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Embrace a Heartbeat

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Junpei leaned back in his seat, taking in the warmth of steamy ramen shop. “Man, I’m glad we’re back in our summer uniforms. If I had to wear a jacket in here, I might actually pass out.”

“You know you could just take it off, right?” Minako asked.

“And risk leaving it behind? No thank you. Mitsuru-senpai is scary enough when she’s not in student council mode.” Junpei mock-shuddered. “Besides, there are other benefits to the summer uniforms. You can’t tell me you didn’t notice all the cute girls in short sleeves and thin shirts.”

“I mean, I noticed, but it’s not that big a deal,” Minako said. “Unlike some people, I try to focus on the lectures instead of my classmates.”

“Yeah right. Did you forget that we’re in the same class? Every time I look at you during a lecture, you’re staring at Yukari.”

“To be fair,” Minako began, hoping she could find a reasonable explanation by the time she finished her sentence. “I’d never noticed how weirdly buff her arms are.” Okay, so that wasn’t ideal, but she couldn’t turn back now. All she could do was forge ahead. “They’ve been hidden under her jackets until now.”

“Uh, yeah,” Junpei said. “You know she’s been doing archery for years, right? It’s not like she’s been killing Shadows with blind luck.”

“Okay, but it’s not like I’m thinking about that in Tartarus. I’m a little more focused on not getting us all killed. But when Mr. Ekoda is droning on about literature, and her arms are right there…”

“Trust me, I understand.” Junpei grinned. “Honestly, I think you should go for it. You’re already going on those coffee dates all the time, might as well make it official.”

“I don’t know…” Minako swung her legs idly. “I mean, I don’t want to make things awkward. ‘Hey, sorry for creeping you out, you ready to go spend an hour in a hell tower killing monsters that most people don’t know exist?’ No thank you.”

“She might turn you down, but I don’t think she’d be creeped out.” Junpei grinned. “Honestly, though, there’s no way she’ll turn you down. Trust me, you’re a catch.”

“Aww, thank you!” Minako batted her eyelashes flirtatiously, only to dissolve into giggles when Junpei recoiled. “Seriously, though, do you really think I have a shot?”

Junpei coughed. “As long as you never do that to her, yes.”

“Don’t worry, that’s our special thing.”

“Gee, thanks,” Junpei grumbled.

Their ramen arrived, and Minako let the topic drop in favor of food. She didn’t forget it, though. If she was going to ask Yukari out, a plan that was sounding more attractive by the second, she was going to make sure it was absolutely perfect. It would be a mission even Mitsuru could be proud of.

She was going to sweep Yukari off her feet.

It took Minako a few days to come up with a plan, but Operation Ridiculously Sappy Confession was ready to go. The archery team didn’t meet on Thursdays, and Junpei had agreed to make himself scarce as soon as class ended, so all Minako had to do was offer to walk home with Yukari and then ask her out. It was simple, impossible to screw up, especially since Minako had planned out exactly what she wanted to say.

That didn’t keep her heart from racing at the sound of the bell. Simple didn’t always mean easy.

She shoved her nerves to the side the way she would when fighting a powerful Shadow. It turned out that fighting gross monsters could actually give you useful life skills, which was nice. If only she could put that on her college applications. “Demonstrated leadership and focus in the face of danger by smacking weird bird things with a sharp stick.”

The mental image kept her from freaking out as she walked to Yukari’s desk, but when Yukari smiled at her, she nearly lost her composure again. How dare Yukari be so cute when Minako was trying to focus.

As it was, she’d been staring at her dreamily long enough that Yukari’s smile was melting into a look of concern. Minako shook her head. “Hey!” she said, hoping it would just look like she’d lost her train of thought. “You wanna walk home together?”

“Yeah, alright,” Yukari said. “We can swing by the mall on the way.”

Minako frowned. Her plan had not made room for an audience of assorted classmates, shopkeepers, and gossipy housewives. “Some other time, maybe? There’s actually something I wanted to talk to you about today.”

“Oh.” Yukari glanced around the room. “Is this about SEES stuff? Do we need to track down Junpei?”

“No, nothing like that,” Minako said. “It’s just… you’ll see.”

“Well now I’m curious.” Yukari grabbed her bag. “Let’s go, then.”

Minako managed to keep up a normal light-hearted conversation as they left the building. How their classes were going, drama in their respective clubs, dumb jokes that Yukari rolled her eyes at but laughed at anyway, that sort of thing.

