It started with Shinji and Minako, he'd noted. One day, Shinji was standing near the wall and she started talking to him. He clearly was trying to tell her to screw off, but as he learned in recent days, she was persistent. She just used the same excuse for him as he did with Ken: since she was leader, she needed to know everyone. And Shinjiro couldn't refute that. The boxer heard pieces of their conversation.
"Wanna grab a bite?"
"…What? With me." Even Akihiko shook his head at that reply.
"No, the wall." Smile. That's his girl.
"…Okay. I don't know any fancy places, though."
Akihiko could have been mistaken, but he thought he heard Minako say.
"I don't think I asked to go to one. Now did I?" She ran upstairs to grab her scarf and Akihiko could've sworn on Miki's grave that he saw Shinjiro smiling. He returned to his room early that night and waited for Shinji to come back from his outing.
Akihiko was surprised when they continued to hang out together. He was even more surprised on the days when Shinjiro would suggest they leave the dorm.
He was so surprised that he brought it up the next time they were alone in the lounge. He wasn't the type to pry, but he was genuinely concerned about his affairs with the pretty junior.
"So, how do you like our leader?" He treaded lightly with Shinji.
Shinji pulled the beanie down past his eyes, "Better than that damn Mitsuru."
"What was wrong with Mitsuru? I didn't see anything wrong." Akihiko knew exactly why Shinji didn't like her, but that was beside the point.
"Aki, we're street kids. She's practically a princess. Do I really need to get into detail about why we don't get along too fuckin' peachy? We live in different worlds, Aki, we just happen to be in the same ring." Shinjiro grumbled.
Akihiko deadpanned, "That doesn't answer the question Shinji." Akihiko never prided himself on being patient; his limit at the very most was 15 minutes.
Shinjiro shot his friend a glance, "I don't know what to tell you Aki; I just like her more. She's down to earth, more than that damn Mitsuru."
Bingo!, Akihiko thought.
"She's just easier to get along with. Now leave me alone."
When Akihiko walks back into the dorm late at night, he notices two things immediately. One: Shinji's beanie is sitting on the coffee table. Two: Shinji's coat is sitting on the back of the couch. This is surprising because Shinji never takes off either garment, except when showering – whenever that was.
Akihiko then heard a noise from the kitchen area, so he removed his shoes and walked quietly to the slightly ajar door to listen in.
"Shinji, we should totally do that!"
That was Minako, he knew; but he could barely make out what Shinji said. Something like, 'they won't listen to me'.
She sounded like she wasn't going to back down. "Nonsense! We'll do it tomorrow okay?"
He hear some sounds of protest and then it was deadly quiet for about five seconds, then he heard Shinjiro begin to cough. Akihiko took a look into the kitchen and his eyes bulged at the sight. There was Shinjiro, coat-less and beanie-less and he was sitting in one of the chairs and then there was Minako. Her hair was down and it looked nice, Akihiko thought. She had on a black t-shirt and some yoga pants. She had one knee in the space between Shinji's legs and she was cradling his head to her chest. His arms were wrapped loosely around her midsection and she seemed to be massaging his head. She was mumbling something that seemed to relax Shinjiro.
Akihiko began to feel like he was invading on something private, so he left for his own room. Little did know that he wasn't a very good spy or that Shinjiro still had the best hearing around.
The next night, Minako was giddy. Akihiko watched her bound around like a five year old on a sugar high. She was smiling and really couldn't sit still. So, everyone was happy when Koromaru started to play with the hyperactive junior.
Akihiko went to his room, and began to study. Then he smelled something, something that smelled oddly like food – good food – if his stomach had anything to say about it. He ventured out of his room and saw Junpei and the girls heading downstairs.
When they got to the kitchen, he saw Shinji fussing at Fuuka about the difference between a measuring spoon and a ladle, while Minako was rocking back and forth happily, smiling at Shinjiro. And he was really smiling back at her.
He decided to pick with Shinji for some unknown reason, "You're supposed to be a good friend and make larger servings when you cook in front of lots of people." That…came out a lot nastier than he intended. Shinjiro must have caught the tone because he replied back quickly.
