell. Before Minato could even think about it, he was wrapping his hand around Akihiko's wrist and stopping him from removing the gloves, regardless of how much that little voice in his mind screamed, "Think about your stomach!"
"We'll take this pair," he said to Kurosawa. Minato overrode Akihiko's protests as he whipped out his wallet and withdrew the money, fast enough that Akihiko could only see that a large chunk of cash was being removed, not how empty it was after. Within a few moments, they were walking out of Paulownia Mall with Akihiko's new gloves safely stored in his bag.
"Thanks, Minato," Akihiko repeated once more in the afternoon sun, his eyes still sparkling.
"It's no problem," Minato dismissed. "It's fine."
"The money from Tartarus must be treating you well," he said. "I know it would've taken me some time to save up that much."
Minato was too busy trying not to choke on his own spit to respond. For a moment, he felt a deep, bitter resentment that, thankfully, quickly faded when he reminded himself of his vow. He credited spending so long hiding his emotions with how he could say, "Yeah," with all of the proper inflections despite his shock.
Akihiko grinned at him and nudged him in the shoulder. "How about we head to Hagakure? My treat."
Minato felt a small blush cross his face from the small contact, which only deepened when his stomach agreed with this proposal. Loudly.
Akihiko laughed just as loud as he bumped their shoulders once more. "I'd say your stomach agrees with you. Besides, you've been getting kind of thin lately. Have you been eating properly?"
"I eat fine," Minato lied with a straight face.
Akihiko snorted. "Well, if you say so. I still think you're far too thin." With that comment, he jabbed his finger into Minato's side, and Minato let out a rare, embarrassing squeal in surprise. Laughing uproariously once more, the boxer ran ahead to Port Island Station, while Minato chased him as fast as he could. Minato only caught up to him after Akihiko ducked into the monorail waiting area, and his response caused enough playful rough-housing that a security guard had to warn them to be careful. Even then, they traded barbs and insults all the way down to the ramen shop and even over their meal, up until they finished and had left.
His belly full of warm ramen, walking next to one of the people he trusted his life with and was afforded that same trust, Minato was content. All he could think was that, yes, it was good. For the first time in a while, Minato felt content, like he was drifting in a warm haze and there was nothing more pressing than a lazy evening at home.
Akihiko's next words then shattered his illusions.
"Hey, are we going to Tartarus tonight?"
Minato didn't quite freeze, but his steps slowed for a moment as he was abruptly reminded of his wallet. Those gloves that he'd bought Akihiko had cost quite a bit of yen, and added to the fact that Minato still hadn't had time to resell the old ones and pick up more supplies meant that he was not nearly as ready as he could be for a Tartarus run. Maybe a stronger bow for Yukari and a better sword for Junpei, and then Minato might feel up to braving another night.
But he'd need one, maybe two additional nights to afford it.
"No, I don't think we will."
For a moment, Akihiko didn't respond. Minato dared to look at his face, and in that moment it was twisted into an dark expression that burned in his eyes and pulled the edges of his mouth down. It disappeared a few moment after, and then Akihiko said with forced cheer, "Well, I was looking forward to testing out these babies tonight."
"Sorry, Akihiko-senpai, I have plans."
The dark look appeared again before it was pushed away, but Minato didn't notice it, too focused on monetary calculations in his head. "If you're sure..."
"Yeah, I'm sure," Minato said as they made it back to the dorm. He paused at the entrance before turning back and saying, "I had fun today, senpai, and I wouldn't mind doing this again."
Akihiko froze at the admission. Minato thought he might have seen a flush start to cross Akihiko's face but decided instead to open the door and threw back, "Coming?"
"Y-Yes," Akihiko stuttered. As he entered through the offered door, he cuffed Minato upside his head and huffed, "Don't get cocky."
Minato was sure he was grinning, but he didn't mind. He'd need every bit of cheer he could get.
"Yes, Akira-chan, just like that. Mhm, oh! Yes!"
Minato's ears rang as he serviced this particular client. His jaw hurt, and his eyes were closed in an effort to make this blowjob go faster, but still this man held on. Minato drew back to take a gasping breath, and it was only then that he realized that the ringing in his ears wasn't just from air deprivation.
Instead of seeing the erection of his latest client in front of him, he instead saw the smooth, polished wood of a coffin.
Minato sank back against the cool brick of the alleyway, and all he could think was, "Fuck, I'm going to die."
Mitsuru wasn't just going to stop at execution, oh no. She was going to freeze him alive and then shatter him in one deft kick, like he'd seen her do to many an unwary Shadow. She was going to murder him, have Yukari revive him, and then do it all over again.
Their dorms had a curfew for a reason. Granted, it tended to be far later than most dorms, but it was an iron clad rule: if there was no Tartarus run, you were back in the dorm by the Dark Hour's start. Tartarus may have been the Shadows' nesting ground, but that didn't mean that stray Shadows didn't wander the streets.
And here he was, all alone, pants half undone in front of the coffin that was his client, and weaponless save for his Evoker.
Mitsuru was definitely going to kill him.
And Minato wasn't quite so sure he'd try and resist.
Not that he wanted to die or anything, but... He was tired of this. He was tired of walking the streets at night, tired of being the "Akira-chan" that men and women sought. He just wanted to forget about the deal he struck up with Club Escapade. He didn't want to think about how, in exchange for his clients having to buy drinks before they could go with him, the club would pretend not to notice him turning his tricks there. He knew he had it better than most of the others in his situation; he got to set his own rules and go at his own pace, but sometimes...
