The bell rang to signal the end of the day, and students filed out of their classrooms. As usual, Aigis was one of the last to leave the room. She had no clubs, no afterschool activities of note, and nothing that would keep her at the school, but at the same time, she had no interest in returning to the dormitory she lived in quite so quickly. She stood outside of the room and looked around, searching for someone she knew, and when she could not find anyone familiar, she began to walk down the hall.
It was surprisingly brisk on that November afternoon. Despite the school's reputation as over-funded, the administration was as stingy as any other high school when it came to the heating. The cold air did not bother Aigis; she was not normally bothered by minor hot and cold fluctuations. A simple ten degree difference did not send her running for a scarf, and she doubted it ever would.
As Aigis walked down the steps leading to the school's front lobby, she could hear someone speaking from the floor below. Two male voices, vaguely familiar. She inched around the corner so she could see the students better. There were two there, a shorter second year student from a different class and a first year she had encountered during class changes before. If she was correct, the second year was Kyosuke Saito, while his friend's name was Sadao Aoki.
"Man, hasn't class 2-F gotten a lot of transfer students this year?" Sadao asked.
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, let's look at it. You've got mysterious hands-in-pockets Arisato, who transferred in at the start of the year. Then you've got Aigis-chan, who introduced herself as a weapon. And then you've got Mochizuki, who transferred in at the end of the year from another country and is also stupidly rich. Doesn't that all seem a bit odd?"
"They all hang out with each other, too."
"More like that Aigis-chan stalks the other two and Iori."
"Haha, yeah. Still, you all heard what she did on the first day that Mochizuki showed up at school, right?"
"Yeah, she stood up in the middle of class while he was introducing himself and said that he was 'dangerous'. Well, I'll say he's dangerous. Dangerous for us single guys! I haven't gotten a single date since that guy showed up! Do chicks just dig those rich foreigner types?"
"Dunno. Speaking of foreigners, look at Aigis-san. She's definitely some kind of foreigner. And apparently, she's a ward of the Kirijos, but they don't like her enough to let her live at home, so he stays at that dorm in Iwatodai."
"Doesn't the Kirijo Group make electronics? Maybe she is some kind of robot."
By now, Aigis was done listening to their gossip. With how they had utterly proceeded on without noticing her, they obviously did not realize she could hear them. People rarely did. Or perhaps they had simply neglected to look up, something else that people rarely did. She walked up to Kyosuke and tapped on his shoulder. "Good afternoon. Were you talking about me?"
The two reacted in a predictably shocked manner. Perhaps she had managed to surprise them. In a combat situation, they would have been immediately overtaken by the enemy. However, such situations did not always arise during school. Though, it was possible this counted as a combat situation. There had been many times she had witnessed an emotion that could only be referred to as "defeat" during school times. She would need to ask Minato-san the next time she saw him.
"Oh, h-hey, Aigis-san! Nah, we weren't talking about you," Kyosuke said.
"I believe you were discussing the possibility that I am of non-human nature," Aigis continued.
"Shit!" Sadao shot a glare at Kyosuke before looking back toward Aigis. "Well, I mean, you're not, right? Though it is kind of odd that you wear the winter uniform all year long…"
Aigis smiled softly. It was true that she wore the winter uniform, and only the winter uniform. Sometimes, she would stumble in her shoes, like they didn't fit quite right. She never took off her headband, which covered her ears. She spoke extremely formally and sometimes stumbled over words and phrases. These were all very odd traits for a normal high school girl.
"Would you like for me to prove myself?" Aigis asked honestly.
"Uh- wait, that won't be necessary-" But Aigis was already rolling up her jacket sleeve, exposing her entire arm.
Underneath the sleeve was a normal human arm. The odd whiteness to her hands and the discolored tips were the results of some gloves she wore.
"As you can see, I am perfectly human," Aigis said in a methodical matter. "Junpei-san dared me to write that I was a 'humanoid tactical weapon' on my admissions forms. As you can see, they were accepted regardless of the error. Have I cleared up any confusion you may have?"
