ENTITLED: If You'd Said Yes
FANDOM: Persona 3 Portable
LENGTH: 4,000 words
SETTING: April 2009 - April, 2010
DISCLAIMER: Lord Minako would roll over in her grave.
NOTES: Look, I am having a romantic crisis. Fictional characters should just shut up and suffer with me.
SUMMARY: She always looks scared. — Yukari, Junpei, Minako


[APRIL]

So Minako's kind of annoying about Yukari.

Mostly because she refuses to believe Junpei's assertion that she is a psycho-bitch-lady.

"Wrong," Minako rolls over on the couch, lounging with her legs up over the armrest, "She is a psycho-bitch-lady — and a very nice person — but you don't really think that about her, do you, Junpei?"

And she smiles. Knowingly. And Junpei just looks at her in horror.

"No. No, Mina-tan, wrong. God. I mean, sure, she's hot. So is the sun. Would I make-out with the sun? No. Wanna know why? Because the sun would burn my lips off."

Minako widens her eyes, gives him a slow grin, and slides back behind her magazine. Junpei stares at the top of her bangs before he scoots out of his chair and smacks her feet to the floor for attention. "I really don't think you understand."

Minako laughs.


[MAY]

Yukari doesn't like Tartarus.

That might be the difference between them.

Because outside of the midnight hour, Yukari has brains and beauty and popularity and Junpei is just Junpei. He strikes out half the time, and he's never had the precision to be the pitcher, the ace.

So when Yukari puts a gun against her head, she needs to use both hands. She needs to close her eyes. She's gotten better at it, more practiced, but it's still hard. She always looks scared.

He would have thought that maybe it was because Yukari had things she could lose, and he didn't.

But Minako's eyes are as empty as his own, every time they pull the trigger. Again and again and again.

It's sick kind of symbolism.


[JUNE]

"You know," Mianko swings her legs, toes dangling nearly a foot off the floor. Was Yukari that short? "There's this movie out. With aliens."

Junpei feigns embarrassment, falsetto, "O-Oh my, this is so sudden! Arisato-kun, I—! My heart isn't ready!"

Minako slants him a quelling sort of look, though her face is buried in her ramen bowl, and she kicks his ankle. "Don't be stupid. You should take Yukari."

Junpei stares at her, exasperated, "For the last time, it isn't like that. And anyway, Yukari hates those kinda movies."

Minako sniffs. "Are you sure? Or are you just generalizing?"

Junpei feels this is grossly unfair, "It's Yukari. She isn't you."

"Thank you for making me the abnormality of the female species."

Great. Now he's due in for another lecture about his supposedly dated ideas of gender dynamics and misogyny. Junpei sulks. He wants to snap, Girls don't like stupid action movies, okay? but knows it'll only deepen the hole.

"Anyway," Minako wipes her mouth with the back of her hand—seriously, isn't she kind of pushing it? even he hasn't done that since he was a kid—and starts riffling through her pockets for change, "I know for a fact that she wants to see it. She told me so."

Junpei is pretty sure he knows where this is headed, "Ironically?"

"Well," Minako shrugs, "That's everyone's cover."

He muses on this, and two days later he figures, what the hell, and asks her. It occurs to him that maybe he should have waited for a day when she didn't look so pretty, so obviously made-up. But with Yukari, he'd have had to wait a very long time.

She gets that look, then. That pinched, disgruntled look. Like she can't believe he's talking to her. Like she can't believe the universe would be cruel enough to waste her time with him. The back of his neck gets hot. He's glad she can't see.

He'd phrased it so carefully, too. So obviously, blandly, throw-away. So that it didn't mean anything.

Yukari's eyes narrow infinitesimally, then, and she almost shrugs. "Sure, whatever. I was thinking about going to see that, anyway." She pushes off the lounge's couches, snatching up her coat on the way. He might be in shock. He's definitely in shock. Minako shoots him the most enthusiastic thumbs-up he's ever seen in his life. Awesome.

