This bastard of a fic was initially supposed to be an 800 word nothing poking fun at how utterly broken Yawn-B-Gone is in game. Cue Minako and Ryoji going "lol, nope" and skipping off to frolic and make out.
Yawn-B-Gone, by the way, is the best. Item. Ever. It immediately takes a character from the "Tired" status to "Good" without you having to spend 3,000 Yen at Be Blue V or waste an evening sleeping, so it's fairly necessary for efficient Tartarus exploration and stat boosting. I'd buy out the entire stock every Saturday, because otherwise it really would be gone by Monday. But there were a few points where I ran out, or forgot to take it, didn't properly rest, and wound up with a sick Minako.
Minako was asleep in class.
She looked absolutely adorable as she did so. The way she folded her arms, the way her brown hair tumbled over half her face, the occasional sleepy mumbles. Ryoji had never had the unique pleasure of watching Minako sleep, largely because Minako never slept in class. She hadn't seemed to be the sort of student to do so, unlike Junpei, who dozed off at every possible opportunity, and who seemed to view "at every possible opportunity" as whenever the teacher paused for breath.
But Ryoji didn't think any less of her for it. The girl had looked absolutely exhausted when she'd stumbled in to class today, tired almost to the point of illness. He'd wanted to ask her what had happened between yesterday and today that could possibly have caused such a marked decline in her health, but she'd also stumbled in nearly late and had been so preoccupied trying to pull herself together for class that Ryoji hadn't had the heart to disturb her.
Others, however, might think less of her for it. Mr. Ekoda certainly did, and he'd certainly noticed that Minako was asleep. He hadn't said anything yet, of course. Ryoji could tell the expression of a predator awaiting the perfect moment. He didn't like that expression, especially not when it was turned towards Minako. The look in the man's eyes was making Ryoji want to step in front of the girl with his arms spread wide.
At the desk on her other side, he saw that Aigis seemed to feel the same. Their gazes met when they turned in their seats to glance at the girl at the same time. Beneath the basic hostility that always seemed to mar her pretty face whenever she looked at Ryoji, he saw the same concern he was feeling for Minako, and his heart yet again went out to her. After all, any friend of Minako's was a friend of his, even if it was such a pity that Aigis didn't seem to feel the same. Aigis had clearly had very similar thoughts on the situation to Ryoji, and just as Minako was starting to stir, and just as Ekoda was starting to close in, Aigis delivered a subtle but swift kick to Minako's chair leg, the better to jolt her into wakefulness.
"W-What?" Minako mumbled, lifting her head from her desk and rubbing the sleep away from her eyes. "W-What's goin' on…?"
"What's going on, Miss Arisato, is that you were just called upon to provide a translation of this most recent passage," said Mr. Ekoda sternly. "I can only assume from your…posture that you were meditating hard on the issue, and I expect a sterling job."
"P-Passage?" Minako stammered, her eyes going wide with fear. "Um…"
Ryoji thought very, very quickly. He couldn't just give her the answer, as that would make it perfectly obvious that she was unprepared. And she wasn't unprepared – he'd seen a copy of the Tsurezuregusa in her backpack as she'd been fumbling for her notebook. And if he knew Minako half as well as he thought he did, the fact that she'd done the reading would have at least a bit to do with her persistent exhaustion.
Or so he hoped.
Ryoji took a leap of faith. "Oh, yes, Minako was thinking very hard on the matter," he said, managing to give her a wink just before Ekoda turned to face him instead. "I certainly can't say that I blame her. The opening passage of Yoshida Kenko's third essay really gave me a lot to think about. It's amazing, how much those ancient monks could fit into…oh, six lines, wasn't it?"
Minako thought very, very quickly. And, to Ryoji's great relief, she thought her way to the right answer, and she gave him the most heartrendingly grateful smile he'd ever seen before Ekoda turned on her, enough to make his heart feel warm in his chest.
As he'd expected, even rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she provided a word-perfect translation complete with some rather clever insights. Ekoda, looking like he'd just swallowed a lemon, was forced to move on. It took a few more kicks to the chair leg from Aigis to stop Minako dozing off again, but the rest of the class passed without incident.
