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Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell

Chapter Text

Cover artwork by Pratzelwurm

The first thing he felt was ice. Ice so far past frozen that his exposed skin burned wherever it touched. He withdrew into himself for a moment before thrusting out his limbs forcefully and shattering the prison into large, jagged chunks. He felt hazy and disoriented and, above all else, cold. Externally, he still had small crystals clinging to his skin, his hair, and his feathers – an outward reflection of a lingering emotion he couldn't quite find a name for.

A loud crack sounded behind him. It took a moment for him to process the source of the noise, but as he turned slowly, his light revealed the warped faces of his kin, still trapped within the glacier. He remembered now; they'd been hibernating, waiting for the right moment to rise again. He wondered vaguely why that moment was now.

He watched as the stronger creatures worked to free themselves just as he had, but movement out of the corner of his eye alerted him to a different presence. He turned his head to see a figure, off to his left, frantically scrambling away from him. Another demon…? No. A human. He surveyed the rest of the cavern and counted a total of three, all dressed in thick clothing yet still shaking in their coats. They seemed to have been knocked back by the force of his exit.

The light emanating from his body, which was reflected and amplified by the frozen walls, was enough to fully illuminate the otherwise dark space, and coated the air in an almost ethereal glow. It was certainly more effective than the humans' lantern – which was electric, he noted, and gave him a general idea of the time period. Two of the humans huddled closer together, both trembling in his presence. He could feel the fear resonating off of them, see the sheer terror in their eyes. Perhaps he was still numb from the time he'd spent encased in the glacier, because he felt nothing in return.

Behind him, the first demon finally succeeded in bursting through the barrier with a harsh crunch. Followed by another. And another. One of the humans – the woman – let out a high-pitched scream, and clung tightly to the man beside her, who moved as if to shield her from the horrors in front of them. It was almost heroic, in a pathetic sort of way.

Gradually, more and more demons emerged, the larger ones breaking through the walls with brute force and the smaller ones pouring out of the crevices like snakes from a pipe. Dozens of them, awakening from their sleep – restless, hungry – moving forward to meet their master, filling the space around him in the cavern.

It wasn't long before the demons, too, noticed the humans. Fresh meat, for creatures starved for centuries. The woman's scream continued to echo through the cavern, combined now with the shouts from man who held her and the panicked shrieks from their separated companion. The crowd grew agitated, looking from their master to their prey, waiting for permission to strike.

He nodded.

The humans were silenced in an instant, engulfed by the swarm. Torn apart completely by vicious teeth and claws, the stronger and smarter demons getting the bulk while the stragglers were left fighting over the scraps, licking clean the cavern's surface with a desperate animosity.

All that was left was their belongings… not even a body part or some mutilated corpse. A pity, he thought. No one would ever solve the mystery of their deaths… the secret staying within the confinements of the mountains. The first victims.

The sounds of cracking ice grew louder. More were coming then. He moved across the cavern floor to gather up the rest, until his bare feet met some fabric. He glanced at the object, remembering that the woman had been carrying this, clutching to it for dear life. Just a bag? What would make something so insignificant so special to her?

Satan bent down, removing it off the floor, ice crystals falling off the sides and shattering, the sounds carrying through the cavern with the emerging demons. Some blood remained on the strap. He reached inside and discovered…

No.

Something broke within him… the rushing feeling of knowing all that had happened and that would happen. A feeling he knew would blossom to the forefront of his very being. Satan knew this bag… he’d seen it too many times for him to count, the first time having seen it already lost to his memories.

And he knew exactly what he would pull out from the bag, often as it would be set up… a reminder of his torment, his punishment and a goal he would always try to reach.

The photo this time was of him with the other girl, hugging each other – him looking a bit surprised on his part at the hug. Happy.

The bag fell to the floor, the photo still clutched in his hands. Time would move forward and that end would come, and he would once again wake up from the ice… and replay this very scene over again. And again.

Satan kept going.

Hours later, six-year-old Ryou Asuka woke up shaking in his bed from a strange nightmare.

Chapter Text

Akira leans back into the bench he's sitting on and stares upwards at nothing in particular. It's mid afternoon, and, while it's comfortably warm outside, a light breeze hints at the approaching change in season. Nearby, a few art students are working on some outdoor installment and playing music off a portable stereo. Akira drums his fingers idly to the song — that one by Pink Floyd that they play on the alternative station sometimes — and continues to zone out as he waits for Miki to finish whatever it was she needed to do.

Today is his twenty-first birthday, but as usual he doesn't really feel any older or wiser than he did the day before. There's always so much anticipation building up to a birthday, especially a "milestone" like twenty-one, but Akira's found that the results are usually rather underwhelming. Not that he hasn't had good birthdays, just that he's never seen them as much more than an excuse to hang out with his friends and family.

But Miki is insisting, as she does every year, that they need to do something to celebrate. He keeps telling her that all he doesn't really want to do anything special, but Miki has never been one to listen once she gets an idea in her head. She'd called him in his dorm earlier to instruct him to wait for her outside the art building around five o'clock for a "surprise", so here he is. Waiting for her. Outside the art building. At five fifteen.

At least, it was five fifteen last he looked at a clock. He feels like he's been here a lot longer. He has half a mind to go inside and find her–

A white flash goes off, making him jump and blinding him for a split second. As he blinks away the spots from his eyes, he sees Miki standing in front of him, grinning, with an expensive looking camera in her hands.

"God, wha… don't do that!" He says, rubbing his eye with him palm. Miki snickers.

"Check out what the journalism department loaned me!" Her grin widens as she holds the camera out to Akira.

"I noticed." Akira replies flatly, eyeing the device.

"You should've seen yourself. You were like, completely spaced out! I couldn't resist."

“Is this why you got kicked off the newspaper?”

Miki grumbles, taking the camera bag from her side and adjusting it, “Ha, ha. No, I just hated how it was run.”

Akira looks at her, “... I thought it was 'cause you tried to fight a person you were supposed to interview?”