They spend most of the commute arguing. That, at least, is familiar. He buys her ticket even though it's not a date, because he figures, girls like Yukari. He buys her a soda too. She looks almost pleased as she follows him into the theater.

As the lights darken, he wonders if this somehow is a date, and if he should take her hand, or something. He looks, comparing. She's got awfully thin hands.

And he's pretty sure that those pretty, dainty things, could kill him in about half a second.

So he keeps to himself, and joins Yukari when she snickers at all the attempted drama, and doesn't tell her that this movie is so freaking cool.

He would have told Minako. But then, she would have said it first.

Minako's still on the couch when they get back. He's reminded of an excited parent as she feigns nonchalance, even pleasant surprise to see them together, like she had somehow magically forgotten everything about it. "How was it?"

"Awful," Yukari says happily, and he grins.

Minako shoots him an impossibly exasperated look.


[JULY]

Chidori.

He loves her name. It sounds brilliant and fierce upon his tongue. Like her.

He says as much to Minako, who only stares at him in shocked revulsion. He squirms. "What?"

"'Brilliant and fierce?'" she echoes, looking nauseous.

Junpei ignores her. He should have known she couldn't understand. She's probably still stuck on her Yukari thesis, anyways.

They have been getting along better, though. He thinks so, at least.

But she isn't Chidori. Yukari is too pretty for that. Too pretty, and too soft looking. Girlish.

Chidori is raw and harsh and as beautiful as some wild thing. His heart hurts just looking at her and all of her proud scars.


[AUGUST]

It's too hot.

"I'm melting," Minako tells him.

"Only witches do that."

"I'll get you, my pretty," she's too hot to cackle appropriately, only sprawls in front of the fan, occasionally bleating into it so she can listen to the distorted sound.

Junpei groans. "Do you think the shadows will just leave us alone for once?"

Minako outright laughs at him.

Yukari finds them like that, maybe hours later, bags thrown over one arm. She raises her eyebrows at their shameless sprawl.

"It's hot," Minako whines. Yukari smiles, more kindly than she has ever smiled at Junpei, nothing defensive about it. She wipes absently at her grow, and the faintest sheen of sweat there. Trust Yukari to make sweating look attractive, Junpei thinks grumpily, and hopes Chidori is well air-conditioned. She doesn't seem like the type to do well in heat.

"We should do something." Yukari says, bright.

He and Minako moan in tandem.

"Oh my god," Minako accuses, "You're awful. You're Akihiko." She levers herself onto one elbow, looking towards him pointedly, "He's jogging."

Junpei feels faint just imagining it.

"Oh, come on," Yukari lugs her bags onto the couch, and on top of Junpei. "We could get our nails done."

"Oh yes, let's!"

"Shut up, Stupei," Yukari snarls, while Minako laughs for as long as she can before that, too, exhausts her.

"You could lay on the floor with us," Minako wheezes. "It's nice."

"Why does he get the couch?"

"I'm glued to it with my own sweat," Junpei tells her cheerfully.

Yukari lowers herself to the floor.

"We should have a sleep-over," Minako says after a few lazy minutes. Yukari turns her head.

"You're just saying that because you don't want to climb the stairs."

Minako groans, "Don't remind me!"

It's another hour before Akihiko comes back, dripping sweat and red as his shirt. Junpei is almost sickeningly glad that to know that the other boy could be unattractive.

He stops in the foyer, chest heaving, "What're you all doing?"

"Mental exercises."

"Oh," Akihiko says, and flops down on Minako's other side, the furthest from Junpei, who now has Minako and Yukari as a barrier. They all watch, incredulous, as Akihiko begins doing crunches. "Do you mean riddles, or studying?"

Minako wails, "Sempai, you are disgustingly healthy. Please stop it. Please."

Akihiko breaks form long enough to clap a hand on her bare shoulder, "Come on, you too. We have to be ready for tonight."

