I'm currently on my third play-through of P3, first play-through of P3P with 50 hours on the file. And being the obsessive fangirl I am, came up with this premise.

WARNINGS: SPOILERS! (starting at about October 4th, but this fiction might go through the end of P3P); S!LINK spoilers; angst, self-injury/depression; Minako is the female main character and, as such, is written subjectively from how I think she would react and act in the game based upon if she built up certain social links.

Disclaimer: I do not own Persona 3, Persona 3 Portable, or any of the characters and storyline from them. I also do not own some of the speech taken from events in the game and social link events that is included in events here. The writing here and certain storyline elements that differ from the game are mine.

Summary: SPOILERS! After October 4th, Minako is lost and her heart is torn to pieces. How could happiness find her again amidst all the forces vying for a chance at taking her life... including herself? One person will brave the void for her, his only hope that she won't be lost forever. Love had nothing to do with it, but maybe, in the end, it will.

Genre(s): Angst/Romance/Tragedy

Words this Chapter: 8,268

"Tick-tock Goes the Glass Wristwatch"

Rikotsu-sama

Chapter 1

"Pain is like fabric. The stronger it is, the more it's worth."

-John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

10/7 Daytime

Her fingers rested on the cool, brown leather on her wrist and her eyes stared as the second-hand ticked away moments of her life. After two days of skipping, Yukari had finally persuaded Minako to attend school. So there she sat, the rough tips of her fingers fiddling with the wristwatch.

"I choose… Minako!"

She blinked her eyes, clearing away the tears that had lifted and looked up. Swallowing, she asked, "What?"

"Why is the cape red in bull fights?" her teacher repeated, an impatient tone souring her voice.

"I honestly don't care," Minako whispered to herself, looking back at her watch. It was almost the end of the day.

"What was that?" The question was still directed at Minako from her teacher, growing more angry by the moment.

"The answer is because it excites the audience, but I said that I don't care why," Minako answered, a resolute anger of her own making the tightness in her throat disappear.

"That is no way to speak to me," her teacher gasped.

"I cannot apologize for being disinterested," Minako said frankly.

Her teacher clenched her fists and swallowed back harsh words. Simply pointing to the door, she stated, "Go to the principal's office."

Sighing, Minako shoved the book she never bothered to open back in her bag and walked out of the room without a glance back at her peers.

When the door closed behind her, Yukari shot a look at Junpei. His mouth agape, he returned her gaze with a worried one of his own.

"What is the matter with our leader?" Aigis asked Yukari.

"Quiet down. We still have fifteen minutes, so let's finish this material," the teacher continued on, as if Minako's disturbance hadn't happened at all.

10/7 After School

Sitting in the faculty office in one of the chairs by the doorway to the principal's office, Minako's other teachers who weren't currently in class peered at her with curious looks, though she took no notice of them. Her fingers still on the watch, she again watched as the seconds ticked away. She shouldn't have let Yukari drag her back to school. It was a waste of her time.

"Minako Arisato?" came an elderly voice. It took her a moment before she looked up into the face of her pudgy principal. "Come inside, dear." He swept his arm inside, gesturing for her to enter.

Sighing, Minako stood and dragged herself into his stuffy office. The Autumn air was stale in his office as she took a seat on one of the plastic chairs facing his desk. Her legs stuck to the sweaty, beige plastic before the principal even took his seat.

"So, Miss Arisato, why are you here today?" The smoker's rasp of the principal made his words scratchy, like worn-down carpet against bare feet.

"My teacher sent me here," she stated simply.

"Well, yes, that much I know. For what, I would like to hear from you."

"I told her that I didn't care," Minako sighed, crossing her arms.

"About?"

"I didn't care about the answer to her question. And I told her I couldn't— or wouldn't, rather, apologize for my disinterest in class."

"And why are you disinterested?"

"I doubt you honestly care why. You just want to know how you can fix the deviant who is disrupting your perfect little social environment and breaking the rules. You don't actually care that one of your students for all intents and purposes died two three days ago. I bet you don't even know his name." Now standing, Minako couldn't hold back the tears she had been waiting all day to cry. "He is hooked up to machines that he will never live without. He won't even wake up! But all you care is that I'm acting up in class! I have no respect an administration that only cares about order, not the welfare and health of its students." Wiping away some of the tears with her sleeve, Minako slung her bag back over her shoulder and stormed from the office.

The walk from the faculty office to the front gate felt like a walk of shame, but Minako, despite the tears and despite the looks from students, kept going. At the front gate, she took a left and walked away from the train station, to the far wall of the school. No one came here but the smokers at lunchtime, but because the bell run more than half an hour ago, they would be long gone. turning the corner, Minako leaned back against the cool, shadowed wall.

She sobbed, lifting her hands to cover her mouth. The tears renewed themselves as she slumped down against the wall and buried her head in her hands.

When she felt someone sit down next to her, their shoulders touching, Minako looked up through blurry eyes at her intruder. Her sobs worsened, and she hid her face again. They slipped their hand around her shoulders and stroked her with their thumb, but said nothing. There was nothing to say. Because they understood, better than anyone else, why Minako cried. They understood why she hid her face from them.

