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Faded Away (Persona 3 Sibling AU)

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Minato held the glare of this red-clad stranger. If he hadn’t been wearing such a distinct coat and grey beanie, he may have mistaken the newcomer as a bear.

A very, very pissed off bear. . . with thumbs.

For a moment, nobody seemed to want to back down. Junpei and Yukari were slowly backing away and whispering about the ratty attire the young man sported. Minato wished he could have melted into the shadows like he usually did when confronted with a problem.

As usual, Minako was the first to speak up. Being the closest one to the door before it swung open, she never had the choice to back down. “Good morning, we’re here to make a delivery.” She extended a hand out between them. “We’ve met before, but my name is Minako Arisato. You’re Shinjiro Aragaki right?”

Minato watched as the supposed Shinjiro’s eyes flickered between his sister’s face and then her hand. Junpei and Yukari stopped whispering, waiting with bated breath for him to bite their leader’s head off and stick it on a pike.

In the end, he swore under his breath and nodded.

“Yeah, I know who you are,” he said in an almost threatening voice. Shinjiro squared up from his slouch and stood at full height, even if he was already much taller than everyone else to begin with. “You’re here to see Aki, right?”

Minako nodded and motioned to Junpei who was carrying the folder that had been requested the day before. “Just needed to drop somethin’ off. Is he in or should we come back-?”

Shinjiro didn’t give her a chance to finish, turning his back to them and reentering the room.

Minako was momentarily dazed but shrugged it off. She looked back at the three, mouthed “yikes” animatedly, and promptly entered with her cheerful expression still intact.

Junpei sighed and rubbed the back of his neck, following his senior while mumbling under his breath. “Jeez, what crawled up his butt and died?”

“Never use that sentence ever again.” Yukari made a point to shove him along, all previous diplomacy was forgotten in the wake of what had transpired. “Let’s just do what we came here to do and go home. I have places to be today.”

Minato fell in behind the group. He could hear Minako throw out the first greeting while Junpei and Yukari chimed in right after. All he could focus on were the features of the hospital room.

All hospitals seemed to smell distinct, like walking into a cloud of vaporized soap, the kind that claimed it was unscented but really wasn’t. Every surface seemed to be dulled by the heavy use of plastic and off-white colors, except the floor that shined as if it were a new coin. A bathroom door was shut, but the unmistakable plate that announced the room beyond told Minato all that he needed to know.

Even the low whirl of machines and heaters were a nice bit of white noise to help fill the silence that was all too common in a hospital room. Goodness knows Minato would have gone crazy without tapping his finger in time with a clock on the wall or hum in sync with whatever device was on.

Minato noticed this room had a scant collection of artwork in earthy tones meant to soothe patients. One portrait of a lighthouse overlooking an empty beach caught his attention with eye-catching pinks and yellows meant to capture the beauty of a sunrise.

When was the last time he had been to the beach? It had to have been years ago, but there was never enough freedom in his schedule or simply not worth jumping on the train for hours at a time.

Minato’s finger’s lingered over a flock of seagulls over the water. He followed the carefully placed brush strokes from wingtip to wingtip.

Maybe there was a beach outside the city? The whole place was right on the waterfront after all.

“Is that it, Aki?”

Minato was broken out of his musings by Shinjiro’s gruff voice. He looked back at the main action to see his sister, Junpei, and Yukari waiting respectfully away from Sanada and his current visitor.

“Yeah, thanks again for the help.” Sanada had a notebook open with chicken scratch notes filling up the page. “Let me know if you hear anything else.”

Shinjiro nodded before he noticed he was being watched. He snapped his sharp gaze at Minato who could feel the tension in his muscles, screaming to run away from this dangerous person.

But he couldn’t let himself appear meek, not in the face of such a rude individual. Minato took his hands from his pockets and straightened his spine to bring forth his full height, mouth quirked into a frown that rivaled the person he gave it to.