Minako looks hypnotized by the steady flex of his abdomen, "What is this. Are you auditioning?"

"Come on!"

Minako whines and barters and begs and finally drags herself through a set of agonizing crunches. When she's done, Akihiko springs to his feet and shakes out his arms, loosening the muscles. "Hey, come on. Let's run to the mall and stock up on supplies."

Minako stares at him, horrified, "You actually mean run, don't you?"

Junpei and Yukari remain utterly still, and silent, as their upperclassmen drags their leader out behind him. When it's safe, Yukari rolls over to take Minako's spot in front of the fan. "Hey. Do you think they're...?"

"No way."

"Right," Yukari says slowly, "I mean, I always thought that...with Mitsuru, you know?"

"Right," Junpei agrees, firm, and not knowing why he so dislikes the thought of Akihiko and Minako together.


[SEPTEMBER]

Shinjiro happens.

Minako is insufferable.

"No, Junpei, you don't understand," she breaths in, reverent, "His hands."

"OH MY GOD," Junpei informs her.

"He is so hot," Minako coos, "Do you think he likes me? Because I really like him."

"Why are you talking to me about this?" Junpei moans, and Minako bristles, indignant.

"I had to be the test audience for your love ballads! Grow a pair."

Junpei sputters.

"And he's so tall," Minako sighs, flopping back on her bed and hugging her pillow to her chest, kicking her legs. "And manly and strong and cute and adorable."

"Adorable," Junpei echoes, incredulous, then, "Cute?"

"He totally likes me," Minako announces, sitting suddenly upright, her eyes blazing, "He has to!"

"Uh," Junpei says, terrified.

"I'll make him!" Minako growls, now almost glowing with the light of battle. Junpei hopes Yukari comes home soon. Definitely Yukari. No way was Fuuka sturdy enough to handle this level of crazy.

Somehow, though, true to her word, he spies Minako cornering Shinjiro in the kitchen in the days that follow, and the distance between them shrinks at an alarming place. When she catches him looking, she winks in that unsubtle way of hers that requires full-body contortion.


[OCTOBER]

He's never seen anyone look like Minako does.

He sits next to her in the hospital's waiting room, and doesn't know what to say. He's never been like her, and doesn't know her easy wit. And he's sure she doesn't want to laugh right now, in the first place.

He wants to ask her about it, kind of. You and Shinjiro? Really? You loved him?

Night and day.

Sort of like him and Chidori.

His stomach knots at the thought of losing her.

Minako's eyes have glazed over, and she stares at the floor without seeing it, and because he can't stand to see her that way, because he can't stand to see her look like she has lost everything, he puts his arm around her shoulders, and quietly helps to pull her straight.

Her shoulders jump at his touch, and for one awful moment he thinks she's going to knock him off, but instead she turns and puts her face against his shoulder, and shakes. Her hands are white and knotted in her lap, blood drying along the delicate crevices of her skin. He notes the battered men's watch hanging limp around her left wrist, but doesn't comment on it.

And for a second, he hates the world and guns and the one who'd written the rules.

Minako's throat catches on a sob, and Yukari comes nearer to smooth a hand over her leader's shoulder.

But she doesn't cry for very long.


[NOVEMBER]

Chidori doesn't look that different when she's dead. All white and red, just like she'd have wanted. But more severe, now.

His fault.

Always his fault.

Mitsuru takes care of things, in that way she does. Arranges for the funeral. Arranges for the cremation.

She would have liked that. He doesn't like the thought of her shivering underground. But hot, maybe, bursting through the air on dust and light. That was better. What she would have wanted.

He feels her ghost when he sleeps. He feels her in the second he pulls the trigger. Half-dead and half-alive, always, forever. Something wild and hard and proud.

Minako prays for her, while he stands beside her at the grave marker. It's a good thing, he supposes. She's kind like that, thinking of him even with Shinjiro half-dead himself.