Time stretched on in front of them for a long time even after Minako's sobbing stopped and neither moved. It was all they needed: to feel each other there. To not feel quite so completely abandoned even for just a little while.

"Why did you follow me?" Minako asked, her voice unshaken by her previous tears.

"I thought you could use a friend."

Looking up at him, a weak smile tugged at her lips. "Thanks, Akihiko."

A smile was his response.

Sighing, Minako stretched out her legs and looked up at the sky. Scarce clouds were shrouded themselves by the darkening sky. He removed his arm from her shoulders and she made no protest.

Feeling another bout of tears threatening to spill over, Minako stood up.

"Are you going home?" he asked. She nodded, swallowing. "Let me go with you."

"No," Minako said, the tightness in her throat shrinking her voice. "I want to walk home by myself."

"Minako," he began, standing up himself.

"Stop it, Akihiko," she insisted, the tears starting up again. "I understand who Shinji was to you. But Shinji was someone to me too. He was more to me than I could ever express. I never knew I could feel this way for anyone until Shinji."

"What do you…? What do you mean, Minako?" Akihiko asked, looking at her with confusion in his eyes.

"I know we aren't close, Akihiko. The only thing we had in common was Shinji. And now he's gone. So you don't have to pretend that we're friends. You don't have to pretend you like me because I know you never have. I appreciated that when you saw me and Shinji get close you were nice to me, but I don't need you to sympathize with me now. There's nothing left between us except SEES. So, I'd appreciate if you left our relationship completely professional." Her voice cracked each time she said his name, and she knew he noticed. Picking up her bag, Minako turned to leave.

"Even if he's gone, our relationship to him still connects us, Minako," he said to her. She didn't stop walking away. "If you don't let me in, let someone in, Minako!" he shouted after her. "You don't have to be alone!" When she was gone, Akihiko sighed, sitting back down against the wall with her in his memory.

Minako took the back door inside, but couldn't avoid the attention of Koromaru. "Hey, there, boy. Shhh," she hushed to the response of whining. He licked her out-stretched hand and whined again in concern.

"He says that he wants to know why you're sad."

Looking up from the dog she helped rescue, Minako met the robotic eyes of Aigis. "I just want to be alone, please, Aigis. Koro-chan, stay here." With that, Minako snuck upstairs without the others noticing and in her room, she closed and locked the door behind her.

She dropped her bag carelessly by her desk, pulled off her shoes and stripped off her clothes. Standing in front of her full-length mirror, Minako crossed her arms over her naked breasts and stared at her nude body. Red, unhealed cuts decorated her hips and thighs. Sighing, she sat down on her bed where she couldn't see herself in the mirror and pulled the razor from the nook in her desk.

Looking at the pale skin of her abdomen, she started to cut. After the first slice, the tears began to flow for the umpteenth time that day. As she cut and cut, the blood began to meander down her stomach. The physical relief to the emotional anguish rushed through her.

A knock on her door startled Minako.

"Minako?" It was Yukari's voice. "Are you in there?"

"Just go away," she shouted at her friend.

"Minako, I want to help you. Please, let me in. We should talk."

"No, just go away!"

"Dammit. Let me in!"

Minako didn't bother replying. The apathy had begun to set in from her release. She set down the razor on the edge of her sink and grabbed a black hand towel from the cabinet.

Yukari continued to call to her and bang on the door for almost ten minutes.

Dampening the hand towel, she smoothed away the blood, some of it already dried. A fresh batch of scars to remind her. Never forget. You can't forget, they tell her. You told him you wouldn't go anywhere.

She set her hands on the sink and leaned on them, letting her half-untied hair fall in front of her face. "I can't let him go…" she whispered, choking again.

Closing her eyes, she could hear his voice again.

"This is your fault, you know. I'm all confused."

Feel his hands again.

His hands gripped at her back, digging in deliciously. "You're all I can think about, day and night…"

Breathe in his scent again.

She sniffed softly and his indescribable, unique and distinctly masculine smell. "Dammit, this isn't how it's supposed to be…" He let her go, leaving his hands on her elbows. The space between them was miniscule. "You get it, right? Go back to your room."

She shook her head softly, lifting her hands to touch his forearms.

"If you don't go now, you're not gonna get another chance," he continued, looking into her chocolate eyes intensely.

"I'm not going anywhere!" Minako insisted, pulling him closer. She could feel his sigh on her lips.

"You're a real piece of work, you know that…?" His smile was contagious, spreading across her lips in an instant. "I'm gonna make myself clear… I ain't holding back anymore." He slid his hands up her arms, across her shoulders, up her neck and rested on her cheeks.

"I never wanted you to hold back, Shinji," she whispered to his lips. As he neared, she held her breath. A month ago, this would have been unfathomable. Now, she burned for it. This is what she had been waiting for: a love that would sweep her off her feet and in no time at all, own her completely. Shinji was who she had always been waiting for.