“Need something,” he asked coolly, “or don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

Shinjiro seemed to bristle at the remark. He began to take a step in Minato’s direction with the eyes of a predator on the offensive.

“I don’t have time for your shit, pipsqueak-”

“Minato!”

Minako had pulled herself out of the soft conversation with the juniors. She easily inserted herself between the two of them, halting Shinjiro’s advance. “I’m sorry, he’s just tired from waking up early.” Her head inclined in a polite bow. “He means nothing by it, Aragaki-san.”

Shinjiro regarded the apologetic girl for a moment before rolling his eyes and turning to leave. The room had gone dead silent with only his heavy footfalls to fill the place of chatter. Minato swore he heard him mumble about never helping anyone ever again before vanishing into the hall.

Just like that, he was gone.

Junpei stepped up with the folder they brought clutched in his shaking hands. “W-who was that? Some kind of punk? Yakuza?”

Sanada shook his head, closing the notebook and setting it aside. “A friend from school, sort of.” He swung his legs off the side of his bed and stretched out. “You know how the number of Apathy Syndrome cases have been increasing? He knows a few people who are suffering from it, so I was asking him about it.”

“An informant, huh?” Yukari thought aloud. Her knuckles were white from the death grip she had on his purse. “He seems really angry for some reason.”

Sanada shrugged, but a ghost of an appreciative grin crossed his features. “That’s Shinji for you, but he’s harmless. Just don’t piss him off and you’ll be fine.”

Minato swore that his upperclassmen threw him a warning disguised as reassurance to the group. It was impressive that the athlete hadn’t paired his words with a stern glare.

“Cheeky bastard.” The teen thought while walking over to stand in beside a frazzled Junpei. “Clever, but still a little too condescending to be considered helpful.”

With Shinjiro gone, the atmosphere of the room became a little lighter. Akihiko turned his full attention to his new visitors. “Did you guys bring what I asked?”

Junpei shook out of his funk and was all but too eager to step up as the carrier of what he was referring to. “Of course, senpai!” He brandished the item in an overly dramatic fashion, handing it over with a bow. “One class roster for class 2-E in a waterproof, binder-friendly folder. Perfect for travel and the like!”

Minato felt a chuckle bubble in the back of his throat. This was something he should have expected, but he had imagined fewer descriptions and more ego signaling. He heard Yukari groan, no doubt looking away to avoid having to watch. “Just give him the folder like a normal person.” she snipped.

Minako, not a stranger to going an extra step beyond the normal, regarded the interaction as if it was normal. Although, Minato swore he could see her trying to suppress giggles by pinching her arm.

Akihiko seemed to not care, stretching out his bad arm and taking the folder.

Yukari raised a finger as if to ask for permission to speak. “Uh, you shouldn’t move your arm. Isn’t it still really busted up?”

Sanada scoffed under his breath. “It's nothing. I've wasted enough time already.” He flipped the folder and skimmed over the papers inside. “I need to get back to my training or else I’ll go insane.”

“But-!” Yukari paused before having her eureka moment. “-but Mitsuru said you should rest! You don’t want to make her mad, right?”

Poor and naive Yukari: she thought she could pull the Mitsuru Kirijo trap card on him.

“He’s not gonna listen.” Minato stuck on a headphone and picked a random song to help get his snark down to apathetic observation. “He and Minako run together every morning without Kirijo-senpai’s permission anyway. Not like you can stop him from grabbing a piece of plastic.”

Yukari was shocked, rounding on her leader with a mortified pout. “You let him run? Even when Mitsuru said absolutely no training of any kind!?

Minako gave a lopsided grin. “I’m a five-two, noodle armed girl and he’s a six something tank meant to break people’s jaws. You can do the math.” She threw up her hands in defeat. “Sorry Yukatan, I couldn’t stop him even if I tried with all my might.”