“One,” She says dropping the bag next to him, “I did not fight him. Two, I kept calling him and they wouldn’t get back to me, so I took other measures,” Miki adjusts the lense and slips it into the front pocket, zipping it shut, “Going to their office in person and askingfor an interview is not fighting them.”

“Don’t you mean, demand an interview? With your knife?”

“I did not have my knife out! I did not have my knife out,” She grabs the strap, tight as possible and slings it over her shoulder, “That was a lie!”

"'Out'," Akira repeats.

"He should have called me back," Miki huffs, turning to walk away.

Akira gets up to follow after her, “So you admit you tried to fight him.”

“I did not say I fought him! I just happened to have my knife with me. And boohoo, he didn’t like me coming to his office, so my editor got mad!”

“... Why are you complaining that your editor got mad at you, for pulling a knife… on a person… you’re supposed to interview?”

"I. Did not. Have. My knife out. It was in my bag!"

Akira rolls his eyes.

“The guy made that up. Apparently you drop your knife in your media law class one time–”

“Why did you even have your knife in your backpack to begin with?”

"–and the whole journalism department says you’re a knife-wielding bitch. Whatever.”  Miki stops, turning to face Akira, “Anyways, my editor had to tell me that I was being too pushy, and to respect sources! How can I respect a source when they won’t call me back?!”

"So," Akira cuts her off, desperate to change the subject before her rant gets any longer, "where are we going anyways?"

"Oh! Right," Miki says, "We're going back to my house."

"Why?"

"For your surprise, duh."

"See, the more you say it like that, the more concerned I am for what it is."

Miki smirks and turns back on her heel, walking up the sidewalk, “You’re just gonna have to wait and see!”

Akira sighs, walking after her again, "I assume we're taking the bus?"

"Well yeah, unless you've suddenly got a car or… a motorcycle I don't know about."

"Why did you emphasize 'motorcycle'?"

"What? I didn't."

"You definitely did."

"Hmm. Nope, I don't think so."

"Miki–"

"HEY!" Suddenly, a gruff voice calls out from behind, and the two of them turn to face the source.

"Oh shit," Miki swears under her breath.

“... What do you mean, ‘oh shit’?”

Miki glances at Akira, then puts her head down and begins briskly walking away, gripping her camera bag tighter, “Fuck, fuck, fuck–”

“Makimura I know that’s you!”, the owner of the voice calls. He's still relatively far away, but as he approaches, Akira can make him out better. He's a taller guy with dark hair an unusually square jaw, and, despite his lanky build, he definitely has the air of someone Akira would not want to mess with – and he is coming up on them very quickly.

To make matters worse, he's being shadowed by two other equally tough-looking guys.

Akira looks back at Miki, bewildered and concerned.

Fuck.” Miki hisses.

“Miki, what… did you do…?”

Makimura!

“Well I’m gonna tell you what I’m about to do…” Miki tells him, stopping in her tracks. Her camera bag is slung off, the strap in between her fingers, looking as intimidating as a five-foot-two woman in a pink sweater could.  

“Please don’t tell me you’re seriously thinking of fighting them…”

"Fight?" the guy says as he and his posse catch up to where they're standing, smiling crookedly, "We just wanna talk."

"Yeah," one of the others chimes in, "We're not interrupting your date, are we?"

Miki steps closer, camera bag at the ready before Akira grabs her by the arm, “Hey! What’re you doing?!”

"Miki, please, let's just leave," Akira attempts to steer her away from them.

"Let go! I’m not finished with them!”

"Listen to your boyfriend, Makimura," the third guy taunts.

"Heh, some boyfriend he is though," the leader adds, "too much of a pussy to even fight for you."

Miki wrenches her hand from Akira’s grip, gritting her teeth, “Aren’t you going to say something?”

"It's not worth it, Miki; just ignore them."

“... Fine. If that’s how you want to be,” Miki starts, stepping towards the trio, “Go fuck yourselves!”

“What?!” The leader says.

“You heard me! If this is 'cause I wrote that article last year about you shitheads vandalizing the library, then you can all go ahead and eat shit. You guys think you're hot shit just 'cause you go around committing petty crimes? Just piss off and die already.”

“Miki!”

"Oh, you've done it now, Makimura!" He takes a step towards her and flips a pocket knife out from his jacket sleeve.

Miki starts moving towards them, swinging her bag wildly. Akira tries to grab her arm again, but she evades it, charging forwards at full speed. She takes a swipe at the knife wielder with her bag, and it connects with his face with a solid thunk, distracting him. The other two make a move, but Miki’s already backhanding one of them with her free hand.

Akira watches on, completely horrified.

Miki grips the strap on her bag with both hands again, and quickly twists around to slam it into the one she hasn't hit yet, but the other grunt grabs her around her waist and lifts her off the ground. Miki lets out a shriek that is equal parts startled and infuriated.

“A-Akira…” Miki says, voice shaking, “H-help me…”

"Uh, uhh…" Akira frantically searches for the right words to deescalate the situation, "shit."

"Akira! Do something!!"

"Y-you guys... should leave her alone! She… she was just doing her job... writing the… article-"

The leader, recovering from the blow, snorts loudly. "Her 'job'? You call this bitch stalking us for months her job?

“A-Akira…!”

"Akira!" A new voice calls out at the same time.  The conflict pauses.

"Huh?" Akira looks in the direction of the sound to see a familiar face. Blonde hair, sunglasses, trenchcoat. Exactly the same as he remembers, but… somehow different? "...Ryou!?"

“Oh great,” Miki mutters, still in the grip of the aggressor.

"Who the fuck are you?" One of the guys spits.

Ryou takes a moment to assess the situation, before looking back at Akira and quirking his eyebrow.

"Uh," Akira starts, "we're in a bit of a situation… do you think you could help us out?"

"Hey, that's not a bad idea," the leader grins, "now we're a fair fight. Three on three."

Ryou sighs, "I don't have time for this." He folds open the side of his coat and-

"Why do you have a gun!?" Miki demands.