Minato wondered if it was all right to be so tired all of the time. It felt like he hadn't had a good sleep in ages. Between school, Tartarus, and his nightly activities, his sleep schedule was shot, he was barely keeping up in kendo, and—hell.
Minato raised his trembling hand and stared at it. He wasn't sure he could get it to stop.
He knew he was close to his breaking point. He had been for a while. Today was just pushing it a bit more. And tomorrow, when he was out here again, would push it that much more, and then—
But he couldn't think like that. He couldn't afford to.
Minato hadn't cried since his parents died all those years ago, and it felt like all of his tears had disappeared then. But now, he thought he could feel them welling up in him... and he ruthlessly pushed them down. Instead of crying, he lay against the cold brick in the cool night and shook with sightless eyes.
He needed his strength.
For just more one more day.
For the way Junpei forced him to play video games in his messy room, warm grin on his face.
For the way Yukari talked with him in the starlit night, pushing only just enough to make him think without being uncomfortable.
For the way Ken blushed and mumbled but never quite rejected his presence on the couch come Sunday morning.
For the way Fuuka, in all seriousness, told him she could hack any information he needed about his family.
For the way Koromaru dragged him outside for a walk even when he hadn't realized he was up for it.
For the way Mitsuru got that glint in her eye as "Très bien," passed her lips when she congratulated him on his latest achievement.
For the way Aigis sat with him in mutual appreciation of the power of silence.
For the way Shinjiro had cuffed him upside the head and had refused to let him skip dinner the day after he'd been found puking into the toilet after his night walking the streets. (Minato wasn't sure if he had known, but he knew Shinjiro had suspected, and Minato always found some yen slipped under his door at the beginning of the week up until October.)
For the way Akihiko grinned at him constantly, bumping shoulders and trailing fingers whenever he thought he could get away with it. The way that Akihiko knew when to push and when to stop as they commiserated over being orphans. The way that they could walk together in the silence and still feel comfortable.
Just one more day.
Minato shifted once more and forced himself forward until he was kneeling once more in front of the coffin. All he could think was: just a little bit more. Just a little bit longer.
When the Dark Hour faded into 12:01, Minato began his work and soon had his payment clenched in his fist. Thoroughly exhausted and mind still spinning from the sheet effort used to force himself through the Dark Hour, Minato trudged back to the dorm, uncaring of the fact that his clothing was rumpled and askew, with hints of black peeking out from underneath his hat and the top buttons of both his jacket and the dress shirt underneath undone.
Minato had barely made it through the front door of the dorm when a voice snarled, "Where the hell have you been?"
He flinched, one hand instinctively reaching for his Evoker, before realizing that it was Akihiko.
Akihiko... who was currently glaring at him with one of his darkest gazes.
"I was out," he said flatly.
"You're no newbie at this; you know not to be out during the Dark Hour!" growled Akihiko. "I want to know what exactly has been taking so much of your attention that you're apparently willing to stay out during the Dark Hour for it."
"Can you keep your voice down before you wake up the entire dorm?" Minato hissed. One hand reached up to pinch his brow before trailing into an awkward brush over his face. "With all due respect, Akihiko-senpai, it's none of your business."
"Like hell it's not my business! Not after all that we, that I—" Akihiko abruptly broke off, inhaling and exhaling sharply through his nose. Minato noticed in his peripheral vision the way that Akihiko's gloves crinkled with the force with which he was currently clenching his fists. He subtly edged his way to the side, never breaking eye contact. "Minato, it matters when you're being utterly stupid like this."
"I'm fine," Minato repeated himself firmly. "I just lost track of time today. It won't happen again."
"You're dodging the question," Akihiko accused. "I just want to know what the hell is going on that has you out at late hours like this."
"And I will repeat: it's none of your business. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to head to bed."
Considering the topic closed, Minato moved to do what he hoped was a casual brush by, but his plan was foiled when Akihiko reached out and grabbed his arm. Too much in shock at Akihiko's audacity to resist, the next thing Minato knew he was being slammed up against the wall, Akihiko's harsh gaze boring down on him.
And then the shock melted into something else at the feeling of Akihiko's hands against his arms and his hot breath against his face. But underneath that thing he couldn't identify, panic began to settle in.
Because Akihiko was asking, "Now that I look closely, it looks like your hair's black. And is that eye-liner...?"
It was only a matter of time before Akihiko's gaze drifted down to his exposed neck and collarbone, and there, Akihiko's gaze hardened. "What the hell? Is that a hickey?"
Minato couldn't help the instinctive reaction of trying to cover the marks, though Akihiko's iron grip on his arms did it for him. He vaguely remembered one of his clients today being overly affectionate during the kissing portion, but he didn't think he'd get marked... Unable to respond, Minato watched as, with each passing moment, Akihiko's eyes darkened and darkened until they reached such a point that something in them just broke.
And, suddenly, Minato knew he wasn't dealing with a furious Akihiko anymore.
Oh, the rage was still there, lurked ever-present at the back of his eyes. But now, profound sorrow eclipsed it. Akihiko looked so sad, broken, crushed, that when he asked, in a tone just shy of defeat, "Minato... Have you just been playing this...? I thought that we... Why can't you just tell me the truth?" Minato couldn't help but let something slip.