He stopped a fraction of an inch from her lips for only a moment before taking the plunge. The kiss was sweet and soft. Minako, smiling into his lips, pulled him closer by the flaps of his coat. Taking the hint, he pushed forward hungrily, tasting her mouth, possessing it.

He moved his arms to her waist and spun her, pushing her backwards. She held onto his coat and followed his slow footsteps. Never once did their lips part.

When she felt his bed behind her legs, she let him lower her down to the soft surface with a softness she never knew he possessed. His forearms framed her face as he looked down at her, his eyes dark. Smiling up at him, she pulled off his beanie and tossed it away. His hair spilled out in careless waves.

"Sorry, I know I should cut it," he apologized, a blush tinting his cheeks.

Minako laughed, raking her hands through his hair and pulling it back. "I like it…" she whispered as she rolled them over, now straddling him. "There's more to hold onto."

He smiled into her kiss and their tango began again. He slid his hands up her thighs, hiking up her skirt to her waist. She shivered at the touch. "Minako, do you…?"

"Keep going," she whispered to him as he sat up, her still straddling his lap. "I want this… I want you," she told him, looking straight into his eyes.

"Minako…"

"I love you," she said, voice a little shaken. "Do you…?"

"You have no idea how in love with you I am, Minako." He told her, pulling her closer. "I've never felt this way for anyone…"

Minako let go of the breath she didn't know she was holding and laughed.

She shook herself from her memory to find more tears dripping from her face into the sink. Every day she would relive those endless moments and the ones that followed. She would see his smile, taste his lips, feel his breath on her neck, hear his voice call out her name. And every day she would relive the loss.

Boom.

Minako felt her heart drop at the sound.

Catching sight of Akihiko up ahead, Minako took off. Her tennis-player lungs held strong through the sprint, but gave out at the sight before her. As the narrow alleyway expanded into the area behind the Port Island Station, Minako couldn't breathe.

The man with the gun was nowhere to be seen, but she could still hear the shot ringing in her ears.

All she could see was Shinji on the ground, Akihiko by his side and a pool of blood gathering. She couldn't hear herself scream, but she must have because Ken looked up from his mother's murderer dying on the ground to look at Minako, then back at him.

Ken was crying as Shinji spoke to him, "Heh... Why the long face? Isn't this... what you wanted? It's alright... Give yourself time... Let your anger be your strength. You're still just a kid, Ken... You got your whole life ahead of ya… So don't waste it… Make it your own… Okay?"

Ken sobs, "But I… I…"

Shinji looks to Akihiko who is crying furiously, trying to put pressure on the wounds. "Take care of 'im, Aki."

"...I will," he wept.

Minako, just watching the scene unfold, finally couldn't hold herself up. Not two feet away, her legs gave out as she watched the man she loved dying. "Shinji?" she whimpered, knowing he couldn't hear her. "Shinji, please don't leave me."

"Don't cry… Minako…" he choked out.

She looked up from the blood to his face and crawled the remaining room over to him, shoving Akihiko out of the way. "Shinji. Shinji! Please…"

"This is how… it should be…" he told her, before breaking into a fit of coughing.

"No, Shinji, please!" she cried out. In an instant, she whipped out her evoker and called out, "Saki Mitama!" And the yellow persona spawned in the air above her. "Diarama!" But the persona did nothing.

"I am sorry, Master, but I cannot heal," Saki Mitama told her, a frown on its lips.

"What? Why the hell not?" she shouted at it.

"You have used up too much magic energy in the battle with Fortune and Strength. I apologize, Master. There is nothing I can do," it answered before fading back into her mind.

Minako dropped the evoker by her side, utterly defeated.

As the others began shouting about getting him to a hospital, Minako couldn't move. She sat by his side, stroking his hair as his shallow breath continued.

Eventually they pulled her away, practically carrying her with them to the hospital.

The doctor's prognosis was grave. Shinji couldn't breathe on his own, and had no chance of ever waking up.

And again she looked at her reflection in the mirror. It was worse than it had ever been. Dark bags adorned her eyes, uncharacteristic lines accented her brow and mouth, and her lips were chapped and bleeding.

She could almost hear it— his voice saying, "You look like shit, why don't you go to sleep?"

And she begins to remember all the things she wouldn't get to do with him. She would never spoon with him on a lazy afternoon, she would never take a nap with him, she would never dance with him, she would never swing with him at the park, she would never see a movie with him, she would never kiss him in the rain, or screw him in a closet. All the things she had imagined they would be able to do, they wouldn't. Couldn't. It was stolen from her. Her happily ever after was taken by a couple of bullets and a member of Strega.

But she didn't want revenge so much on the man from Strega. The elementary schooler who had taken Shinji away from her that night, who had compelled Shinji to sacrifice his life for him… that was who Minako placed the blame and her hate. Ken Amada. The name sickened her. Sure, the kid had watched Shinji kill his mother, but getting him killed in return was not fair revenge. Shinji did not mean to kill his mother, but Ken had meant to kill Shinji; though he didn't pull the trigger of the gun, he killed him. And for that— for killing the man she loved, Minako would never forgive him.

She would not kill him as Ken killed Shinji for revenge, but she would make him aware of whom he hurt. Of whom he stole from her.