Ignoring her, Ryou removes the hunting rifle from the holster and positions it in his hands.

"That… that can't be real," the one holding Miki says nervously, "at least… it's not loaded, r-right?

"Would you like to find out?"

"Are you fucking insane?!" the leader shouts.

Ryou cocks the gun in response.

"Shit. Forget about it; this bitch isn't worth it!" He slips the knife up into his sleeve, and backs up a few steps before moving away as quickly as possible without outright running. The guy holding Miki releases her, dropping her to the ground as he and the other one hurry to follow after him.

Akira runs over to where Miki fell as Ryou slips the gun back into his coat.

"Cowards!!" Miki calls after them, “That’s what I thought! Next time I’ll get you!”

"Shut up, Miki! They're already leaving," Akira sounds exasperated, but regardless he extends a hand to help her up.

Miki takes it and stands, brushing away dirt clinging to her skirt, “Hmph. What a bunch of losers. I wrote that article over a year ago.” She pauses, “Oh no, my camera! Ugh, they better not have broken it.” Miki picks up the bag on the ground, unzipping and taking out the lense to examine it.

"Maybe you shouldn't have been using it as a weapon."

"Maybe you should've actually done something to help me," Miki bites back, opening up the camera back.

Akira opens his mouth to retaliate, then closes it again, realizing that she's not going to listen any sensible arguments. At this point, it occurs to him that Ryou is still standing there. And then it occurs to him that Ryou is still standing there. And staring at him, no less.

"So, uh," Akira starts, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand, "it's been awhile."

"Four and a half years. Give or take."

"You kind of just disappeared after you dropped out of highschool-"

"I didn't drop out," Ryou corrects, somewhat defensively, "I got a GED."

“So,” Miki interjects, closing up her camera bag and putting it back over her shoulder, “You’re just gonna ignore the fact that he has agun?

“You literally carry around a switchblade all the time,” Akira points out.

Miki groans, taking off her backpack and yanking out the knife from the front pocket, "This is a seven inch knife. Not a fucking sawed off shotgun.” She shakes it with emphasis, dropping it back off in her backpack, which she then rights over her shoulders.

"It's a rifle," Ryou mutters.

“... I thought it was cool.” Akira admits.

"You would." Miki says, crossing her arms.

"I'm right here. I can hear you," says Ryou.

Miki narrows her eyes, “Good.”

Ryou smirks at her, “Nice to know you haven’t changed.”

"Same can be said for you."

But that's not completely true, Akira thinks. He has all the staples of the "Ryou Asuka look", but there's still something about him that seems more… refined? Akira's not one to pay much attention to fashion choices, but Ryou's clothing now appears more deliberately selected rather than thrown together like it was in high school – although, he's still wearing his trench coat, but it actually goes with the rest of his getup. He's also wearing combat boots, and… a choker, and… makeup? Did he always wear that? Akira's not sure why, but this realization makes something in his gut twist.

If he didn't know any better, he'd almost say Ryou looked…

Akira aborts that train of thought just short of the word pretty. He's not sure where that came from, but he's fairly certain that that's not something you normally think when you've been reunited with a long-term friend.

"...Akira?" Ryou tilts his head to the side.

"Huh? O-oh, sorry, I must've spaced out again," Akira realizes with a tinge of embarrassment.

Ryou chuckles, "You're not that much different, either."

Miki rolls her eyes, "Anyways, we gotta go,” she backs her way towards the bus stop sign, and stops, spinning around towards Akira, “... Aren’t you coming?”

"Where are you headed? Ryou asks.

"Oh, we're going back to Miki's house for the afternoon. Do you want to come with us?"

Akira can hear Miki’s groan all the way from down the sidewalk.

“What?!”

“Nothing!” Miki shouts back. She grumbles again, still waiting for him to come over to her.

"Hmm. I did have other plans, but I think I can rearrange my schedule," Ryou says apathetically, "Though, I'm not sure if I'm welcome to join."

Akira shrugs, "She'll get over it."

“I can hear you!”

"Good!"

"Do you still live with her?" Ryou asks.

"No, I live in a dorm here. We were going to take the bus."

"I can drive you if you want. It'll be faster."

Miki perks up, "You have a car? Oh thank god,” she hurries back over to them, "I can't stand these fucking buses- wait. Is it actually your car?" She squints at him.

"As opposed to…?"

She raises an eyebrow, hands on her hips, “Ohhhh , I don’t know… some car you stole. Oh, sorry, 'found'. Like, ya know… what you did sophomore year?”

"I'm surprised you remember that."

“... ‘Cause I caught you in the parking lot? Multiple times? I thought that was why you dropped out, ‘cause you got arrested for it.”

"I didn't drop out," Ryou says again, "and I didn't get arrested, either. It's their own fault for having poor vehicle security."

"You broke open the window ofat leastone of them."

"Poor vehicle security."

"You didn't even have a license at the time."

"Maybe not for the first one."

"So you admit to doing it! More than once!"

"Can you guys stop bickering? Seriously, you've been together what, five minutes?" Akira sighs.

"Anyways," Ryou continues, "I paid for this car, if that's what you're asking. The title is under my dad's name. Unless you'd rather deal with public transit…"

"Fine, we'll take your car," Miki says, "but I call shotgun."

"Who says you get shotgun?" Akira asks.

"Me."

Ryou shrugs and turns around to walk in the opposite direction, before pausing and looking over his shoulder at Akira, "Are you coming?"

"Oh, yeah," Akira quickly catches up with him with Miki close behind.

"So," Miki says, "if you didn't quote unquote ‘drop out’, what have you even been doing the past few years? More importantly, why are you here?"

"High school was boring. I got my GED and used my SAT score to get into college that fall. Got my bachelor's degree last semester, and now I'm here for grad school."

"Grad school?" Akira repeats, surprised but impressed, "You're even younger than us…"

Ryou seems a little annoyed by that comment, "Not by that much."

"And here I thought you just flunked out," Miki adds, “Unfortunate.”

