Minato had never been more grateful for a day off in his entire life.
The events from the night before had left him exhausted beyond comprehension. The muscles in his arms, legs, and torso had all but failed him at when he tried to get up at his usual time. Raindrops on his window lulled him back to sleep until he finally got up around ten in the morning.
Now, still in his sleeping attire, Minato lounged on his bed while watching old reruns of Featherman Rangers. The bright colors of the heroes were almost blinding, but the nostalgia of cheesy one-liners and low budget fight scenes kept him from getting bored.
“Let’s fly on by side-by-side. Just spread your wings and go, go, go~” Minato sung along to the familiar opening song. No one was around to make fun of him for singing about a children's TV show so he might as well enjoy a moment of brevity.
Just a moment, of course.
“We are the Rangers, Featherman Rangers-”
“BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY BABY!!!”
Minato flinched as his phone buzzed and played his trademark ringtone.
“Fear’s awake, anger beats loud, face reality. Never face charity~”
“Dammit.” he groaned before rolling out of bed. It took a moment for him to adjust from the loud colored screen to a familiar greyscale room. “Someone better be dead or dying.”
“The enemy you’re fighting cover all society (damn right). Mommy’s not here, gotta fight (all night)~”
His phone was sitting on his desk, a small thing, simple and cheaper than one with a full-sized keyboard. Leave it to Minako to penny-pinch with everything that wasn’t candy.
When Minato finally stumbled his way across the room, the chorus of the song was blaring as loud as the volume would permit. He didn’t bother glancing at the collar I.D before picking up the phone and flipping it open. “Minato Arisato, what’s up?”
“Hello, this is Elizabeth.”
Minato perked up, straightening his posture without knowing he was. “Hey, good morning.” He made a move toward his door. “Is something wrong? Should I get Minako?”
“That won’t be necessary. Theo has already spoken to the young lady earlier this morning.” Elizabeth seemed to smile with her voice. “I trust you slept well after last night’s events? We in the Velvet Room are very proud of both you and your sister’s efforts to live up to your full potential.”
Minato shrugged, walking back to his bed and flopping on top of the covers. “It’s whatever, I just did what I could.”
“And what you did was nothing short of impressive, for a human that is.”
There was an edge of humor in her crass observation. It was too forced, the delivery may have come off as condescending to others, but to a cynic like himself, Minato couldn’t help the small quirk of his mouth. Igor and the attendants have probably seen billions of situations like this or even faced their own enemies much more fearsome.
Even still, there was something charming about her compliment disguised behind an attempt as a joke.
Elizabeth was really starting to grow on the boy.
“Is there anything else I should know? I doubt you called to just congratulate me.”
“Yes, down to business I suppose.” Elizabeth changed her tone back to neutral. “I'm calling to inform you of a change in Tartarus. I believe a path that was blocked is now open. Does that mean anything to you both?”
Minato nodded, knowing full well she couldn’t see him. “I know what you’re talking about. We’ll take it from here.”
“I thought so, I admire your attention to detail. Enjoy your rest, young man. We will speak again soon enough.”
“Take care, Elizabeth.”
“I certainly will. Igor sends his regards.”
Without further ceremony, the call ended.
Minato snapped his phone shut, tossing it aside.
All at once there was peace once more in his humble abode.
The rain grew worse outside and nearly drowned out the animate yells of the Featherman Rangers on the TV. Despite that, it was almost soothing the way it fell against the building.
Minato’s eyes began to droop.
Eight hours was never enough sleep for someone like himself.
“Well, if you can’t beat it. . .” He shimmed himself back under the covers, leaving the TV on for more white noise. The blankets were cool and the sheets were starting to smell less like hand sanitizer with each use. There were no lights to turn off so he simply turned towards to wall and closed his eyes. “Just. . . five more minutes.”
The last thing he heard before drifting off into a dreamless sleep was the ending theme of a children’s superhero team show.
For a moment, he had to wonder if that was what SEES would become.
Me: hey junpinator, ya up?
$upDude: yah dude wat’s up?
Me: wanna get some lunch? I just finished shopping 4 da team an need something gud 2 eat, but I don’t wanna eat alone. U game?
$upDude: sure! Where 2?
Me: Hagakure Ramen . . . meh fellow senior has me addicted :P
Despite being dead on her feet, surviving on a cheap cup of coffee, and ready for a three-day nap, Minako decided to drag her feet to the Iwatodai strip mall and meet Junpei for lunch. True to his word, he arrived at the beef bowl shop two steps ahead of the ragged senior. He had even taken the liberty of staking out a place at the counter and ordering her drink ahead of time.
