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An Endless Song

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Minato and Akihiko’s first meeting was… quite frankly, nothing special. A brief “How ya doin?” in a group setting where there were more pressing matters, from a healthy and entirely unintimate distance of two seats away. Akihiko managed to squeeze in a lasting impression when he quite literally jumped to his feet to yell about how much he just loved relentlessly brutalising shadows with his fists, but their interactions were overall minimalistic. Of course, this wasn’t especially unique - for as welcoming as Mitsuru had been, from the moment Minato walked in he felt the sensation that their relationship was almost strictly professional. In contrast, his blossoming friendship with Yukari felt much more genuine and Ikutsuki was almost irritatingly hospitable. Minato supposed it was natural, then, for him generally feel a bit more isolated from the seniors regardless of their positive intentions. It wasn’t a personal thing so much as it was that they seemed to operate on different wavelengths.

As time went on and Akihiko’s ribs slowly mended themselves, he and Minato continued to steer pretty clear of each other. It wasn’t intentional, of course - rather, their routines just rarely intersected. Sometimes they’d throw out a ‘hey’ when they crossed each other on the way to a midnight snack or, more awkwardly, a midnight piss, but for some reason Minato felt that it was somehow fated for them to never get any closer than that. Minato may have been serving as the leader of S.E.E.S., but Mitsuru was relegated to navigational duties and she banished Akihiko to the shadow realm for daring to suggest he could sneak even a small glance at Tartarus. With Junpei now in the mix to keep Minato additional company - however frustrating he could be - there just wasn’t much of a reason for Minato to bond with the older members of the group. To Minato's knowledge, Akihiko didn't even visit him when he was in hospital the week he arrived at Iwatodai - and when Minato went to visit Akihiko during his hospital check-up, the interaction was strange (a fact largely attributable to Akihiko’s bizarre friend who looked even more filled with angst than Minato himself did).

It didn’t help that Yukari, someone he had quickly grown to feel a much deeper connection to, always seemed on edge around Mitsuru. Naturally, this unease extended to the second, white-haired pea in her pod.

“Leader,” Yukari had said one night when Mitsuru was studying in her room and Akihiko was doing whatever it is he always seemed to be doing. She voiced her concerns carefully, speaking each word as though it held a heavy weight on her tongue. “Do you ever feel like Mitsuru-senpai is being kind to us… for the wrong reasons?”

Minato had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but thought it best to put on a pensive expression. “What do you mean?”

Yukari stared down at her lap for a few moments. She took in a deep breath. “Nevermind,” she breathed out with a sigh, shaking her head slightly. “I’m probably just being paranoid. Everything’s just been so crazy lately... I think it’s starting to get to me.”

Minato smiled at her. “It’s alright. Some strange stuff to get used to.”

She returned his smile with a wobbly one. “Yeah, totally. Thanks.” Minato wasn’t particularly convinced that the discussion was over, but figured it was best put off for now as Yukari rose from the couch and retreated to her room.

Right as she turned the corner, the front door swung open. Minato looked over to see Akihiko trudge his way inside alongside a surprisingly strong wave of heat for this time of night, closing the door behind him carefully. The boy maintained surprisingly straight posture even as he panted, chugging down half a bottle of water on his way to the fridge. Minato brought his feet up onto the couch, curling into himself a little. He tried to avoid staring at the other boy in apparent fear of seeming strange for looking at the only other person in the room.

Akihiko wiped sheen off his forehead with his arm, glancing over at Minato - who, upon second glance, couldn’t help but feel like something was a little off about him. “Oh, hey,” Akihiko said casually, if a little breathlessly. “I didn’t see you there. What’re you still doing up?”

Minato furrowed his brow, a little confused, with a small smile on his lips. “What do you mean? You weren’t even home until just now.”

“Yeah, well, exercise helps me sleep,” the senior responded absentmindedly. Minato questioned the scientific accuracy of that statement but decided against commenting, simply watching as the senior fished around in the fridge for another water bottle. He chugged its contents almost instantly, flattening the bottle from its base to his mouth as it went down - Minato couldn’t help but be strangely impressed. But he was a bit too antsy to register that as the feeling that something was different continued to plague him.

He was never one for beating around the bush. “Is something different about you today?” he asked bluntly, angling himself to face the other boy more directly and crossing his arms over the couch.

Akihiko looked puzzled for a second, tilting his head as he threw the empty bottle into the bin, before his eyes widened with a small ‘oh!’. “Yeah, I got my cast off,” he grinned, lifting his now-free arm and flexing his bicep proudly. “Mitsuru thinks I should wait a few more days before I join you in Tartarus, but I feel completely fine." He paused for a moment, squinting. "You know, now that I think about it I’m pretty glad you’re up; I bet if you tell her-”

Minato cut him off, chuckling at the other boy’s enthusiasm. “Sorry, we won’t be going in for a few nights anyway. I’ve got a lot of homework this week.”

