Aigis is watching again. It's not polite to comment—no, it'd be a shame to comment. The night is nice. The wine is sweet. Yes, it would be a shame to break it, this night, this taste. The air is so dirty, but that's what she likes about it. It smells like sweat and like sugary cocktails. The alcohol evaporates into the air. Minako brings the glass to her lips and keeps it there. She reviews the list of upcoming performers. Rise Kujikawa's going to be in town in a few weeks. She swirls the wine around once, twice, and then sips. The girl looks too young to be in a bikini just yet. Not that she knows how old Kujikawa is.

Aigis sits in the shadow of the bar. Minako sees her too clearly: the light glinting off her armor, the shape of the night bending around to fit her. The fortuneteller is on Aigis' right side and makes no notice. It's though Aigis has fallen invisible. People talk to Minako often, very often. They think she listens. She does, most of the time. Aigis listens, too; but more than listening, Aigis records. It's like talking into a camera, only unlike a camera, Aigis won't betray her by leaving her thoughts out for anyone to see. Aigis is very loyal, but this is not always a compliment. And it's not always something people will appreciate. Yukari thinks that Minako must hate it. It's an inconvenience. That's true. But it's also true that it's not always an inconvenience she dislikes.

She's feeling flirtatious tonight. She lets her hair down. Undoes the first two buttons of her shirt. She hikes her stockings up a bit higher. Guys like that. They're strange. She's strange for going along with it. She sniffs her wrist. Men's cologne. The cats seem to like it. If it's good enough for the wildlife, it's good enough for the people, and it's good enough for her. She has a compact with her, but she doesn't want to preen. A new coat of lip-gloss. She's always liked pink.

The song fades. A new one comes on. The lights change from pink and green to blue. And to be honest, she likes blue, too. She makes sure to sway her hips and to make eye contact with those facing her, even the ones who aren't looking at her. She smiles a little, and giggles, quietly, to herself. She's not planning on talking with any of them tonight.

Aigis registers surprise when Minako sits next to her. Minako takes care to smooth out her skirt behind her, to make sure that she bares just a hint of thigh. It's a gesture and motion that means little to Aigis. She can see Aigis' pupils dilating and then narrowing again in thought. Minako rests her hand against her neck, and lets her arm slide so her hand cups the side of her face.

"Can I buy you a drink, angel?" she says.

Aigis doesn't as much as blink. "I did not know that they sold alcohol to minors in this establishment."

The bartender shoots Minako a look. Minako ignores it. "A Shirley Temple," she says. Then she tilts towards Aigis, smiles behind her hand, and says, "Anything you want, kitten?"

Aigis narrows her eyes. Then she looks directly at Minako and says, "You are dangerous."

"An Arnold Palmer," Minako says. "Sweetened."

She watches the bartender mix the drinks. Aigis is scanning the dance floor. The bartender isn't bad. He isn't flashy. His presentation is solid. Too solid. She takes points off. He has too heavy a hand for a light club and a light drink. The lemonade looks pale green. He sets the two drinks before Minako. Minako looks between the two, and tries to decide which one she wants first. Both look nice. They look very nice. Oh hell. She drinks the Arnold Palmer first.

"The drink is nonalcoholic," Aigis says. "I approve."

Minako lifts her glass, winks, and says, "Thanks."

Aigis inspects the second drink in front of Minako. Aigis doesn't touch. It's not something that she does. Aigis leans over. The strands of her hair catch the light. They look almost green. If Aigis' hair looks green, then does Minako's look black or blue? She lets herself try a hair flip. All she gets is a whiff of her own shampoo. She'd check a mirror, but there's no fun in that. She finishes off the Arnold Palmer. Then she picks up the Shirley Temple and faces the dance floor. Aigis sits and watches. Every now and then Aigis looks over at her. First she looks curious. Then she looks anxious. Minako isn't in a hurry. She's thirsty. It's summer. The club may be air-conditioned, but it doesn't make a difference. It's hot in here. Minako's done nothing but sit and drink, but her hair is damp at the neck and at the forehead. She wants to go onto the floor, but not with one of the people dancing here, not when it's this close to the full moon. She doesn't want to find someone she danced with moaning somewhere else in the mall. She's not arrogant enough to think it's her fault, but recognizing someone that close to her (and they are close to her, even if she doesn't know their name) in that state upsets her sometimes. She doesn't like waiting. Sometimes it feels like waiting is all she does.

The fortuneteller next to Aigis looks apprehensive now, too. The music's shifted. Minako doesn't like this song. She pumps up the volume of her headphones. The fortuneteller gives her a funny look, too.

Minako doesn't want to point out that she's going to be too dead to appreciate any hearing loss, so she turns the volume up a little higher. Aigis taps her on the shoulder. Her voice filters through the pounding club and the own beeps and clicks in her headphones: You must turn off your music. You will disturb the other patrons. Minako-san. Minako-san. Mina—

It shouldn't matter what name Aigis uses. She and him are nearly the same. Minako likes to think she's the fun one to be around. That's because she's the one who came later. She knows the path and the deviations. She knows her fate. It makes life different for her. He was always uneasy. The future, already so hard to see, vanished off the horizon, and then the waves of the ocean came rising up to crush him. She still doesn't like hearing people call her by her brother's name.

Sometimes it's nicer to sink than to float. She can see the shapes bobbing above her; the ones who will float down to join her, the ones that will make it to the next challenge and next threat. It's a bit like hell in that way. She's stuck and will not be free for a long time. And by the time she is free, then what? She asked Igor once. Igor's hard to talk to. Igor doesn't like talking to her. He thinks she's cheeky. Elizabeth likes that. Theodore likes her, but embarrasses easy. She's been trying to get him to call her "big sis" for weeks.

