He was, somehow, still alive.
He certainly didn’t feel like it. He’d woken up that morning with a splitting headache and Hamuko bursting into his room to be his human alarm clock. She’d plopped down on his bed and started chattering- talking, first thing in the morning, as if Minato was capable of anything before having his morning Mad Bull- and she’d only relented when Minato chucked a pillow at her head and told her to leave so he could put on some pants.
Today was graduation, and there was a hole in the world where Minato’s heart should have been.
He was well aware of how emo that sounded, but it felt apt. There was an ache in his chest that just wouldn’t go away, and it had stayed with him ever since January. Keisuke would warn him that chest pains were never something to scoff at. Minato had told him not to worry, that he would be fine, he’d power through it-- and he’d almost believed it.
He’d staggered up to the roof, clutching his chest after a particularly bad pang, claiming to a sea of concerned faces that he just needed some air.
Minato took a deep breath of the medicine he claimed he needed, and felt the ache in his chest recede, just a bit. He sat back on his bench and felt the breeze ruffle his clothes, felt the sun settle in his ink-dark hair. Now that he was up here, he really did feel a lot better. It was a beautiful day out. Quiet. Peaceful.
At least until Hamuko shoved the door open so hard it banged into the wall.
“Minato!” she cried, breathless, frantic. Minato blinked, puzzled, and met her fierce crimson eyes.
Hamuko marched across the roof and yanked Minato into her arms. Minato, for his part, weathered this attention with his usual stoicism.
“What happened this time?” Minato wondered, flatly, as Hamuko shook him like a ragdoll.
“What happened? What happened? ” Hamuko huffed, dropping Minato back onto his seat. She planted her hands on her hips. “You disappeared! People saw you clutch your chest and drag yourself up here! I thought you were having a goddamn heart attack!”
“I’m sorry,” Minato offered lamely.
“Yeah, you’re sorry,” Hamuko muttered. She plopped down onto the bench beside him and heaved out a sigh. Minato bumped his elbow against hers.
“You worry too much,” he said.
“Yeah, about you ,” Hamuko smiled, rueful. “Without me, you wouldn’t even get up in the morning. Aren’t you glad to have your big sis looking out for you?”
“You’re only older than me by, like, two minutes.”
Hamuko shrugged. “Still.”
A warm moment passed between them. Hamuko raised her arms above her head and stretched. Minato slumped forward, his elbows on his knees, resting his chin on his latticed fingers. The rest of Gekkoukan High stretched out below them.
“...We’re missing the ceremony,” Hamuko said.
Minato shrugged. “Eh. No big loss.”
“I’m just saying, we rehearsed this.”
Minato laughed. “What’s there to rehearse?”
“Duh!” Hamuko shoved Minato’s shoulder. “They’re gonna call me first, because we have the same last name so they’re gonna go alphabetical by first. So I get to lead the way, and you come right behind. Just like it’s always been, right?”
Minato nodded without saying anything, because he was good at that, and also because it wasn’t true. It hasn’t always been Hamuko leading the way and Minato right behind. Ever since the day their parents died, just seeing each other had become too painful. It was only this past year at Gekkoukan, dorming together, studying together, that they’d started to reconnect-- and only since January that they became truly inseparable.
But why ? There was something wrong here, something missing. A hole in Minato’s memory to match the hole in his heart.
Minato could feel himself teetering on the edge of a long, spiraling, depressing thought. Hamuko could feel it, too. That was why Hamuko went ahead and did what she did best, one of the things Minato found he loved most about her:
“Hey,” Hamuko said, breaking the silence. “I got you something.”
She changed the subject.
When Hamuko had burst onto the roof moments ago, her school bag precariously hanging by a single strap on her arm, Minato hadn’t noticed the suspicious, cube-shaped lump. Hamuko pulled out a box, wrapped and tied with a bow, and plopped it onto Minato’s lap.
“Here you go, lil’ bro,” Hamuko grinned. “Happy graduation.”
Minato lifted up his gift-- a pair of high-quality headphones, a notable upgrade from his old, worn-out, piece-of-crap earbuds. His small smile broadened into a grin, as he slipped them on, fitting the rubber cuffs over his ears.
“Oh, man,” Minato grinned. “I’m going to look like such a douche.”
“I know. It’s perfect for you,” Hamuko teased.
“Punk,” Minato rolled his eyes. “Thank you. Here-- I got you something, too.”
