Now if he could only get her away from Yuka-tan.
He comes to this conclusion shortly after their first real mission as SEES members. Yukari thinks it too because they often share secret glances at the third member’s expense.
He can’t say he knows anyone else that that would find placing a gun to their head and pulling the trigger to be as simple and easy as blinking. (And Akihiko Sanada, with his hordes of fangirls and enviable physique, does not count here because he’s been doing this far longer than the three of them put together and personally he thinks the senior probably has a screw loose or something.) He tries to act tough and boasts about how it’s no trouble, no trouble at all. But he can’t hide the cringe when he watches her summon her persona with the harp and the melodies and he can’t take his eyes away from the smile of delight and bliss and girlish fantasies she wears as her finger smoothly twitches and the gun goes off.
It is not normal to look so happy when blowing your brains out. He also has to admit that it’s not normal to be so jealous that he can’t.
He’s never thought that talking with a girl could be this fun. Perhaps it’s because if you took away the soft curves of her body and the fragile-looking cheekbones you wouldn’t think she was a girl. No female would like cheesy action movies and spending hours playing video games and no girl in their right mind would gorge herself as freely as she does on bowls of ramen. He doesn’t take long to get over this disbelief though, because she’s probably the first real friend he’s had in ages, and no amount of girlish charm and rockin’ body was going to ruin this for him.
He doesn’t know what to do at those times; when she’s standing in the empty corridor of the mall, when she’s sitting in the lounge, when she occasionally whispers to herself while sitting in class. He thinks maybe it’s stress. People often do strange things when put through difficult situations and she had been assigned the leader without really much choice in the matter. In the back of his head he thinks that if she just said something he would gladly take her position.
But as he continues watching these exchanges he comes to the conclusion that he’s making excuses to keep himself from admitting that he knows exactly who she’s talking to. Hermes chuckles at him inside his head as if in confirmation. He’s not sure if he wants to believe that the girl is having such animated conversations with her personas. It was strange to think that talking to a figment of your personality was so interesting that she would do it almost all hours of the day.
There is something else she talks to though; something she converses with that is not just a voice swirling around in her head, waiting to be pushed out with the click of a trigger. He catches her one day, sitting in the lounge with a smile so soft he’s momentarily charmed. She reaches out her hand and tenderly strokes something.
“Who are you talking to?”
She looks up at him with mild surprise. But her hand is back at her side and her eyes crinkle and lips purse in a coy smile. “You didn’t see him?” she teases and his expression falls flat because she damn well knows he didn’t see whatever thing she’s conjured up in that confusing mess of a mind she has. The girl shrugs and grins and when she walks past him she slyly comments, “He really likes you, you know.”
He’s not the only one who has noticed her. It’s not the majority of their class or, for that matter, the grades above and below them that worry him. She doesn’t pay attention to most of those other boys who crowd around her and make exclamations of how pretty she is and how much fun she’d have if she went out with them this Sunday. It is one boy in particular who he thinks deserves most of his concern.
She has started paying quite a bit of attention to a certain boxer and his workout routines. She makes an offhand comment over coffee that she thinks it’s admirable the senior jogs five hours a day. He stares at her as if she has grown another head and when she picks it up she looks slightly offended.
“It’s not like I want you to go run five hours a day,” she defends.
He shrugs and sips the coffee she had talked him into buying. “Didn’t say anything,” is his retort. A weak one because they both know they don’t have to say anything for the other to know what they’re thinking. It’s weird, the telepathic thing they’ve got going on. He readjusts himself awkwardly before fixing on a smile. “You know, I could play matchmaker for you.” Her eyebrow ticks up in confusion. “If you want to hook up with Akihiko-senpai; I could totally set something up.”
He manages not to show it on his face, but he doesn’t know what to think about the smile she gives at his suggestion. It’s unbearably soft and reminds him far too much of how his mother used to look when she was trying to hide something from him—back when she was more than just a picture on the mantle, collecting dust and growing more faded by the day. “Only if you want to,” she replies. “But I really don’t think you need to do that.”
Her hand moves as if to grab something at her side, and if he looks close enough it appears as if she’s lacing her fingers with something. He doesn’t think he will ever understand how this girl ticks.
