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Akihiko doesn’t look at her. Not anymore.

Some small part of her wishes she knew why, but the much larger part simply accepts it as their new normal. He might have wanted… maybe even needed her company at some point in the past, but whatever fleeting reasons held them together are long gone. Faded to nothing with the passing months.

Minako finally manages to peel her eyes away from his back.

I ain’t worried at all, because I know you’re with him.

…Yeah. Right.

She looks to Shinjiro from her spot at the dinner table. She’s reading. Or, she was trying to. It hasn’t worked out so well. So she closes her book and stares at him, really stares at him. He looks back without a second thought, and even though he nervously turns his face away as soon as they make eye contact, her heart swells a bit to know that even just the idea that she might be looking is enough to rile him up. He fights against his feelings for her every step of the way and it’s all so adorable that she just can’t help poking and prodding at the emotional barrier he tries – and fails, but only ever with her – to keep around himself.

If the knowledge that Shinjiro is so completely wrapped around her finger causes her to bite her lip in some feeling of dark satisfaction, Akihiko doesn’t notice. He probably doesn’t even realize she’s there.

But there’s a wonderful shade of red lining the edges of Shinjiro’s ears.

She waits to see him glance over just one more time before she moves. Because she knows he will. And he does. And when she circles the long way around the table; when she closes the distance between them, she makes sure to put just enough grace into every step that he loses the ability to look anywhere else. She traps him with her eyes and her body until his blush spreads to cover his ears completely.

“I love you.” She admits, when they finally stand face to face. Calmly. Simply.

Whatever was between her and Akihiko hasn’t been there for a long, long time. But Shinjiro… even if he won’t ever admit it, she knows that he needs her. She recognizes the signs, so she makes every effort to be a beam of light or the sun to his moon or something else completely cheesy and still so perfectly fitting for him. The sort of thing he would laugh at her for saying out loud until she pulls out the look and the pout and suddenly he’s apologizing because he still hasn’t realized how she feels; still thinks she might really be upset. The way that he stares and the way that he thinks she doesn’t notice prove that he needs her.

It’s the closest thing to love that has bothered to grace her since moving into this dorm. So she protected it and nurtured it with everything she had until it became real for the both of them. It just so happens that nurturing that feeling involved extensive amounts of teasing. He accuses of her joking when the words leave her lips. Her own fault, she knows, but he’ll understand exactly what she means before the night is over.

She leans close, so close that the intense heat Shinjiro thinks he hides so well behind his eyes, and his demeanor, and constant little utterances of You shouldn’t waste your time with me threatens to consume her entirely. She cloaks herself with it, takes this layer of armor as her own as she traps him against the wall. In plain sight of everyone using the lounge.

“I’m not lying, Shinji.” She grabs at his hands with both of her own and entwines their fingers, gathers them against the inside of her thighs. He shivers. Both at the sound of his name on her lips and the surprise of her touch on his skin.

He just barely manages to stammer out a response. “Wh-why just blurt out something like that? Here, of all places…?”

“Because I mean it. Because you’re here.”

She levels him with a look that somehow makes him even less coherent, all lidded eyes and light smiles as he struggles to pull himself away from her eyes.

“…Do you not believe me?”

“Wait. No – I – ”

Minako leans in. Less than a breath from his chin. She whispers, voice soft and easy and she can practically taste the effort it takes him to hold back. “Then what’s wrong, Shinji? You know you can tell me anything.”

“I – you… you can’t just, say this kinda stuff, you know?”

“Hmm…” She just barely pulls back, dragging their joined hands up and along her body – making sure to go slow enough that he knows exactly what she’s doing – to rest against the collar of her uniform. She purses her lips into an almost-pout as she stares off to his side and pretends to think. “I don’t know. Won’t you come to my room? I’m sure you can explain in more detail up there.”

“…No. I can’t.” He finally manages, and he would almost look proud over finally completing a thought were it not for the realization dawning on his features over what he just refused.

“Why not?”

