“Can you promise me? Promise me that we’ll forget – that we’ll all forget? I refuse to do this if I have to remember it.”
Waking up with his arm thrown over her side, shoulder sore and the heat between them almost stifling, felt more like dreaming than anything Ryoji had ever experienced while asleep. His body bent, left cheek resting on her shoulder just above her collarbone, and he hummed sleepily, tilting his head so that his nose brushed against her neck. He breathed out slowly.
It must have tickled, because Minako squirmed, her movement slow and groggy, and Ryoji laughed lightly as she stretched. The hand he held against her side let him feel the entirety of the movement as her skin slipped tautly against her ribs. He rubbed her side as she settled, pulling his face away from her shoulder so that he could see her cloudy, sleep-laden eyes. He smiled at the red marks the pillow had left on her face and the way her hair was all flattened to one side.
He felt heady. Needy.
“’Morning,” he said, propping himself up with his right elbow and rubbing small circles into Minako’s hip through the skirt she had never removed with his free hand.
Minako blinked lazily and then smiled, a pale shade of pink dusting her cheeks. Then, groaning, she rolled onto her back and stretched out her legs, her toes splaying before she sighed, collapsing contentedly against her pillows.
Ryoji swallowed, a nervous laugh escaping him as he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to fall asleep while still in your uniform.”
Minako shrugged, her eyes slipping open to take in her rumpled blouse and knee-high socks that had slipped down to pool around her ankles. After a moment’s consideration, her eyes moved to look at Ryoji, and she snorted in amusement, throwing an arm over her face so that her eyes hid in the crook of her elbow.
“What?” Ryoji said, his frown dramatic and oh-so-fake.
“You’re still in your suspenders. Why do you wear suspenders?”
Ryoji chuckled deeply, letting himself fall back onto the pillows beside her.
“Don’t try and tell me that you wouldn’t wear suspenders if you knew you could,” he said, noticing, now that they had been pointed out, how uncomfortable the straps were. They dug into his shoulders, and he slipped his left one off, absently.
“I can honestly say that, were I a guy, I doubt I would ever wear those things,” Minako said, her face still hidden by her arm. “Besides, your point’s-“ she yawned “-‘s moot. Girls can wear suspenders too.”
“Girls don’t need them to hold their pants up, though.”
Minako let her arm fall back off of her face. She grinned. “Way to make them even less sexy than they were before.”
Ryoji closed his eyes, laughing.
Dear lord, he’d just woken up in Minako’s bed.
Ryoji ran a hand through his hair, still laughing as he attempted to make sense of the way it was falling into his eyes and around his face. He had to look ridiculous.
Minako was still smiling.
“You look like you’re doing better,” she said.
Under normal circumstances, that probably would not have been something he wanted to hear from a girl he had just woken up next to, but Ryoji knew it was warranted.
“I- yeah. I am better,” he said, looking at Minako bemusedly. He was not embarrassed by the way he had acted the night before, but that was only because keeping his doubts and fears away from Minako felt like some sort of blasphemy, because they were…she was…
Oh god, there was something so wrong with him, something that hurt more the closer he got, like a thread being wound around two spools, pulling tighter and tighter and it hurt, beyond the tension in his jaw and the heat behind his eyes. It hurt like nothing and everything he had ever felt.
She smiled. He laughed.
“You’ll want to clean up before school. Do you have time to get home first?”
Ryoji sighed. “Probably not,” he said playing with his wrist strap absently.
“Well,” Minako said, sitting up and shaking her hair out of its wrecked bun, “I obviously don’t have a spare uniform that I can loan you…although…” she said, trailing off with a smirk.
Ryoji smiled, shaking his head.
“You’re free to do what you will here, though don’t use the restroom on this floor. This is technically the girls’ floor, and I don’t even want to think about what Mitsuru will do to you if she finds you in the shower when she comes back from her run.”
“I guess I’ll have to brave the guys’ floor, then,” he said before giving Minako a long look. He did not know what to say. Thank you? Is it okay that I’m a little bit obsessed with you? Is it possible that, next time, we could get past the cuddling thing? Will there be a next time?
It had been so weird. He had been thrilled, being invited back to her room, but upon seeing the familiar lines of the walls, the way the light edged by the curtains just so, onto the checkered pattern of her bed…
Her hand had warmed his, and he realized that his skin had never actually touched hers before. He would have known if it had, because in that moment, he knew everything – everything that felt necessary to know.
