"The library is always so cold!"
That's what the other students were constantly saying. Nageki Fujishiro had heard that same complaint more times than he could possibly count. He watched as they shivered, watched as they donned sweaters and coats on top of their academy blazers. They laughed together about the inconvenience of it all and huddled closer to one another for warmth.
None of them ever asked Nageki how he felt about it, though. In fact, none of the other students ever so much as glanced at him. And doing so wouldn't have served any purpose— Nageki alone, it seemed, was immune to the so-called cold.
He had been alone for at least five years. He never left the library, save for the times he floated to the roof and looked at the stars. He watched as other people lived happy lives with families and friends.
He'd been alone, and he'd been accustomed to being alone, until Hiyoko Tosaka wandered in one day. For the first year of her schooling at the academy, she'd been like the other students. She hadn't been able to see Nageki. But one day, on the first day of her second year, she addressed him. She asked him what his name was. She said that she hoped they could be friends.
It was with Hiyoko's help that Nageki had finally arrived at the truth of his existence: that he wasn't actually here, and that was why most people couldn't see him. He had died a long time ago. As far as he could remember, he had taken his own life.
He was a ghost. It was he who sapped the warmth from the library.
Hiyoko had visited him in the library every day for a long while. But, suddenly, she started coming by less. She apologized for this, and said that she simply had important matters to attend to. Nageki wasn't angry with her for doing something for herself. That would be far too possessive of him. What right did he have to dictate her happiness?
...That said, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of jealousy. Hiyoko was in a number of school clubs, and there were other students that she talked about on the regular. Who was she with when she was skipping her usual library trips? Was it that aristocrat? The suave upperclassman? Her childhood friend? All three of them seemed to fight for her attention sometimes. Particularly that rock dove.
Nageki sighed and lowered his book. He couldn't concentrate on reading.
There was an all-too-real possibility that Hiyoko would stop coming to the library, or that she would, at the very least, do so even less frequently than she did now. She had a life of her own, after all. She had many normal, living and breathing friends that could travel outside of the school with her. Why should she spend all of her free time in a freezing library with a quiet, somewhat standoffish ghost?
Even if Nageki didn't resent her for it, he couldn't help but feel scared. If Hiyoko stopped coming to the library, he would be left all alone again. He would have no one to talk to. There would be no one left in the school that could see him. He would return to his previous life of doing nothing but waiting and watching from the shadows.
It was just as he frowned at this train of thought that he heard a thump. He looked up to find that several upperclassman were goofing off. One had hit another with his textbook. This got the others in the group laughing, and before Nageki knew it, it had evolved into some kind of book fight. Like a snowball fight, but with much heavier weapons.
He glared. That wasn't any way to treat the books. Their pages would become wrinkled, their covers torn, if this persisted. But what was he to do about it? If Hiyoko had been there, she could have stopped them. She was horrifyingly strong for such a cute teenage girl (living in a cave in the wilderness usually had that effect on people). But Nageki was invisible, and he hadn't been strong when he was alive anyway.
"Please be quiet in the library."
Nothing. It was as if no one had spoken. Nageki had expected such a reaction, so it shouldn't have hurt, but his heart twisted. The books were his only constant friends, really, and he couldn't even protect those. He had to sit back and watch as they were destroyed. And something about that uncomfortable sensation was eerily familiar in a way that he didn't want to address.
Just as he felt his nonexistent heart begin to race, and just as he felt himself getting dizzy and feeling sick, a student threw a book. The book was launched directly at him, its trajectory so accurate that he wondered, for a moment, if the student had been able to see him and aimed at him.
Nageki didn't move. What was the point? The book would go right through him. He likely couldn't stop it if he tried. Even so, it seemed he couldn't help some reflexes. He squeezed his eyes shut and braced himself for the impact.
Nageki slowly opened his eyes. Just before his face, there was a hand. A hand wrapped in bandages. The hand clenched a book tightly, having caught it before it reached him. Nageki's eyes went wide as he stared at that book.
Someone had seen him. They'd seen him, and they'd protected him.
"You there!" The boy in question addressed the crowd of seniors, who stopped to look at him. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves! Such reckless behavior in the Prison of Ice, and with the Crimson Tomes of Augury?! Your foolishness could have harmed the Caller of the Stars!"
One of the troublemakers scoffed.