"It's not what you think, Akihiko-sen—Akihiko."
"Then what it is, Minato? What is it? Don't you trust me?"
"I trust you." That was never in doubt.
"Then tell me."
For a moment, it was on the tip of his tongue. The need to tell him, the desire to spill everything. But then Minato remembered: just one more day. Just one more day, just a little bit longer, and he could do it, and no one would have to know.
"I can't, I'm sorry."
Something shifted into Akihiko's gaze. Anxiety began to accentuate his panic as Akihiko again took in his dyed hair, his state of dress, and his apparent hesitancy to talk. Minato was about to speak, when Akihiko said, "Are you being forced? Is that it?"
And the question was so uncomfortably close to the truth that Minato finally panicked. Using all of the strength that he gained from Tartarus, Minato twisted his shoulder enough to plant a punch to Akihiko's gut, which gave him the opportunity to break out of the hold. Without an apology or second glance, Minato ran to his room, Akihiko's curses and pleas falling on deaf ears. All but slamming his door shut and locking it, Minato threw himself on his bed with frenzied thoughts and emotions.
He hadn't cried then and wasn't crying now, but as his chest tightened and his breaths sped, Minato clutched a pillow to his chest, buried his face in it, and almost wished he was.
Come morning, Minato was in no mood to get out of bed. After falling into a fitful sleep, he'd woken up exhausted, sore, and bleary-eyed. But if he wanted to hit the communal showers early enough to wash everything out before anyone (else) saw, he needed to get up.
He groaned and slipped into his bathrobe, counting on the long, loose garment to cover him completely. Padding out into the hallway in a pair of slippers, he quickly traversed the hall—knowing that Junpei slept late and that Ken took extra time to prep in his room in the morning, he still wanted to avoid Akihiko, who hadn't quite given up last night but apparently respected his privacy enough to not bang on his door in the middle of the night.
Still, heading to the fourth floor showers meant passing by the girls' rooms, and that would be an awkward situation if he didn't hurry. He hightailed it up to the third floor without much trouble, and he was nearly up to the fourth with a delicate voice cleared her throat.
Damn. "Yes, Mitsuru-senpai?"
"You're up early today," she commented. Minato didn't quite know what to say to that, but Mitsuru continued, "Have you been getting enough sleep? Lately, you've stayed out rather late."
"I get enough," he replied evenly.
Mitsuru frowned at him, one eyebrow raised in disbelief, but Minato stubbornly met her gaze. At this, she sighed and said, "I have something to discuss with you. Once you finish your shower and dress, please meet me here."
A frown tugged at Minato's lips, but he refused to let it shown. Instead replying with a sharp nod, Minato headed up the stairs to the showers. He hoped it would not be an unpleasant conversation, but one never really knew with Mitsuru.
...and there went his chance for a lazy shower. It wouldn't do to keep Mitsuru waiting, after all. Once safely inside the bathroom, Minato set the temperature on high and turned the shower onto full.
The heat felt glorious against his skin. As he lathered himself up, taking great care to make sure every bit of grime, every trace of make-up, disappeared as well, Minato couldn't help but duck himself under the spray once more and just breathe in the steam. Almost unwillingly, he let out a breathy moan of pleasure at the sheer warmth that filled him.
After the past couple of days, this simple pleasure invigorated him. Hot showers were things that no one was going to take from him. When at the end of the day, all he felt was numb, they were there to get his blood flowing by bringing a red tinge to his cheeks and extremities. And if it got him to release happy sighs, then more power to the heat.
When Minato stepped out of the shower though, he came face to face with Akihiko.
Akihiko, who had this horrible blush on his face that made him look... cute, if Minato could think that. He looked flustered enough that Minato, for a moment, could almost forget the night before.
Minato was well aware of his appearance. Wet, tousled hair that clung to his scalp, dripping water down his face and neck to slide over lean muscle and end tantalizingly at a strip of towel that was all that was covering his modesty. Combined with the flush on his cheeks and his sounds from earlier—Minato knew exactly what an image he made.
He counted on it to slip by Akihiko, who still seemed dumbstruck enough to forget his anger, one hand reaching up to pinch his nose. When Minato glided past Akihiko for the changing room, he was ready this time: he neatly sidestepped Akihiko's one-handed grasp and muttered out of the corner of his mouth, "Mitsuru's waiting for me."
"Dammit, Minato, I—"
"I'll catch you later," he said as he stepped out of the room. Quickly drying off and changing into his uniform, Minato headed down back to the girl's lounge, where Mitsuru was sipping a cup of coffee and browsing a paper. She put down both at his arrival at gestured to the seat near her.
Minato took it without a word.
"Arisato, I wanted to discuss our recent Tartarus expedition."
"We weren't at our best," Minato admitted quietly; it pained him as a leader to have to admit to his team's weaknesses, but Mitsuru would appreciate the brutal honesty, as she so used it herself.
"What do you think we can do to improve our efficiency? Should we be training more often or are we overworking?"
The conversation went back and forth on this topic, but Minato enjoyed the camaraderie they had: even while unfailingly polite to each other, Minato sensed that Mitsuru truly cared about SEES as more than a group she fought with—they were her friends. Minato counted himself as blessed to be among that number.
Eventually, Minato said, "I still need to sell some of our old equipment, but once we do, I believe we'll be ready."
"When do you think this'll be? I know class has been busy lately."
