"Love will find a way. Indifference will find an excuse." – Anonymous
Cute. That was the first word that went through his head when he painstakingly slowly opened the door after knocking eight times, and his eyes fell upon her face as she slept, still in bed. Ken Amada gradually gathered up the courage to enter her room completely, even though his little heart was running a marathon in his chest. It wasn't like he had been staring at her all day or something—(that was Aigis's job apparently)—it was just…He had never been in her room before without her being aware of it. He glanced all around nervously, taking in the many things that belonged to her. Her room had once been sparse, but now he noticed things lying around, like a stuffed rabbit doll with reddish brown fur. The TV was on the home shopping channel, though its owner wasn't awake to watch it. He flipped it off via the remote before returning uneasily to Minako's side.
Finally he managed to scrounge up his courage, placing a hand gently on her shoulder and shaking her. "H-Hey, M-Minako…W-Wake up."
It took a bit more prodding, but eventually she sat up and yawned, stretching her arms over her head. She blinked sleepily at him, muttering something about "Pharos" before her eyes snapped into focus. She smiled. "Oh, Ken-kun. Good morning."
As usual he inwardly grouched to himself at the use of the suffix "-kun" but decided not to pursue the issue. "Well," he remarked instead. "I would say good morning, but it's already eleven o'clock. I thought I'd wake you up, in case you wanted lunch or something…"
Minako looked like a deer in headlights. "What? It's already eleven o'clock?" She grabbed her cell phone and violently flipped it open, glaring at the display screen with a mutinous expression. "…Huh," was all she said. "Why'd you guys let me sleep in so late?"
"Today's Sunday, so there's no school. Sanada-senpai said you could sleep as late as you wanted." Ken's tone softened. "You were really amazing last night, Minako. We went up forty floors in Tartarus, and you led both of the expeditions!"
She waved it off, yawning enormously again. "That's what a leader is for, isn't it?" She sounded pleased with herself.
"Yeah, but…I…I wish you would have let me lead one, maybe then you could have rested after twenty floors like the rest of us…" All of them had fought in Tartarus the night before, but only Minako had climbed up all forty without a break.
She wrinkled her nose at him playfully. "You know I was never one to sit on the sidelines. Well…what's the rest of our gang doing?"
Ken considered the question thoughtfully. "Both of out senpai went out somewhere," he reported. "Junpei-san took Koro-chan out, saying something about how he has a plan to pick up girls with him…? And I think Yukari-san took the girls with her to go shopping. No one wanted to wake you up, but Fuuka told me to tell you that she'll pick something cute for you."
"Th-Though I think anything would look cute on you…" Ken felt his face heat up at the comment, and he was rewarded with a coy wink from Minako before she swung her legs over the side of her bed, chin in her hands.
"So, just you and me huh?" She smiled widely. "Sounds perfect!" He listened hard for any sign of sarcasm in her voice but found absolutely nothing but her usual sincerity. "Have you had lunch yet?"
"N-No, I was just about to make something before I remembered that you hadn't eaten yet…"
"Okay, how's this sound? Give me five minutes to get ready and we'll either go out to eat or else I'll make something for us."
Ken was getting annoyed with himself for stammering, but stammer he continued to do. "Sure, sounds great. How about we stay here? There's no one else here anyway…" He added hastily, "And it'll save money."
Minako shrugged. "It's not like we don't get rich exploring Tartarus, but alright."
"Er, what do you want to eat?"
She smiled once more. "Instead of catering to my whims, why don't you think about what you want and I'll see if I can make it when I get down?"
"If that's what you want…Thanks, Minako." Ken sensed that his face was really red again. He tried not to notice how the sunlight painted her hair, skin, and eyes gold with its radiance, and in its place, he concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and not tripping like a fool as he left her room.
The dormitory was deserted, and the silence was sort of…not frightening, but unsettling. He was relieved when he finally came to the first floor, and just to add some much needed noise, he turned on the TV and let it display the news. Apathy Syndrome cases were on the rise again, which was to be expected he guessed, but they still had one week before the next full moon. He headed for the kitchen and stood there, staring into the refrigerator without really seeing anything. Instead, his mind, of its own accord, flicked onto the topic of Minako Arisato, as it often did these days.
…She wasn't dating anyone at the moment. She had even insisted that she hadn't been joking that day she had called him her boyfriend. She never hesitated to go to cafes or restaurants with him, and she had even turned down Akihiko on Christmas. Instead, she spent the day with him…Was it possible that the leader of S.E.E.S. was…was into him like that…? Or was it out of pity? Or friendship? Maybe she saw him like a favorite little brother?
How troubling. He knew she definitely cared for him a lot more than anyone else in the dorm, but…
Was it…like…that? She had even happily let him into her room!
A familiar voice giggled behind him. "Ken-kun, you're letting all the cold air out."