"I guess…" The two boys exchanged glances. "Soooo... about you and Ryoji-"
"There is nothing of a romantic nature occurring between Ryoji-san and myself. You should not spend time around him. Good day."
She walked away from the two students in a huff. She saw no reason that they should have brought up her relationship with Ryoji. The discussion had not even involved him. She found him quite suspicious, that much was true. But she did not react toward him quite as much as the rumors said. She certainly did not stalk him, for one. Nor did she hold any kind of murderous intent toward him. She simply did not trust him, and as such, did not approve of his presence around people she considered important to her.
She stepped through the doors at the front of the school and into the courtyard. Shivering students waited for their dates, and would soon be engaging in such after school festivities as "hanging out at Escapade" and "going to see a movie." Though Aigis rarely went to such things (she had been to a ninja movie marathon once with Minato, and that was it), she was quite intrigued by the people who did. She often wondered about those who spent time at Escapade, because not only did it not open until later in the day, but it was not supposed to be open to high schoolers.
It was as she walked toward the front gates that she heard the voice calling to her. "Excuse me, Aigis-san?"
She whirled around toward Ryoji. It appeared that he'd been waiting under a tree for someone, most likely another female student. He took steps toward her, and Aigis stood her ground.
"Have you seen Junpei? We were supposed to hang out today, but he rushed out of class too quickly for me to talk to him," Ryoji continued.
"I do not know. Do you not have his cell phone number?" she said curtly.
"He's got it turned off for some reason." Ryoji suddenly got a soft smile on his face, and every alarm bell in Aigis' head began to go off. He was not good. "Doesn't it get lonely, not hanging out with anyone outside of class?"
"I…" There was no reason to answer this question honestly. "As long as I am together with him, I do not need to worry about anything else."
A look of confusion crossed Ryoji's face, but it was quickly replaced by understanding. "I know that you and Minato-kun are friends, but you haven't spent as much time around him since the two of us started spending time together." He grinned. "Here, I've got an idea! We could do a group date together! You and Minato, and myself and someone else! Junpei could come too, if he wanted to."
The very idea was abhorrent.
Her face must have shown her thoughts on the matter, because Ryoji had frowned again. "Or maybe not?"
"Please do not spend any more time around Minato-san," she said. She was just about to turn to leave when she heard a voice calling her name from the direction of the school. It appeared that Yukari had been looking for her. The brown haired girl walked up to the two of them.
"Oh, hey there, Ryoji-kun," Yukari said. She looked toward Aigis. "Mitsuru-san sent a message out to everyone earlier. We're meeting in the lounge tonight after school, so don't stay out too late." Ah, Mitsuru-san had sent a group text message? Aigis did not carry a cell phone herself, but she could usually find out when they were meeting for these things.
"Another operation? I comprehend."
"'Operation'?" Ryoji repeated in confusion.
"It's nothing that complicated. We just have club activities to do tonight…" Yukari waved it off.
"I see. Well, if you want to invite me along, I'm always quite happy to join," Ryoji said. "Oh, by the way, have you seen Junpei? We were supposed to hang out today."
"I think he's still wandering around inside the school."
"Oh, he is? I must have just missed him, then. Thank you very much, Yukari-san." He gave her a small bow and a wink before walking off toward the front doors. Yukari made a retching noise.
"He is not good."
"He asked me to go to Shirakawa with him! I mean, he's a nice guy, but he is way too forward," Yukari said. "And there's no way I will go back to Shirakawa after…"
"I have seen Shirakawa Boulevard on street maps, but I have never been down that way. What exactly is found down that road?"
"Nowhere that you need to be."
The Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad had a name that any special ops group would be jealous of. It brought to mind covert operations conducted in the dead of night, a secret world normal people could not access. It was as veiled in mystery as some of its members—all teenagers, all friends of Mitsuru Kirijo, the Kirijo group's wealthy teenage heiress. Its members included Kirijo herself, two of 2-F's mysterious transfer students, the biggest slackers in the whole school, the most popular girl in school, heartthrob senior student Sanada, equally notorious heartthrob delinquent Aragaki, an elementary schooler, and a dog.