"Can't you speak in plain Japanese for once in your life, Higure? No one ever knows what you're talking about."
"Tell them to please be quiet in the library," Nageki said in a rushed whisper. It was meant to be a test. The strange boy's eyes locked with his, and he gave a quick nod.
"The Caller requests your silence within these walls," he said. Not quite what Nageki had said, but close enough. Beggars can't be choosers. "Any misbehavior shall be punished with a curse most terrible!"
The upperclassmen rolled their eyes. Several of them gathered up their belongings. A few picked up some of the stray books tossed about the room. They didn't return them to the shelves where they belonged, but they did put them on the table. That was better than the floor.
"Let's get out of here," the ringleader grumbled. "And go somewhere without that guy."
Within a minute, the room was empty of all but Nageki and this stranger. Higure, was it?
Nageki studied him. Actually, he had seen this student before. He was always huddled at a table in the corner, the coldest section of the library, and scribbling away at a manga. Nageki had assumed that he couldn't see him, but perhaps he had just been too focused on drawing to acknowledge anyone or anything else. Either way, he was a strange bird.
"...Did their fighting distract you from drawing, Mr. Higure?" Nageki asked tentatively. He couldn't help but feel uncomfortable speaking to someone other than Hiyoko. It felt unnatural and presumptuous.
The other boy grinned.
And then, to Nageki's utter shock, he placed a friendly hand on his shoulder.
Time seemed to freeze. Nageki stared at the hand. He wasn't afraid of it— it didn't seem to mean him any harm— but he didn't understand. Even Hiyoko, who had spent countless hours by his side in the library, had never been able to touch him. She hadn't so much as tried, for a long while, and when she finally did, she had felt almost nothing. She'd described it as a fuzzy and cold sensation.
Nageki had been certain that his body was not physical enough to feel the touch of another. And yet, somehow, this student managed to make it seem easy.
"You needn't address me so formally, my dear friend!" Higure chirped. "For we two are linked together by the karma of our previous lives— a disaster of the soul! You may address me as Anghel— the Crimson Angel of Judecca."
Nageki blinked. Everything that Anghel said was bizarre and difficult to follow, and for more reasons than his advanced vocabulary. ...Actually, even his dialect was a bit strange. Maybe he wasn't born in Japan. Whatever the reason for his eccentricity, Nageki had no intention of calling him by that long title. Just Anghel would be fine.
"So... You mean to say that we already know one another," Nageki carefully guessed. Anghel nodded.
"But of course. We both were born beneath the star of fate, were we not? ...Your role, in the time of angels and demons... I have not forgotten the sacrifices that you made for us, Textoris Melodia Funus."
Nageki quirked an eyebrow. He was switching nicknames now? And what did stars have to do with anything? Maybe he was talking about astrological signs...
He shook his head. That didn't matter. There was only one crucial detail that was important here.
Someone else could see Nageki. Someone could touch Nageki. And, perhaps most importantly of all, there was someone who already liked him. He hadn't even had to earn his fondness.
"...That's... nice," Nageki managed. There was a warm feeling in his belly that he didn't have a name for. He had never felt so relieved. "You can... just call me Nageki, then."
Anghel laughed in response. Nageki hadn't said anything funny. Not intentionally, anyway.
Anghel gave Nageki's shoulder a final slap, and then he scurried to his table in the corner, where he started gathering up his supplies. Nageki peered over him at the mess of papers. The Dark Angel Story. He'd never seen a more obvious example of self-insertion. When he'd collected everything in a folder, he shoved it into his bag and threw it over one shoulder.
He puffed out his chest and gave a strange kind of salute as he stood in the doorway. His blazer was pulled open, revealing a bandaged chest and some sort of bloodstain. Nageki squinted at it— the question would have to be saved for another day.
"Farewell, comrade! May our fates intertwine once again!"
Nageki did his best to awkwardly return the gesture.
"F... Farewell, uh... Anghel." He left out all of the 'Crimson Angel' nonsense. Anghel didn't seem to mind it much. He nodded, and then he was gone.
The library was horrifyingly quiet with Anghel gone. Normally, this was what Nageki wanted— peace and quiet in his library. A noisy character like Higure was the kind of person that he usually found irritating. But...
Nageki smiled, touching his own shoulder. It still felt warm.
He wasn't invisible, after all.