Tearing herself away from her reflection, she tugged on a pair of panties, pajama bottoms, and the t-shirt she had stolen from Shinji when she scurried upstairs after that night she spent in his room. It still smelled like him and she entombed herself in his scent and its comfort as another wave of tears overtook her when she curled up in bed.

The tears carried her into a fitful slumber.

10/11 Early Morning

A knock came at her door at eight in the morning the following Saturday. Sitting up just enough to squint at the clock across the room, Minako groaned and flopped back down. Was it too much to ask for people to just leave her alone and let her attempt to sleep away the sorrow?

"Open up, Minako."

"Go away," she groaned. It didn't matter who was at the door. She didn't want to talk to anyone.

They sighed and Minako heard the person at the door fumble with keys before her door opened.

"Dammit, why do you have the chairman's keys, Akihiko?" she sighed, turning her head to look at her intruder. The look on his face was one of shock when the blur in her eyes cleared.

"What did you do to yourself?" he almost growled, walking over to her.

"What?" she asked, still groggy. Stretching her arms, she noticed her shirt was bunched up below her bust, exposing her stomach. In a moment of panic, she shot up, pulling it down.

"Did you…?" he asked, taking another step closer.

"It's none of your business what I do with my body," she spat at him, hugging her arms around her stomach.

Akihiko looked at her skeptically, anger in his eyes. "I know it isn't my business how you choose to mutilate your body, but I'm fairly certain Mitsuru would have a field day with this information."

Minako looked angrily up at her intruder. "You wouldn't dare tell her."

Akihiko stared stonily back at her. "Spend the day with me today and I'll think about not telling her."

"Blackmail?" she wondered aloud, cocking an eyebrow.

He stared back at her, not replying.

"Well I don't really have a choice, do I?" she sighed, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.

"No," he answered. "Now get dressed. I'll be waiting for you in the lobby."

"In my uniform?" she asked, noticing as she stood up that Akihiko himself was not in his uniform.

"No, school isn't where you should be right now," he said as he turned to leave. "Just wear something you can move in."

"Then where…?"

"You'll see, just hurry up." He shut the door behind him.

Sighing, Minako locked the door behind him and looked at herself in the mirror. Still she looked like shit. She took a minute to brush her gangly hair back into a pony tail again, clipping back the wisps around her face. She didn't change her shirt, but pulled on some loose jeans and her tennis shoes. She grabbed a sweater from her closet in case it was cold outside, and walked downstairs.

"Oh good, you're up and about," Mitsuru exclaimed as Minako got to the lobby. "Where's your uniform? Hurry and go change or you'll be late for school."

"She isn't going today, and neither am I," Akihiko told his classmate, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"Why? Midterms are in less than a week! There's no way you'll catch up!" Mitsuru was flabbergasted at the two ditchers.

"It's not what we need right now. And I'm sure you'll let me borrow your notes and Yukari will similarly let Minako borrow hers," Akihiko explained, walking over to Minako. "Right, Yukari?" he called over his shoulder to the girl in pink who was waiting by the door.

"Oh, uh, right," Yukari answered.

Akihiko took Minako's hand and began to lead her out the door. "We'll be home late, so no Tartarus tonight, okay?" He didn't wait for an answer from Mitsuru, just lead Minako out the front door and down the steps. When he let go of her hand, Minako held it tightly against her chest.

"Don't lead me around like I'm a stray puppy," she barked at him as he started down the sidewalk.

"I just wanted to get you away from Mitsuru before she ate you alive for ditching," he explained as she caught up with his stride.

She scoffed and let him take the lead. They took the monorail to Tatsumi Port Island and were heading toward school.

"I thought we weren't going to school," she wondered aloud.

"We're not. C'mon, we're almost there," he encouraged, increasing his pace a fraction.

It took them another five minutes of walking before they ended up at a studio near Paulownia Mall. "This is where we're going?" she asked.

"Yeah, this is where I come to train outside boxing practice sometimes," he said, a small smile on his lips.

They entered the small studio to the smell of stale sweat and BO. "If I had known that's what you'd meant by wear something I can move in, I wouldn't have worn jeans," she admitted as they made their way through the workout studio to a small area with lockers.

Akihiko opened a locked one that must have been his and tossed in things like his cell phone and wallet and pulled out a water bottle and towel. "You wanna put a couple things in here?" he asked her, his hand on the door.

She nodded and pulled out her keys and wallet, just now noticing she hadn't even thought to bring her cell phone. Placing them in the locker, Akihiko led her past a lot of what looked like college-student-aged men and brought her into a small off-shoot room. It was fairly small but plenty big enough for two people to do a variety of activities.

Akihiko pulled out a couple of mats from a rack on the far wall and put them on the ground fairly close to each other.

"Stretching first. Don't want you getting hurt," he said, beginning with leg stretches.

"Right," she murmured. First, Minako rolled her jeans up to above her knees then she stripped off Shinji's shirt, tossing it next to Akihiko's water bottle. All her fresh cuts were exposed beneath her sports bra, but she didn't care. Akihiko had already seen them and she didn't w— couldn't risk Shinji's shirt ending up smelling like her sweat.