Ken yelped in surprise, turning around and slamming the fridge's door all in one movement. He tugged at the collar of his orange and black shirt self-consciously. "Sorry, I was just thinking…"
Minako tilted her head to the side, scarlet eyes sparkling with laughter. "So, what should I make for us?"
Well damn. He hadn't even thought of that yet. "Uh…" He thought of something quickly. "R-Remember how you said you'd make whatever I want? I-I'll be happy to eat whatever you want, Minako."
She stuck her tongue out teasingly. "You're just saying that because you don't have any ideas, do you? That's fine." She started taking things out of the cabinets, speaking all the while. "Keep me company as I cook?"
"Of course!" He spotted his old silver house key on a gleaming chain around her neck and felt his heart flutter in delight. There was nothing else there from anyone else. Just his gift. "You sure you don't want any help?"
"Nope, sorry, it's a surprise," she replied in a sing-song voice. "But I promise you'll like it."
"I-I'd like anything made by you, Minako." The fact that she wasn't bothered in the slightest by his speaking her name without any honorifics was a good indication of their relationship, he thought. He sat down in a chair, watching her bustle around the kitchen. She had a real excited look on her face, and she was really pretty in that outfit…He shook his head to clear it. Faintly, Ken heard some music pulsing from the earphones that were dangling around her neck.
"Ken-kun," Minako began after about five minutes. He could smell what seemed to be beef, and also, she was clearly boiling rice. In fact, she had a whole bunch of stuff in a pan and was expertly tucking in more things as she spoke. "You didn't have any plans today?"
"Oh, um…" He looked down. "I wanted to stay here, so someone would be here when you woke up…"
"So you did have plans, but stayed for my sake? That's really sweet of you, thanks!"
He watched with interest as something in the pan—he couldn't see it from his current angle—caused a small plume of fire to rise up briefly. Minako ignored it, paying absolutely no attention to the flames as they petered out. He knew he was blushing again. "I-It's nothing special…"
"Also, I'm sorry for sleeping in late and interrupting your plans." She was putting soy sauce on something, her back to him, but he could tell she was wearing her gentlest smile.
"Oh! No. They're not ruined at all…I'd much rather spend the day with you."
"What a charmer you are," Minako laughed. "You'll be a real lady killer when you're older, I'll have to watch out."
"…You really think so?"
She gave him an elated glance over her shoulder. Her eyes were shining and she was grinning, full of energy like usual. "Trust me, girls know these things."
He kicked at the carpet bashfully. "…I don't want any other girl but you though."
Her movements paused for a second. "Hehe." Then she resumed with even more gusto than before. In fact she was moving so quickly he was afraid that she'd end up burning her hands or something.
Ken wasn't quite sure how to interpret her comments. Was she just playing along, like he had feared? He mentally assaulted himself. No more doubts. Minako knows I love her, and I don't think she's the type to play around with a guy's feelings…No, certainly not Minako-chan? She was just too sweet and kind.
After a few more minutes of small talk, Minako placed down one large bowl with a flourish. She seemed pleased with herself, her eyes shut tight as she wore a toothy grin, similar to the Cheshire Cat. She sat down on the other side of the table and handed him a pair of chopsticks, excitedly clacking her own. "Okay, you first!"
He blinked. Anyone would know what this was. Gyudon, otherwise known as beef bowl, like at that once café they had gone to before. It smelled delicious, and he hadn't even tasted it yet. To his shock, Minako picked up a pinch of the stuff and held it out to him. Something mysterious edged the smile on her face, causing the corners to waver. He wondered what was wrong. Blushing, he took the bite off of her chopsticks and chewed slowly, savoring the heavenly taste before swallowing.
"Do…you like it?" Minako was averting her gaze from his, apparently finding something interesting about the window. "And don't just say 'yes', it's all right if you don't…"
Ken was speechless for a few seconds, and then—"Wow! This is amazing! It's even better than the kind you can get in those expensive restaurants!"
She met his eyes momentarily, and he realized the "mysterious edge" he had seen was nervousness, from her of all people. "You really mean that?"
"I-I couldn't lie to you, Minako…" Damn blushing and everything that caused it. "It's great! Really!"
She put on one of the most beautiful smiles he had ever seen. It took his breath away. "…Thank you." She propped her chin on the hand holding her chopsticks, staring into space, or maybe just the past. "…My parents died when I was very little, but I remember some things really clearly. For example, once, when my mother was cooking, she told me how she met my father. She had been a chef in a popular café and he had become enraptured with her cooking…They met after he asked to see the chef, so he could give his compliments to him…and he had been so surprised upon finding out the chef was a girl." She sighed. "'The quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach', my mom used to joke…This was the recipe that let my parents meet, and on top of that, it was my dad's favorite…"
Ken realized just how important this dish was to her. No wonder she had been worrying over whether or not he would like it. He looked down at the beef bowl as if it were a holy object. "Minako…"
Suddenly, she grinned. "Come on, eat up." She picked up a piece herself and popped it into her mouth, and gosh did she know she had just indirectly kissed him? His own mouth had been on those things after all! "Before it gets cold."