“The others… Minako, people are gonna get the wrong idea.”

“I think they’ll be getting exactly the right idea, Shinji.”

“You’re… I can’t. I ain’t a nice guy.”

“I want you. In my room.”

“…Look,” Shinji tries, as if she hasn’t heard this exact line countless times before. “I’m no good. You shouldn’t bother with someone like me.”

She leans up on her toes. A single kiss brushes against the tip of his jaw.

“But Shiiinji, I already love you so much. I’ve already bothered.”

He groans some noise halfway near a sigh, and Minako giggles with lips against his throat when she realizes that he’s finally about to crack.

One more push.

“If my room isn’t an option, we can always go to yours.”

Minako doesn’t give him time to respond. She presses her mouth to his knuckles in a gesture that isn’t quite a kiss but holds her intent every bit as clearly. She pulls away, leaving him blushing and stammering as she takes off toward the stairs.

“I’ll be waiting, Shinji.” She calls behind her. It barely leaves her lips as a whisper, but she knows by the sound of a frustrated huff and the footsteps that follow that he hears it.

She knows that only he hears it.

Shinjiro follows her across the lounge. He follows up the stairs and follows her every step of the way until they’re both in his completely bare and empty room and they are finally, finally alone. Just them and the table and the bed. Minako leans against the door, silently urging him to come closer, and the feeling of his restraint crackling and crumbling away is almost palpable at this point.

Shinjiro hesitantly reaches behind her to click the lock into place. And they both know that even if Minako is the one trapped here; pinned between the hard, cold wood of the door and someone struggling against the desire to throw his sense of control out into the hallway where it won’t bother either of them until tomorrow morning, she’s still the one in charge of every little detail.

His hand doesn’t move from its place at the door. “…So? Happy now?”

Yes.

“You’re always pushing me around all the time…”

You love it. I know you do.

“You’re just gonna ignore what I want, huh? …Yeah, well, two can play that game.” The words leave his throat in a deep, utterly sensual growl as he leans in and… hugs her… as tightly as he can, and Minako can definitely hear it now; she can absolutely hear the sound of his control breaking into thousands of tiny little pieces.

It’s only slightly louder than the sound of laughter bubbling up in her throat.

You’re so adorable.

“Shiiiinji.” Minako whispers, wriggling her head free from his grip as she brushes her lips along every part of his face in reach. “What makes you think, for even one second, that I want anything less than that.”

One of her legs wraps itself around his waist just as he moves to pull away.

“Minako, if…” He shudders as she pulls him closer, and before he can continue she circles her arms around his neck, gently scraping and scratching nails along his scalp and pulling out some of the most exquisite almost-moans she’s ever heard in her life. He’s trying so hard. But he gets there, he finishes. “If you don’t go now, you’re not gonna get another chance.”

I’m not going anywhere.

Open lips graze along the stubble of his jaw, and she exhales against his skin as she moves. Her mouth slowly curves into an unspeakably satisfied smile when he shivers at the touch. She pulls him down into one single, small, gentle kiss. “Shinji. If you don’t throw me down onto your bed and fuck me right this second, I will die.

The audible crack of his restraint pulls out a more genuine sense of joy, a more fulfilled and sated fit of giggles from the deepest pit of Minako’s lungs than she’s experienced in her entire life. And she feels him move. He lifts her off the ground, and she wraps her other leg around his waist in a statement of If you back down now I will hit you in the damn face. And he slams her back into the light switch at the side of the door and practically forces a hand onto her breasts and she’s clawing his face closer with one hand and kissing him so hard and so fierce that it hurts even her, while her other hand clasps Shinjiro’s palm even harder into her chest and everything just dissolves around her.

She can taste blood in her mouth. The lights are out, she doesn’t know who’s it is. She can feel her tongue in his mouth. Or maybe that’s his in hers. She doesn’t know much of anything right now. But then he pulls away, and now she doesn’t even have the chance to know because he’s biting and sucking at her neck just as hard, harder, riding right along the line between pleasure and pain and she’s losing the ability to hear or think or say anything other than him anymore.