Discarding her thoughts, she took her place on the mat next to Akihiko and began to stretch like she did at tennis practice. She had to admit that stretching had always been a therapeutic exercise for her, gave her time to slow down and think. But now, that was the last thing she needed more of.

"This is your fault, you know. I'm all confused."

Swallowing, Minako pushed away the memory, but she could feel the tears surfacing. She paused between sit ups and took a deep breath.

"Breathing hard already? I didn't know you were that out of shape," Akihiko teased, not bothering to look at her.

Minako didn't respond, just took a moment to take another breath to force back the tears.

"You're all I can think about, day and night…"

"Can we get to something other than stretches?" she asked, sitting up and looking at him.

"Are you always this impatient?" he chuckled, straightening to look back at her.

"No, just when people blackmail me into working out with them." The sarcasm dripped off her words like venom.

"Fine then. You wanna learn how to box?"

"I still don't have a choice, do I?"

Akihiko laughed as both of them stood. Akihiko pulled some hand wraps out of the towel that she hadn't seen and wrapped them swiftly and skillfully around his wrists and hands. "Do you want me to wrap your wrists or can you?" he asked.

"I don't know how to," she answered, watching as he pulled out a couple more ace bandages.

"Give me your hand," he told her. Reluctantly, she complied and held out her hand.

"You have to take off that watch," he told her.

Looking at her wrist, she hadn't even noticed it was still there. She just never took it off. She lifted her other hand to the strap and fingered it for a moment.

"Shinji gave me this," she murmured, loud enough that he could hear her.

"It's not going to go anywhere if you take it off," he told her, taking her hand in his. In a slow moment, his eyes more on her face than on the watch, he unbuckled the leader wristwatch and set it down by his water bottle. He still watched as she stared, frowning, down at the watch. He didn't push further about the subject.

He took her hand back in his and after a split moment of lingering, his rough fingers began to wrap her wrist tightly. One after the other, he wrapped her hands. "There you go. Now do you want to start with drills?"

"Why don't we just spar?" she suggested, stepping back a couple paces and rolling her wrists, getting used to the tightness of the wrap.

"But you've never…" he said, but was interrupted by a right hook from her. He ducked and took a step back, getting his footing.

"I think I can hold my own," she told him, taking stance nimbly.

"Alright, but don't blame me if you lose." He shot up with a punch towards her chest, but she sidestepped, landing a mid-kick to his abdomen before they both took stance again. "Oh, so it's that kind of sparring."

"I don't have my naginata, so you're at a huge advantage. I think I should be allowed to use everything at my disposal." She grinned and bounced a little, getting used to the tightness of her jeans on her thighs.

"Very well," he agreed. "Your move, then."

"This isn't chess. Come at me," she taunted.

As his next barrage came, she dodged and blocked as best she could, looking for her opening to go on the offensive. Stuck on the defensive, Minako had the opportunity to observe Akihiko's style without shadows in the way and without him stopping midway and whipping out his evoker. It was smooth and nearly flawless. It was no wonder why he was captain of the boxing team at Gekkoukan.

In an instant, there it was: her opening. Darting down to avoid a punch, she flew up and socked Akihiko in the chin. He staggered backwards, a small amount of blood oozing from his lip, but he didn't have more than a moment to recover.

Now on the offensive, Minako did her best to not leave herself open, but he hit her square in the jawbone after half a minute and the tides were back in his favor.

"You're good for someone who isn't trained in hand-to-hand combat," he laughed.

"Thanks, you're better than I thought you'd be," she wheezed, her breath becoming labored.

"That might be the nicest thing you've said to me." His smile flashed before her in between blocks.

She didn't respond, just concentrating on dodging and getting in shots where she could. Unfortunately, the quiet in her mind led her to think about him again.

"You're a real piece of work, you know that…?"

All the memories did was anger her now as the endorphins began to pulse and flow through her veins. But nevertheless, furious tears began to fall.

"Are you alright?" Akihiko asked, pausing long enough for her to notice the opening and take it. "Minako, stop." He dodged her punch and used her outstretched arm as a chance to stop her. Grabbing it, then the other as it shot out, he effectively stopped her from attacking him again. "Minako, Minako!"

She sobbed noisily, going limp against him.

Catching her, he held her upright as she cried into his shirt. She took a grip on his shirt and leaned on him. "Minako…" he whispered, holding her.

"I… I miss him," she sobbed out, looking up through bleary eyes at him.

All he could do was nod, pulling her closer, one hand on her back the other on her neck. He rested his cheek on her head as she cried. There wasn't anything he could say that would heal this wound. There wasn't anything he could do to patch it up. Just wait. And keep her safe. Because if no one could do that, they might all lose her. And even though he didn't know her like the others did, she was their leader. And they couldn't afford to lose her like they lost Shinji.

This was happening all too often: her letting him see her cry. And she didn't like it, but she couldn't help it because he was the only thing, literally, keeping her standing at that moment. Her legs had long given out, but he just held her upright and waited for her to finish. She hated showing moments of weakness, especially to people she didn't like, but Akihiko just seemed to have a way of always seeing her at her worst.