“Hell yeah!” Junpei was more than happy to agree with Minako, daring to give Sanada a playing nudge on the shoulder. “Gekkoukan's golden boy! He was born to be in the ring!”

“Language, Junpei.”

The capped student gave Minako a sheepish smile. “My bad, won’t happen again.”

Another annoyed groan sounded from Yukari. “Jeez, you just can’t keep your mouth shut for two seconds. Now he thinks we’re a bunch of groupies.”

“I’m just being friendly!” Junpei turned his attention to his favorite person to bicker with. “Maybe you should try it sometime, Yukatan.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Don’t be a jerk then!”

And just like that, the two were slipping into their hourly squabble.

Minato really didn’t expect his sister’s threat of extra chores to deter them from arguing, but for a moment, he had hope. He should have known that miracles only happened once per one hundred years.

A shame it was wasted at the school assembly and the hallway.

Two chances that failed to mend an already rocky relationship.

Minako barely paid them any mind, but the disappointment on her face gave away her true feelings. Akihiko, on the other hand, seemed confused by the enthusiasm, looking up from his reading and giving his running partner a quirked eyebrow. “Are they always like this or is it just when I’m in the room?”

Minako sighed. “You get used to it after a few missions. I don’t even hear it much during battle anymore.” She rocked on her heels, obvious that she was tired of standing in the same place for minutes on end. “It’s just like Godzilla an’ Mothra, let them at each other. It’ll be over soon enough.”

Minato couldn’t help but catch how Sanada’s usually aloof visage morphed into something akin to amusement.

Akihiko Sanada, amused at such a weak attempt at humor?

Maybe he really did have other interests outside training and training?

Maybe Minato still had some miracles left in him.


“Can you believe we got our punishment extended TWO weeks!?”

Minato was finishing off a weaker Shadow when Junpei began to complain about Minako laying down the law after leaving the hospital. It was only a matter of time until Yukari would pipe in and start blaming everything on her fellow teammate.

“You should know my sister doesn’t mess around.” He flicked his blade to rid it of remaining Shadow debris, watching it dissolve as it hit the marble floor. “She took my laptop away when I was failing in math. She didn’t give it back until I was at least passing or better.”

“How long was that?” Junpei asked, sheathing his sword and walking over to Minato.

The latter shrugged, copying the other’s actions. “Give or take five months plus two weeks and then some. Now I’ve got almost all perfect marks.”

Junpei sucked in a heavy breath. “Yeesh, Minatan has no chill-”

“What was that?” Minako chimed from further ahead, her naginata acting as support from the previous battle. Her joking smile was a perfect mix of pure sarcasm and the physical embodiment of foreboding. “Did I hear someone who wants triple their sentence?”

Junpei nearly jumped out of his skin, turning to his leader on the drop of a hat. “Nahnah! I meant it in a good way! You’ve got fire! Please don’t do this I wanna live!”

“Just a joke,” she answered back. “I may be tough but I’m not malicious.” She easily twirled her polearm with practiced grace and placed a hand over her ear. “Kirijo-san, did Yukari find the stairs yet?”

Their guide’s voice sounded in their minds, but Minato and Junpei went back to a casual conversation without skipping a beat.

“Say, you’re getting good with that thing.” Junpei jabbed a thumb at the shorter boy’s short sword. “Kendo’s really doing a number on your skill and you can summon other Personas like your sis. Keep it up and you’ll hit like a truck in no time.”

Minato didn’t smile at the compliment but hummed a high tone in response. “Kazushi puts me through the wringer, but I’m glad for it. He never gives up when it comes to beating me senselessly.” He glanced over at Junpei, his eyes falling to his broadsword. “For such a heavy hitter, you’re quick on your feet.”

Junpei chuckled and rubbed the back on his neck. “Baseball dude, ya’ gotta be fast if ya’ wanna score anything worth cheering for.” He pounded his chest and pumped a fist in the air. “Just watch me! I’ll be hittin’ home runs by day and slicin’ Shadows by night. Girls won’t keep their hands off me in halls!”