The words just one more day were on the tip of his tongue, but Minato just barely held it back. He instead said, "I think we'll be ready by tomorrow."
"Good. See that it happens." Hearing the end of the topic in her tone, Minato rose to leave when, this time almost hesitantly, Mitsuru spoke up. "Arisato?"
"Iori's been worried about you. He says you've been looking thinner lately." Mitsuru paused before adding, "Yamagishi's had the same concerns." Unspoken was the fact that Mitsuru herself had the same.
Well. Well, damn, if Fuuka was speaking up about this, let alone Junpei noticing... He was getting obvious. Way too obvious.
"Arisato. Is something the matter?"
Minato hesitated a moment too long in his reply—Mitsuru's eyes had narrowed when he said, "Nothing that I can't handle."
Her frown was back, but Minato met her gaze evenly and all but pleaded with his eyes for her to drop this. Mitsuru nodded once, albeit unhappily, and allowed him to leave. It was a quick trip back to his room to grab his things, and Minato was soon out the door before any of the others, even Aigis, left. If he could just avoid the damn questions for one more day, everything would be all right.
Everything would be fine.
By the time Minato reached school, however, he was already questioning his resolve to make it through the day. The train ride to school had already been hell on his alertness; now at school, with no one around to talk to, he was already faltering. Even when Junpei and Yukari trickled in, bickering at each other only to stop when they caught sight of him ("Whoa, you're actually here early!" Junpei exclaimed before being elbowed harshly by Yukari and forced into his seat), with Aigis following, Minato barely managed to stay awake.
When class began in earnest, all Minato could think, even to the point where he doodled it at the edge of his notes, was that he needed one more night. Just one more until he could bury all this.
Just one more, and he'd be free.
Minato peeked out of his room and, with no Akihiko in sight, fully committed himself to leaving his room. Dressed in the same large coat and hat, he quickly made his way down the hall, though his steps slowed as he reached the stairs. Looking unhurried as he reached the lobby, he attempted to nonchalantly cross the room, but Yukari's voice stopped him.
"Should you be going out so late?"
"Minato, you've been..." Here, Yukari hesitated, though only for a moment. "You haven't been looking well lately. I think you should stay in tonight."
Minato's heart ached. Yukari's eyes were so pleading, and the ache only grew when Ken piped up from the couch, "Yes, senpai. You look like you need a good night's rest." Then an alarmed look crossed his face as he hastily backpedalled, "I mean, you don't look bad or anything, but—"
"You do not look like you are operating at your optimal efficiency," Aigis elaborated. "Have you been getting sufficient rest?"
All three of them were staring at him, and it hurt to lie directly to their faces, but Minato had to say, "I'm fine. Thanks for the concern though. I'll be back soon."
The three of them shared uneasy looks (or as much of an uneasy look as Aigis could muster), but Minato gave them a half-smile that seemed to bring their own out. He exited after saying his farewells. In the chilly night, Minato sighed and began the lonely walk to Club Escapade.
Hopefully, this would be his last.
He went through his habitual preparation this day, cleaning up and going for more fake piercings this time around. Lustful gazes focused on him as he slipped out in subtle blue slacks, his shirt a deep black save for the shimmering silver pattern stitched across his back and down the sleeves.
Minato closed his eyes and let the club's beat flow through him. Unselfconscious as he twirled and twisted his hips, his arms rose to let his shirt form tight lines against his body. He needed someone good tonight, and he would draw whoever it took. The dancing intimidated some of the less confident while drawing the attention of the bold... people who were quite willing to drop good money.
Strong arms encircled him from behind. One hand toyed with the buttons on his shirt while the other clenched his hip. Hot breath misted along his neck and peppered kisses while a hard bulge ground into his ass.
Minato danced along with him, opening his eyes only briefly to note the orange band on the wrist before he closed them once more and let him be drawn into the other man's pace. He played his part by letting him tug him in the right directions, let him carefully knead Minato's own bulge before the petting got too insistent, and then let him tug him out the door.
In the alley right outside of Paulownia Mall, Minato was slammed into the wall. He gasped in pain, and then his mouth was immediately plundered with a hot mouth and slick tongue. Wandering hands slipped beneath the hem of his slacks, already groping at his ass, while the other crawled up his shirt to trace over his pale stomach. Except... Something was wrong.
Minato's eyes snapped open when the man bit into his neck. Not just a small nip and suck, but a legitimate bite that caused pain. The hand on his ass clenched painfully, while his nails scraped over skin. Minato tried to struggle and draw back, saying, "This isn't part of the rules!"
"Can it, whore," the man spat as he grabbed Minato's wrist hard enough to leave bruises. "Who cares about your rules? All you are is a whore; you don't get to—Hey!" Minato, in the meantime, raised his knee to try to aim for his balls, but the man shifted his legs to that the blow hit his thigh instead. Now incensed, he slammed Minato into the wall and made him see stars. "Little fucker!"
"Asshole, get off—mmphf!" Minato was cut off as the man claimed his mouth once more. He tried to struggle, but he had no leverage for a kick and his arms were being held in too strong of a grip to break free.
Fuck, he'd let his guard down. This was one scenario he'd managed to avoid the earlier times, but because he swore that this would be the last one he'd loosened his standards a little. Maybe he could have taken two, but he needed the cash... Minato grit his teeth and debated his options just as his belt became undone when a voice snarled from the end of the alley.
"Get the fuck away from him!"