“Shinji… Shinji more…”

His hand is still vicious against her, and when she grinds into him, arches her back and crushes her own hand even harder into his, he clamps down on her neck until she’s an instant away from screaming.

And he pulls away.

She slides down to the floor, breath coming deep and ragged and her grin back in full force as she sees the heat in his eyes. “Don’t tell me that’s all you’ve got in you, big guy.”

He quirks an eyebrow, calmly, silently unbuttoning his jacket and leaving her collapsed and panting against the door. Their eyes stay locked the whole time. As he removes the last sleeve and throws the entire thing off into some soon-to-be forgotten about corner of his room. As he does the same with his hat and his sweater. Their eyes stay locked even as he stalks back over to her and rips open the jacket of her uniform in one smooth motion. She doesn’t look at his chest. His incredibly well toned chest. Doesn’t look at the way the moonlight plays along his seemingly endless scars or any of the signs that the pills he’s taking are slowly killing him. Doesn’t look. Keeps her eyes on his.

“How much practice did that move take you?” She asks, a tease, smiling strong as ever and staring him down, immensely satisfied with the knowledge that he’s practically drunk off the taste of her and the feel of her and the deep, bottomless pools of her eyes.

Shinjiro remains silent. He forces her back into his arms and presses their foreheads together as he brings them both over to the tiny twin bed tucked away in the corner. When he finally, finally lowers her onto the mattress, he drags his eyes along every inch of her from his place kneeling between her legs. She threads her fingers into his hair and whispers against his lips that she loves him, loves him so much that it hurts.

He grunts. “…I know you do.”

It takes Minako a moment to register his response. And then it hits her all at once; he’s still trying to put up a fight. So she places her palm on his face and shoves him away until he’s the one laying down and she’s settled over him. She presses as much of herself into him as she can, she crushes her mouth to his, invades him with her tongue and swallows up every delicious moan that he releases.

She lets him go as suddenly as she was on him, and Minako tells him, slow and low and firm. “I know you’re planning to leave.”

The guilt flashing over Shinjiro’s face might be cute in any other situation.

“Don’t forget I spent my childhood in shelters too, Shinji. I know what it looks like.” The words come out far more stern than necessary. But she wants him to know. Needs him to understand that this isn’t just some play to get into his pants. “If you absolutely have to go, I want to make sure every detail of tonight is seared into your memory for the rest of your life. If you’re going to come into my life and make me act like this, you don’t get to forget me.”

A rough hand reaches up to cup her face. Shinjiro laughs quietly, all throaty and rugged and acting like he’s keeping some great secret from her as he drinks in her presence. “That’s fair.”

“I hope you’re ready, because I’m going to make you admit you feel the same before tonight’s over.”

He just smiles in response. That same, mysterious smile. Well, if he thinks it’s so funny, she’s more than up to proving him wrong.

“Now – ” She starts, but then Shinjiro is flipping her over and his mouth is back at her neck and his hands are ripping off her shirt and her jacket and it’s all she can do to stifle her giggles long enough to help him with her bra and her hairpins so that they’re finally back on equal footing. He leans up to throw her clothes across the room, and she takes advantage of the moment to lunge up and kiss him. To snake her hands back into his messy mop of hair. She smiles against his lips at the noise of surprise he makes; she sweeps her tongue into his mouth and arches into him. Even with those jeans in the way she can tell how hard he is, and he seems to realize at just the same moment because he’s coming to rest on an elbow and running a palm up and down her thigh. Urging her closer. Seeking out the sort of friction he’ll never get as long as he keeps those things on.

Shinjiro tries to pull away to catch his breath. But Minako decides that he hasn’t squirmed and suffered quite nearly enough, so she nips at his bottom lip and pulls him back down with one hand until they’re both completely and utterly breathless. She lowers her other to palm across his shoulders and skims slowly down, across his nape and the trail of his spine and down, down, coming to rest on the small of his back. She pulls him closer until he begins to tilt his hips into her, and when he finally establishes something vaguely resembling a satisfying rhythm, she’s digging her nails into his skin.