He turns off the shower and when he steps out into the room the only thing he can see is her. Sitting atop the bed as if she owned the thing, hair loose around her shoulders, eyes half-lidded in either boredom or something far more tantalizing—and honestly, he was kind of hoping it was the latter. She is gorgeous, he really can’t argue with that. She’s the epitome of what every man desires in a woman.
Her eyebrow ticks upwards and the only thing that comes to mind is, She would make a terrible date.
“Junpei, put your pants back on.”
There is a short pause. Then he bursts out laughing because honestly, he was thinking the exact same thing.
Riichi sits under the umbrella with him and plots.
“There’s a large chest in our room; big enough to hide in.” They are both leaning forward so far that if either of them bent just another centimeter they could kiss. This is the closest he has ever been to a girl and the only thing he can focus on is the words coming out of her mouth. “I’ll find a way to get Yukari and Fuuka-chan in there.” She looks so serious, almost unnecessarily so, although he can’t say anything because he’s sure his expression is almost identical. It’s hilarious to think of what their classmates would say if they saw their idol like this.
He hums in agreement. “That’s when you start talking about the ghost story right?” She confirms this with a strong nod. “Alright, I’ll leave that up to you too then. Just be sure to mention something about a body in the trunk so I can rattle it later.” She smirks deviously at the thought. “Bonus points if you can sneak Akihiko-senpai in there as well.”
The girl clucks her tongue, looking more disappointed with the idea than against it. “That might be hard. I’m not sure if the girls would be okay with that. And unless Mitsuru-senpai spends the whole time with her dad—or I guess whoever else she would talk with—then I can’t exactly invite him along and not expect her to come.” She looks almost pained. “It’s probably not a good idea to attempt scaring her.” He cannot agree more.
When they have cemented their plan they link arms in the manliest agreement he has ever participated in. She grins at him—all pretty teeth and sparkling eyes—and he is strangely comforted by the thought that he will never find a friend as great as this girl again.
He talks about his newfound crush with Riichi. She listens attentively, making the appropriate noises when needed. Partway through she makes the comment, “Chidori-san sounds like a good match for you.”
While he’s relatively pleased with this announcement he’s not sure why she made it. “Please tell me you’re not going to follow that up with ‘she sounds smart, so she’ll balance out your idiocy’.” He’s been spending too much time around Yuka-tan and his paranoia is at an all-time high.
She stares at him for a few moments before letting out a snide snicker. “I was going to say that she’ll probably help calm you down, but if you like your reason better then by all means.” He balks as she continues to laugh at him.
It’s not Aigis’ fault he tells himself, not really. The android’s just confused about everything and for some reason their leader is the one she latched onto. That doesn’t ease the nasty feeling in his gut though when the girl declines his offer to go eat because she has to show their new member around another part of town. It gets even worse when school starts back up and Aigis shows up crashing the party yet again.
He must have some serious issues if his biggest problem is some humanoid robot stealing his friend.
She catches onto his sulking one day and gives him a knowing look. “I’m free next Sunday,” she announces from the other side of the room.
He doesn’t miss the smile she gives him around her magazine, or the fact that she spoke up while Aigis was missing from the room. With an attempt at nonchalance he shrugs his shoulders and voices, “How convenient that I have an extra ticket to that cheesy looking creature movie on that day.” She hides a laugh into the pages of her reading material. He tries—and ultimately fails—to keep a giddy grin off his face and relishes in the fact that she’s still taking time to think of him.
He will never be able to match her arsenal of facades, but at the least he can say she won’t leave him behind in determination.
Sometimes when he’s secretly watching her he can’t help but catch the brief flicker of sorrow. Sometimes he catches a glimpse of madness. If he looks closely she’s letting several different emotions out at the moment of pulling that trigger and sometimes he fears that one of them won’t fade away. It has never occurred to him that it might be hard, having all those various voices crowding about her head. He briefly wonders how she deals with it. He doesn’t like to dwell on this thought; he doesn’t want to admit that she might actually be breaking down from this.