The tears subsided and Minako caught her breath. Waiting only a moment, she let go of Akihiko's shirt and pushed out of his embrace. Reluctantly, he let her go. Wandering over to their stuff, Minako took a seat. Following her, Akihiko took a seat on the other side of it against the wall.

Picking up the water bottle, Akihiko took a long drink, then held it out to her. "Want some?"

She nodded in thanks and drank down the rest of the bottle before handing it back.

Glancing at her watch on the floor, Akihiko noticed it was past nine. "You wanna shower then grab some breakfast?"

Silence met his question and he looked up at her. Her head was back against the wall, her eyes looking at the ceiling. Her hands rested on her legs.

"Minako?"

"I don't understand…" she said, the hitch in her throat still present. "I don't understand why you're doing this. You've never liked me. Why choose now to start doing these things?"

"Because I can't just watch you give up."

"I haven't given up."

"Not yet, but all those cuts," he pointed at her stomach where the plethora of small red marks were still fresh, a couple bleeding from their sparring. "That's the beginning of the road to giving up."

"Why do you even care if I give up?"

"You're our leader."

"Mitsuru could easily replace me. Even you could. I'm expendable."

"The bonds you have with them are something that isn't expendable."

She looked over at him, her eyes dry and bloodshot. His gray eyes (1) looked back at her, confidence in them.

"But why do you, out of everyone, care this much?"

"Because I understand what you're going through more than anyone else."

A small laugh fell from her lips. "I keep forgetting that I'm not the only one he left behind…"

A silence bathed in melancholy thoughts settled over them like night falling over the sea.

It was true, and though she didn't want to admit it, that Shinji had left behind much more than just her. He'd left behind a life and friends and Akihiko. Maybe Akihiko was even more left behind than she was. After all, they had been friends for nearly their whole lives. She had only known Shinji a few months and as for being lovers, that didn't even last two days. Maybe she had no right at all to be this sad. To mourn him like this. Maybe she had no right to love him at all.

Her spiraling thoughts only left her more depressed. She felt like crying again, but her pride held them back. Akihiko would not see her break down again.

"Were you and Shinji…?" His voice as gravelly.

"Let's just say we were more than friends and leave it at that," she said, her voice coming out close to a growl.

"He never told me…" he whispered solemnly.

"He didn't exactly have much time to tell you…" she answered, softening her tone.

"Oh." was all he could say.

An awkward silence stretched out in front of them.

"That shower is sounding really nice," she said frankly, grabbing her watch and Shinji's shirt and standing up.

"Yeah…" Akihiko replied, similarly eager to change the subject of conversation.

He showed her to the women's shower, singular, which was an awkward little room with a locking doorknob, a shower with cracked, off-white cement tiling separated by a partially ripped shower curtain from a toilet, small bench, and a sink. Lacking shower items, Minako showered off the sweat under a cold drizzle. Using a towel she borrowed from Akihiko, she dried off and pulled on her clothes again. When she exited, she found him sitting on a bench by his locker, his towel about his shoulders and his hands on his knees.

"Where're we going for breakfast?" she wondered aloud, pulling her keys and wallet from his open locker.

"Most places have probably switched to lunch by now, so how about Hagakure?" standing, Akihiko rubbed the towel around in his hair one more time before tossing it in the locker and pulling on a fresh t-shirt.

"Sure," she replied, avoiding his eyes as she too put her towel in his locker.

The walk to Hagakure was quiet. Neither had anything to say, even through their food they stayed silent. Only once they were standing outside Hagakure, their checks paid, did they speak again.

"So where to next?" Minako asked, looking at her companion.

"This way," was all he said, turning and walking towards who knows where.

She jogged a couple steps to catch up with him and let him lead the way to their next destination, knowing that he probably wouldn't tell her where that was even if she asked.

Minutes later, Minako stopped dead in her tracks, the hospital looming overhead. "We're not…" she whispered.

"C'mon, Minako. You should see him," Akihiko told her, stopping a few feet ahead and looking back at her.

"No. No— I can't," she murmured, shaking her head. The tightness in her throat was returning, tears welling up in her eyes.

"You need to," he insisted, walking back to her and wrapping an arm around her waist to lead her forward.

"No," she said, louder this time. "No!" She wiggled out of his grasp and pushed him away. He whispered her name. "No, I don't want… I can't…" she blubbered, tears now streaming down her face.

"C'mon," he urged, again pulling her forward by the waist.

Unable to protest for lack of feeling in her legs, she hobbled towards the hospital with Akihiko as support. It a few minutes, they were standing outside his room, a piece of white printer paper with his name printed and tapped to the plaque, "Room 207, Shinjiro Aragaki".

Trembling and still crying, Minako leaned against the opposite wall, staring at the sign.

Akihiko opened the door and held it for her, holding out his hand to her without a word.

She stayed like that for a few minutes before glancing at Akihiko. Swallowing, she forced herself off of the wall and took his hand. He pulled her gently inside, closing the door behind them.