Only, then he finally does break away and he’s sliding the hand on her thigh further up until he’s completely under her skirt and he lifts and pulls and readjusts – only slightly awkwardly – until he’s on his knees and she’s in his lap, straddling and grinding down against him in frustration because he is somehow, still, mysteriously, trying to fight this.

Impatient.” Comes a completely listless bark as he resumes his work at her throat.

She grinds down once more, harder, and he buries his head in the crook of her neck with an almost animalistic moan.

“Look who’s talking, the big scary guy who refuses to do anything other than kiss!” She titters, ruffling his hair. “I was just hoping to get things started before the sun’s back up. Now stop pulling away and fuck me.”

And then she, full of thoroughly needless amounts of grace, rolls off his lap and onto her back. She makes a show of lifting her slender legs straight into the air as she slides off her skirt and her panties in one quick motion. And she balls them up. And she throws them at his face. By the time he registers that he should toss them out of the way, Minako’s legs are resting on his shoulders; one wrapped around the back of his head and urging him closer and the other lazily running back and forth along his neck and his shoulder.

She’s making a show of being completely naked for him now, arching her back and trailing fingers along the sides of her breasts and watching the hunger in his eyes flare up even stronger than before. “Come ooonnn, Shinjiii. It’s rude to keep a girl waiting.”

He doesn’t bother to make another attempt at foreplay, and for once in her life Minako is thankful for that. Shinjiro practically rips off his pants and then he’s back on top of her, trying to hold back another moan as they finally reach the feeling of skin on skin. She pulls him into another kiss, all tongues and short breaths and their bodies come together, and she feels him press inside and all she can think as her eyes roll back is something somewhere in the distance between …Big… and Oh my god, finally.

“Shinji…” She mewls against the corners of his mouth when he’s finally, finally moving inside of her. “Shinji more…”

“Shinji,” When his fingers wind through her hair and cup the back of her head.

Shinji,” As he leans in closer to deepen the kiss. And she can’t speak anymore, she can’t do anything except let him eat up every one of her moans because he’s moving faster and faster with every second. There are stars on the edges of her vision and they’re leaking in past even her eyelids. Even as she screws them shut and tries to pull him closer, as close as possible, as close as she can make him move while she digs her nails into the skin across his back. While she marks him so badly that he’ll never be allowed to forget. She can feel him trembling.

He’s trying so hard for her.

But they need to breathe, and Minako takes the opportunity to urge his hand from its position cradling her head to somewhere much more useful before he starts moving again. And the moment she does, Shinjiro’s thumb goes to work on the bundle of nerves between her legs, and he’s got his other hand gripping at her hip and lifting her halfway into the air and he’s latching his mouth to her breasts as he builds up to thrusting with even more intensity than before. Her shoulders are still stuck to the bed as she throws her hands back and over her head, all but tearing apart the fistfuls of sheets beneath her.

“Shinji… Shinji, fuck!” The stars are far more than lining her sight now, and everything goes whiter and whiter with every new thrust and every movement of his hands against her skin. She barely manages to breathe out her next words without dissolving to squeals and soundless shouts. “Fuck me, Shinji. Fuck me like I know you want to. Come on. Stop holding back, I’m strong, I can take it, you know I can.”

Shinjiro growls at that, and she rips a hand from the sheets to claw at his neck before she growls back, daring him to deny her. She bites into his shoulder and it sends him straight over the edge. He grips her by the hair and tears her mouth away from his shoulder and forces their lips together. They collapse into each other, their arms circle around every inch of skin they can reach as his thrusts grow harder and heavier with every passing second.

“Cum for me, Shinji.”