Minato snorted, but this time let himself grin. “That’s something I’ve meaning to ask, how’d you get into Gekkoukan? No offense, but there’s no chance you got in for academics.”

“Well, you’re not wrong!” Junpei took the comment without a fight before breaking into a proud smile. “Ya’ know how I transferred here last year? I used to live a few prefectures away, can’t remember how many since I haven’t been home in years.”

Minato felt a twinge of sympathy, but from the way he spoke, Junpei seemed more than happy to uproot his entire life.

Was his old home really that terrible?

“How’d you get spotted? Did they send out scouts or was it just luck?”

“A coach saw me playing for my ol’ high school, I was on the other team and it was a slaughter.” Junpei flicked the brim of his cap, bearing the insignia of a school Minato didn’t know. “All his players killed in the outfield, but only had a handful of batters who could barely hit a single. He needed a guy who could hit hard and run fast, but that guy didn’t exist. All it took was a beat down every time I was up. He asked for my transcripts and contact info after scoring a game crushing home run!”

Junpei finished with a deep breath. He was so invested in his story, his face was tinged with red. “I was on the train three days later. I’ve never been better since.”

Minato couldn’t help but note the pride that blossomed with his story. No goofy smiles or cocky grandstanding, just a humble glint in his eyes.

He was almost jealous, having found his passion that could lead to something better in the future. However, he could not find the will to let the feeling stay when his new friend was beaming the world.

“. . . I envy you.”

Even so, it slipped out before he could stop himself.

Junpei was surprised for a moment before bursting into a laughing fit. His hand reached out and ruffled Minato’s hair. “Says the dude who’s got more Personas than me!”

Minako walked over to the pair of boys, Junpei still chuckling to himself. “Alright, Yukari found the stairs, but there are a few friends waiting nearby. I told her to wait for backup so we better get movin’ before she starts going Robin Hood on us.”

“Can do, sis.” Minato responded, calmly redoing his side part which had been tousled thoroughly.

Junpei-on the other hand- was less than happy. “Great, now I’ve gotta listen to Yukatan call me Stupei every five seconds.” He trudged on through without fail. “Dude, I swear I pissed off the wrong god.”

“There’s only one god Junpei,” Minako pointed to him with an accusatory finger, “but he’s more concerned with those who swear. You’re cutting onions with me tomorrow.”

Junpei nearly choked. “H-hey! That’s not cool, dude! My eyes are sensitive!”

Minato followed the two towards the stairs, not able to contain a content grin.

As much as he tried to come off as a ladies man, Junpei really was a good guy with a good heart.


“Finally back!” Minako flopped face first on her bed. The comforter was chilled from a cracked open window, making the perfect nest to cuddle up in after a long night of Shadow killing. She rolled over to let her back soak in the refreshing cold. “Those last few Shadows really did a number on us, huh?”

“For once, you’re right about something.”

She heard Minato plop down on the floor so she sat up. A glass of water in one hand while the other was playing with the lanyard that had his MP3. The screen was still off since the Dark Hour was still in effect.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” She shrugged off her school jacket and hung it off the end of her headboard. There was a tear in the sleeve that would need mending. “I’m pretty smart. We’ve got pretty similar grades, even if yours are a bit more well-rounded.”

“As my new rival says,” Minato dropped his voice as low as it could, “ ‘Keep lying to yourself’ and then he tried to take my head off.”

Minako rolled her eyes. She wondered what Minato had said to warrant such a harsh response.

What was something he was insecure about that was also painfully obvious?

She snapped her fingers in realization. “He called ya’ short, didn’t he?”

“Shut up.” he retorted, taking a long and slow sip of his water. His thick swallow gave away his frustration, and dare Minako say it, his embarrassment at the memory. “Besides, that guy will get what he deserves soon enough. I’ll beat him at his own game and then we’ll see who gets the last laugh.”