The lunch bell finally rang, to the relief of all involved, including Ekoda. Ryoji tried to wait for Minako by the classroom door, wanting to give her a few minutes to pull herself together before he inflicted himself on her. But, as he looked in at the slowly thinning hustle and bustle of students, he saw that his assistance might be required further. Minako was still digging through her backpack with the desperate hope born of denial, but Ryoji didn't see any sign that she'd actually remembered her lunch today.
Ryoji had an idea. He took a very quick detour. Specifically, he took a quick detour down the stairs to the school store, which was already crowded with students. That was all right – he'd been here long enough to know that the students all seemed to be so very polite, and with just a few murmured apologies for bumping against them, several of the girls clamoring for some bread seemed more than happy to clear the way for him, even reminding the boys who seemed a bit less willing of their manners.
"Two melon breads, please," said Ryoji, smiling thankfully at the counter clerk and holding out some money.
Even more fortunately, he found Minako coming down the stairs as he wormed his way out of the crowd with two melon breads wrapped in paper. Ryoji blessed whatever lucky stars were watching over him today, before sliding in next to her as she headed for the doors. He didn't see Minako give a little shiver at the glares that were suddenly being turned on her. There were many small but notable things that Ryoji tended not to notice.
"Ryoji?" Minako asked, blinking tiredly up at him. She looked even worse than she had coming in that morning – he wished that he and Aigis hadn't been forced to wake her up at all. "Hey, thanks a lot for earlier – I swear I'm not usually like that, so it's not like it's going to be a habit, or anything. But it was nice of you to put yourself out there like that. Mr. Ekoda can be a real bear."
"Oh, there's no need to thank me," Ryoji said, genuinely surprised that she had but genuinely touched and flattered all the same. "In fact, I think I should be thanking you. It was really impressive, how well you did. Actually, I couldn't understand a bit of what that monk was writing about – you really cleared up some things for me. I should really probably be thanking you. So…"
He could see her preparing to wave off his gratitude, with much less reason than he'd had to wave away hers'. Ryoji, however, was faster, and held out one of the melon breads.
Minako looked from the bread, and then to Ryoji, and back to the bread.
Then she let out a little squeal of delight, taking the pastry from Ryoji and taking a large bite. "Ryoji, you're amazing!" she said happily.
He'd gotten her to smile that bright, beaming smile again when she'd looked about ready to drop ten minutes ago. Yes, just this once, Ryoji was prepared to admit that he was amazing.
"Man, I can never get fresh melon bread from the store. Kids leave class early for this! And…" She blushed, the faintest tinge of pink touching both her cheeks. It was a rather distracting sight. Ryoji realized he was staring, but couldn't quite bring himself to stop. "…I usually bring my own lunch. I just…forgot, today." She nudged him lightly in the ribs. Ryoji shook his head as though dazed and tried to ignore the way her touch made his skin tingle just a bit. "You've been there for me twice today. Maybe I should do something to make it up to you."
"…eating lunch with me would be a good start," Ryoji offered, after his mind starting working again. In fact, it would be above and beyond and more any ideas of "repayment" she seemed to have. He was quite happy just to have made her smile…but, at the same time, he couldn't seem to bring himself to turn down the idea of spending a bit longer in her company.
They found a spot under a tree, its branches bare and creaking in the faint breeze and offering no barrier between them and the weak winter sun. A few girls glared at Minako as they wandered past. Ryoji didn't notice. He just offered half his bento when she'd finished with her melon bread. She asked him twice if it was okay, and Ryoji told her twice that it was. Really, he never seemed to get hungry, not as such. He just ate when everyone around him seemed to believe it was time to eat, and he ate for taste more than anything.
Besides, it was a unique sort of pleasure, watching Minako eat. She threw herself into food just as she seemed to throw herself into everything else, eating with enjoyment without being sloppy about it. It was nice, watching someone who so obviously enjoyed eating. So many of her classmates didn't. Even in the scant couple of weeks he'd been here at this school, he'd seen that – girls eating only vegetables and plain rice for lunch, if that. Aigis, poor girl, he'd never seen her eat anything.
Minako had no such reservations, and it was nice to see.
"I'm glad I was able to help," he said, when she'd all but polished the box clean. Offering her a gentle smile, he added: "I suppose the human body knows to try and get more energy from food…when it can't get it from sleep."