One, two, three more thrusts and his body seizes up on top of her, he just barely remembers to keep his hand working long enough for everything to finally burst into into a completely beautiful emptiness around her. There’s nothing else anymore but the waves of tingling pleasure cresting over her; the dull throb of the nearly electric sensation pulsing its way through every inch of her body and the feeling of Shinjiro throbbing and twitching and spilling inside of her.

As she recovers, Minako realizes that he’s all but collapsed on top of her, a comfortable weight and a comfortable heat protecting her from the dark of night. She slides the tips of her fingers along his shoulder blades and something in him seems to entirely melt under her touch.

Fuck, Minako.” The words take a moment to parse, muffled as they are by the clumps of covers surrounding his face.

…Cute.

A long, silent moment passes between them, filled with only the sounds of their slowly softening breaths before either of them summons the willpower to move. Minako’s fingers inch their way higher and higher until they’re running little patterns through his hair, to scratch at his scalp and coax him through to coherency. He makes no effort to remove his face from the bedding, and she deeply understands the sense of sleepy satisfaction coating every bit of him.

“Hey Shinji?” She tries, when they’re both calm enough to speak in full sentences. “I do love you, you know.”

He doesn’t answer, and Minako feels a small pang in the depths of her heart over the possibility that he’s simply decided to fall asleep. But he shifts, spins them both around so that she’s the one laying sprawled on top of him.

“Yeah… I know.” Both of his hands come to cradle her face, and the smile he’s wearing is silly and sleepy and so many different kinds of happy. Minako thinks it might be the only genuine smile she’s seen from him since they first met in that hospital room. And he kisses her. Softly, barely a whisper along her lips before he pulls away. “…I love you too.”

She kisses him back in an instant. So fast that he doesn’t even notice her smile. Their lips play slow and languid against each other, the both of them in absolutely no hurry to move from their spot even for long enough to worm their way under the covers. But eventually Minako runs out of what little breath she still has in her, and she pulls away, settling further into his chest.

One of her hands dances along every bit of him in sight, and she lets herself drown in the moment. She lets herself soak in every detail.

“Shinji?” She asks softly, far more vulnerable than she intended, as she blinks away the haze of sleep and looks up at him.

His eyes are closed. There’s no answer outside of the steady rise and fall of his chest. She presses on regardless.

“…You’re the only one I’ll ever let treat me like this.” She worries Shinjiro doesn’t hear, but his muscles tense up beneath her when the words finally register.

He sighs deep and tired as he answers, and she can hear the wry smile he must be wearing in every single word that leaves his lips. “We’ll see how long you keep that promise, Minako.”

Something in her flares up in response. She almost wants to flick his nose and put him through another round if that’s how he’s going to respond, but before she can even wedge herself up high enough to execute either of those plans, the world spins and swims around her because he’s pulling her close and laughing in that gravelly tone of his and pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

“I believe you,” He smiles into her hair. “I love you. Promise.”

And with his words ringing in her ears, Minako finally lets herself drift to sleep. She wriggles closer into his arms and buries herself in the warmth of his body.