"Miki, you've got no room to talk. You failed algebra three times."

“So? I took another math class and got out of it.”

“How?”

“What do you mean, how?

Akira stops, looking at her, “That’s the lowest level math… you need it… for other math classes. How did you just take another one?”

“It’s called lying.”

"..."

"What!? I don’t need it for my major. It’s stupid gen ed shit."

"And yet," Ryou says, "You don't understand why I left high school."

"I didn't say I didn't understand, I just said I assumed you failed. You never did any of your homework and were always sneaking off to do whatever and dragging Akira with you. I'm surprised he managed to pass."

“Why do you guys have to do this? And also, hey! I did just fine in high school! You also almost failed math there, too.”

“But I didn’t.”

Akira rolls his eyes and turns back to Ryou, "I'm kind of surprised you'd want to do more school if you hated it that much."

"It's different when it's something I'm actually interested in."

"What are you studying, anyways?"

"Philosophy."

“What,” Miki smirks, “philosophy of being a stoned asshole? Is that what your thesis is going over?”

"Is that what counts as an insult?"

“Again, can you guys stop for like, two minutes?”

"And," Ryou continues, "for the record, I'm actually sober right now."

“Bullshit. No one sober pulls out a gun, on a college campus, in broad daylight.”

"You can't say so for certain. Did I ever do that stoned?"

"It wouldn't surprise me if you had."

“That was less than two minutes.” Akira adds, sounding exasperated.

"What are you majoring in, Akira?" Ryou asks, now pointedly looking away from Miki.

Miki speaks before Akira can open his mouth, “Journalism.”

“Oh, you must be the reporter who pulled the knife on that board member. I heard the name 'Makimura' and had to wonder.”

“I. DID. NOT. HAVE. MY. KNIFE. OUT.”

Board member?!”

Miki waves Akira off, “He was low-ranking. And what, I’m not expelled, am I? Nothing happened, god.”

"Amazing how little I care," Ryou says, prompting Miki to flip him off. "And I believe I was talking to Akira," he continues, unphased, "so, what is your major?"

"Computer science. I kinda want to work in robotics."

"I can see you doing that; it's a growing field and you'd probably be good at it," Ryou smiles at him.

"Oh, uh, it's... not that impressive," Akira says modestly, "but thanks."

Miki snickers. Ryou shoots her a look, but she only winks in response. He narrows his eyes from behind his sunglasses.

They soon reach the end of the sidewalk and turn into one of the student parking lots. Ryou leads them through the rows of cars until they come up on a flashy red sports car. It's a bit of an older model, but still in good condition, save for a few scratches here and there.

"Woah, cool," Akira remarks.

“Of course you’d drive this kind of car,” Miki mutters, then sees Akira rushing towards the front seat, "Hey! I called shotgun!"

She tries to grab hold of his arm but he dodges, slips into the car, and quickly buckles his seatbelt, grinning at her.

"Asshole."

"Hey, it's not my fault you're slow."

Miki opens the back door and plops down, sulking, as Ryou gets into the driver's seat.

"I only let you win because it's your birthday," Miki huffs, trying to justify her losing.

“Uh-huh.”

"Oh, that's right," Ryou says thoughtfully as he turns his keys into the ignition, "that is today, isn't it?"

"Huh? Yeah, it is. We're going to Miki's place for my… ‘surprise’ or whatever. You remember how to get there, right?"

"Yes, assuming nothing major has changed. Also, that sounds ominous."

"That's what I keep saying. Oh yeah, what were you on your way to do, anyways? Before you ran into us."

"Oh, that. I was just going to the library to work on a research paper," Ryou admits.

"What? Ryou actually does his homework now?" Miki teases from the back seat.

“Shut up, Makimura.”

Miki starts to retaliate, but Ryou quickly turns on the radio and cranks up the volume, drowning out her words. She closes her mouth and folds her arms over her chest. Ryou can barely hear her say something like "real mature", and laughs in response.

Amused, Akira shakes his head, thinking how lucky he was to have run into Ryou again. Their dynamic fell back into place so quickly that it was almost as if he'd never left at all.

 


 

After a relatively short drive, Ryou pulls the car into a familiar neighborhood, navigating the streets easily until rolling to a stop in front of Miki's driveway. Before the other two have much time to react, Miki hops out of the car and rushes into the house without a word. Ryou and Akira exchange confused looks, but a moment later the garage door it lifting up with Miki behind it.

"Happy birthday!!" She says, grinning and throwing her hands above her head. Next to her is a sleek, black motorcycle with red accents, and a pink present bow haphazardly slapped onto the seat. She gestures outwards with her hands, “Ta-da!”

Akira blinks in disbelief, mouth hanging open slightly. He takes a moment to process before speaking, "Is that… for me?"

"No, it's for Tare,” Miki says, shaking her head. She points back at the motorcycle, “Yes it's for you, you dumb shit. You've talked about wanting one for years. It's mostly from my parents, but I’m the one who picked it out. So thank me. The bow was also my idea."

"I figured that much. Just… wow. It's a Suzuki, too… You guys really didn't have to-"

"But we did. So don't do that thing you do where you act all modest and shit."

Akira laughs, "Okay, okay. Thank you guys, though, seriously. I'm not sure what to say."

"Wanna try it out?" Miki grins at him. She walks over to the table near the wall where two helmets lay and picks up one in each hand.

“Huh?”

Miki tosses one over to him, clicking on her own, “The motorcycle, dipshit. Come on, we can go around the block.” She grabs the keys on the table too, hoping on the back of the seat, “Get on and drive it, doofus.”

“Oh, right,” He says finally, putting on the helmet in his hands. He grabs the bow off the seat and tosses it to the side, then swings his leg over the bike and situates himself. He grips onto the handles, taking a moment to appreciate how cool it feels to not only ride one of these but actually own one. It's not long before his excitement overtakes his awe, and he revs the engine, flips up the kickstand with his ankle, and accelerates down the driveway, passing Ryou on the way out.