Minato was so stunned that all he could do was sink to his knees when Akihiko grabbed the man and let loose a sweet left cross that left him sprawled on the ground. Akihiko took up a fighting position in front of him, mouth pressed into a tight line. Minato couldn't see them, but he knew anger blazed in those steel eyes.
"So, the slut has a boyfriend, huh?" the man spat out alongside a wad of blood.
"Don't call him a slut!" Akihiko shouted.
The man laughed as he got to his feet. "So, you don't know what Akira-chan has been doing behind your back, huh? Do you know how many cocks he's sucked here? How many people he's fucked? Can't handle the fact that you little boyfriend's nothing but a whore who lets anyone at his body for the right price?"
"Shut up!" roared Akihiko as he punched the man in the face once more.
Once he went down, Akihiko began to pound the shit out of him, until Minato finally got his wits together and remembered that he wasn't some prissy little princess. He rose and shouted, "Akihiko, that's enough. Akihiko. Akihiko!" When that didn't work, he rushed forward and grabbed Akihiko's left arm as it drew back for another punch. "Akihiko," he ordered in his leader voice that none of his team could resist. Akihiko's head turned to meet his, and Minato was struck by the absolute fury that darkened what were normally bright gray eyes. "Let it go."
Akihiko's eyes narrowed as they exchanged silent words, but then Akihiko nodded, rising to his feet. He spat on the ground next to his fallen foe and growled, "If I ever see you touch him again, I will end you."
"That's enough," Minato said, but Akihiko turned to him with his eyes still blazing and Minato quieted. His grip on Akihiko's arm shifted until Akihiko was all but dragging him away, though Minato protested that he needed to get his things. Akihiko allowed him that much, but he simmered in silence as he dragged him back to the train station.
Minato didn't, couldn't speak—too many thoughts flowed through his head. One part of him was thankful that Akihiko was there to pull him out of the bad situation, but a far greater part was frantic about how Akihiko knew, he knew, he wasn't happy, and today was supposed to be the last day. Why did he let his guard down?
Minato stared hard at his hands, uncomfortably aware of Akihiko's gaze on him.
They continued the ride back and the subsequent walk in silence, though Akihiko's grip remained on his wrist. Minato didn't protest when Akihiko led him past the dorm to the shrine where they spent nights talking as Koromaru played. He took a seat on the bench, not speaking as Akihiko paced in front of him, muttering under his breath.
Finally, Akihiko paused, fists clenched at his sides. "Minato, what the hell has been going on? I thought... I thought that you had a boyfriend or something, or maybe someone was blackmailing you. Is what that guy said true? Have you really been...?"
Minato couldn't lie anymore. He was too tired, and he knew when he was beaten. "Yes, I have."
"Why, Minato? How could you do something so stupid? If you wanted sex, I—" Akihiko broke off, his face flushing.
He didn't respond, though his cheeks also tinged a light pink. That was one question answered.
But then Akihiko started talking to himself again. "But no, you're not immature enough to just sleep around like that. I know you. So that means there had to be another reason." His gaze trailed down Minato's body, sweeping him from head to toe, and then stopped at his middle. Akihiko's frown increased. "You haven't been eating much lately. Junpei and Fuuka were discussing it a couple days ago." His eyes, though still brimming with anger, looked far off in the distance. He was no doubt thinking back to all the times Minato ate little when he was once known for his prodigious appetite. Akihiko's eyes darkened even further as he said, "You're having money problems, aren't you?"
He couldn't speak, only nod.
"But how can you be? I know you get a monthly stipend, and there's always money from Tartarus runs. Hell, you bought me... gloves..."
Minato dared to glance up. He saw Akihiko's pole-axed expression as the pieces began to fall into place. Fury, raw and unbridled, curled in the edges of his eyes, mixed in with a healthy dose of self-loathing.
"Tell me, Minato. Tell me that you haven't been doing this to pay for our equipment. Goddammit Minato, tell me you haven't been whoring yourself out just to keep us alive!"
Minato pressed his lips together, uncaring of the fact that Akihiko's arms now gripped his shoulders tightly. Tears filled his eyes and forced him to look away in shame.
"Please, tell me..."
Minato couldn't. He couldn't lie anymore.
He refused to look when Akihiko gave a wretched sob and turned away. Akihiko's scream reverberated through the air as he began to punch the ground with all of his strength. Dimly, he realized that he was crying, actually crying. Tears began their slow descent down his face, one by one, and he made no movement to stop them.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry." It became his mantra, a desperate plea to anyone who would listen.
"God, Minato, no." And then Akihiko was in front of him, trembling and crying as well. His hands, bloody and bruised, shook as they first cupped his face and then curled around his body in a warm embrace. His chin fit neatly on Akihiko's shoulder as he drew him in close. "You don't need to be sorry. God, can you ever forgive us for putting you in that position?"
"It's my fault," Minato whispered.
"Hell no, it's not. It's definitely not your fault. It's not. Believe me, Minato, it's not. It's ours, for not noticing sooner."
Put that way, there was only one thing Minato could accept. Belatedly, he realized that he was not returning the hug, and so he tentatively wrapped his arms Akihiko as he said, "It's no one's fault then." Because Minato would never blame his friends after all he went through to hide from them, and it certainly wasn't their fault that Tartarus was what it was. "It's just the way it had to be."
"But it shouldn't," Akihiko whispered fiercely. "It won't."
"Trust me, Minato. Trust me."