Minako couldn’t tell if the normality of it made her more nervous or less. It was a reminder of exactly why she wanted to confess, watching a surprised grin break across Yukari’s face or the way her nose wrinkled when she was annoyed. On the other hand, if things went wrong, she could lose this easy camaraderie forever. So no pressure or anything.

They reached a lull in the conversation just as they stepped off the main road, which Minako figured was as good a chance as she was going to get. She just needed to do it. “Hey,” she said, and immediately stopped. She’d spent so long pumping herself up that she’d completely forgotten what she planned to say.

Oh well. She’d been winging things pretty much since arriving in Iwatodai. She might as well keep it up now. “I just want you to know how much I care about you,” she said, which sounded a little like a bad teen romance novel but whatever. “You mean a lot to me.”

“Aw, were you embarrassed? Is that why you had to wait until we’d left the school?” There was an undercurrent of laughter in Yukari’s voice, but it wasn’t malicious. “Don’t worry, I understand. You’re important to me, too.”

“Really?” That was much easier than Minako had expected.

“I know I have this reputation as one of the popular girls or whatever, but until you came along, I din’t have anyone I really felt close to. I feel like I can talk to you about anything.” Yukari smiled. “I know we’ve only known each other for a few months, but you’re my best friend.”

“Y-yeah!” Minako tried to keep from bouncing up and down like an excited puppy. “I feel the same way.”

“Great!” By now, Yukari was practically beaming. “Oh, you know what? We should get matching chokers or something. It will be a way to commemorate our friendship.”

“All right!” Minako said. She was about to follow Yukari back to the mall when her thoughts caught up to her. This had spiraled out of her control, and she needed to make sure her intentions had actually gotten through. “Hey, Yukari? Just so you know, I love you.”

Yukari stopped and turned back around. “I love you too!” she said. “Don’t let Junpei catch you saying that, though. You know he’ll take it the wrong way.” She shook her head. “Seriously, I’m so glad I have you around. Everything is so much easier with girl friends. You don’t have to worry about saying something and them immediately assuming you’re into them.”

She continued on her way, leaving Minako to wonder how she’d managed to vocalize the space between “girl” and “friends”.

After a moment, she ran to catch up. She wasn’t going to pass up a shopping trip with Yukari just because she’d completely failed at confessing. She’d just have to be less subtle next time.

Admittedly, the school at night was not the most romantic of settings, nor was searching for a missing classmate. But when Mitsuru had suggested they split up, the metaphorical lightbulb had lit up over Minako’s head. She’d immediately volunteered herself and Yukari to look for the key. She couldn’t afford to wait until things were less weird and scary, because then she’d be waiting forever.

Yukari was subdued tonight, so Minako decided to launch straight into it. No point in freaking herself out again. “That’s a nice armband,” she said.

Yukari startled.

Minako gave her an apologetic look, then continued, “What do the letters stand for?”

Yukari looked at Minako’s identical armband. She looked like she was about to say something, but Minako cut her off. “Because I could have sworn it stood for ‘Strong, Effortlessly Enchanting, and Smart.’”

Yukari gave a surprised laugh. “What?”

Encouraged, Minako decided to try another. “Are you Tartarus?” she asked. “Because whenever you’re around, I wish time would stop.”

Yukari shook her head, but she was smiling. “That’s not how it works!”

She had a point, but coming up with thematically appropriate pickup lines for a tower of death was harder than it sounded. Minako thought she was doing pretty well. She wasn’t done yet, either. “You know, it’s not surprising that Io knows wind skills,” she said. “After all, you blow me away.”

By now, Yukari was openly laughing. “These are so bad! How did you even think of them?”

Minako may have spent an entire lecture writing pickup lines, but it was fine. It was just Mr. Edogawa’s class anyway. “It’s a good thing you’re not a Shadow,” she said instead of answering. “Because I think I’m weak to you.”

“Stop!” Yukari fought for composure. Once she’d calmed down, she gave Minako a soft smile that really did make her knees go weak. It was kind of unfair that Yukari could make her live out the dumb pickup lines. “Really, though, thank you. That really helped.” She brightened. “I mean, if there are any ghosts around, they’ll be so mad about those terrible lines that they won’t even notice me. They’ll be too focused on getting you to stop.”

“Or maybe they’ll be so charmed by them that they’ll fall for me immediately.” Minako scanned Yukari’s face for any signs that she’d gotten the hint. There were none.