Miki hollers as they drive down the street, wrapping her arms around Akira’s waist. At the last moment, she turns behind them remembering Ryou was there. Though they’re getting farther away, Miki is sure she sees him giving her the biggest death glare he has ever given her in the years she has known him. And that’s even behind his “I’m-not-high” sunglasses. She wants to laugh at his own petty jealousy, before picking up something else… something glinting… on his right ear. And that is something Miki is sure he did not have in high school. She quickly turns to face forward, hiding her laughter, and the fact that Akira didn’t notice makes it extra funny.

That really wasn’t much of a surprise.

After a quick run around the block, they pull back up to the driveway, Ryou backs up into the grass, trying to look aloof. Like he didn’t just try to one shot kill Miki via glaring. She pulls off her helmet, shaking her hair out before sliding down off the seat. Part of her is tempted to pass the helmet onto him, but waits.

Miki nudges Akira, giving a quick glance over towards Ryou, “So? What’d you think? Didn’t I pick out a good bike?”

"Oh my god, that was so awesome," Akira beams, then notices Ryou staring, "Did you want to go?"

Ryou looks startled at being directly addressed, "No. I'm fine."

“Aw,” Miki says, faking sympathy, “Do you have to do your homework?”

"Yes, actually. It's due tomorrow morning at eight."

“You? Taking a morning class?” Miki laughs.

“Attendance is required. Unfortunately. I'm glad my academic career amuses you so much.”

“Almost as much as your pathetic love life,” Miki says under her breath.

"What?" Akira says.

"Nothing," Miki replies. Ryou scowls and turns to leave.

"Oh! Wait, Ryou," Akira reaches out and grabs his shoulder, "You should come to my party this weekend. I mean, it's not much of a 'party', but I'm getting together with some friends!"

"When is it?" Ryou asks, trying to sound disinterested.

"At my dorm, on Saturday, probably starting around six-ish? Also, we should exchange numbers so we can keep in touch."

"R-right," he falters slightly at the suggestion, but quickly regains his composure, "I'll give you mine. Do you have a pen?"

He really hasn’t changed, Miki thinks, setting her helmet on the motorcycle seat.

 


 

A few days later, Ryou finds himself walking up to Akira's dorm building. He's really not sure what he's doing, and he really wishes he had some sort of guide for situations like this. Akira will be there, obviously, but he's barely had time to reconnect with him, and even though they seemed to have gotten along just the same as before, part of him is concerned about what will be different.

But, it's still Akira, right? He's always understood Ryou, even when others didn't. Even though Ryou has gotten along fine without him, there was more than one instance over the past four years that Ryou found himself wishing Akira had been there to translate for him. Or just been there in general. But now that he is back, Ryou somehow feels even more lost than before.

Ryou exhales slowly then walks up the front steps and enters into the dorm lobby. He tries to remember where Akira said they would be specifically, but, thankfully, he quickly spots him and a few other people sitting in one of the lounge rooms. Akira notices him, too, and waves him over.

Miki, who initially situated herself on a loveseat, looks over at him and groans. She gets up and makes her way towards a table with drinks on it. Ryou narrows his eyes, but decides to ignore her for the time being.

Instead, he approaches Akira directly.

"Ryou!" Akira says cheerfully, "I'm really glad you could make it; I was starting to think you might not come."

"I said I would, didn't I?"

"Well, yeah, but it's nearly seven. I wondered if you'd gotten lost or something."

“I’m surprised you didn’t show up high,” Miki says, coming back over to the loveseat and taking a long sip of her drink.

Ryou almost wishes he had shown up high; it'd certainly be easier to deal with than his current state of mind. Still, he doesn't want to give Miki the satisfaction of acknowledging her commentary. He hopes the drinks are alcoholic.

"What's in there?" Akira asks, gesturing towards the soft package Ryou realizes he's been gripping onto far too tightly.

"Oh," Ryou loosens his grasp and holds it out to Akira, "it's for you. I thought I should get you something."

"Really? This is great, thanks!"

"You haven't even opened it yet."

Miki snorts and mumbles under her breath, typical.

"I'm just happy you got me something in the first place. You didn't have to."

"I know, but I wanted to."

Akira takes the package from Ryou. It has more weight to it than he expected, Akira notes as he carefully tears off the top of it. As he sets to opening it, Ryou steals a quick glance at Miki, who looks at him puzzled, taking another sip. Akira reaches in and pulls out something smooth and black, which he unfolds to reveal a high-quality leather jacket.

"I was just thinking that since you got that bike, you might want one to wear while you ride it," Ryou starts, eyes flicking over to Miki again but then snapping back to Akira, "But I wasn't entirely sure on your size or if it would be something that you would like in the first place-"

Miki makes a loud choking sound and coughs up her drink.

Akira turns to look over at her, “You okay Miki?”

She swallows, holding a hand to her lips, “Y-yeah,” Her voice trembling, “Sorry, give me one second.”

Miki gets up from the chair, running into the hallway and, once making sure no one can hear her, bursts out laughing.

This is too rich. This is pure gold. He went out of his way to purposefully one-up her gift. Because… he’s jealousof her?

Holy shit, Miki thinks, having to clutch her stomach from holding back the laughter, He hasn’t changed at all.

Once she’s recovered, Miki leans against the wall, taking in a moment to fully appreciate the fact that Ryou Asuka is fucking jealous of her, and bought a gift to one-up her. Not that she doesn’t find the competition exciting, but it’s not even something she’d ever want to compete for. Miki would never even consider that, it’s entirely out of the question.

What a weirdo, Miki remarks and makes her way back to the party. Before she enters, she stops and listens for any more juicy bits that she could use later on.

“... Is she coming back?” A voice that’s definitely not Akira or Ryou asks.

“Huh?” A voice that is definitely Akira answers.

“The girl that ran out…”

“Oh? Miki? Yeah probably. Why?” Akira tells the girl.

Suddenly her voice gets really nervous, “Y-you know her?”

“Yeah, I’ve known her since we were kids.”