"And you're supposed to not be an idiot. Look, there are obviously more than twelve servings here."
They all exchanged confused looks.
Minako jumped in front of everyone with a smile. "So who's hungry?"
Akihiko could admit that he was indeed slightly jealous of his childhood friend. He was in denial about why, though. All these years and never once had he been interested in a girl. Shinjiro walks through the door and she's all over him like white on rice. Shinji was not sociable and he didn't like people. He was the one known for telling every girl to fuck off. He stretched back on his bed, digging his face into his pillow.
When someone knocked on the door, he automatically replied, "It's open." At this hour, it was usually Shinjiro coming to berate him about something, so he didn't turn around to see who entered. He did stiffen, however, when someone sat on the edge of his bed. Mitsuru?
'Oh damn,' he swore mentally. Why did it have to be her?
"Uh, yeah?" He totally needed to put a shirt on.
She put her hand on his bicep and he went rigid, he has never liked people touching him. He looked over his shoulder and into the girl's face. She had her eyes downward and she was breathing slowly.
"…You aren't mad at me…are you?"
He realized that he didn't say anything until she left his room.
The next day, it was Akihiko, who nursed a swollen jaw. And Minako, she didn't really say anything to anyone, except Shinjiro and Junpei that night.
It was when he realized that Shinjiro was actually in love with this girl, that he felt something. Shinjiro came into his room one night, while he was studying. Now usually, Shinji was the quiet one and Aki did all the small talk. Tonight, it was Shinjiro who was doing all the talking.
"Aki," Shinjiro called. "Turn the hell around."
As if he were a dog, he swiveled around to face his best friend. "What is it Shinji, I have a test tomorrow."
"If something happens to me, I want you to take care of her." Shinjiro was being completely serious.
"Nothing is going to happen to you Shin –"
Akihiko was never one to admit to his denial issues. He'd never admit that the mere thought of Shinjiro dying sent waves of agony through him.
Shinjiro cut in quickly. "Cut the crap Aki, you're acting like a little girl and it's starting to irritate the hell out of me."
Akihiko was stunned, "What?" Never had Shinji just snapped in such a manner.
Shinji rolled his eyes, "You heard exactly what the hell I said. Now, can you or can you not do what I just asked."
Akihiko looked at Shinjiro, who for once, didn't look so tired. He didn't exactly know what his friend did that made him so damn mad, madder than he ever was before. He heard Shinjiro open his door so he turned around. He was going to be petty. And childish. Just because he didn't know what else to do.
"What happened to never letting anything come between us, Shinji?"
Shinjiro scoffed, "I haven't let anything come between us, you asshole. You're the one that rejected her."
Akihiko has never seen a train crash before, but he imagines it would be something like this. Everyone watches as she breaks down, she was like a train; strong, fast, and resilient. It only took one little screw to break the train apart, car by car by car.
He sees that in her. Step by step by step by step, pieces of her just fall away. That happy-go-lucky demeanor? Gone. That brave face she puts on in front of the guardian shadows? Gone. That look she gives when you need it. Gone.
He looked down at his friend, blood dripping down his mouth. He looks at Ken, who's just standing there. And then, he looks at her. Her hands covering her mouth. She's crying. And she collapses next to Shinjiro, pressing frantically on the wound. She was the leader, she could fix this.
"This is how it should be…" He hated the dry cough that followed.
What he hated more was the cry she let out at realization that he was gone.
Fuuka's voice cut in. "He – he's."
Akihiko cut her off, "Don't say anything." She didn't need to, because they all knew what just happened.
Everyone looked at Minako when she spoke. "Look," her voice was dry and forced. "He's smiling." Ken let out a cry soon after that, collapsing to his knees. Fuuka immediate ran over to the boy.
Junpei watched as everyone stared with slight irritation. "Stop staring." He whispered quietly as he walked up to Minako and grabbed her shoulders. She had stopped crying.
"Hey, c'mon." He hefted her into his arms.
She rested her forehead on his shoulder and whispered. "He's gone, isn't he?"
Junpei rubbed her back and nodded. "Yeah."