Akihiko grunted, his expression dimming. He brought a hand to his chin, propping his elbow up on the counter and biting his lip with a low hum. He took a few moments to think to himself before responding. “I can help you with the work if you want,” he offered, straightening up. “I haven’t had anything to do but homework so I’m well-enough on track. I can sacrifice some free time if it means I can get back to fighting.”

Minato shook his head. “It’s alright, Akihiko-senpai. I prefer to try figuring stuff out on my own first.” Truth be told, Minato only really managed to make peace with the idea of homework by thinking of it as ‘alone time’. Also, he was still a little scared to defy Mitsuru like Akihiko was suggesting. He had seen her glare at Junpei so fiercely that he was sure Junpei would lose all motor and cognitive function for three days at the bare minimum. Even with Akihiko on his side, he did not ever want to be on the receiving end of that look. In fact, just the memory made Minato question the true root of Akihiko’s injury… Mitsuru and Yukari raved about his strength, so there was no way a simple shadow could do that to him. Minato compartmentalised his new theory into a growing section of his brain titled ‘reasons to be very scared of Mitsuru Kirijo’.

“Alright,” Akihiko sighed, shrugging as he walked towards the staircase. “Let me know if you change your mind. I promise I’m not all brawn.”

Minato smiled softly. “I don’t doubt that, Senpai. Good night.”

Akihiko didn’t respond, opting for a simple wave backwards as he continued on to his room. Minato, suddenly thirsty, cursed Akihiko for bringing in a heatwave so late at night and downed a glass of water himself. After a few minutes of twiddling his thumbs in the kitchen, he decided to go to his own room and get some of his homework out of the way. He very quickly regretted not accepting Akihiko’s offer.

He read the question once, then twice, then texted Junpei to turn that damn music down, read it a third time, felt bad about his earlier phrasing and decided to text Junpei please, and finally accepted that he did not understand what to do the fourth time he read the question. He wasn’t sure why exactly Edogawa expected him to know anything about Orpheus, or why he was receiving homework from a substitute teacher, but couldn’t help feeling a little bad considering that he kinda was Orpheus if you thought long enough about it. With a brief but very passionate curse at his last school for not covering mythology and religion at such a deep level, he turned on his computer and googled ‘How did Orpheus help the Argonauts’. He chose to omit the more complicated parts of the question - partly because he still had no clue what the hell a lyre was or why a tree dancing to it had anything to do with a question about a siren.

When he realised the answer was a lot more simple than he thought it was (Edogawa really needed to work on writing more succinct questions), he decided to squeeze a couple more in before going to sleep. After a few boring questions followed an emotionally charged opinion-based one about Orpheus’ part in Eurydice’s fate, Minato decided he would be better off sleeping now rather than later.

* * *

He slept a little poorly, tormented by the potential loss of his ‘alone time’ as he resigned to ask Akihiko for help with his homework next time. Luckily, a hot shower was enough to dispel his grogginess the coming morning. He emerged from the bathroom in his uniform, hair still a little damp but not enough for it to bother him into plugging in a hairdryer.

He stopped in the kitchen on his way out, doing nothing for a few moments before deciding on bringing a peach along with him. He turned back around and was taken aback by the sight of Mitsuru leaning against the couch, looking over at him.

“Arisato,” she called out with a warm smile. “Care to walk with me to school?”

He fiddled around with the peach in his hands for a moment, maintaining eye contact. “Yeah, sure,” he finally replied, grabbing a paper towel off the roll on the bench just in case. He didn’t really want to look like a messy eater in front of Mitsuru.

She briskly made her way to the front door, apparently not even thinking of slowing down as Minato scrambled to catch up to her. They left the building in a silence that was maintained for an unsurprisingly long duration of the walk, broken only by the loud clacking of her heels against the pavement. It wasn’t awkward, per se, but it did make Minato wince a little every time a bit too much juice leaked out of the peach and he had to try to suck it up as quietly as possible.

Mitsuru toyed with her hair for a moment as they approached the station, apparently deciding it would be an appropriate time to begin the conversation when Minato threw out his peach core. “I don’t normally catch the train to school,” she admits. She pat down her skirt a little, looking down at it to avoid eye contact with the businessman staring at her from a distance.

Minato looked at her curiously. “Yeah, I noticed that,” he replied calmly, wiping some leftover juice off his hands and throwing the paper towel into the next bin they passed. “What made you decide to today?”

She shrugged, walking over to a bench with an empty spot. She moved to sit down but took another look and aborted the movement halfway through, straightening back up. “I didn’t have anything to do at school this morning. Normally, I would aim to arrive early and attend to student council matters - today, I had no reason to.”

Minato didn’t really feel like his question was answered. “Are the earlier train times inconvenient?”