Sitting down never felt so relieving after walking around Port Island all day. And as if the universe was finally throwing her a bone, Minako sat down and had her order taken without having to wait.
In no time, it was just her and the capped teen.
“So ya’ know ‘bout this place too? Not many newbies come here.” Junpei asked, shrugging off his coat and hanging it on the back of his chair. “Who showed ya’?”
Minako sighed and took a swig of her water. “Sanada has an infatuation with the food; it’s almost scary, but he pays, so no biggie.” She shivered at the memory of the first visit. “That boy is something else. He got me the special on my first visit here.”
“That doesn’t sound bad-”
“-the EXTRA large special. . ." Minako sank, ". . . I ate every last bite out of guilt.”
Junpei sucked in a harsh breath.
“Yikes . . . he knows yer’ a girl, right?”
“In his words,” she lowered her voice and forced a frown, “‘Eating right is a big part of building up muscle, you know. Blah, blah, protein is life get good mortals.’” She couldn’t help but chuckle at her horrible impression. “Scratch that last part, that’s what I was thinking.”
“I wouldn't've noticed the difference.” Junpei lounged back. “Jeez, Mitsuru-senpai and Akihiko-senpai are sooo hardcore. Makes ya’ wonder what SEES was like before we got thrown into the fire. Those two must’ve argued a lot, dude!”
Minako shrugged. “Maybe, but I don’t know. I think they’re just a pair of young adults trying to do the best they can, but they have disagreements on what that means for the situation.” She absentmindedly twirled a stray lock of her hair. “I could learn a lot from their differing leadership styles, especially Kirijo-san. She’s practically a genius when it comes to micro-management and organization. My dumb luck can only get me so far when it’s our lives on the line.”
Junpei gave her a glassy-eyed stare. “Yeah, I’ll let ya’ do all that thinking. It’s not for me.”
Two piping hot bowls of the beef bowl special slid in front of the high schools, breaking them from their conversation. Chopsticks were hastily handed over before the server left to attend to another table.
“Thanks, man!” Junpei called after, getting a thumbs up in return. “Well then, I’m digging in!” He didn’t hesitate in breaking his utensils and moving in to inhale the first bite. “Chow time!”
The two ate in relative silence with only the sounds of the restaurant to fill the dead space between them. Sizzling meat from the kitchen wafted into the main dining area and gave off a cozy atmosphere of a home. The laughter of work buddies on break and catty gossip between women all culminated together in a symphony of normalcy.
However, Minako couldn’t fully enjoy it with so much weighing on her mind.
Akihiko would be returning to the team towards the end of Midterms, that left her scrambling to dissect how his integration into the new SEES would affect established group dynamics. Someone just coming out of the blue would certainly cause a few waves that could be positive or negative. It was better to predict the outcome and adjust for the future ahead of time.
Then there was the current issue of their difficult mission. Almost dying and having to go back to school, not even two days after, wasn’t healthy on the mind. A debriefing of the events was already scheduled to take place that evening, but will such a formality solve the emotional side of the problem?
And then there was Junpei’s out-of-character, insubordinate actions during the mission. . .
No one mentioned it, spoke of it, or acknowledged that it had happened. No one stopped to ask him what was wrong (albeit there was no time during their situation). No one had pulled him aside after the mission and give him a chance to say his peace. Even still, what happened was a shock to everyone.
How could the usually carefree, loyal, and team-oriented fighter become a hostile deserter at the drop of a hat?
All of her thoughts seemed to swirl like a hurricane inside her mind. A sudden lightheaded sensation crept up from the parade of confusion.
Maybe going out was not the brightest idea in the book.
“Hey, you okay senpai?”
A steady hand was placed on her shoulder, she hadn’t noticed she’d been tipping out of her seat.
“Just a little dizzy.” Minako re-centered herself, but Junpei still kept a hold on her. “After everything that happened, I should be at the dorm resting. Guess I overestimated how much I could do today.”
Junpei hummed in agreement. “Yeah, you’re always so busy but ya’ gotta know your limits Minatan. Let’s head back.” He raised his hand to flag down one of the servers. “Check please!”
After paying for their meal, the two left to go back to the dorm. Minako had trouble keeping up with her taller companion’s pace and being exhausted didn’t help at all. Thankfully, Junpei noticed her struggle and slowed down until they fell into a comfortable gait.