“That’s… that’s… that’s the cute girl I was telling you about,” She says, entirely in a panicked wheeze, "the one that I see in the library sometimes. The one that keeps smiling at me."

“Oh. Really? I mean I can give you her num-”

“NO!”

Miki shuffles back down the hallway and giggles. So now she apparently has a secret admirer. And it’s probably that cute girl with the hat.

She waits until the girl stops making frightened animal noises to make her way back into the room. People seem to have settled more into the seating arrangement, with Ryou having taken her place in the loveseat next to Akira, and the girl in the hat and two of Akira's other classmates sitting on the adjacent sofa and chairs. Miki nonchalantly makes her way to sit next to hat girl, who makes a stifled choking sound in response. Yup, it's definitely her.

“Hi,” Miki says casually, trying not to smirk.

The girl recovers and totally puts on a cover, “Oh. Hi.” She coughs and clears her throat.

“I don't think we've met before; I'm Miki," she keeps her tone deliberately even, but with a hint of flirtation.

“Oh,” The girl says, obviously feigning that she didn’t just hear that, “Uh, Mikiko… but you can just call me Miko.” She adds, fiddling with the scarf around her neck.

"Cute nickname! It suits you," Miki watches as the poorly thrown together tough facade falls apart in two seconds.

Clearly reading the situation, Ryou looks at Miki with an unamused expression. This time, she's the one to ignore him.

Ryou shakes his head and turns back to Akira, who's laughing with the guy on the sofa over something Ryou must've missed. The TV in the room is turned onto some sitcom, which isn't particularly funny but it's something to focus on that isn't the fact that Ryou feels completely out of place here. There are only six people, including himself, so it's not too hard to deal with, but he really just wants to talk to Akira alone.

He takes a drink from his cup — which, unfortunately, has an alcohol level of zero. Though, he can't say he's surprised Akira doesn't drink — and tunes back into the conversation. Miki is still flirting with the helpless girl sitting next to her. The other attendees, apart from Akira and himself, are a nerdy-looking guy that he assumes is Akira's roommate, and a girl with glasses who Ryou thinks he might share a class with, but he's never spoken to her directly.

Overall, none of them seem like the type who would typically hang out with each other. What is this, the Breakfast Club? Ryou thinks. He never liked that movie anyways.

Akira does his best to include Ryou in the conversation, and Ryou does his best to participate as little as possible.

Soon enough, the pizzas they ordered show up and it gives him an excuse not to talk to anyone for awhile. Unfortunately, the food is plowed through quickly, and then it's back to everyone talking and laughing about people and things that Ryou doesn't know or care about.

After what feels like forever, ten o'clock rolls around and the guy at the front desk pops his head in to tell them that the room is closing and to please clean up and move somewhere else.

"I guess it's about that time," Akira says, standing to collect the pizza boxes off the table in front of them, "We can find somewhere else to hang out if you guys want to."

"I would, but I have a lot of homework I have to do this weekend," the girl in glasses says, "So I think I'll just head back to my apartment. Thank you for inviting me, though; it was fun."

“Ditto on that actually… I should probably get going,” Miko agrees, quickly getting up.

His roommate stands too, "I guess if everyone else is leaving I'll head back up to the room. Later."

"Damn," Akira sounds a bit disappointed, "Miki?"

"Hmm…" Miki considers for a moment, giving a one look over to Ryou and smirking. Ryou eyes her suspiciously. "Eh, I might as well head home, too," she shrugs, deciding that it's not worth it to antagonize Ryou any more than she has at this point. Besides, she's curious to see where this goes.

Fucking finally, Ryou thinks, and tries not to let his relief show.

"Aw, alright," Akira says, "I'll see you on Monday, then."

"Later!” Miki calls back as she heads towards the door. She looks behind her one last time, snickering at the both of them, and exits the room.

"Are you also going to go home, Ryou?"

"I can… stay for awhile longer. I've actually been waiting for a chance to talk to you. Alone, I mean."

Akira looks puzzled, "Is something wrong?"

"No, everything's fine."

"Is it because of Miko and everyone? Sorry, I wasn't thinking about how you get nervous around people you don't know."

Ryou's eyebrow twitches in annoyance, "I wasn't nervous. I just feel like we haven't had much time to catch up."

Akira knows that he's lying, and Ryou knows that Akira knows that he's lying, but Akira decides not to press the issue. Instead, he gathers up the rest of the leftover food, chunks it into the trash can, and then says, "We've got time now; is there anything specific you wanted to talk about?"

"I guess not, but…" he hesitates, "...I did have something else to give you."

"Oh, you really didn't have to get me anything else-”

"Miki was right. That is always your response."

"Heh, if she heard you say that, you'd never hear the end of it."

"Which is why I'd never say it to her face. Anyways, it was too awkward to carry it all the way inside, so I just left it out in my car," Ryou explains as he begins walking towards the exit. Akira follows behind him curiously.

They get to the car a minute or so later, and Ryou turns his key into the trunk, clicking it open. Sitting inside is one of the nicest cassette players that Akira has ever seen, complete with a built-in radio and recording system. He sees what Ryou meant about it being awkward to carry, though; it's not huge or heavy but it's larger than what would probably be comfortable.

"Think of it like making up for lost time," Ryou says.

"Don't get me wrong, Ryou, this stuff is really awesome…" Akira starts. Ryou is suddenly concerned that this might have been a mistake, but, to his surprise, Akira wraps his arms around him and pulls him into a tight hug. He tenses for a moment, but then relaxes and tentatively returns the gesture.

Akira continues, smiling at him, "But getting to see my best friend again was the best gift you could've given me."

Chapter Text

There were many, many things Masami had witnessed as an undergrad that had practically made her immune to any weird shit happening. For example, a guy walking around with a plant on his head — appropriately nicknamed "plant guy" — on campus all hours of the day absolutely did not phase her.

Now, as a grad student, she should have expected to see less shenanigans from classmates. Really should have. But of course, with her luck, someone had to do something.