Minako had to suppress a giggle. “Such a lofty goal for such a tiny nerd. Would you like a stool so you can reach him-?”

“Knock it off, idiot.”

A rouge sweater that had been discarded carelessly the day before was flung at Minako. She ducked and rolled to the side just in time, watching as an orange blur missed her by a mile.

“Hah! Nice try-”

“-Such a fluffy sweater.”

Both the siblings jumped at the sound of a child’s voice. Minako swerved her body the source directly behind her. “Who’s the-!” she exclaimed before biting down on her tongue. “-Oh, it’s you again.”

Sitting cross-legged on her bed was the strange boy who always seemed to phase appear from thin air. Minako’s sweater was being inspected with his azure stare; his oddly clean hands ghosted over the material as if it were a sunset themed sheep rather than a piece of clothing.

“How did you get in again?” Minato was on his feet in a heartbeat, taking a seat on the bed. “I thought the doors locked when they closed.”

The boy kept his eyes glued to the sweater, but his lip puckered out at the blunt question. “Such a cruel welcome. I have feelings too.” he muttered before setting the clothing aside. “Besides, I am always with you two. I simply decided to show myself at this particular moment. I also happen to have a mind of my own.”

Minako frowned, but the questions that festered in the back of her mind seemed to take their sweet time to form into proper sentences.

She finally cleared her throat and tried to shake out her jitters. “That’s the thing that’s been bothering me, what does that mean? How’re you always with us, but only show yourself when it suits you?”

The boy glanced back at the sweat. Minako almost expected him to pick it back up. “. . . I don’t know. This journey you both have started is also mine.” He shrugged and offered a defeated grin. “I know what I know, I know what you know, but nothing more. I truly am sorry.”

Both of the siblings relaxed, Minako feeling sorry for the boy. She retrieved her sweater, placing it on his lap. “It’s something a knitted awhile ago.” Her fingers played with the collar. “The yarn’s soft, isn’t it? I don’t mind if you play with it. It’s actually flattering.”

The smile that nearly split the boy’s face was infectious. “It really is a lovely thing.” His hands carefully tracing the tight pattern that weaved in and out to create a beautiful yet functional item. “Humans are just too crafty. I wish I had one.”

Minako scooted backward until her back was flat against the wall. “Maybe if you tell us why you’re visiting, I could get started on one.”

“Is that all?” the boy asked.

Minato followed her and flanked the boy on the other side. “I’ll throw in some chocolate. Minako eats too much anyway.”

The boy giggled even when frustration flared up in Minako’s gut. She gave her brother a dirty look but avoided any verbal confrontation. They still had no idea about this boy and what would scare him off.

“I suppose since I would tell you regardless.” He clutched the sweater close to his chest as if it were a teddy bear rather than clothing. “One week from now, there will be a full moon. A new ordeal awaits you. . . a challenge not unlike the tower you climb, albeit somewhat troublesome.”

Minako heard her brother shift towards their visitor. “What kind of ordeal?”

“You will encounter one of them.” he stated, accentuating the subject. “I simply came to wish you luck and remind you to prepare as best you can. Time is of the essence.”

Minako furrowed her brow, but could only turn the new information over in her head like a rock. “How much trouble are we in? Do ya’ think we’ll be okay?”

The boy shrugged, handing the sweater back to its owner. “Hard to say, I only know when it’s coming. Best to be prepared for the worst.”

Minato let out a heavy sigh while Minako felt an oncoming headache. “This was a bit sudden.” Despite that, she accepted the sweater and reached to rub the boy’s back. “Thanks for the warning though. Don’t ya’ worry ‘bout us.”

The boy chuckled, not shying away from her touch. “I never need to.” He stood up and hobbled over the comforter, trying his best not to fall over with his skinny legs. “I’ll see you both after it’s over. There’s no doubt you will prevail as long as you have each other.”