She dreams for the first time in years.

~~~

I don’t need someone… I just want to be needed by someone else.

The words still ring in her head months later, whenever she leaves herself bereft of contact with others long enough for her thoughts to drift into uncomfortable territory; she doesn’t remember who said them anymore.

His death couldn’t have been real. She was still dreaming.

Every day since their night together felt the same. It was like she went to sleep in his arms and never woke back up. Because the sight of him lying in a pool of his own blood couldn’t have been real. The feeling of his heart slowing beneath her hands, and his palm coming to rest on hers, and the way he looked at the tears and the absolute distraught expression that she knows she was wearing and only… only smiled at her and renewed his promise couldn’t have been real. It could not have been anything but a dream.

But.

She saw him in the hospital bed. Being kept alive with tubes and machines. That was real.

It was real, and it yet it couldn’t be real. Can’t be real.

The door to his room isn’t locked when she returns from her final visit, she realizes. She can’t go back to that hospital anymore. Everything is exactly the same was it was when she left. And it all feels more real than it has in days.

I love you. Promise.

It wasn’t fair. It isn’t fair. For him to say those words and then have the audacity to fade away right in front of her eyes. She knew he was leaving, but she never expected… that. This. Whatever it was that happened. But it’s fine, she tells herself as she takes the first step back into his room. Everyone leaves eventually. She won’t let herself get attached to anyone ever again, if this is what she gets for trying. The masks she wears for everyone else in her life, the fake smiles and faker laughs, that’s good enough.

It’s late. There isn’t any light in his room beyond the small strands peeking in from the hallway. His room is eerily silent.

Minako feels her heart begin to race as she looks around. She staggers slowly to his bed, and each step seems to echo through her entire being even more powerfully than the last. She wonders briefly if the others can hear her. But then she’s standing in front of it and one of her hands is tangled into the sheets. His bed is just as messy and unmade as it was when they woke that morning. No one wanted to disturb things, not that there was much to disturb, so his room had stayed completely untouched. She stayed away out of fear. She might lie to herself and say that anger kept her way, but she knows, deep down, that she was scared to come back.

She slips out of her shoes, out of her skirt and her jacket, and curls up under the covers. She buries herself up to the nose. The pillow still smells like him. It all still smells like him. Before she has time to come to terms with the realization, tears are flowing from her eyes. Minako surrounds herself in the only remaining evidence that he was ever there, and breaks into loud, wailing sobs.

Akihiko passes by the room. And she knows that it’s him, doesn’t even need to look. He stands in the doorway for what feels like an unbearably long moment, some half-baked desire to comfort her practically radiating off of him.

He whispers a quiet goodnight and closes the door.

~~~

Minako doesn’t forget about Shinjiro. Akihiko has started to look her way again, but she does not forget about Shinjiro.

She uses Akihiko for comfort, and she does not ever forget.

He confesses his feelings on the roof of the school, and the way he gets nervous and thinks he’s being secretive when he asks for her time stirs something in her. Almost as much as the sight of him forgetting how to speak and settling instead for yelling the leadup to his confession. Something beneath her heart, buried under the foundation of her promise to never get close to anyone ever again.

One night, he invites her to his room. And she knows; knows with every fiber of her being that he doesn’t understand what he’s asking. But she agrees with a smile anyway, and she follows him by the hand.

His room is… it’s very him. The bed is tucked away into the far corner behind a desk and scattered countertops covered in books and trophies and awards, and even all of that is buried behind a maze of exercise equipment. They sit on the floor – he apologizes that it’s the only available area to sit, and she knows the bed hasn’t even occurred to him – and talk.

Akihiko is precious, she decides, as he sits across from her, stammering about I never thought I needed a girlfriend or anything and from now on, we have each other.

He’s doing his best for her.

“I wonder how things would’ve gone if you hadn’t come here…” Akihiko murmurs, and he’s correcting himself before Minako can even smile and think He’s cute. “…Uh, I mean, Port Island in general, not this room.”

She feels another crack form along the walls of her promise. Her smile grows.

“I uh… Okay. I know I’m not Shinji.” He continues, and it feels like a blow to the stomach. “I know I made a mistake, leaving you and… everything that happened… I – ”

She tries to school herself into something closer to calm, but she finds no evidence of her success on Akihiko’s face. “Shinji left. You’re here now.”

“I want to make up for my mistake, is all I mean. He… He’s an incredible guy. I don’t blame you for a second. I – I’m sorry to bring up a sore subject. Just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll do it.”

Minako exhales. He’s trying.

I can try for him.

Akihiko suddenly blushes. “S – So don’t think I’m gonna lose control or anything because I let you in here… I just…”

There is a pause. Minako tries to blink her surprise away. And then teeth bite into her cheek and she has to stop looking at him, because there’s no way he just gave her such a perfect opportunity. There’s no way she’s going to take advantage of it. Laughter slips out despite her very best efforts. First as a snort, and she tries to clasp a hand over her mouth, but then her shoulders are shaking and it’s absolutely pouring out of her. She can’t help it anymore, she’s nearly falling onto the floor beside him. And as he flusters and blushes, she realizes that he’s earned this reward.