Because, God help him, there was no other response.
"Arisato, I need to speak with you," Mitsuru said sharply the next day as soon as Minato returned from school.
"Good, 'cause I need to speak with you too," Akihiko cut in smoothly as he slipped into the lounge and cut in front of him.
Mitsuru pursed her lips. "I believe this conversation should be private, Akihiko."
"Tough luck, Mitsuru, because this can't wait either, and it concerns Minato anyway."
Reading the unrelenting look in Mitsuru's eyes, Minato said, "It's fine, Mitsuru-senpai. Akihiko-senpai can listen in on whatever it is you want to tell me." He had a strong suspicion that he knew what she wanted to talk to him about, at any rate.
"The topic concerns things of a rather... personal nature," Mitsuru admitted. Her eyes looked straight past Akihiko and locked onto him. "If you're still sure about this, Arisato..."
"I'm sure," Minato repeated firmly.
"Let us adjourn to the meeting room then. It will provide us with the requisite amount of privacy."
The three of them were quiet as they ascended the stairs to the fourth floor. Akihiko's hand brushed his, and though his eyes remained steadfastly resolute as they stared forward, Minato found that the tiny flush that sprung up from the small contact was enough to comfort him. His lack of poker face was definitely adorable, and when Minato returned the gesture, the flush turned into a full out blush as Akihiko glanced back at him. It disappeared by the time they reached the meeting room, but Minato took strength from it anyway.
Mitsuru unlocked the door and then locked it behind her when they entered. She took a seat at the head of the table, while Minato dropped onto one of the couches; Akihiko slipped in next to him, not close enough to touch but near enough that Minato was acutely aware of his presence.
Mitsuru cleared her throat and began. "Arisato, there was been some... discrepancies in your account statements the last few months."
Minato's jaw dropped. "You've been checking my bank accounts?"
"Yes," Mitsuru admitted freely. "There was some concern about putting you in charge of the money from Tartarus, so your accounts are regularly checked."
Minato didn't know whether to be insulted or impressed, but either way he still stiffened.
"At any rate, when your bank statements and the money you reported from Tartarus were compared to the amount you've purchased from Aohige Pharmacy, Be Blue V, and Officer Kurosawa, I noticed a startling difference." Mitsuru took a deep breath and crossed her arms. "Even after factoring in the normal expenses for food and recreation, there's still a large shortfall. You simply should not have had enough money to purchase what you have. As there is no record of you holding employment, I want to know exactly where you're getting the money."
Minato opened his mouth to respond when Akihiko interrupted. "This is exactly what I want to talk to you about, Mitsuru. What the hell is the Kirijo Group doing that we're letting Minato pay for everything?"
"He has shown to be responsible in the past," Mitsuru said stiffly. "Additionally, you do realize that he needs a large amount of money to develop all of the Personas he uses. Rather than ask for money each time, it is easier on all of us if he handles the transactions himself."
"And if it's not enough?" Akihiko demanded. "You do realize that he's been using the same Personas the last few trips."
"Of course I have, Akihiko. That is what I am trying to figure out myself," Mitsuru said. She paused and looked down. When she looked up again, her gaze was fierce. "So you have been having money problems, Arisato."
"Don't act like it's such a revelation," Akihiko scoffed. "You knew as much coming here."
"Akihiko, don't be terse with me," Mitsuru snapped. "I assume you already know what's going on then and can enlighten me as to what exactly is happening."
"It's not my story to tell!" Akihiko slammed his fist into the table as he rose from his seat. "But I can tell you what needs to be changed here! You can have the Kirijo Group support us with more than just supplying us with Evokers! It's obvious that is isn't enough, so why isn't Kirijo Group helping?"
"I need to know the situation first!" She didn't so much as move a muscle but somehow her gaze got frostier. "I need to know what Arisato has done before I can act!"
"Damn it, Mitsuru! If only we had more of the Kirijo's backing, Minato wouldn't have had—" Akihiko broke off with a scowl.
Mitsuru's eyes lit with the triumph of a predator closing in on its prey. "He wouldn't have had to what?"
Akihiko glanced at Minato, who had remained quiet throughout the entire exchange. If one didn't know better, Minato knew that he would have looked unaffected by the argument except for how white his knuckles were. Akihiko then turned back to Mitsuru and said, "As I said before, it's not my story to tell."
"Akihiko." Mitsuru's voice was cold and brittle, with every bit of the frost Artemisia could muster in it. "I need to know."
"No, you don't," Akihiko returned, his voice hot and angry to counter. "I'm not going to say it, and I'm not going to let him—"
"Akihiko," Minato said. Though he was the youngest among the three, he was still their leader in SEES and they answered to him in Tartarus. Only a trace of his authority slipped into his voice, a paltry imitation of the order he had given last night, but it was enough to get Akihiko to quiet and for Mitsuru to relent. "If she wants to know, I will tell her." His hands no longer clenched at his sides but now sat firmly in his lap, and his back was ramrod straight.
"Minato," Akihiko whispered weakly. Minato matched eyes with him and poured all of his resolution and even some of his resignation into it. Akihiko sat but didn't back down, placing a hand on Minato's shoulder for support.
"Mitsuru-senpai, I've been working some of the nights we don't go to Tartarus," Minato admitted softly.
"And where? Few places here will hire high school students at night."