She stands at the front of the group, staring down at something that moments ago had been a friend. Her frame is rigid, as if any slight movement will disrespect the death of someone dear. He marvels at how strong she is; how put together she can be after witnessing someone so close to her be gunned down in front of her eyes. But when he looks closer he notices how empty her expression is.
She’s standing in Shinjiro’s blood; pooling around her, staining her shoes, marring the brown loafers forever with the memory of death and the smell and iron and how cold, cold, cold the body in front of her now is. She’s the only one being stained and it strikes him how lonely that seems.
He never sees her cry. Not that night, not the next day, and not in any of the following weeks. Part of him wishes he could be that strong. The other part only hopes that if it’s ever his turn to go she doesn’t believe she has to hold everything in.
He doesn’t understand this. Not when he himself is livid. They were used, tricked, deceived and thrown out. He can’t forgive this, and because she shows not a bit of resentment he cannot forgive her. He shows his irritation through passive-aggressive stings and snide comments. But she’s so wrapped up in something that he doesn’t even think she recognizes what he’s doing and that irks him even further.
He hates her. He hates her so much. For her lack of anger; for her ignorance of his feelings; for how small, and doll-like and pretty she is; for how those tiny, fragile looking fingers so deftly clasp around the handle of her naginata. He hates her because she doesn’t show weakness like the rest of them and he’s begun to think that maybe she doesn’t experience human emotions like someone normal.
He seems to get his answer when he stumbles into the third floor seating area and finds her staring blankly at the far wall. Her lips move silently, as if having a conversation with an imaginary friend of hers and he knows at once who she’s talking to. He approaches, sits down across from her, and glares. “He more important than us now?” he snarks, dripping hostility and abhorrence like a waterfall.
She blinks, processes, understands. Her whispering stops abruptly, and for the first time since that night up on the observatory (crucified, sacrificed, with the freezing wind on their faces, and she was bleeding, he remembers it, dripping from her wrists like some born-again messiah) she really looks at him. “He’s no longer here,” she responds, as if it is something so natural that she’s confused he does not already know this.
There is something in her voice that sounds so lonely that he cannot possibly make another crack. And he finds he forgives her. He forgives her because they’re best friends. He forgives her because she looks as lost as the rest of them are.
Because he’s intrigued by him—and honestly he’s just that nice a guy—he finds himself the first to approach the raven haired boy. Wanting to play a joke, he introduces him to her. Their reaction is disturbing, and since he doesn’t feel comfortable with it, he later teases her that maybe they knew each other in another life.
Her resulting smile is nothing but alarming.
When he really thinks about it though—really thinks about it—it is unsettling how easily Ryoji integrates into their duo. What bothers him is how natural everything about this is. His movements around their leader are practiced and easy and she responds in such fluid ways that one would think they had been going through these motions for ages. He wants to ask; wants to know why this newcomer seems to know even more about his best friend than he ever has, but asking would mean that he acknowledges something is wrong and he doesn’t know if he can handle that.
He watches them sometimes; makes mental notes on how they move and how they place themselves so close to each other and the fact that one of their hands always seems to be somewhere on the other. Eventually he notices that he’s being left out more than he is included. He takes note of this as well, but once again refuses to comment in the feeble hopes that he’s imagining things.
When he finally does get up the nerve to say something it’s in the safety of their common room. “So you’ve been hanging around Ryoji a lot lately huh?” She looks up at him, cocks her head in a way that he swears indicates she already knows where he’s going with this. “When did you two become so close?” He tries to joke about it, to wave it off as something he only thought about in passing. But there is a slight hitch in his voice and she was always good at reading him anyway.
Riichi shrugs, “It just kind of happened. He’s very comfortable to be around.” He doesn’t think he has ever seen her look so serene; like one of those photographs that are taken when the subject doesn’t realize they’re being watched. When she finally does look back up, she smiles at him in that coy way and slyly remarks, “But he really likes you, you know.”
Riichi’s the worst because they’re the closest. Riichi’s the worst because she has her own happiness to think about—her own life to live—and every time he sees her attempt to shelve it to take care of him it makes him sick. For a while he hides away in his room. But eventually that option is no longer left to him, and to find the solitude he wants he has to sneak away to the park.