They all check up on him, in their different ways. A word or a touch on the shoulder. It's as thoughtful as it is cloying.

Yukari makes him take her to the movies. Horror, something with clowns. It's grisly.

Watching it, though, together in a dark room, he begins to laugh, and can't stop. He waits for Yukari to hush him, but suddenly she's laughing with him, hands against her stomach as they struggle to keep silent, struggle against the watching eyes of the theater's other disapproving occupants.

She shoves his elbow off the armrest at some point and guards it shamelessly.

For some reason, this small detail is what ultimately makes him feel better. Yuka-tan and her bad attitude. Figures.

There was probably some sort of psychological disturbance there.


[DECEMBER]

Yukari's already mad when he gets there, painted nails pinching her meat bun. Carbs and meat, now, that's something.

"Wow, Yuka-tan. Better skip lunch if you're eating that," he grins, against his better judgment. Like he doesn't know how her molars will grind into a sneer, how the savory filling will spurt out when her hands clench.

"Shut up, Stupei," she snips, one foot tapping. Jesus. He checks his watch. He's maybe two, three minutes late. Which wasn't even late, really. He'd kept Minako waiting for half an hour before when the trains broke down and he'd had to walk—and the exasperated look she'd shot him had lasted two seconds, tops.

He tries for peace, anyway, "Sorry about the wait."

"Oh, no problem. I often confuse numbers as well," Yukari's smile was like poisoned honey, toffee-colored eyes sharp and cruel. His stomach turned over with a dull, angry humiliation. Or something like that, anyways.

Her breath fogs briefly before her mouth, and she turns on her heel. "Hey, come on. I'm freezing."

As per usual, she doesn't give him a chance to reply. So he trots after her, hands clenched and buried deep in the pockets of his jacket. The streets are crowded this close to Christmas, but people seem to melt around Yukari's dour expression and her brisk stride, and in keeping up with her he fails to notice the coffee shop until they're actually standing in line.

He looks around in surprise. Yukari sneaks him a look, and then shoves the meat bun in her mouth, cheeks ballooning. His eyebrows shoot up at this shameless gluttony. From the way her eyes pinch and the little squeal she makes, he can tell she's burnt her tongue. When she swallows, he can actually see the motion in detail, and she pulls a face as she rubs off her mouth on the back of her hand.

It's startling, this sloppiness, and so very unlike her. And suddenly there's a paper cup of coffee almost burning his hands, and Yukari passes crisp bills to the cashier before he can do the proper thing and pay for the two of them—and she takes off again, hand at his elbow, steering him outside. He catches a glimpse of something bright just below her skin.

"Yo, Yuka-tan," his shoes weren't meant for close-packed snow or ice, and he feels like he's going to slip at any moment now, "What?"

"Just go with it, Stupei," Yukari orders. Almost flustered.

For a second he—thinks. There are other boys on the street around his own age, looking at Yukari, looking at an exceptionally pretty girl, and the one she'd attached herself to. She ploughs past the on-lookers, oblivious, but Junpei looks back at them. Back at the befuddled and jealous stares.

It's kind of a nice feeling.

For a second he almost pushes the illusion too far. Looks at the soft flip of her hair and her narrow, athletic body, and—

But, right. Yukari.

Nerves or relief or something fills him with a kind of giddiness, and he throws back a mouthful of the coffee she'd bought him. Girl always loved to spend. "So, I guess I'm the pack mule for your Christmas shopping?"

"Uh, duh," Yukari shoots him a look, "This is how we spend all our quality time."

He snorts, then smiles as close to charming as he can get, "So, I guess this means you've already bought my present, right?"

Yukari lets free one of her better disgusted sighs, but doesn't say anything to the contrary. He wonders, then, if maybe she's been worried about him. If this is her way of making things better.


[JANUARY]

With an hour to go until the end of the world, Minako's missing.