Minato’s gift, by contrast, wasn’t wrapped or tied up with a bow. It was simply folded up in a bundle in the bottom of his school bag. He shook it out, and handed it to Hamuko.
Hamuko scrunched up her face, puzzled. It was a messenger bag, that much was obvious, but with a rather odd design...
“It’s a…” Hamuko groaned at the realization. “...It’s a ham.”
“It’s you,” Minato said, deadpan.
Hamuko snickered. “You want me to walk around campus with this slung over my shoulder?”
“ Yes ,” Minato insisted. “And then you get to tell everybody that your baby brother picked it out himself.”
“Oh my god,” Hamuko looped an arm over Minato’s shoulder and squeezed, rolling her eyes. “Love you.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Minato chuckled, rummaging through his bag. “Look. Here’s your real gift.”
Hamuko slung her ham over her shoulder-- joke gift or not, it was still a perfectly good messenger bag-- and took the little red box that Minato offered her. Inside, couched on a felt pad, were two matching pairs of butterfly hair clips: one in white, one in blue.
“Oh, wow…” Hamuko breathed. “They’re beautiful.”
“Unlike you,” Minato teased.
“Shut up,” Hamuko rolled her eyes. “Oh, man… these look amazing. Thank you. But, um... don’t you think they’re a little, I dunno, fancy for me? A little too girly?”
“Sorry,” Minato shrugged. “I don’t really know your tastes. If you don’t like ‘em, I can get you something else. Or you can re-gift ‘em, give them to someone you like. Saori, maybe.”
Minato smirked. Hamuko’s scandalized gasp, and her fist pounding into Minato’s shoulder, told him that he actually knew Hamuko’s tastes quite well.
Something caught their eyes-- a glint of white. They both looked up, searching.
The answers would come to them later. Answers as to why Minato found himself susceptible to chronic illness, why Hamuko’s thoughts constantly frayed with worry over him, why they never felt quite whole except when they were together.
Later that afternoon, their memories of the past year would return. Mitsuru would look up in the middle of her graduation speech, and she and the rest of SEES would come racing up to the roof to be reunited with their lost leaders. Igor’s voice would drift across the worlds to explain that it’s only fitting that there are two Wild Cards to a deck-- and that while a single ace can tip the scales, it takes a full hand to win the game.
Some of their bonds were incomplete- either due to Minato not spending enough time with everyone, or due to Hamuko spending too much time with the same people. But between the two of them, they still had enough to wield the Universe Arcana in the face of oblivion.
They paid the price together, and they emerged alive, but not unscathed.
All these answers would come to them, in time, and with greater detail. But in that moment, they looked across the rooftop of Gekkoukan High.
They saw a white butterfly with one broken wing, still limping along.
And they understood.
Hamuko pulled her signature XXII barrettes from her hair, replacing them with a single white butterfly clip. She’d send the blue pair to Saori as a gift, and keep the white clip’s twin safely tucked away. She always did look better when she was artfully asymmetrical.
Makoto breathed out a sigh, leaning into Hamuko’s shoulder. He reached up, and rubbed his eyes.
“Sleepy?” Hamuko asked.
“Yeah,” Minato muttered. He bumped an elbow against Hamuko’s. “Must’ve been cause my rowdy sister had to go and wake me up before noon.”
“Yeah, heaven forbid,” Hamuko grinned. “...Take a nap, if you want. It’s not like we’ve got anywhere else to be.”
They sat there together, leaning on each other, watching the world go by. In the distance, the white butterfly, harbinger of fate, glinted in the sunlight and kept limping on.
“Hey,” Minato murmured, overcome by a sudden sentimentality.
“I love you.”
Hamuko exhaled, smiling. She rubbed her eyes.
“Are you still going to be here when I wake up?”
“No, you idiot, I was just gonna leave you here on the roof.”
“Shut up…” Minato rolled his eyes. He raised a hand to his mouth, stifling a yawn.
“Oh!” Hamuko gasped. She pulled open her school bag and started rummaging. “Before I forget. I got you another gift, too.”
Minato braced himself. Fittingly, for twins, they always gave gifts in pairs-- one real gift, one joke gift. He was particularly proud of getting Hamuko a ham. But now…
“Ta-da!” Hamuko beamed.
Minato took the box, and rolled his eyes. Bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘gag gift’...
“It’s natto ,” Minato announced, with the flattest joy. “...thanks…”
“It’s you!” Hamuko chirped.
They laughed, together, in the brilliant sunlight, and the world kept on turning.