Minato closed his eyes, because he didn't want to see Mitsuru's face when he said, "I've been resorting to prostitution in order to pay for equipment." Unfortunately, her gasp told him all he needed to know, and he couldn't stop the shame from welling up. The secret was something he was supposed to take with him to his grave... But Mitsuru asked, and he couldn't not answer.
"And neglecting his health to do so," Akihiko muttered viciously.
"In more ways than one." At her voice, Minato opened his eyes again. Mitsuru was once more carefully composed. Her only tell was the way her hands shook as they pressed carefully into her arms. "I'm sure you're aware that there can be some lasting repercussions from such actions."
"I've been getting regular checkups," Minato said softly. "I'm clean so far."
"I assume that you've been using the free clinic?" At Minato's nod, Mitsuru snorted. "I'm having one of the Kirijo Group's medical staff examine you as soon as possible. They're known for their discretion, and we'll foot the bill."
"Thank you," whispered Minato.
"Additionally, I'm working on securing funding for our equipment so that all of the Tartarus money can be put towards your Personas," Mitsuru continued. "I'll have an answer by the end of the week. If not, I'll pay for the equipment myself. I'm certain there's more that we can do rather than give a paltry 5000 Yen."
Minato couldn't speak. This was...
"I am also going to reimburse you for the equipment you've so far paid for out of pocket." When Minato looked to protest, Mitsuru shook her head. "No, Arisato. This should have been done long ago. I realize now that you've been using your own money to extent that you haven't been eating, and that is something that I will rectify."
"The only thing I want to know is why you had to resort to this, Arisato." Though her body remained composed, Mitsuru's eyes softened around the edges. "Are we not a team, Arisato? Are we not SEES together? If you had told us before this, we would have helped." Akihiko's hand tightened around his shoulder in agreement.
"I didn't want to burden you." It was the only truth Minato could state. He didn't want to burden anyone else with the problems, and he thought he had it under control.
Shame, shame at his weakness, may have also played a factor.
"We are a team, Minato." Akihiko's voice was firm as he spoke. "If there is a burden, we all share the weight." Akihiko's hand dropped until it met his, and Minato squeezed it.
"Yes, Arisato. I believe we've earned that as your friends." Mitsuru's gaze rested lightly on their joined hands but she didn't comment.
"I understand," Minato said. "I'm sorry for the trouble I've caused."
"Come to us next time when you have problems. We're here for you, on the battlefield and off." Minato acknowledged Mitsuru's words with a nod of his head. She stood and said, "Excuse me, I need to go make the necessary arrangements."
"Wait a moment, Mitsuru-senpai." She paused at his words, and Minato continued, "If it is at all possible, can this stay among us three? I would rather not—"
"—I understand the need for discretion as well, Arisato," she replied. "I won't tell anyone. About this or about..." She waved a hand toward them. "I trust that the two of you will be professional about it and not let it affect your capacity as members of SEES?"
"Mitsuru!" Akihiko groaned as he blushed brightly.
"We won't," promised Minato. Mitsuru acknowledged this with a nod... and by setting the keys to the room down before she exited.
Akihiko was still blushing, covering his face with the hand not in Minato's own. Minato still found this adorable and decided to improve the situation. "So, there's an us now?"
The blush immediately darkened, but Akihiko still replied. "If you want there to be."
Minato grinned. He twisted until he straddling Akihiko and gently pried his hand from his face. Akihiko's blush deepened once more as he gazed at Minato, and he couldn't help it anymore. He leaned forward and kissed Akihiko full on the lips—a soft, closed mouth kiss. Minato watched Akihiko widen his eyes before drawing back, an impish smile on his face. "I definitely want there to be. I like you, Akihiko."
"Good," Akihiko whispered, "because I like you too." He dragged Minato in for another kiss.
This one was open-mouthed, but it seemed like Akihiko hadn't had much practice at it because his attempts to kiss were tentative and flaily at best. Minato took charge and used all of his experience to dominate the kiss, leaving Akihiko breathless and dazed once he pulled back.
Their make out session would have gone on longer if not for the fact that Minato's stomach began rumbling. Akihiko laughed softly as Minato grumbled but got off of him.
"C'mon, let's rustle up some dinner," Akihiko said with a grin. "We need to feed the beast after all." He tapped Minato's stomach.
Minato wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment if not the manner in which it was delivered. Deciding to get the last word, he leaned forward and, mouth lowered enough that his breath tickled Akihiko's ear, he said in a purr, "But we'll continue this later, right?"
Akihiko's blush was imprinted in Minato's mind forever after, especially combined with the way Akihiko scampered after him like an overeager puppy.
Minato locked the door behind them as they left.
Akihiko snorted at him. "I don't understand how you can get the grades you do like that."
Minato didn't quite smile, but his mouth lifted at the corners. "I don't mind it."
Minato was performing a stretch on the carpet of Akihiko's room while studying, right next to the punching bag as well as at the base of Akihiko's desk, where the teen himself was poring over his books. He rolled so that he was no longer on his stomach and instead was staring up at his boyfriend.
It'd been a couple of weeks since the day he and Akihiko confessed their feelings for each other. The intervening time was spent dealing with the aftermath and recovering.
"It helps keep me limber. I haven't been able to dance at the club for a while."
Akihiko looked down at his book with a scowl. "I'd rather you didn't go back there."
The day after that, Akihiko marched Minato back to Club Escapade while he wore his Akira appearance for what was hopefully the last time (future dress up sessions notwithstanding). Minato officially broke his contract with the club, and the manager took one look at him and said that he knew Akira could do better. Minato accepted this with a nod and left.