“Sorry, we had to leave early. You didn’t even finish your lunch.”
Junpei waved her off. “Psh, they’ll be open forever.” He tucked his hands behind his head. “Maybe we can go when you’re not trying to faint on me? We can study for midterms an’ all that normal stuff for once.”
Minako couldn’t help but snort. “Junpei-kun, since when did you decide ya’ wanna study of your own free will? I don’t remember tacking on extra chores lately.” She snapped her fingers. “It was Yukari, wasn’t it? What’d she say?”
“I’m serious, Minatan!” he exclaimed. “Can’t a guy just decide he wants to work hard an’ get a good score?”
Minako gave him an incredulous glare but ended up relenting to focus on the sidewalk under her feet. “Alright, I’ll believe you for now. This school does have some gnarly tests, practically light years away from my old school’s curriculum.”
“Yeah, tell me ‘bout it. I had some problems myself when I transferred here, too.” Junpei shrugged despite himself. “In your case, you've got all the fighting stuff and being a leader . . . and you're all on your own. I don’t know how ya’ stay sane with all that on your plate.”
Minako felt her feet begin to drag on the concrete.
“I manage, nothing I can’t handle.” She shoved her hands in the pockets of her orange plaid skirt. “I’ve been juggling keeping good grades and taking care of Minato for years. He’s practically a young man, so he helps out where he can. It takes some weight off my back.”
Junpei matched her slowing pace. He let out a long breath, fidgeting with the zipper of his jacket. “Still, I can’t imagine filling in for your parents when your just a kid. It’s just so- . . .” he trailed off into the spring breeze. “. . . That ain’t fair for anyone. Now I’m just worried you’ll run yourself into an early grave.”
Minako felt her heart warm inside her chest. It was the same kind of feeling she got whenever Minato did something worthy of a celebratory cake. The same feeling when he burst into a rare laughing fit and would roll around on the ground like an eight-year-old.
Maybe this newly dubbed “best friend,” a title that was never given out liberally, was starting to become something closer to a brother?
“Junpei-kun,” she breathed, “how come you’re such a dork and have a heart of gold at the same time?”
Said teen scoffed and bumped her with his elbow. “Hey, I’m just wondering how you're doing! That’s what pals do, they watch each other's back and all that!” He jammed a thumb in his direction. “Someone’s gotta make sure our leader isn’t dead. Might as well be me!”
Minako somehow found extra pep in her step at his heartfelt declaration. She started to pick up her knees and began to move ahead. “Careful, Minato might get jealous that I’m stealing his partner!”
“Pft, he’ll be fine! He’s a lone wolf through an’ through that guy!”
As they threw quips back and forth, Minako felt her doubts about his true feelings melt into the background of her singing heartbeat. She might be able to forget her troubles with everyone else, but with Junpei, she had a second little brother.
And as for what he said the night before, it wasn’t a big deal at that moment.
He was human, and humans sometimes say things they don’t mean.
It was a talk for another lunch.
The dorm was coming into view as they turned into the neighborhood. Both wore glowing smiles despite the lead in their feet.
“Girls and guys livin' in the same dorm, huh? That can't be good.”
Minako glanced over to see Junpei giving the building a mischievous smirk. “Down boy, Yukari and Kirijo would wipe the floor with ya’ if they heard that.”
“Aww, I can't help it!” he whined, but his smirk remained just as strong. “Oh, but I don't drag love into my work.”
“That’s very mature-”
“-Then again, I can't guarantee that I won't fall for somebody, mwahaha!”
Yes, he definitely became the second brother in that moment as he avoided Minako trying to steal his hat for his crude joke.
Minato had made the correct choice to be a couch potato on Sunday. It was as if someone had given his brain a bubble bath complete with some Mozart playing in the background and a book being read for him by some tall glass of water.
Also, candles, fifty of them scattered at random intervals.
Junpei and Yukari had somewhat recovered; they walked to school with him and had only complained three times about not getting enough rest. The other ten were about how one or the other was Lucifer reincarnate.
Mr. Ekoda was kicking off the week with his Classic Literature class. At least it wasn’t Mr. Ono and his dumb hat.
“I'm sure you all remember that midterm exams start next Monday. If you paid attention during class and studied diligently at home, you should have no problems.” The elderly man walked up and down the rows, stopping only to slap Junpei on the back. “Of course, the best way to prepare for a difficult exam is to sleep through class, like Junpei here!”