Mitsuru shook her head, putting a hand on her hip. “No, not at all - I just wouldn’t have any reason to if I weren’t accompanying a-” She paused very briefly, shifting her eyes to the side before gracefully recovering with, “a roommate. I have more comfortable arrangements for arriving alone.”

“Fair enough,” Minato replied simply, never one to spur someone on for more details in a conversation. He had learnt from experience that people usually just continued talking to him if they had more they wanted to share. It was almost like a superpower - he didn’t even think he had a particularly inviting aura about him. As it was, he was content with the image of Mitsuru arriving at school at 4 a.m. every day in a gold-plated limousine. Probably a few paparazzi hanging off the back of it as well.

She nodded slowly, looking over to the approaching train. She noticed that the businessman was still staring at her and decided he was worthy of meeting Medusa; Minato couldn’t see her face from this angle, but the hand holding his cigarette completely froze midair. Minato feared he would burn his hand soon. Mitsuru turned back to him with a smile. “But I must admit, it’s nice making the trip with someone my own age,” she laughed, voice rising to combat the whoosh of the train as it slowed to a stop in front of them.

They boarded the train, not bothering to look for a seat. “Yeah, the trip gets pretty boring alone,” he admits, thinking back to the time Junpei tried hitting on a ‘hot cougar’ only for them to turn around and reveal the visage of a 45 year old man who just happened to have long hair. “It’s more exciting with friends.”

Mitsuru looked down as he finished that statement, tapping her foot on the small space she had to herself on the floor. “So it is,” she replied wistfully.

The rest of the ride was silent, this time untainted by Minato’s goddamn mouth noises because Mitsuru makes sure to always keep the most perfectly ripe fruit in stock what the hell it’s not even officially summer yet, and they stepped out of the carriage with strangely synchronised steps. Mitsuru gave a final smile at Minato as they reached the gates, this one a little brighter.

“Are they always like that?” Minato asked, pointing over at a group of boys and one girl looking over at Mitsuru and whispering to each other. He could have sworn he heard one of them say oh my God I would kill my mother if it got her to peg me.

She gave him a strange look before she turned over her shoulder, eyes widening in understanding. “Ah, um, yes. It’s nothing really, though - you should see how some of the student body act towards Akihiko.”

“Don’t worry,” Minato smirked, “I’ve heard plenty from this one girl in my class.” He couldn’t even dare to think about some of the things he’d heard her call Yukari when she left the class just because she happened to live in the same dorm as Akihiko. It was absurd to him, honestly, how one person could become so completely obsessed with another.

Mitsuru shook her head, chuckling to herself as she walked ahead. “Thank you for accompanying me, Arisato. I’ll see you back at the dorms.”

Minato shrugged a shoulder. “Any time, Kirijo-senpai.”

Class was as uneventful as expected, Minato barely managing to stop himself from falling asleep in class. The most interesting part of the day came between classes, where he bumped into Akihiko in the hallway - quite literally. Considering Akihiko exercised about as much as he breathed, Minato was the one to suffer the clichéd fate of falling to the floor.

"Crap! Sorry, Minato," Akihiko sighed, reaching his hand out. Minato took it and stood up, noted how strangely moisturised Akihiko’s hand was for such a masculine guy, and dusted himself off.

"Don't sweat it," Minato replied, stuffing his binder more comfortably under his arm. He looked up to find Akihiko scanning the hallway ahead, clearly desperate to escape this unnecessarily eerie interaction and move on to better things - like... calculus or something, probably. Minato tried not to overthink on whether or not he should be hurt by that.

Akihiko just nodded, patting Minato on the back as he moved past him. "See ya around."

Minato returned the nod and watched as he walked over to a classmate and draped an arm around his shoulder, laughing about something. Minato was pretty sure he was forgetting something. Either way, he took extra precaution to avoid the death glare his classmate was staring at him with, practically crushing her pencil case with discomforting pressure. Then his eyes went wide when he realised the problem was his homework. "Oh, wait, Senpai! Can you-!"

He could get out so much, though. "Get me a date with him," the girl demanded, strutting into his space. Minato winced at her still-horrific expression, and cringed a little deeper when it immediately transformed into a hearty grin. "Pretty please! I'll hook you up with one of my friends, promise she's super cute! If you get him to go on a date with me."

Minato suddenly felt a little more annoyed than fearful. Why did she think Akihiko was all hers? Why was she entitled to make everyone he knows direct his attention towards her? He could shoot himself in the head dozens of times a night but this four-foot-six girl thought she could scare him just because her eyes contained the screaming souls of a thousand mortals? "No thanks." He was pretty sure he knew what friend she was talking about - she would most likely just hound him for not being Akihiko if they went on a date anyway.

The girl took in a deep breath. "I will destroy you." And then she walked away. Minato was pretty sure he heard someone say 'can that girl just relax for once?'. He agreed.

Minato turned and peeked over the crowd. He saw Akihiko turn a corner at the end of the floor, feeling just a little more frustrated at swarm of people buzzing around him.