The mechanical beeping of machines filled the room alongside the inflating and deflating of the manual breathing device. But all she could hear was his silence; all she could see was him. His hair framed his face; his beanie must have been thrown away and his clothes too. The blood had been cleaned from his hair and everything looked pristine. A white hospital gown, white sheets, white pillow, white walls. The only spot of color was a small mixed bouquet sitting on his end table.

Clasping her free hand to her mouth, the tears restarted. She held onto Akihiko's hand tightly, perhaps too tightly, and just shook.

Akihiko gestured to the bed and kindly pushed her forward, forcing her to let go of his hand.

She stumbled forward, her footsteps echoing on the linoleum. At the edge of the bed, she stopped and looked down at his face. It looked exactly the same, but his frown lines were gone. One might call it serene. But all Minako could see was the face of the man she'd lost.

"Akihiko, why…" she whispered, pushing back a sob.

He didn't reply, knowing she didn't need an answer to her half-question. All he could do was cross his arms and watch the reunion of lovers. He knew that she hadn't come to visit since that first night. She needed to see him. She might never recover if she didn't. So he would be the asshole who forced her to face it. He could handle her wrath. That was fine. Just so long as she clung to someone other than the man on the bed.

The first step to healing is facing the facts.

Shinji lying in that bed, unable to wake, was the fact of the matter.

And so he watched, silent as the grave.

Minako reached out her hand, trembling almost violently towards his face. Slowly, she touched it, caressed it. She let out a half-laugh and a melancholy smile crossed her lips. He was warm. And had grown stubble. He felt… exactly the same. And that was more heartbreaking than anything else.

She let her hand slip away and let it rest in his. His hands were, too, the same. Big, warm, rough. And she held on tight.

In moments, she couldn't handle it. Her legs gave out and she collapsed, her hand still holding Shinji's. Sobs wracked her body to the point where she could barely breathe.

And he let her break down, because he knew that she needed to.

A long while passed before she was quiet again, on her knees and still clutching Shinji's hand like one might the Bible. She took a deep breath and wiped her tears on the sleeves of her shirt with her free hand. She stood on wobbly legs and looked at him again for a moment before she turned to Akihiko.

Her entire face was red from the tears, her eyes were bloodshot and she continued to sniffle. She looked worse than the day before.

"He feels exactly the same, y'know," she said, glancing at her hand still clutching Shinji's. "And he looks exactly the same. But…" she swallowed, "but this isn't Shinji. He can't wake up, so his soul isn't here. Shinji is already dead. This is just a shell being forced to breathe." Tears welled up a little again, so she took a moment to close her eyes and breathe before she continued, "Even though here he is, alive, I can't afford to get my hopes up. That's why I say he's dead."

"I never…" Akihiko began.

"I know you never asked. I just thought I would tell you," she said, looking into his eyes. There was a sadness and a strength in her eyes that Akihiko had never really seen before. Her normal, chipper disposition had disintegrated in the face of tragedy in a way that no one could have predicted. For some reason, Akihiko wanted to bring back that light to her eyes. To see her smile like he had seen so many times before.

Akihiko nodded silently, opening the door and waiting until she was ready to leave.

Minako looked down at the face of her lover one last time, leaning down and pressing a kiss to his forehead, then one slowly on his lips. Leaning away, she closed her eyes, remembering his words…

"This is how… it should be…"

She squeezed the hand she still held, and followed Akihiko out of the room without another word.

On the sidewalk outside the hospital, she let out her breath and laughed, loud and ludicrously. She looked up at the sky and cried as she laughed.

"Minako?" Akihiko asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.

She lowered her voice and her head and chuckled, wiping away the tears. Turning to Akihiko she looked him in the eyes. "Thank you… for that— for today. I think seeing him is helping me let him go." Her smile was melancholy.

Astonished, Akihiko nodded. "Y- you're welcome." He was expecting… anger for putting her through that. Not… gratitude.

"So, anywhere else you'd like to go?" She asked, glancing at her watch and finding that it was after noon.

"That was all I had planned," he admitted, putting his hands in his pockets.

The breeze started to pick up and they could smell rain in the distance. "Wanna just head back to the dorms?" she asked, "I'd really like a nap."

Akihiko looked at her nervously.

Laughing awkwardly she added, "I promise I'm not going to cut. I'll even take the nap in the lounge if it makes you feel better."

Akihiko let out a sigh and a small laugh. "It would," he admitted.

"Sounds like a plan."

10/11 Afternoon

On their way back, the rain caught up with them.

Stuck under a small roof, the two caught their breath from running.

"Is this another tsunami?" she asked, having to shout over the crashing rain.

They were close, pressed up next to one another under the tiny roof. But they barely noticed.

"We can't risk waiting it out if it is!" he replied, trying to look at her but she was blurred by the water still streaming down his face.

"We're only a couple blocks from the door, wanna sprint it?" she asked, pushing her soaked bangs out of her eyes, only to have them flop back in place.

"If you're up for it," he yelled, "I am."

"Let's do it!"