In the blink of an eye, Minako was staring at blank air.

“I will be with you always, to the very end.”

The world seemed to spring to life with the sounds of the night returning, the Dark Hour now gone. A dog howled somewhere far away, a police siren sprung to life, and streetlights hummed with electricity. It was as if nothing had happened.

It suddenly dawned on the elder sister that they had a week before they’d be confronted with this ordeal.

Seven days was not enough time considering their lax Tartarus schedule of two to three visits a week.

Minako quickly sat up from her bed and nearly leaped at her desk. Minato was startled, letting out a high pitched yelp.

“What the heck are you doing!?”

She grabbed a notebook from her desk and began to write down a supply list for Officer Kurosawa.

“Kiss sleep goodbye, we’ve got work to do!”


 

May 3rd, 2009: Dorm Lounge (Morning)

“We’re goin’ to Tartarus every night for six days. Any questions folks?”

Junpei almost choked on his breakfast bar at Minako’s sudden declaration. “What do ya’ mean EVERY NIGHT!?”

“I meant every night for the next six days. Our goal is to reach the next block in that time period.” Minako sat straight on the couch, going over the supply list she made the night before for the hundredth time. “Are there any other questions?”

Yukari stood up violently from her seat on the couch. “This is crazy, Minako-senpai! We’re already exhausted from last night, but now we’re going back?” She stomped her foot. “Sure, we can push ourselves during Golden Week, but what happens when school starts again? We’ll be walking zombies!”

“That’s a small price to pay for the safety of the city, Takeba.” Mitsuru came to Minako’s rescue, a book propped up in her hand to enjoy the day in peace. “Arisato is your field leader and therefore has complete control of when we go and how long we stay.”

Yukari was silent for a moment, but soon her fury overcame her. She let out an indignant screech and stormed out of the lounge to the upstairs area. “You’re all insane!”

As she ascended the stairs, she accidentally bumped into Akihiko who was making his way down.

“Good morning-”

“Leave me alone!” Yukari screeched.

Without another word, the archer was gone. A minute after her departure there was a loud crash of a slamming door them an awkward silence.

Akihiko was stunned for a second before he cleared his throat. “What's wrong with her?”

Minako couldn’t help but feel her stomach drop. The urge to hide her face in her hands out of preemptive fatigue was overwhelming.

This was going to be a long week.


 

May 3rd, 2009: Tartarus Block One (Dark Hour)

“Watch out!”

Minato barely had time to react when two pairs of Trance Twins ambushed him. Electricity crackled in the air, warning of a brutal assault. The teen was able to duck and roll away in time thanks to Junpei’s shout. The Shadows crashed together in an explosion of thunder that sent them sprawling to the floor.

“Up and at ‘em!” Junpei encouraged over the noise of other fights going on just a few paces away. He hauled Minato back to his feet with broadsword swung over his shoulder.

“Thanks.” Minato gathered himself together. “I owe you one.”

“No problem, dude!”

The two boys locked eyes and gave each other a nod. Without having to think much about what they needed to do, their Evokers were already unholstered and aimed for their heads.

“Hermes!”

“Jack Frost!”

The speedy Hermes wasted no time once summoned, flinging itself at the pile of dazed enemies while raining fire from the wings on his boots. The Trance Twins writhed and screamed as they were consumed by the flames.

Minato had decided to summon a recent favorite of his, a bumbling snowman that was named Jack Frost. The presence it held in his heart brought him a sense of joy that came with snow once summoned.

Once he materialized, he bounced along to tag in with Hermes. Jack opened his comically large mouth to bring forth a freezing wind that put out the flames and encased the Shadows in a thick layer of ice.

Junpei extended his arm with a wild grin. “Sick ‘em, Hermes! Show me a home run!”