There were a few things that the rumors got right: the group was highly exclusive, it was mostly composed of Mitsuru Kirijo's friends, and it mostly operated in the dead of the night. It was also dedicated to "serving the community and maintaining a state of beauty in Port Island". In shorter terms, it was a community service club. And tonight they were picking up trash.
The justification behind this was simple. Port Island was owned by the Kirijo Group. As such, it was the Kirijo Group's duty to take care of the island. Because the company expended very little resources to keep Port Island clean, it was up to the Kirijo heiress to do so herself, with a little help from her companions. They had cleaned up graffiti behind the station, picked up litter, and even helped repaint Pawlownia Mall. When they weren't cleaning, they were helping the other community in other ways, often by volunteering at facilities around the island. One could say that they were model students.
One would not get that impression just from looking at their group, though. Aragaki was a known delinquent, and Iori and Aigis' grades were some of the worst in the school. However, they were all very close to each other. In fact, they all lived in the same dorm. The circumstances that had lead to this were unknown to Aigis; as far as she could tell, none of the SEES members had particularly stable home lives. Mitsuru had chosen to care for the club members by preparing a dormitory for them. The selection criteria for entering SEES were similarly unknown. However, Aigis had long stopped caring about such things. She was quite fond of those she spent time with during these late nights.
She speared a few pieces of trash onto the long, sharpened stick she carried. The others in the group with her that night carried similar sticks, as well as trash bags to carry their retrieved garbage in. Though it was hard work, the others appeared to enjoy it quite a bit, as they were carrying on conversations with each other and laughing quite a bit. Though it seemed that Junpei had gotten bored quite quickly, as he was now trying his best to goad Ken into sparring with him.
"…He was quite insistent that we go on a group date with him. I saw no reason to do such a thing, and so I declined. However, Yukari-san arrived before I could remove him from the situation," Aigis explained.
"…Aigis," Minato said exasperatedly.
"You should not spend time with him. He is not good."
"I'm aware of that," Minato said. He sighed. "Aigis, are you sure that this isn't turning into a kind of obsession?"
"I do not understand."
"You've been very focused on Ryoji as of late," Minato said evasively.
"Yeah, it's been Ryoji this, Ryoji that for like the past month now! You need to lighten up!" Junpei called from down the street. It seemed that he had given up on sparring, and had reluctantly returned to picking up trash.
"Thank you for your input, Junpei!" Minato called back sarcastically. "He has a point, though."
Junpei walked over toward them. "You know what I think? She's tsundere for him."
"I do not understand. Could you explain in more detail, Junpei-san?"
"It's one of those terms those otaku guys are always throwing around," he said. "It's for girls who are all cold toward a guy, but it turns out they really like him deep down. Or… something like that. Y'know, chicks like Aigis."
"The description is interesting. However, I disagree with your assessment that it is accurate to my personality," Aigis said. "I have examined Ryoji-san, and determined him to be dangerous. As such, I see no reason to allow him around my friends. That is all." Minato chuckled, and without another word returned to picking up trash. "Minato-san, I request support in defending myself against these accusations. The description 'tsundere' is inaccurate in reference to my person, and this error must be corrected."
"It seems pretty accurate to me."
"You are unhelpful."
"Mm-hm," Minato said. He stared down at his rather heavy bag and looked up to face Aigis.
"Is this really what you want?" Minato said in clear, even tones. It was completely different from how he had spoken before. There was a sound of static in Aigis' ears. She stared at him without comprehension. She was awake, was she not?
"Could you repeat what you said?" she asked hesitantly. What was this shaking in her chest?
"I asked if you could pass me another trash bag. This one's getting full," Minato said. Whatever oddness had occurred at that moment passed, replaced by the Minato Aigis knew. She handed him one of the large black bags. "Thank you."
"So why do you find him so dangerous anyways?" Junpei asked. Aigis speared an aluminum can on her stick. She had allowed herself to get distracted while there was still so much litter to pick up, and at least an hour before they returned to the dorm.
