It's like this: the weeks after October 4th, life goes on, although not in quite the same way and not for everybody.
Mitsuru is invited to take part in Student Council, where she finds things not being run to nearly the standards that she adheres herself to. After one highly efficient bloodless coup, student council affairs begin going much more smoothly, and Executive Secretary Takehiko cringes and tries to meld with the corridor whenever they pass each other in the hallway. Akihiko begins coming home later and later, and Mitsuru deliberately doesn't notice his frequent visits to the back alleys and worse of Iwatodai, because those are places completely unsuitable for a a high school freshman, and if she knew that one of her yearmates was hanging around there, she would of course be obligated to put a stop to it.
Throughout it all, they adapt. Slowly, shaky: a two-legged tripod.
They're nowhere near ready when they return to duty, forced out by necessity and Akihiko's restlessness, the pent-up nervous energy of a caged dog. They hunt down three shadows on streets paved with coffins and the blank-eyed stares of the Lost; one hides behind a middle-aged salaryman, teasing, until Mitsuru sheathes her foil and Penthesilea drives a spike of ice into its head. The man moans wordlessly, heedless of the tar-like ichor raining onto his face. He might get better. He might not. What they do feels more like triage than anything else, a band-aid over a punctured artery, Tartarus a constant reminder in the distance.
Mitsuru is fifteen, and she owes the world in blood. They return to the dorm.
A week later, they get ambushed, in a blind spot they still haven't learned to compensate for, by a shadow which looks a little like a clown, an acrobat with limbs which were never meant to bend like that, juggling a torch of fire and a dagger made of ice. The shadows are getting smarter. People lose their minds, but not their potential. By the time they stagger back, it's well into early morning, people as oblivious to two bleeding teenagers, stumbling like drunks through the street, as their coffins were.
Half dragging, half supporting each other, they finally make it past the front door and slide down to the floor, messy, aching, and relieved, casting Dia after Dia on each other until they're dizzy with it. They're sitting close enough for her to feel Akihiko's breath, harsh and steady, but they don't move apart.
And then it's something like this: Mitsuru tries to get up, get changed and ready so that tomorrow morning when she gets out of bed, she'll be prepared to show everybody that nothing in the world is wrong, and stumbles. Akihiko turns his head, lifts an arm to support her, starting to ask a question, and when she falls, he ends up with his mouth pressed to the corner of her jaw, his skin warm and rough against hers. And still they don't move apart.
It's awkward and uncomfortable, the hard line of her evoker digging into her hip, the chill night air warning them of winter. Akihiko hits his head against the edge of the couch, hard enough that she can feel the muffled impact. He strips off his thin leather gloves with his teeth, but he doesn't seem to know quite what to do with his hands after that, doesn't quite seem to know what to do with anything, actually, so she yanks him down and rolls them over, because at least this way she's not getting bruises in the small of her back. He doesn't protest.
The next morning, they wake up after the first bell, sore and tired and about to miss morning assembly. She's never been late before and she's not about to start now, so she takes the bike to school. Akihiko rides with her (although he grumbles, like he always does, about being forced to wear a helmet). The feeling of his arms against her waist is familiar, and they're still no better at being two instead of three.
Mitsuru hands Akihiko the key, lets him hide the bike, and goes to school.
She visits a Kirijo-run clinic late that afternoon and gets a morning after pill, discreetly but not furtively, and Akihiko doesn't return to the dorm until near the edge of the Dark Hour. She looks up from her Chemistry textbook and says, "Welcome back."
"Hey," he says, like nothing's changed, and sits with her in companiable silence until the clock turns 25:00.
So it's like this. Tonight, Penthesilea leads them to the edge of Tartarus. Mitsuru thinks she hates it, this strange, alien tower, and not just because of the shadows.
She catches the flicker at the corner of her eye, on her weak side, too slow to draw her weapon or dodge. After weeks, after everything, they're still no better at being two instead of three, and Mitsuru knows that she's not the one that Akihiko would have chosen, if any of them had ever been given a choice. And while Akihiko isn't staying for his own sake, he's not staying for hers, either. But as she braces for the attack, a familiar click makes her look up.
He's leaving himself wide open on the right, like he always does, his refusal to remember that nobody's there anymore verging on deliberate, but the evoker is steady in his hand, raised unwaveringly to his temple.
Akihiko looks her straight in the eye, and pulls the trigger.