Hermes darted upwards and landed on the ceiling. With blinding speed, he shot down from his perch and collided with the ice. Shards and ash flew in every direction, but the members of SEES were protected by Jack Frost’s large body.

The Shadows had been defeated, and tough ones at that. The Personas that had finished them off returned to their masters, faded into blue sparks, and returned to their hearts.

Junpei smirked and whistled at their good work. “Not too shabby, a little fire an’ ice. Looks like we’re the perfect team!”

For the first time in his life, Minato offered a fist bump. “Yeah, I think so too.”


May 4th: Mall Police Station (After School)

“I got everything you asked for.”

Minako smiled gratefully as Officer Kurosawa handed over a clipboard with a shortly worded contract attached. “Thanks so much for doing this on short notice. I’ll be paying ya’ back with interest.”

The older gentleman shook his head. “Kirijo has taken care of the down payment. All that’s left is the upfront fees and delivery costs.”

“Of course she did.” Minako signed off after reading through the terms of payment, attached an envelope with a combination of the current field operatives allowance. “This should be everything, for now at least.”

Kurosawa took the clipboard and removed the envelope to count the money. “One moment, I just want to make sure you didn’t overpay.”

Minako shrugged. “I checked a few times, but go ahead.”

A sick feeling swirled in her stomach for what she’d done to get what they needed.

No one needed to know that she lied that everything wasn’t as expensive as it was, or that she used up all of her monthly allowances to pay.

To make up the difference, she dipped into the yen she set aside for recreation, music, and sweets.


 

May 5th, 2009: Dorm Kitchen  (Night)

“What did you wanna talk about? Am I in trouble?”

Minako had pulled Yukari away from the group before their mission briefing, using the kitchen for some privacy. The latter seemed on edge when asked for a one-on-one ever since her outburst a few days before.

If Minako was being honest, she wasn’t exactly composed either.

The field leader took a deep breath once she knew they wouldn’t be heard. “I know this six-day conquest’s been a lot on everyone, but I felt extra terrible after ya’ stormed out the other day.” She put a finger to her lips and motioned the junior towards the fridge. “I hope this’ll cheer you up a little.”

When she opened the door, Minako couldn’t help but chuckle when Yukari’s eyes went wide like an owl.

“It’s not much, but I hope it tastes alright.”

Sitting on the top shelf was a pie tin covered in aluminum foil, a post-it note labeled with Yukari’s favorite flavor: apple with cinnamon crumble.

The archer couldn’t help but turn to her senior with a face-splitting smile. “It’s all mine? Like, mine mine?”

Minako nodded. “Junpei and Minato have been warned. Besides, they got their own presents for Children’s Day.”

Yukari closed the fridge door, took a deep breath, then lunged at Minako for a bone-crushing hug. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. It wasn’t fair.” She pulled away with a shy grin. “Whatever you’re doing, I trust you. You’re our leader for a reason so I’ll do my best to support your decision.”

The senior was stunned for a moment before giving her teammate a couple of pats on the back.

“I promise this will all be worth it. Just wait a few more days.”


 

May 6th, 2009: Miss Ounishi’s Class (Morning)

Minato was barely staying awake while listening to his chemistry teacher rant about not wanting to be at work.

Maybe he should introduce her to Mister Ono before going to lunch? They could complain about how everything but science and katanas sucked.

“I don't feel like teaching today. . . I was watching TV last night, and there was a special on weight loss. ‘The more you drink, the thinner you get!’” She slammed her fist on the podium, no doubt still drunk from a few shots the night before. “Yeah, right! What about the osmotic pressure, huh? It's misinformation, but people believe what they see on TV!”

If the class was lucky, maybe they’d get fired and never teach poor teenagers like him something that everyone knew: work sucks but so does being poor.

Minato felt his eyes droop as she continued to talk about soap for some reason. Her shrill voice stabbed into his head like a million needles, threatening to cause permanent brain damage. The worst part was that she didn’t seem to pause for a breath.