She finds him there one day, seated on one of the benches in a daze. He hates her for knowing him so well, and promptly tells her such, with added venom. She brushes off the hostility, instead opts to sit next to him and lean back, allowing her neck to rest over the curve of the bench and give her a perfect view of the sky. The silence is painful as well. He wonders if everything will now be attributed with the feeling of pain and he hates her for that too, simply because she’s the closest one here and the only one he can possibly blame at the moment aside from his self.
“Can you hear her?”
The question throws him for such a loop that he forgets for a moment he wants to be left alone. She takes his confusion in such stride that he almost suspects she planned this reaction. “Chidori. Does she talk to you?” she continues. Not once does she take her gaze from the sky.
He doesn’t know how to respond; doesn’t think he wants to respond. He cannot deny that sometimes he swears he hears her voice though.
Riichi seems to pick up on this because she finally rolls her head lightly and smiles sadly at him. “It’s like a whisper in your ear isn’t it? Weird right?” She doesn’t wait for his answer. “You should talk back to her sometimes. There’s nothing to say her voice won’t fade away eventually.”
He wants to ask how she would know. Wants to question what exactly she bases this on, how the hell someone like her would even begin to pretend to understand the feeling of hearing someone in this way. But her smile is so sad that he chokes back his words and in the back of his head someone whispers, she empathizes (small murmurs and late night chats and she knows she knows she knows).
He doesn’t know how to react at these times. Whether he should laugh off her ominous jargon or grab her shoulders and viciously shake her until she snaps out of it. Her conversations with herself become more frequent. He can’t help but think that this means she’s pulling away from them, from him (to him, that backstabbing, two-faced, harbinger of death) and it’s beginning to terrify him.
Akihiko is the only other one who seems as worried about it as he is, because the boxer does everything in his power to keep her attention on them. He doesn’t mind, only because the jealousy gnawing at his gut is nothing compared to the relief that engulfs him when her eyes clear up and she laughs in that unrestrained, girlish way of hers. It reminds him of barely over a month ago when things were easy and Yukari was less bitchy, Chidori was still alive, and their group of juniors (excluding their fearless, delicate leader) laughed at the expense of Akihiko and Ryoji and their obvious rivalry, and took bets on which between the two of them would end up winning the favor of their lovely teammate. (It was only later on that they found out there was probably not a soul alive that could beat Ryoji in that particular regard.)
Maybe when this is all over, he thinks. Maybe when they’re done fighting and Nyx has gone back to whatever the hell god-demon-things came from they could return to how they were. Maybe Ryoji would be alive again and Riichi would come back. He wants to think this and in her more lucid states he’s able to believe it. But she always goes back; always begins her riddles, and talks in circles and smiles in far off, frightening ways that remind him of when she knows more than she’s letting on. She sometimes reminds him of someone waiting to die.
And though he laughs along with the others and makes plans and grand schemes for their victory party, somewhere in the back of his mind he already knows that she won’t be coming back with them.
But sometimes she looks at him as if she’s in pain and she asks strange questions about a boy named ‘Ryoji’. A boy who he can vaguely remember transferring in, but can only recall transferring back out before they had a chance to get to know each other. When he answers she always makes a kind of resigned face and then deftly changes the topic.
The closer they get to graduation, the more she insists they spend time together. He doesn’t mind this in the least, but somehow he feels like she’s becoming desperate. More often than not they end up at the shrine. He wonders if she feels like this place is as important as he does.
She smiles at him from the swing and she looks almost lonely, but there is something bright in her eyes. (Eating together and gossiping about teammates and they were always always in trouble, even when she pulled those puppy dog eyes) “You’re my best friend,” she remarks, so simply, as if there is no way anyone can possibly refute her.
Something clicks and before he can think about it, he pulls her up from her seat and into the tightest hug he’s ever given anyone. (Second tightest something whispers, but that doesn’t matter, only she does right now.) “You’re mine,” he replies. He thinks he’s crying but he isn’t really sure why. She hugs him back, tiny hands fisting into the fabric of his jacket.
Two days later she fades away with nary a word, and he says goodbye by standing on her swing.