Minako blushed again. Again, it was a very distracting sight. Ryoji had to dig his hands into the dead grass beneath them to stop himself moving his fingers to touch her cheeks, and feel them warmed by the blush. "It really is that obvious, isn't it?" she said, with a wry smile. "I ran out of Yawn-B-Gone a couple of days ago, and the school won't get in any more until Saturday. I guess I'm just not used to not having any on hand."
"'Yawn-B-Gone'?" asked Ryoji, curiosity temporarily overcoming distraction. "What's that?"
"You've never had to buy Yawn-B-Gone? Man, I envy you." Full and apparently content, Minako leaned back against the tree with a sigh. "It's an energy drink they sell at the school store. One bottle can have you go from dog-tired to ready to ace an exam. Needless to say…well, it's pretty popular. The school only gets new stocks on Saturday, and it's usually all gone by Monday…or sooner." Anticipating Ryoji's question before he could think of a good way to ask it, she added: "My evenings get pretty busy. I'm usually not asleep until after midnight."
Ryoji suddenly had a sneaking suspicion just who it was that ensured that the school ran out of the fabled Yawn-B-Gone so fast, but he didn't say anything. Minako just looked so utterly wrecked when she was tired that he didn't have the heart.
"Well, I suppose you'll just have to be careful until then," is what he said out loud.
"I guess I will," said Minako, but there was a tired sort of look in her eyes that had nothing to do with exhaustion and everything to do with Ryoji's suspicions that she wouldn't. Or, perhaps, that she couldn't.
Lunch ended just after that. They walked together back up to class. Perhaps it was gratitude or just the contentment that came from a full stomach, but Minako took his arm as they walked and rested her head against his shoulder, and Ryoji felt as though he was floating on sunbeams.
The day passed normally enough, after that. Thanks to Ryoji, Minako didn't doze off in class. And she seemed to get some rest between that day and the next, because she looked much better on Thursday, and she brought her own lunch, and she ate it with Yukari Takeba. Ryoji was glad to see that she was her old self again, and it wasn't as though she was ignoring him. She smiled at him in class and waved to him in the hallways and said good morning and good-bye when they passed one another at the school gates. Minako was just a popular girl with a lot of friends that all loved to be near her. He'd seen that from day one.
But, all the same, Ryoji couldn't help but feel a slight pang at having no excuses to be near her anymore, and nothing he could do to get her attention or give her what her friends did.
It wasn't until Saturday, when he found an opportunity by arriving early at school.
Ryoji Mochizuki was a rich boy. He told everyone that it was because his parents were wealthy foreign dignitaries and, indeed, he couldn't think of any other way that he could have as much money as he did on hand on such a regular basis. It wasn't as though he had much use for it. He didn't eat much, and no one gave him any difficulties about paying his tuition. He assumed it was already paid for.
That early Saturday morning was an exception, though, and it was with great pleasure that Ryoji put his considerable wealth to use by plunking down enough money for an entire box of Yawn-B-Gone even before the counter clerk had gotten it unloaded and placed on the shelves. He added in another ten yen piece for a length of ribbon.
She gave both to him, and he walked proudly up to Class E, and left the box cardboard box under Minako's chair tied with a red bow. He did nothing else to declare himself as the giver, and even ducked his head down lower so she couldn't see him smile at the obvious happiness and relief in every line of her body when she found it. She even called over Yukari and Junpei to see.
Ryoji was prepared to pat himself on the back and leave it at that, to simply rejoice at having done such an obviously good thing for her. But despite the fact that he really had honestly tried to make it an anonymous gift…Minako was having none of it, and intercepted him in the hallway as he was wandering about with his bento.
To his very great surprise, she was…glaring at him, sternly, her hands planted on her hips.
"You didn't have to do that, you know," she said, staring up at him. "I have money. Plenty of it, too."
"I know that I didn't have to," said Ryoji, although the bit about the money was something of a surprise. He slid his bento back into his shoulder bag. "I just wanted to."
"…why?" she asked, trying to cover up the fact that his answer had thrown her a bit. Then she sighed, and some of her irritation deflated a bit, for which Ryoji was grateful. "Ryoji…I really have been wondering. Every girl in the school likes you. So why do you seem to want to spend so much time with me, and do things for me? We barely even know each other. That must have cost you a lot of money, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you spending it on me without a reason."
Was it really so unusual that all the girls in school were so nice to him, and paid him so much attention? He hadn't realized.
And did they really barely know each other? He hadn't known that, either. More than anything, that was the most surprising thing to hear. Ryoji said as much: "It…doesn't feel like we barely know one another."