In moments, she pushed herself out from under the roof into the downpour and was running. The water stripped her to the bone with chill and each droplet was like sharp rocks thrown on her back. But she pushed forward, begging her legs to move faster, carry her further. It was nearly impossible to see through the wall of water and mist around her, but she managed to find the steps up to the dorm. Bounding up them two at a time, she fumbled for her keys.

Akihiko caught up seconds later.

Her numb fingers shook as she tried to pull the key from the pocket of her jeans, but it felt cemented shut by the cold water.

Akihiko pulled his out of his pants' pocket with much more ease than her and reached around her, shoving the key nimbly into the lock and twisted it. They pushed the door open and practically tumbled inside.

Drenched, the two took a moment to catch their breath, the cold having stolen it.

"That wasn't very much fun," she laughed, her hands on her knees with every inch of her dripping.

"I agree," he chuckled.

Slowly, Minako straightened and began to walk. "Ugh, why do I have to live on the third floor?" she gripped as she began to walk up the stairs.

Akihiko followed her, stopping as she started up the steps to the third floor. "Meet back in the lounge?" he suggested.

"Yeah, but I might need you to help me cut these pants off," she laughed, a note of seriousness in her words.

"I'm not sure how much help I could be at that," he replied simply.

"Well let's see," she said, stopping a half a dozen steps up the staircase, "whether or not I can get these off on my own." She sat on the next step, flipped off her shoes, and tried to grab a hold of the calves of her pants to pull them off, but they wouldn't budge. Laughing awkwardly she said, "I didn't think I actually wouldn't be able to get them off." Looking at Akihiko both pleadingly and apologetically she asked, "Help?"

Swallowing, he stepped up the case. "How?"

"Just pull on the bottoms," she instructed, leaning back on her elbows and holding her feet out to him.

Nervously, he did as she said, and pulled on her jeans. They stuck and he pulled harder. Eventually they slid off and Akihiko let go of them. His eyes widened at the sight of her legs. They were longer than he thought, and milky white (though stained red from the cold), but that didn't catch his eye. Cuts stamped her thighs just like they did her abdomen.

Having forgotten about them completely, Minako quickly stood, blushing through her already red cheeks. She opened her mouth to speak, but instead just grabbed her pants and scrambled up the stairs without a word.

Akihiko found himself speechless and confused. Turning around, he entered his room and changed quickly. Still cold, but less so without wet clothes, he found himself wandering up the stairs and then in front of her closed door.

Knocking, he called, "Minako?"

"It's open," he heard her say.

Cautiously, he opened the door. She was standing in front of her full-length mirror, naked save for her underwear and sports bra. Blushing and looking away, he asked, "Aren't you freezing?"

"Do you think they'll scar?" she asked, not even looking at him.

A little confused, he looked up at her. Her lips were in a taught line, eyes were dark. She wrapped her arms around herself and when she turned to look at him, tears were in her eyes.

"I don't want another reason to remember," she said, a sniffle muffling her words.

"They're just superficial wounds, so they shouldn't scar," he said, not knowing what else to tell her.

She chuckled softly, rubbing away her tears ineffectively with her wrists. "That's good," she laughed.

He didn't speak as she pulled on a baggy t-shirt and a pair of pajama bottoms. Tugging her comforter untucked from her bed, she trucked out of the room as if nothing had happened. Akihiko watched her walk down the hallway for a couple seconds before following her down the stairs.

In the lounge, she snuggled up on one of the long couches under her blanket using the soft armrest as a pillow. Akihiko took a seat in an armchair.

Only a couple of minutes after they were settled in, Akihiko reading a book, did Minako speak, "I'm still cold."

Akihiko took a moment to respond, "Do you want me to get you another blanket?"

Minako sat up and looked at him. "No, but can you…" she bit her lip, a little bashful. "Would you hold me?" It felt awkward, to say the least, asking him for the favor, especially one so intimate, but Minako was really cold. And desperate times called for… strange measures, right?

Akihiko looked at her blankly for a minute before dog-earing his page and setting the book on the coffee table. He stood and took a couple steps over to her couch. A few awkward moments ensued where the pair tried to find a comfortable position to both fit on the couch. They settled in under the blanket spooned together, him behind her with his back to the back of the couch.

She could feel his warm breath on her neck and smiled. Snuggling in a little further, she reached around for his hand and took it in hers before pulling it around her.

"Thank you," she whispered.

His laugh tickled the back of her neck.

It had already been a long day and they easily drifted off in a companionable silence.

TBC...

(1) I looked at screenshots of the game and fan art and half the time his eyes are grey and half they're brown, so I just took a shot in the dark. Feel free to correct me if I got it wrong.

Wow. Haha… This is one of the longest intro chapters I've ever written for a fanfiction. I'm kind of in virgin territory for this one, too. I've never really written tragedy before or touched on self-injury, so I apologize if it wasn't that well-written.

I am very happy with this chapter, though, so I hope you enjoyed it too. This pairing is my OTP, and I'm having a lot of fun exploring it.

Please leave a review if you liked it, or if you didn't, let me know why. Please don't flame, though. That's just rude.

-Rikotsu