“Please, you’re too good for any ghost that would haunt a high school. You’d need at least a famous ghost author,” Yukari said. “And unless you see one of those around, we should probably get going. We need to be back before midnight.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Minako had to admit, this failure was probably on her. She couldn’t even be mad about it. Yukari wasn’t freaking out anymore, so as far as she was concerned, this was worth it. She’d even learned a valuable lesson or whatever the Featherman people would say. Namely, if she wanted to get through to Yukari, everything would have to be absolutely perfect.

She already had some ideas in mind.

In retrospect, the petals all over the dorm living room might have been overkill. But Minako was determined to make sure that things went well this time, and if a bouquet of Yukari’s favorite flowers wasn’t romantic, she didn’t know what was. At least she and Junpei had had fun tearing the petals off and scattering them.

She was pretty sure Mitsuru was going to kill them both when she got home and saw the mess, but that was a problem for future Minako.

Current Minako was too busy worrying about the fact that Yukari had just opened the door. She froze in place when she saw the state of the room. Minako started to speak, then thought the better of it. Yukari probably just needed a moment to take it all in.

Sure enough, she found her voice a few seconds later, at least enough to ask, “What?” She didn’t seem upset, just confused.

It was good enough for Minako. She held out the last unmutilated flower. “Yukari, I’m in love with you. In a romantic, entirely non-platonic way. I treasure your friendship, and if you don’t feel the same way for me, I will totally understand. I’ll leave you alone altogether if that’s what you want. But if you’re interested, I would like to go on a date with you and kiss you and other couple things. As a romantic partner.” There. That should be impossible to misinterpret.

Yukari’s face cycled through an impressive range of emotions. Minako couldn’t catch them all, but she didn’t see any disgust, which was probably a good sign.

Finally Yukari burst out laughing. Minako sighed. “Please tell me you don’t think this is a prank.”

“No, no. You were very convincing. It’s just…” Yukari took another step into the room and promptly launched into a fresh fit of giggles. “This is so much! Did you really need to go this far?”

Minako crossed her arms, though she couldn’t fight down a smile. “Apparently. You kept ignoring me every time I tried to confess, so I had to go all out. Really, this is as much your fault as mine.”

Yukari picked up a petal from the arm of the couch. “It’s not my fault you’re hard to read.”

“I literally told you that I loved you!” Only a desire to protect the flower kept Minako from throwing her arms in the air.

“Yeah, and you told Akihiko the same thing when he brought you the TV remote because you were too lazy to stand up and get it. I wasn’t about to assume anything.”

Okay, yeah, Minako remembered that. In fact, she was pretty sure she’d told the whole team she loved them at one point or another, mostly in mundane situations like that. She could see how that would get confusing. Maybe she should start giving out stickers like a preschool teacher instead. They could have little smiling Personas on them.

And she was getting off track. “I will admit that I am not entirely free from blame.”

“You’re so generous.” Yukari rubbed the petal between her fingers. “I guess I’m not totally innocent either. I didn’t want to make things weird, so I just kept acting like everything was entirely platonic. I didn’t want to freak you out, you know?”

“That’s almost sweet, except for the part where I’ve been tearing my hair out trying to get through to you.” Minako shook her head. “I vote we forget all of that and focus on the fact that we’re both interested in each other.”

“Yes please.” Yukari stood up. “I think you were saying something about wanting to go on a date?”

“Absolutely.” Minako held out the flower again, and this time Yukari accepted it. “How does tomorrow evening sound?”

“Why not tonight?” Yukari asked.

“I’d love to, but I need to get all of this cleaned up before…” The room got five degrees colder. Minako sighed. “Before that. Hello, Mitsuru.”

“Arisato.” Mitsuru’s voice was deceptively calm. “I take it this is your doing?”

Minako looked at the chaos, then back at Mitsuru’s foreboding expression. “I swear I’ll have it cleaned up by tomorrow.”

“I suggest you hurry. Yamagishi was hoping to go to Tartarus tonight.” Mitsuru swept upstairs before Minako could reply.

“Okay, yeah, tomorrow it is.” Yukari hugged Minako, then ran up the stairs as well. “Have fun!”

Minako groaned. She couldn’t believe this betrayal. Truly, love was an illusion and life was suffering. She might as well just let Mitsuru execute her now and save herself the trouble.

Then again, she could hardly go on a date if she was dead. And Yukari had seemed so pleased by the idea, too. And hugging her had been so nice…

Minako set to work with newfound determination.