That something was in her 8 a.m. ethics class. It should not have surprised Masami that the blond guy who always looked like he was functioning on two hours of sleep — or just really high, possibly both — and always came about thirty minutes late to class, barely awake, would pull something like this.

When he walks into class this time — only ten minutes late — and, looking at him again, she thinks he might be the guy who also showed up to Akira’s birthday on Saturday. Masami can’t really tell from where she sits in the corner of the lecture hall.

The TA is talking still, but she’s intrigued when the guy pulls something from his coat… some sort of energy drink? Whatever it is, he sets it down on the table in front of him.

In his hand is a coffee cup, steam still pouring off the top. He puts it next to the energy drink and finally sits down. Blond guy seems to notice her watching and turns to look directly at her, face expressionless. Masami raises an eyebrow but puts her attention back to the TA speaking.

She glances back in the direction of blond guy again, out of habit since he’s been sort of the most entertaining thing in this class so far, and sees he’s still staring at her. Masami blinks but watches as the guy, still unreadable, opens the can of the energy drink and dumps the entire thing into the coffee cup.

Masami opens her mouth in horror, but says nothing.

He only smirks at her before downing the whole thing in one go, refusing to break eye contact. The guy sets it back down on the table and continues looking at her. Masami turns the other way, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes.

How is this guy still alive?

Ryou stifles a laugh as he turns his attention away from the girl across class. As he thought, she's definitely the same person as was at Akira's party.

The unpleasant aftertaste of his coffee / taurine abomination is fading slowly from his mouth, but it should hopefully be enough to combat his sleep deprivation. If it hadn't been a complete assault on his senses, he would applaud himself for his creativity. Honestly, the only thing that had kept him from immediately spitting it back into the cup was the fact that the girl had been watching him and, well, he's not one to turn down a challenge.

That being said, he is not going to be doing that again any time soon.

The rest of the lecture proceeds as normal. Ryou pays enough attention to get the gist of the presentation and to jot down the pages of the textbook he'll need to read later. Eventually, eight fifty rolls around and the class is dismissed, so Ryou shoves his things back into his backpack, slings it over his shoulder, and exits the lecture hall.

To his surprise, he sees Akira leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. Ryou changes direction and approaches him. Akira, who seemed to have been scanning the crowd, spots him and smiles.

"Hey! I was just- holy crap, you look terrible," his expression shifts to one of concern.

"Thanks."

He apparently said it harsher than he meant to, because Akira stutters a response, "I didn't mean it like, uh… What I mean is, are you okay? You look like you haven't slept in days."

"... That's not entirely inaccurate."

"Ryou."

"I'm fine," Ryou says dismissively. "Really," he adds, reading Akira's incredulous expression. "What are you doing here, anyways?"

"Waiting on you?"

"…Why?"

"You don't remember? Back at my party, I asked when you were free this next, you said after your 8 a.m. on Monday, and we agreed to meet up."

"Oh."

Ryou wonders what the fuck he was thinking, agreeing to meet so early. Second terrible idea of the day, it seems. He mentally kicks himself from lack of foresight.

At this point, Akira perks up at something behind Ryou.

"Hey Masami!"  He says, looking over Ryou's shoulder and waving. Masami pauses on her way out and turns to look at them.

"Oh, hi, Akira," she says, "and…" her voice trails off as she makes eye contact with Ryou for the second time this morning. Her expression drops to one that is completely unimpressed, yet unsurprised. "Oh, of course. Of course you two would be friends."

Ryou's lip curls up into a half-smile.

"Huh? You already knew that. You guys met on Saturday?" Akira says, confused.

"We share this class together," Ryou explains to Akira, then looks back at Masami, "I thought you'd seemed familiar."

"I was sort of hoping you weren't the same person," Masami mumbles.

"I still feel like I'm missing something here."

"Don't worry about it," Ryou says.

“Uh… okay?”

Masami glances in the direction of the two of them and heaves a sigh before adjusting her backpack, “Nice seeing you though.” She gives a one off look to Ryou before she starts off in the other direction, and waves behind her.

About a good distance away from them, Masami starts mumbling off about how she keeps meeting "these kinds of people."

Ryou snickers.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.”

 


 

Over the next week or so, Akira finds himself spending a lot of time with Ryou. At least, it seems that way, but reflecting back it's about as often as they hung out in high school. They catch up on small things, but mostly just… hang out. Akira's okay with that, if he's honest; he missed those kind of spontaneous meetings that didn't require any lead up or follow through, and he's always been impressed by how Ryou manages to just breeze in and out of his life.

Though, he sort of wishes he wouldn't do the last one.

Speaking of which, he realizes it's been a few days since he last heard from him. Akira had tried to call him twice the night before, but it'd gone straight to voicemail both times. Maybe he should try again today?

He goes down into the common area to use the dorm phone again, thinking that since it's significantly past noon, Ryou will probably be awake; he's not completely nocturnal. He punches in Ryou's number and waits.

After a few rings, a groggy voice answers the call, "Hello?"

"Ryou? It's Akira."

"Oh. Hey."

"Did you just wake up?"

"Maybe?"

"You sound unsure about that."

"I'll be honest, I don't really remember falling asleep."

Akira furrows his brow for a moment, then sighs, "Are you high right now?"

"Not anymore, I don't think." He's slowly sounding more coherent, but is obviously not completely there yet.

"What did you do?"

"Hmm… so, there's an algebraic property, where if you add something to the opposite of itself, it balances to zero, right?"

"Yeah…?"

"And I assume you're familiar with those cold medications, DayQuil and NyQuil?"

"I don't follow."

"Well, I was high, last night, and had the idea to mix the two together to see if it would cancel out the effects of both medications. Needless to say, it didn't."

"Ryou."

"I think it amplified both of them, actually. But I can't really count any of that data as accurate because, I was… you know. Under their influence."

"Ryou."

"Relax, nothing happened. Not that I can remember, anyways."

"That's reassuring."