What was up with women and constantly shrieking their emotions for everyone else to suffer with her?

He glanced over to see that Junpei had long since dozed off, notebook empty and pencil barely held between his fingers. At least Yukari had made an excuse that she felt sick and went to nap in the nurse’s office.

Minato tentatively laid his head into his arms.

Perhaps he could get away with a few minutes of shut-eye?

“ARISATO!”

Minato had never stood up so quickly in his life. “Yes, ma’am!” If he wasn’t awake before, he was bright-eyed and bushy tail now.

Miss Ounishi didn’t seem to notice that he was about to fall asleep, instead of pointing him with the butt of her pen. “Is soap acidic, basic, or neutral? Answer in 5,4,3,2-”

Minato had no time to think about his answer. In a panic, he went with his best guess for being half-dead and ready to murder a teacher in broad daylight.

“Basic. . .”

His teacher gave him an accusatory glare.

Maybe she had caught him about to fall asleep and was just waiting to pounce.

Minato winced, prepared for the worst to happen.

“You got it. I guess you're smarter than you look-”

“-I’M AWAKE!” Junpei shot up from his desk, knocking Minato over. “SHIT!”

The last thing that went through his mind before hitting the floor was that he now had an excuse to sleep in class.

He’d thank Junpei later.


 

May 7th, 2009: Dorm Kitchen and Dining Area (Late Evening)

Minato nearly passed out when he came home to find Minako running around the kitchen with copious amounts of noodles being dumped into a large pot to be boiled. Meat that resembled pork was already simmering loudly in three separate saucepans. All of this culminated in a powerful scent that invaded his senses.

He ventured with caution, not knowing if his sister had finally lost her mind or just decided to invite the entire school over for dinner.

“Um. . .” he trailed off while attempting to remove his jacket without upsetting his injury from the day before. “Where’s the party?”

Minako grumbled something before clapping some stray flour off on her apron. “If we’re gonna fight hard, we need to eat right.” She motioned to her mess of pots going all at once. “Noodles for carbo-loading, meat for a protein fix, and steamed vegetables because you should always eat your vegetables. Leftovers will be packed up for lunches tomorrow.”

Minato opened his mouth to speak, but his words came out as more of a disgruntled hum.

On one hand, she went overboard and made enough food for an entire classroom of teenagers. There was no way they could finish everything within the span of a night and afternoon. He would be right in calling her a psycho or food.

On the other hand. . . she wasn’t exactly wrong about bumping up their nutrition.

Minako tapped a metal tongs on the rim of a boiling pot. “If you don’t close your mouth, you’ll attract flies. Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Minato did as he was told. His jaw clamped back into place and he took a deep breath, moving to get a tablecloth from a cabinet above the stove.

“I’ll set the table.”


 

May 7th, 2009: Train Station (Dark Hour)

A sparse collection of coffins were scattered along a dark platform. The people who they contained were waiting for a late-night train, only to be transformed and wait for the terror of the Dark Hour to pass. One of the many monorail trains had just arrived before the change and lay dormant. It had lost its power along with the lights of the station.

It was a common occurrence that transpired each and every night.

Shadows darted in between them as if they were hockey players weaving in and out of cones. Lights helped conceal their movements to anyone who was outside during the accursed hour.

All of a sudden, frost coated the station.

Shadows screeched with a twisted sort of delight.

They jumped aboard the train and began to swarm the area.

A woman’s chuckle echoed in the distance.


05/07/2009

Tomorrow is the day. Even though we all took the night off, I doubt I'll be able to sleep through the night. Something has been eating away at me since that boy appeared and the feeling just won't go away.

Where did he come from?

What does he want?

Can we trust anything he says?

Is all of this a ploy for a much bigger problem?

My head hurts from all this thinking. Maybe if I lay down and close my eyes, I'll feel better. Heck, I might get some sleep while I'm at it.

-Minato Arisato