"No. Minako…it feels like I've known you my entire life."
Minako frowned up at him for a couple of seconds after he said this…and then, like the sun breaking past the clouds, she smiled a tiny smile that nevertheless made his heart feel like it had leapt into his throat.
"It does?" she asked softly. But he could see in her eyes that she felt the same thing, and felt as relieved as he did to know that it wasn't just a one-sided feeling.
"It does," he repeated, nodding fervently. "There are days where I can't believe I've only been here a couple of weeks."
She nodded, very slightly, so slightly that she probably didn't realize she had. "But you have," she said, her voice now more of a gentle reminder than anything else. "You've only been going to school with me a couple of weeks, and we haven't even talked that long."
The unspoken question hung in the air between then: Haven't we?
"Maybe so. But, if you'd allow me…I'd like to change that," said Ryoji. With all his heart, he wanted to change that. He wanted to know Minako. He wanted to know everything about her, all her likes and dislikes and dreams and fears, and he wanted to be by her side forever.
Her smile was his answer.
Later on, they'd both wonder who it was that had first kissed who. Ryoji would go on thinking that it was him, Minako would go on thinking that it had been her, but neither of them would ever be really sure.
But, mostly, he'd spend the rest of his days simply savoring that kiss, his first kiss.
Minako's lips were warm and soft against his, molding to him perfectly, and they carried the faint, sugary taste of melon bread. She brought her hands up to rest against his shoulders, and her touch sent a feeling like warm liquid light trailing down his spine, so that he gasped softly against her. She took the opportunity and slipped her tongue between his parted lips and into his mouth, kissing him deeply, even enthusiastically. Her breath was sweet, with a faint tang that suggested she'd just drunk some Cielo Mist.
The simple fact that she was reciprocating, that this close he could feel that she desired to be near him as much as he desired the same, made Ryoji dizzy. Minako dealt with this by turning him very gently on the spot, and pressing his back lightly against the wall. Hesitantly, almost fearfully, as though the moment would pop like an iridescent soap bubble if he made one wrong move, Ryoji wrapped his arms around her and held her closer. She smelled like shampoo and clean laundry and chalk and the sea.
It was the first time he'd touched her, and he felt her body beneath her uniform, felt how it moved and shifted ever so slightly against his. She seemed so slender and small, but there were strong muscles beneath her skin, a power there that you couldn't see just by looking at her.
That revelation made him feel, above all else, safe – safe and loved and whole. Ryoji feared being alone, he feared the moments when there were no people around to distract him and the world was just him and the endless black abyss that his future seemed to consist of. At school, it was better, but here and now, with Minako in his arms and Minako kissing him, for the first time in his life, Ryoji knew no darkness or fear.
And so it was all the more painful when the moment had to end. It rang with a four part chime – "ding dong dang dong" – signaling the end of the lunch hour, and the tramping of hundreds of feet coming upstairs and downstairs and indoors and out of doors. Minako pulled away before anyone could see them, or at least, before anyone could be sure of what they'd seen. Even so, over the top of her head, Ryoji saw some girls darting truly vicious glares at her back. He knew that Minako could feel it, too – he looked down at her to see that she wore an uncertain sort of expression, and her usual faint blush was a good deal more pronounced.
Ryoji didn't hold himself back, this time – he lifted his trembling hands and rested his fingers lightly on Minako's cheeks, feeling the warmth of her soft skin under his fingers, feeling the rush and pulse of blood just beneath the surface, feeling that she was alive. She looked startled, at first…but then, yet again, that very faint, very slight nod, and that tiny little smile that somehow managed to contain all her usual charm and good humor and boisterous, joyouslife, focused like a laser beam and all for him.
"I think I'd like that, Ryoji."
They had to part, then, and return to class or risk being late and risking Miss Ounichi's wrath and desire for cake. Ryoji respected her apparent desire to fly under the radar of her fellow, far less interesting classmates, and didn't hold her hand, didn't even touch her. But that didn't erase the moments before, and all it meant, and all they'd felt. Ryoji could still feel it, crackling between them, and remembered the taste of her on his lips and the feel of her beneath his hands.
He stared out the window all through class and didn't hear a word, just stared out over the city spread beneath them and basked in the joy of being alive.
Yes, it looked as though it was going to be a very good year.