There had been no real need for more, their simple contact enough to hold the wolves at bay, but he had asked for it anyway, because something in him, the only bit not struck mute, warned him that life was short and chances were fleeting. It also made him look up and see the confusion on Minako’s face.
He’d breathed a shaky sigh. “You feel it too?”
And she was in his arms, and the closer they got, the less dissonance scraped at his skin and buzzed in his ears.
She’d held him until night came and after.
“People are going to talk, you know,” She said, sliding off of the bed and walking unconcerned towards the closet. “There’s no way that this will stay a secret, and they won’t be talking about what actually happened, but what they wish had happened.”
It sounded disturbingly like she was speaking from experience, and a selfish part of him – which, to be honest, was most of him – attempted to hold back a sneer at that.
“I don’t particularly mind,” he said, tugging his long, yellow scarf out from underneath him and bundling it up into a ball. “But if you do, I promise to keep quiet.”
Minako traced fingers down the wooden shelves of her wardrobe, her eyes distant. “It isn’t that I mind. It’s probably better if we say nothing, though.”
Ryoji nodded. “Your friends might worry.”
Minako laughed softly. “I have a history of moving too fast,” she said after a moment. “And I have friends that won’t understand. They’ll think…and they’re probably right…”
“Think what?” Ryoji said, standing from the bed in concern.
Minako smiled sadly. “What would you think of a girl who started up with a new guy less than two months after her previous boyfriend fell into a coma?”
Ryoji hissed a breath, a pensive look on his face. He walked up behind her and settled a hand over hers, stilling their movements across the wood.
“I guess it would depend on the girl,” he said, softly. “I didn’t know.”
That felt strangely like a lie, but he swallowed it down.
"Do you care?” She asked.
Ryoji shook his head. “Not in the way that you think, no. I’m sorry about your friend, though.”
Minako laughed, a measure of genuine warmth in it. “Thanks, you sap. Now leave. I’m going to get ready.”
He smiled, dragging his thumb across the back of her hand between her thumb and pointer finger before pulling away, his scarf a tangled wad tucked under his left arm.
As he moved to her door, Minako spoke again. “Oh, and look out for Akihiko. Avoid him like the plague.”
“Is he one of those friends that wouldn’t understand?”
“He is that friend that wouldn’t understand.”
Ryoji nodded, his middle finger tapping four times on the door as he passed, dragging it closed behind him.
“I promise.” A hand passed through her hair. “I promise you won’t remember a thing. It will be like it never happened.”
Minako sprinted down the last of the stairs, catching Ryoji by the shoulder as he tried to leave the dorm. She turned him to face her, a scowl on her face.
“You can’t actually believe that I would do it. You don’t actually think that we’re going to kill you.”
Ryoji stared back at her, his despair tempered by his faith. “I cannot say what you will do. It is your choice,” he said, “but think. Do not make this decision without thinking it through.”
Minako shook her head. “Don’t give me that. There isn’t a choice to make. I couldn’t do it.”
“Minako, please don’t say that before you’ve actually thought about this,” Ryoji said, shaking his head. “Please. This isn’t about me, so don’t think about what you can and can’t do to me. This is…it’s about time. It’s the difference between days and years, suffering and bliss. It’s…god, time is infinite and brief at the same time and so, so precious, and you have the ability to decide when it ends.”
Minako’s eyes burned.
“And prioritizing one life – a life that will end minutes afterwards regardless of your choice, and you have to understand that – over everyone else’s is…you can’t. You cannot choose that. That isn’t you.”
“We can still fight,” Minako said around gritted teeth. “We’re a lot tougher than we look. Do not underestimate us.”
Ryoji looked like he was about to say something, jaw working and tongue popping, but he stayed silent, his eyes dubious.
Minako could feel her neck knotting. “How-“ her voice caught, and she cleared it with a cough, keeping her voice cold and steady, “-how difficult was it for you to wreck Aigis?”
Ryoji’s face crumpled, fear clawing at its edges. “I didn’t even raise my hands. She fell apart without me touching her. That’s what death is.”
Minako closed her eyes, fists clenched at her sides.