"He just is."
"Well, whatever. You should hang out with the two of us sometime. Maybe then you'll see that he's not all that bad."
"I respectfully decline. However, you should return to work before Mitsuru-san spots you and chooses to execute you," Aigis advised. She noticed Minato flinch out of the corner of her eye. Junpei, on the other hand, appeared to have broken out into a cold sweat. It seemed that both of them still remembered the recent trip to Kyoto.
"Uh, I just remembered that I have something urgent to do! Gotta go!" And he tore off in the other direction from her. With that last nuisance removed, Aigis returned to her work.
Exams were coming closer and closer, and every student in school was feeling the pressure. Aigis had done her best to pay attention during class, but her grades remained quite low. Perhaps if they taught classes on subjects that actually interested her, such as tactical theory, mechanical engineering, and information analysis, she might have done better.
She exited her room and walked downstairs. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs. She could see several people standing by the table.
"See you later, Ryoji! And hey, stop freaking out about your exams. I didn't study either," Junpei said. Aigis stayed by the stairs, not wanting to interrupt.
"But then again, you never do…" Yukari said. The front door opened, and Minato walked in and over to where the group was standing.
"Hello," Minato said.
"Oh, hi. What's up? Studying? You know, I'm here a lot, but I hardly ever run into you. Strange, huh? Oh well, I'm outta here. See ya later." And Ryoji walked past Minato and out of the dorm. Aigis only walked over once Ryoji was gone.
"Was that Ryoji-san?" she asked.
"Yeah, he said he was going home."
"What was he doing here?"
"He's been coming here a lot, ever since he started hanging around with Junpei," Yukari said.
"But… visitors aren't allowed here," Aigis said apprehensively.
"Yeah, but Mitsuru-senpai said that it's okay during the day," Junpei replied. Why would there be a restriction for the night, though?
"I don't think that we need to worry about Ryoji-kun," Fuuka added.
"He's… dangerous…" Aigis said in response.
That was the exact same thing she said when she asked Mitsuru about the matter later that night.
"While it's true that Mochizuki is not a member of SEES, I see no reason to bar him from the dormitory on that basis alone. And Arisato has been bringing others to the dormitory for quite some time now," Mitsuru said with a chuckle. "Or were you unaware?"
Aigis blinked. There were other instances of visitors? It seemed odd that the Chairman would allow that. No, that line of thinking was incorrect. She had nearly forgotten that the Chairman had died two months previously. Yes, then it was logical that Minato had brought others to the dormitory in his absence.
"In any case, I see no reason to bar Mochizuki-san from our dormitory, especially if he's helping Iori study. If he can do the impossible and improve Iori's abysmal grades... Speaking of which, shouldn't you be studying as well?"
With that uncomfortable reminder, Aigis was forced to return to her room and study more. An incredible uneasiness continued to weigh on her heart. She knew that something was to happen soon. Something involving Ryoji, something that would hurt her friends. Everything about this man and the crushing uneasiness he caused her…
If he were to hurt them, she would never forgive them.
But Ryoji wasn't at school the next day, nor was he at the dormitory after school let out. All she heard from Junpei was that he wasn't feeling well lately, and Junpei passed it off as him studying too much. This could very easily have been the truth.
But the uneasiness in her chest told her otherwise. This didn't seem right for Ryoji. She hoped that she was merely overreacting.
It was when Ryoji was absent the next day that Aigis decided to visit his place of residence. She found out from the faculty records that he lived in a flat by himself in the city. It seemed strange; wasn't the reason that he'd moved to Iwatodai related to his parents' work? Finding the flat was easy enough, but finding Ryoji was another story. He didn't answer when she paged him, forcing her to walk up the stairs to his flat.
She knocked at his door several times. "Ryoji-san, please open the door." There was no answer, and she turned the doorknob to find that it had never been unlocked in the first place.
The inside of Ryoji's apartment was oddly plain. It was small, with a kitchen taking up most of one half of the room, and two doors at the end clearly lead to a bedroom and bathroom. There was no trash to be seen, and there was a thin layer of dust on the table in the middle of the room. It seemed that Ryoji didn't spend much time at home. She walked to the door she'd determined to his bedroom and pulled the door open.