Maybe she'll save the stockings-and-skirt trick for him. That might be the thing that will get him to say it.

The ice in her Shirley Temple has melted. Minako makes a face. She drinks it anyway. She pays especial attention to the angle of her head, the movement of her throat, whether or not Aigis is even looking. Aigis is watching. Aigis disapproves. Minako takes the headphones off.

"Why are you doing this?" Aigis asks.

"I'm thirsty," she says.

"Oh," says Aigis. "This is what you do when you are signaling someone to… get you a drink." There's a bland look in her eyes. "I see."

"It's supposed to be cute," says Minako.

"Cute," Aigis says, even more flatly.

"You don't like it?"

"Irrelevant," Aigis says. "I am only to protect you. There is no other service I must perform."

That's one way to look at things. It's too bad. Minako wishes she could have brought Akihiko, too. The skirt trick would have worked on him for sure.

"Do you eat at all?" she asks.

"… I do not require material substance to survive. Also, I do not have any… taste buds."


The lights flash from blue to green to pink. Minako smiles. She likes that color. The fortuneteller says to Minako, "It will start soon, won't it?" Minako ignores it. There are only three minutes left. She wants to go onto the floor. She instead crosses her legs at the knee. She contemplates flashing someone, but this isn't that kind of club.

Still, if she does flash someone, it'll make for a nice story to tell Junpei and Yukari. They'll be scandalized. Yukari will lecture her on manners and properness. Junpei will be… Junpei.

Aigis is eyeballing her again. It's almost funny. Minako smiles. Then the clock strikes midnight. The air goes cold. The skin on her arms puckers. Everything goes green. Minako takes a breath through her nose. She looks to the bartender. The transmogrification is in effect. The Shirley Temple in her hands looks like blood. Should have ordered a Bloody Mary instead to match. She sets the glass down on the bar. The music's gone. Her MP3 player doesn't work. Aigis is searching for Shadows in the dark.

"We are trapped here until the end of the Midnight Hour," Aigis says.

It's obvious to anyone with eyes. The doors won't work at this hour. It's okay. Minako doesn't plan on leaving. She wraps her arms around Aigis from behind (a gesture that Aigis won't understand—won't really understand—for some more months. It's too bad) and, jokingly, kisses the metallic rim of Aigis' ear. "Come and dance with me."

"We must be on alert. We may receive a directive from Mitsuru-san."

"Come on, Aigis," Minako says. "Relax." She takes off her headphones and puts them on Aigis' ears. "Let's have some fun."

"This is," Aigis says, "fun?"

Minako shrugs. She turns Aigis around. The blue dress doesn't do a thing to hide how her feet end. Minako doesn't know how Aigis keeps her balance. She presses up against Aigis. Holds onto her. Sways to the beat of some song from some artist from some place. Aigis stays stiff. Then she moves, awkwardly, but in synchronization. Her feet tap against the floor. It's a slow dance. There's no music. Just the steady tap of Aigis' feet. Aigis' skin is cold at first. It's warming.

Aigis pushes Minako away.

"This is not 'fun,'" Aigis says.

"It's fun," Minako says, and then the first tear drips loose. Oh. She didn't notice it at first, but she's crying, isn't she? She blinks. The tears stick to her eyelashes. She puts on a smile and pushes her face into her shirt. Then she says, "I need to…"

"You are upset," Aigis says. "What is wrong? Did… dancing do this?"

What is she supposed to say? She's going to miss this. She wishes she could be there to see Aigis know what it is that makes one alive. She wants to know because she's under the ocean, watching everyone float away. "I'm sad," she says. "Dancing didn't make me sad. I was sad when I got here."

Aigis nods. Minako can see Aigis cataloguing "dancing" as "bad," anyway.

"Is it strange?" Minako asks. "Waking up so long after so much time had passed?"

Aigis doesn't make any movement for a while. Then she says, "Why do you ask?"

"You were asleep for a long time."

"No," Aigis says. "I was temporarily inactive. I am not a human. I do not sleep."

Aigis isn't going to say anything more than that.

"Let's keep going," Minako says. She reaches for Aigis' hands. The hands slip away from her.

"No," Aigis says. "I no longer wish to."

"Okay." Minako takes back her headphones. Clips them onto her ears. She pictures the lights flashing, the music hot on her ears. One, two, three. One, two, three. Oh, it can be a waltz… One, two, three, and again, count it. She imagines someone's hands on her hips. Shuts her eyes. She can see someone's shape. She dances by herself for a few minutes, and then slows. Aigis is watching her. She puts her hair back up. It's cold. She understands why. She goes upstairs. She seats herself on the couch. Aigis follows.

"You are tired," says Aigis. Minako lies down. When she looks up, Aigis' face is hovering over hers, so close that if Aigis could breathe, Aigis would have been breathing onto her. "Are you… 'sad'? I, of course, know what sadness is. But what does it… mean?"

"Mm, well…" Minako says. "I think… that we don't really need to think over it too much right now."

"… I see."

"I'm tired."

"As a robot, I do not require sleep," Aigis says. "You may rest without worrying about any potential Shadow attacks."

That's nice. Minako knows that she's in good hands. She lets her eyes fall shut. The couch sags as Aigis sits next to her. She in Mutatsu's usual spot. Minako can feel Aigis watching. The bullets in Aigis' fingers click. They move forward. Then they retreat. A cold fingertip touches the edge of her ear. "Minako-san… Tell me: what is it like to sleep?"

She's not cruel. So she doesn't answer.