“You cannot beat her. Like I said, this isn’t about strength or dedication or even hours logged. This is you, a human, against death itself, and death will always win. No amount of team spirit is going to change that.”
“Don’t you mock us-“
“-I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. I’m sorry,” he said, sinking into his scarf.
They stood by the door, grasping for words and knowing that none would come.
“Please,” Ryoji said, his voice a whisper muffled by sunny cloth. “You…please. You have to be happy for as long as you are able. I could not stand it if…”
“I thought you said not to think about your feelings or mine,” Minako said, letting her shoulders drop and feeling a long, slow ache replace the lost tension.
“I hold you to higher standards than I do myself,” Ryoji said, and the words begged for sarcasm, but it was not there.
“If our positions were reversed, could you do it?”
Ryoji blinked slowly, his eyes fixed on the ground.
“I-“ he said, looking up at her at long last, “-I don’t know. If you asked – if you thought your dying would give the world time – I might. Yes. Yes,” he said, more firmly, “ I would. If that was what it took.”
Minako nodded silently.
“I should go,” Ryoji said, turning towards the door.
“Why? Spend the last month with us,” Minako said, shrugging a shoulder back at the lounge in reference, but Ryoji shook his head, the tail of his scarf slipping of his shoulder and falling to the ground with his movement.
“They need you,” Ryoji said, eyes wide and sad, “and you need them. Think, Minako. I want your decision to be clear when next we meet.”
“If I gave you my answer now, would you stay?”
Shoulders hunched, Ryoji shook his head, turning his back towards her and heading towards the door.
He was leaving, Minako realized. Regardless of what she did, he would be gone in a moment, and she needed to ask him something before he left for good.
“Why aren’t you me?” She asked without inflection.
“You only had my memories, right? So why didn’t you become me? Why does Ryoji exist?”
Ryoji stilled, his hand on the doorknob.
“I wanted to live, and you’re right – I had access to all of your memories, your sense of self, your ambitions, but…why would I want to replace you,” Ryoji said, softly, “when I could know you?”
“That isn’t an answer,” she said.
“It’s all that I have,” Ryoji said, shrugging as he turned the handle and moved through the doorway. “I’ll need your answer when I return.”
The door shut behind him with a slow creak.
“You already know my answer, you dumbass,” she said to the empty room, wishing she could take it back, but knowing that it was already too late.
“Will you remember?”
“I’ll be dead. I do not think I will care much.”
Minako sat on her bed, Ryoji’s arms wrapped around her shoulders. She had purchased a gun from Officer Kurosawa especially for the occasion. She had splurged a bit on it, spending much more than she generally did to arm the team, but if all went well, it would be the last weapon she ever bought. It sat beside her on the bed, cold and cruel and beautiful. She had never hated anything so much in her entire life.
“Will the shadows stop coming, or will they continue to attack until the Fall?”
Ryoji pulled back, giving her the full of his regard.
“There will always be shadows,” he said, gravely.
They sat together, nothing but their slow, steady breathing disturbing the air.
“I want you to have this,” Ryoji said, twisting his ring off of his left hand and passing it to Minako with little ceremony. “It will probably disappear – I hope it does, really – but until then…will you wear it?”
Minako said nothing, the ring already adorning her right pointer finger and glowing faintly in the dark.
Ryoji smiled. “Are you ready?”
“No,” Minako said even as she picked the gun up off of the bed. Its weight sat comfortably in her hand, its shape enough like her Evoker’s to be comforting. The grip warmed to her touch.
Ryoji’s eyes were closed as she took aim, and he flinched slightly as the cool metal of the muzzle came to rest against the side of his head.
“Promise me,” she said. Her shaking hand clacked Ryoji’s ring against the gun’s metal, filling the air with clinks and scrapes.
Thin slivers of blue looked sideways at her through his eyelashes.
A breath. “I promi-“
The words were lost beneath the crack-bang and the light of the gun’s flare and the pounding, oh god, and the drive of the bass and the chatter of the crowd and–
There was something that Minato was forgetting, something important, something that swirled in the back of his mind like a forgotten face or name as he moved through the packed, sunset-lit streets, but for one reason or another, that thought was comforting.
He adjusted his headphones, setting a single song on loop before continuing to make his way towards the train station.
He was okay with forgetting.
He did not think he wanted to remember anyway.