He’s trying so hard.

Minako pulls herself back together, and she stares deep into Akihiko’s eyes as she slides her thighs along his; as she slides into his lap.

“Well then, Aki.” She can feel him shudder at the sound of the nickname. They’re both so alike that it’s almost unfair. “Do you mind if I lose control? Just a little?”

She presses a tiny little kiss to the tip of his nose when he doesn’t answer. She presses another to the rapidly warming expanse of his forehead when he continues to stay silent.

“M – Minako?” Is the only sound he succeeds in pushing out of his throat.

His eyes are so confused and so hesitant. He honestly doesn’t understand why she’s doing this, and the knowledge of that just makes her want to get even further under his skin until he can’t get rid of her. But she can’t. She can’t get close, so instead she leans in and brushes her lips against his as light as a whisper and lets her words dance across his skin. “I want to make you feel good, Aki.”

He nods, and accompanies the answer with an almost comical gulp. His heart is pounding in his chest.

“Don’t be nervous. I’ll take care of you.”

They fuck.

They do not make love. She does not stay the night. That privilege was reserved for him and no one else.

Fall turns to winter, and they develop a comfortable – Minako supposes comfortable is a close enough description – routine. Most nights, not every night, they spend the evening in Akihiko’s room. They fuck. Akihiko is not allowed to take control. She stays on top and she takes her pleasure and she makes sure that he feels as wonderful as possible every single time, but she does not ever let it become more than that. Because the cracks in the mask she wears around him have only gotten bigger.

He can’t ever know.

No matter how hard he tries for her.

She tries harder. She has to try harder because Shinjiro made a promise to her and she made a promise to herself and she can’t go back on that no matter what.

She succeeds until Christmas Eve.

Akihiko leans in close and kisses her on the ear while they walk around the city, and he teases with a breathtaking confidence that she’s ice cold, and that they could always warm up together in his room… and her mask cracks straight down the center. The promise keeping watch from the very pits of her heart crumbles to nothing. She follows him home with an embarrassed blush that has absolutely no place being on her face, and allows herself to feel with him, for once. She opens up every part of herself to him that night, and he worships every inch that she surrenders like she’s some sort of goddess; something more beloved and cherished than words could ever explain away, and he does not ever ask for more than she gives. He does not cross that line.

“Aki,” Something in the way she says his name that night is different. And whatever it is, all it takes for him to understand; to rise from his place on his back and meet her halfway and force their lips together in something more intense and loving than she has ever allowed him before, is the sound of that something different in her voice.

“Aki…” And she thinks maybe she’s not breaking her promise after all. She thinks that maybe it’s okay to accept that Shinjiro knew this would happen before she even uttered the words I love you.

Aki…

Akihiko pulls away first, a question clear on his lips, and Minako finally decides. She lets herself drown in his eyes, she rubs her fingers across his scalp and his neck and she feels him try and fail to hold back shivers. “Aki. I love you.”

She urges them both backward.

The stars return for the first time since that night.

~~~

The birds are singing.

The sun is shining.

Minako isn’t completely sure how she got here, anymore.

Someone is lifting her up, cradling her in their arms, and when she sees their face she decides that it must be a dream. It has to be a dream because there’s no way that he’s back and alive right now. Not now. Not after she finally…

“It’s not a dream, Minako. I’m right here.” He replies, and his words sound like clouds.

Tears spill from her eyes against whatever remnants of will still remain in her.

She lifts a hand to his cheek, and it crashes against him in an unceremonious flop. He leans into the touch like she’s the only thing in the world he cares about. A smile teases at the corners of her mouth at the sight, but she’s far too tired for anything more than that.

“That’s definitely something a dream would say, big guy.”

Her voice is shallow, rough and scratchy. Staying awake is getting harder.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Talking is getting harder. “I’m glad I got to see you… before…”

A door slams open, but her eyes have finally closed.