Akihiko glared at anyone wearing an orange wristband as he waited at the entrance. When one reached out to him, Akihiko's lips curled into a snarl, but Minato took care of it himself. He raised an eyebrow at Akihiko, but his senpai merely huffed and stalked out.
It was the end of Akira that day.
"Aw, but I had a lot of fun there."
"Could have been a lot worse," Akihiko grumbled.
"I was safe." Minato paused and amended, "As safe as I could be."
"You were lucky."
Minato, in fact, was.
Mitsuru was nothing if not thorough. The two days after he'd set Akira to rest, Mitsuru had him with one of the Kirijo Group's doctors, where they did everything the free clinic had done for him and more. She did it discreetly without even Akihiko knowing the exact time, and she swore that she wouldn't look at the results unless she wanted him to. She also promised to pay any medical bills associated with treatment as well.
When the results came in, Minato found he was clean, though he was also warned that it could take time for some diseases to show. Minato took it to mean that he should continue all of the safe sex practices he forced on his clients and thanked the doctor.
Minato looked at Akihiko, sat up, and said, "Yes, I am lucky."
Akihiko took a side glance and instantly flushed. "Shut up," he mumbled.
Minato was definitely lucky that Akihiko still accepted him in spite of all he knew. His boyfriend was kind and considering, even if he didn't quite know how to articulate it. Minato toyed with the idea of thanking him by stopping his relentless teasing but decided that he had too much fun.
"Do you want a snack?" Minato asked and reached for his bag.
Akihiko sighed and leaned back. "I'd say that you're going to get fat from eating so much, but I still think you still need more meat on your bones." Instead of accepting whatever snack Minato had in his bag, he rummaged through his desk and emerged triumphantly with a couple of granola bars. He tossed one to Minato.
Minato accepted the gift, even as he smirked and said, "You know I have a high metabolism."
"It'll fail you someday," Akihiko warned.
Minato dismissed his concern and quickly set to work devouring his treat.
Taking studying for a lost cause, Akihiko joined Minato on the ground, where he mussed up Minato's hair. Minato sniffed a little at the contact but didn't protest—at least, not until Akihiko pinched him in the side. He let out an embarrassingly high-pitched squeak. Akihiko began to laugh and said, "Well, I guess you wouldn't be Minato without your appetite."
Their first official date was at Hagakure after Mitsuru wrangled some money for Minato. They celebrated this success with ramen, Minato's treat, and Akihiko experienced first hand Minato's love for eating. Now without too much regard for budgeting, Minato worked his way through two helpings of ramen, nearly moaning with delight at the salty broth and delicious noodles. Akihiko was vaguely amused and definitely affectionate.
Minato's blissed out look brought a smile and a blush to Akihiko's face.
"You like me." Minato smiled and stole a kiss. He marveled at how the affection could pink Akihiko's cheeks fast.
"Well, yeah," said Akihiko gruffly. His hand brushed through Minato's hair once more, and this time he leaned into it with a soft purr. "You like me too."
Minato hummed as he slowly pressed his body close to Akihiko until he was nestled nicely into his muscled torso. He enjoyed the way Akihiko's eyes darkened with lust as Minato made no secret of his happiness and kissed him slowly. Akihiko returned the gesture, and the two lazily kissed, relaxed and unhurried.
The two of them had spent innumerable days in the interim making out. Mitsuru suspended all Tartarus runs until the mess with the funding issues were fixed and Minato regained his full strength. The rest of SEES met this assessment with relief, especially once Minato started gaining some weight again. He saw Junpei and Fuuka exchanging satisfied glances when they thought he wasn't looking, and Yukari and Ken seemed to rest easier. Aigis made no secret about her relief, and even Koromaru looked happier.
Though still extremely busy with work, Minato now spent his nights either in Akihiko's room studying alongside him or dragging him out for walks, Pheromone Coffee, or karaoke. More often than not, their studying degenerated into make out sessions—while they were responsible students, they were still hormonal teenagers.
They made love a couple nights before when they were comfortable with each other. Minato, more experienced, led Akihiko through the process, and though Akihiko wasn't the most skillful person he'd ever shared a bed with... Minato found that Akihiko's sweet, fumbling attempts were far more endearing and far sexier than anyone he'd slept with before.
The two of them soon transferred to the bed, where Minato lay on top of Akihiko as they continued their slow kisses.
"Thank you," Minato whispered against Akihiko's collarbone.
"For what?" Akihiko asked as he wrapped his arms more securely around Minato.
"For, for..." Minato struggled with the words. Akihiko placed soothing kisses against his forehead, and Minato found the strength to say, "For stopping me. For trusting me. For being there for me."
"I'll be there for you," Akihiko said, voice grave. "I'll always be there for you."
Minato couldn't put into words exactly how much he cared for Akihiko right then and there. But then again, he always found his actions said far more, and when he leaned up to kiss Akihiko, he tried to pour every bit of emotion he could into the connection, into him.
When Akihiko's hand tightened on his back, when he pressed all of himself forward and stole Minato's breath away, Minato knew he understood.
Minato had been through a lot, and he knew he still had a lot more to deal with. But here and now, as he slipped his hands underneath Akihiko's shirt, Minato would take the comfort Akihiko so readily offered him and return it threefold.
He was content.