The whole class giggled and chuckled amongst themselves as Junpei balked at the sudden humiliation. “Hey, I’m wide awake gramps, that was ONE time and I said I was sorry! What more do ya’ want from me?”
The teacher let out a hearty laugh. “It seems you need to prioritize math in the coming days since I distinctly remember it being no less than NINE times.” He wriggled a pencil in the student’s direction. “Do get yourself a tutor young man.”
Junpei crossed his arms over his chest and muttered under his breath “Why don’t you get a tutor cause ya’ already got dementia.”
Minato couldn’t help but smirk at the poor attempt at a burn.
Mr. Ekoda returned to the front of the room. “That goes for all of you. If you choose to neglect your duty as a student and waste your life in idleness, then be my guest!”
Minato set aside his pencil and notebook, leaning back so he was comfortably seated.
There was no need to hunch over his desk in preparation for actual knowledge. They were starting out with a famous back-in-my-day rant on Monday morning, a trademark of the straight-laced Mr. Ekoda.
“In my day, society was nowhere near as rich and abundant as it is today! That's why we worked so long and hard; to better our lives. Can you young people say the same?” He sent a harsh glare to every student. “Hmm?”
When no one answered, he carried on.
“Our society's material wealth has come at the cost of its spiritual wealth. Spiritual wealth, I say a second time!”
They eventually got to the lesson on Ise Monogatari. . . almost an hour later.
“The recent string of cases involving the medical phenomenon, Apathy Syndrome, has dropped into the single digits as of this afternoon-”
“Could someone turn that up? I can’t hear it from the kitchen!”
“Got it, Minatan!” Junpei answered back.
Minato had scooped up the remote first and raised the volume to an acceptable number. Minako could continue cooking while the juniors watched from the couches. Textbooks and lined paper lay strewn about of cushions, side tables, and even the floor.
“-Doctors reported their patients to be responsive and many returning to their previous behaviors as early as twelve in the morning on Sunday. Three individuals are still in the care of a team of professionals researching the cause of this peculiar event, but are slowly making progress towards discharge.”
Yukari clasped her hands together, a sigh of relief escaping her lips. “Thank goodness. Looks like we actually made some waves.”
Junpei pointed at the screen. “Hold up, there’s more.”
“-Although it seems that Apathy Syndrome affects individuals regardless of medical history, gender, and/or age, a link has been found between the most recent victims. All had reported to be riding the subway during the night and suddenly felt nothing. This contradicts previous reports that linked these outbreaks near a small neighborhood in Iwatodai. Could this sickness be location-based? Will it return or is this simply the beginning? We’ll be back tomorrow with updates on the remaining three victims.”
Minato flicked the TV off, sinking into the chair he had claimed for the group’s study session. “Guess Yukari’s right, we’re doing well out there.”
“That was crazy though, the day before yesterday. We won the battle and saved the freaking city.” Junpei mused aloud. “I've never had that kinda thrill in all my life. Don't you think it's been getting more exciting lately?”
“I’m just happy we survived that whole debacle.” Minako entered the living room with a tray of delicately sliced fruit, her apron stained with various shades of red, orange, and blue. As soon as the tray was set on the coffee table, the teen helped themselves. “But I have to agree, things might start to pick up again. Who knows what else is out there? What kind of Shadows haven’t we fought yet?”
Yukari finished chewing a clementine slice before speaking. “I say we go to Tartarus on the thirteenth. We’d have one more day to rest up and then we can explore to our heart's content.” She put her hand up. “Let’s take a vote, who’s in?”
Junpei raised his hand that held a generous serving of blackberries. “For once, I agree with Yukatan. Studying is already getting old. I need something fun!”
“I have no objections.” Minato threw out, turning his body to face his sister. “It’s your call; we good to go or are we staying here?”
Minako pretended to consider the proposal, rocking back and forth on her heels. After a suspenseful minute, she nodded and gave them a thumbs up. “Finish your chores and get at least a few minutes of flashcards in, we shouldn’t have any problems.”
“Alright!” Junpei and Yukari yelled at the same time. Minato offered an apathetic cheer under the caterwauling of his fellow classmates.
Minako shook her head, returning to the kitchen to clean up her mess. She fiddled with her cross around her neck as she listened to her teammate's chatter excitedly about the upcoming adventure.
“God bless these five-year-old teenagers.”
May 11th, 2009
Sometimes, I wonder if life happens on a script.
Like, it was all planned and we're all just actors.
Damn. . . I'm starting to sound like Satan herself.