This room showed more signs of life; there was a pile of laundry in one corner and a neatly pressed Gekkoukan uniform hanging from the closet door. Considering Aigis had never seen Ryoji wear it, it either had arrived rather recently, or Ryoji had chosen to ignore school rules on purpose. His bed had not been made recently, either. Most noticeably, Ryoji was not in his bedroom.
Aware that she was trespassing, Aigis left the apartment, and just for safety reasons, locked Ryoji's door behind her. She wandered onto the streets and stared up at the sky.
She had wasted quite a bit of time looking for Ryoji; night had long since fallen, and while she was unsure what time it exactly was, it was certainly quite late. It was a full moon that night, and it was cold, colder than Aigis had ever remembered it being. Yakushima had rarely, if ever, got this cold. All the same, she walked around in her school uniform, as it was more than enough warmth for her.
The streets were empty aside from those few stray people who would come walking past; it was much too late for anyone to be out and about. She wandered aimlessly until she found herself at the Moonlight Bridge. Sidewalks ran alongside the bridge, though they weren't often used because of the nearby monorail, which was a far quicker way to get to Port Island. She walked onto the bridge and down the sidewalk. A lonesome car would pass by every now and then.
She finally found him standing there on the bridge, his scarf billowing in the wind. He was bent over, leaning on the railing on the outside of the bridge, and staring out at the bay.
"I've been looking for you," Aigis said. Ryoji turned toward her, a look of surprise on his face.
"What are you doing here?" she asked confrontationally. He laughed somberly.
"...Oh, that's right. You don't really like me, do you? Well, to answer your question, I went out for some air, and found myself wandering here," he said. "It's strange, though. I get a sense of deja vu when I'm here. Like somehow, I've done this all before."
Aigis took more steps toward him. "Junpei-san said that you were at home sick, but you seem to be in good health."
Ryoji didn't respond, and put his hands on the railing. The smile on his face remained bitter. An expression of pain. "You wouldn't understand… this hollow feeling I have felt for some time. I have friends who care for me, and yet it continues to remain with me… the feeling that I shouldn't be here."
Aigis looked over the side of the side of the bridge. It reminded her of a churning sea of blood. "Did you plan to jump?"
He shook his head. "I don't think it would change anything."
"I would not let you anyways."
This caught Ryoji's attention enough to make him turn toward her. "Why? I thought that you didn't like me?"
"You are dangerous. I cannot explain why, but… when I am around you, I feel that something terrible is sure to happen." She put her hand over her heart and balled up her jacket in her fist. Her hand trembled. "It scares me. And while I have no reason to believe as such, I know that it is the truth. But Minato-san and Junpei-san consider you friends of theirs. Were anything to happen to you, it would hurt them. I will never allow any harm to come to them," Aigis said sternly.
Ryoji smiled. "I see, so it's for your friends… "
"They are… important to me," Aigis said. "As I am sure they are to you."
Ryoji only nodded.
"I wish to walk you home tonight, so as to ensure you return safely," Aigis said. "Would that be alright?"
"You're asking my permission?"
"It would be improper to do anything but."
"I couldn't turn down a lady, especially if she asked so nicely," Ryoji said in response, and held a hand out to Aigis, and she took it. She began to briskly walk toward the Iwatodai end of the bridge once his hand was in hers. Any fears she had of him running away were calmed by his firm grasp on her hand. They walked calmly together down the sidewalk, and the clock turned past midnight. Somewhere in the distance, Aigis could hear the synthetic bonging of a clock over a speaker. Twelve bongs exactly, followed by a similarly synthetic woman's voice announcing something Aigis wasn't paying much attention to.
A hiccupping sound nearby caught her attention. She turned to look up at Ryoji's crying face, and lowered her gaze in shame. She squeezed his hand tightly, unable to do anything else, and slowed her pace. They walked to Ryoji's apartment together, neither of the two able to say a word.