He goes to the hospital without hesitation, and finds her there, silent as she holds onto Shinjiro's hand. That almost stings, a bit, that she's going to man in a coma for comfort, for strength, instead of her best friend.

But when she hears his entrance, she turns to smile at him, forcibly throwing up her mask of relaxed ease, but even then he glimpses a great and terrible knowing in her eyes. Her grin is lined with bitter courage.

Her fingers slacken, and Shinjiro's hand slides down much too slow, as though his fingers had tried to hold on, to keep her there.

Junpei nods, and slips out to wait in the hall. He glimpses her bending down to kiss the other boy on the forehead, on the mouth. He shouldn't be here.

But Minako's there a second later, jaw stubborn and eyes bright.

"Stay with me," she says, and he wonders. He wonders why she looks like that. What she could know, what death has shown her.

He holds up a fist for her to pound, and even if the phrase is worn and used and empty, he means it down to his core when he says, "Bros for life."

She smiles, and he knows she understands.


[APRIL]

Minako's room is clean as he would have expected. She was never one for leaving loose ends.

It's quiet in here. Muted. There is the finest film of dust across her desk, which he only notices because she'd drawn a shaky heart in it with one of her fingers.

She hadn't been studying, near the end. As he inspects the room he realizes that she couldn't have been doing anything but sleeping.

He remembers how she'd looked, after Nyx. Dead on her feet but still strong enough to smile at them, and pretend that she was untouchable. Unbreakable.

But he'd seen her bleed.

He slams his open palms against the glass. The sob in his mouth is a raw and bleeding kind.

There is a soft noise, the latch of the door—thought he'd locked it—shucking open. He brings his shoulders up and keeps his face angled down and away. Pointed.

The door's hinges squeal a long hesitation, and then clasps back to the frame. A moment, and then the softest of footfalls, and another, and somehow he has accidentally memorized the sound of her confident stride. Has memorized her lilac perfume—cloying, honestly, he's never liked the smell of lilacs—but it's faded now to a more pleasant memory of itself, and when she draws alongside him he recognizes, again, the slight and brittle tilt of her shoulders.

Minako had worn vanilla. He'd always liked it better.

Hated the smell of hospitals. Hated the look of despair in Chidori's eyes. Hated the flecks of iron beneath her fingernails.

"What?" he asks her, and his voice doesn't crack but it warbles embarrassingly high. She glances at him, once, below her eyelashes. And a year ago, he'd have blushed.

"I just..." she inhales, exhales, turns not away so much as ahead, uncertain. She can't bully him into acceptance or happiness or closure, and she carries this realization like a heavier shadow.

Both of them, too dumb to think of a single thing to say.

Minako'd always been good with words.

"Can you go?" he asks the window ledge, his shoes, the cluttered floor.

She doesn't move for a moment, and he's afraid to look at her face. To see if she'd been hurt, been offended. Maybe she was angry. Maybe she was going to cry.

He braces for impact.

For a second he thinks he imagines the hand on his shoulder, and maybe he has, because by the time he's thought to look she's closing the door between them, leaving him to his smudged handprints and lukewarm glass.

He breaths, for a second. The ghost of vanilla on the air, and the taste of pennies in his mouth. And he'd been wrong about girls.

He goes out to the hall. Yukari looks up from her seat on the floor, and swallows, her hands tucked nervously behind her. Her face is paler than he remembers.

Yukari Takeba, girl with the heart of stone. Never cried, never hurt, never let anything under her skin.

"I didn't even get to say goodbye," he says, hollow. She closes her eyes, nodding, knowing.

"You won't..." he trails off, uncertain how to say it. Yukari looks up, expression fierce and bright.

"You neither."

He nods, then slides down the wall to join her.

Around them, the world moves. But for that instant, he pretends that the moment is theirs for the grieving, for surveying the empty room beyond the half-open door, the mussed sheets of an unmade bed.

He notes her resolution.

She stands, back straight, and pulls him to his feet.