"Oh, right." He began to do so, taking into account exactly what something so simple as a beef bowl actually represented to her. Soon, they had finished, and Ken moved to do the dishes. Minako made to rise, but he gestured for her to sit back down. "You cooked, at least let me clean up."
She smiled again. She smiled a lot, he observed. "Hehe, okay, if you insist."
As he starting scrubbing the pan she had used, Ken was thankful for the fact that his back was turned. This way he didn't have to worry about how red his face was. The sound of running water pervaded the entire room, and lilac scented soap bubbles floated around him like lost fairies. He recalled something from the night previous. "That's a really cool Persona you have, Minako."
"The blue dragon one you had back in Tartarus."
"Oh, you mean Seiryuu? Yeah, he's one of my favorites." He heard her giggle lightly. "I'm still working on improving him, though."
Ken very nearly dropped his sponge. "Improving him? He can already tear through almost every Shadow singlehandedly!"
"Almost every Shadow. Not all."
He gazed moodily at his reflection in the stainless steel. "…I always say I want to protect you," he said after a while. "But I don't think you need me for anything."
He heard her chair scrape back, and then, before he could do anything, she had wrapped her arms around him from behind. "Ken-kun," she murmured softly. "You're a bigger help to me than you know."
"M-M-Minako…" He probably resembled a tomato right now, he figured.
"Just keep doing what you do. That's my strength right there." She ran her fingers through his hair for a heartbeat before ending it with a playful rumple, messing up his hair style—not that he minded. She then went on to flick some soap bubbles onto him.
It took a bit for him to get his bearings, but Ken found them, and soon he was tossing some bubbles from the sink at her as well. Minako shrieked with laughter—(laughing and smiling, she was always laughing and smiling)—and soon a full-fledged bubble battle was going on between the pair. They chased one another around the first floor of the dorm, creating more ammunition in the sink in order to fling the suds at one another. Ken was having a whole lot of fun, and neither seemed to mind how damp their clothes were getting.
Minako abruptly let out an alarmed shout.
"What's wrong? Are you all right?" Ken asked anxiously, coming out from hiding behind the couch. His eyes widened as he beheld the sight of the sink overflowing with water and bubbles—they had neglected to turn it off in their fun, apparently.
Minako hurriedly turned it off, still laughing. "We better clean this up before Mitsuru-senpai and Akihiko-senpai return."
It didn't take long to clean the little mess they had made, and soon after the pair was lounging on the sofa, only listening to the TV with half an ear. Minako had begun yawning again.
"Do you need some more sleep?" He fidgeted with his fingers, self-conscious about how close they were sitting.
"Hmm no. I'll be fine…I think." Minako folded her arms behind her head. "Ken-kun, can I ask a question?"
"O-Of course. Anything."
She was, curiously, staring up at the ceiling when she finally responded. "Do you like living here?"
"O-O-Oh. Yeah. I mean…you've all been really kind to me, e-especially you…" Ken looked away. "I-If I hadn't come to the dorm, I'd not have met you, after all…"
"You're just too sweet." Minako leaned over a placed a speedy kiss on his cheek. "What makes me happy is that everyone in S.E.E.S. is comfortable being here." She reclined back and closed her eyes. "I always do my best to make everyone feel like we're all in one big, happy family."
"Family…A lot of us is missing family, huh?" Ken lifted one hand and laid it on his cheek, over the spot that her lips had touched. He felt like his insides had melted, and the bliss he was feeling was almost euphoric. He could quite possibly die a happy boy—er, man right now. He wasn't expecting his voice to be so stable, but it was.
"Yeah. We can't substitute for those loved ones, but maybe, we can help fill that void just a little…"
"W-What do you suppose that makes everyone? If we're a family?"
She opened one eye lazily and studied him with it. "Mitsuru-senpai is the mom, Akihiko-senpai is the dad, and the rest of us are all brothers and sisters. Shinji might be an estranged cousin though...just kidding!"
He saw something odd flit through her expression when she said Shinji's name, but he couldn't identify it. It bothered him. "Heh…" Ken focused his gaze on his hands. He wondered how long it would be before he could be as tall as she was. Was it possible to make oneself grow taller? Six years was a large gap, true, but that sort of age difference became trivial the older you got. Twenty and twenty-six, for example, wasn't as scandalous as…
Ken opened his mouth to ask a question, but then he saw that she was asleep again. She must've still been worn out from those forty floors she had scaled in Tartarus. He looked all around, as if he expected to see Junpei with his face pressed against the glass of the window, spying on them.
But there was nothing, just the TV.
Hesitantly, he moved over and kissed her cheek as well. It was chaste, but he felt proud of himself for it. "…I love you, Minako…" He said in a voice so quiet it was practically a whisper.
In her sleep, she smiled.
Author's Note: Atrociously OOC I'm sure. I like these two, but I was trying to write it in such a way that it's not Shotacon. Reviews are very much appreciated!