"As far as I can tell, I just passed out in the living room and had some fucked up dream that I'd been captured by this guy who amputated my arms and legs and forced me to be his dog-slash-sex slave."

"His what?"

"Also you were there, but you were really big and ugly."

"Uh."

"But that's not even the worst part."

"Jesus, what's worse than being a sex slave?"

"I was dating Miki."

"That… that seems kind of tame in comparison."

"No, trust me, it was worse. Also she was a dog, too."

"Ryou… why… why are you like this?"

"I didn't choose to dream it."

"You chose everything that lead up to dreaming it. I'd say it's karma."

"Okay, fine. I'll give you that. What did you dream about?"

"Oh, uh… I dreamt that I had sex with this android chick or something? It was kinda hot."

"..."

"...Ryou? Are you still there?"

Click.

Ryou drops the phone into the receiver and lies back down on the couch, pressing his palms against his face and groaning into them. He can't believe Akira has the nerve to judge him when he goes around saying shit like that. Lying down feels nice, though. He doesn't know how much NyQuil was in the bottle before, but there's none in it now, and he's pretty sure he's still feeling its effects. Maybe he'll just go back to sleep.

Before Ryou is able to doze off again, he hears the unmistakable sound of a collar jingling and paws bounding across the hardwood floor, and, before he has time to react, he's having the wind knocked out of him by a large mass of fur landing squarely on his stomach.

"John," he wheezes, "get off of me."

Blatantly ignoring Ryou's pleas, John barks and wags his tag excitedly, then lies down on top of him, burying his snout between Ryou's shoulder and the back of the couch. Ryou, catching his breath, sighs in defeat and reaches up with his untrapped hand to scratch him behind the ear.

Ryou hears a second set of footsteps approaching – human this time. He lifts his head up to see his father coming into the room.

"I thought I'd heard your voice," Dr. Asuka says, "Shouldn't you be in class?"

Ryou groans again.

"Alright, I won't ask," he continues, eyeing the empty bottles on the coffee table, "but you really should be more mindful of when you're going to get stoned and… conduct experiments."

"You say that every time," Ryou grumbles.

"Maybe you should listen, then," he laughs. Ryou rolls his eyes and continues petting John, whose tail is thumping loudly against the couch.

"Were you on the phone just now?" Dr. Asuka inquires.

"Yeah."

"That's unusual; who were you talking to?"

"...Akira."

"Akira? Oh! You mean your friend from grade school?"

"Yeah."

"You haven't really seen him since high school, have you?"

"He goes to my college, apparently."

"How's he been doing? He was always such a good kid."

Ryou is getting a little annoyed by all of this badgering. "He's fine."

"You would always get so excited to see him. Your mom and I had been really worried about you making friends, but I remember you came home from school one day and announced that you had a best friend and that he was the nicest boy in the world–"

"Dad!" Ryou bolts upright, face burning, and startles John off of his lap.

"–and then when you were a teenager you'd get so flustered whenever anyone asked you about him–"

"STOP." Ryou brings his knees up to his chest and hides his face in them.

"–just like you are now."

"Fuck off. Don't you have anything better to do than harass me?"

"Hmm…" Dr. Asuka feigns contemplating the question, "Nope."

"Aren't you supposed to be working on those findings from South America?"

"I've been going over the data all morning, but I can't seem to wrap my head around it. I'm taking a break so I can go back and look at it with a fresh perspective. Besides, I hardly see you now, so I have to get in what I can."

"You really don't." Ryou lowers his legs and shifts his position so that he's sitting with his back against the couch, looking directly at his father with his arms folded over his chest. "What's so weird about the data anyways?"

Dr. Asuka adjusts his glasses, "Well, we've been looking at the remains we found, and it's just very… inconsistent. They don't match any known species, and they don't match each other, either. Even stranger, there seems to be different DNA within the same organism."

"Different DNA? Maybe they just fossilized on top of one another?"

"That was my first thought, but, from the looks of it, it would have had to have fused together while it was still alive."

"Is that even possible?"

"That's what we're trying to figure out. If that's the case, then this could potentially change everything we know about evolution. No two organisms are at all alike, and each possesses fused DNA from entirely different species. We even found what looks like plant cells in one of them."

"Maybe it's aliens," Ryou suggests sarcastically.

"Maybe," Dr. Asuka laughs, "Though, that's a better explanation than anything we've been able to come up with. I feel like I'm missing something, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is."

"Sir," a calm voice speaks, causing both Asukas to jump. There is suddenly a woman in the room, and Ryou is pretty sure he never saw her walk in.

"Christ, Jenny, don't do that to me," Dr. Asuka clutches his chest, "You almost gave me a heart attack." The woman smiles in response, showing more teeth than what is probably normal.

"What is the status of your report?" She asks smoothly.

"I guess that's your way of telling me to get back to work, huh?" he scratches his neck, then turns back to Ryou. "Don't get intotoo much trouble. And go to class tomorrow," he adds as he heads back down the hallway. John leaps off the couch to trot after him.

Ryou shrugs.

Jenny stares at Ryou with an unreadable expression for what feels like a solid minute, then turns to walk out herself. Ryou blinks a few times as he watches her leave.

He gets the feeling there was more to that than the surface-level discomfort, but it's not the first time she's done something like this. She's been working for his dad as long as he can remember, and Ryou's always sensed something off about her. Maybe it's the fact she doesn't ever seem to age, or how it seems like he never notices her until she wants to be, or how sometimes she'll just stare at him. It's not threatening or predatory, but Ryou still finds it a little unnerving.

Sometimes he wishes his dad would find a new secretary.

 


 

“So, do you just exclusively listen to music on vinyl?” Akira says, flipping through Miko’s record crate.

“I listen to the radio! Sometimes…” Miko remarks from her bed, “And I like collecting them anyways.”

“You perpetually live in the 70's, Miko.”

Miko opens her mouth to retort, but glances around the dorm, which is full of various floral posters, fake plants, and a record player surrounded by crystals pushed into corner of the window sill.

“... Anyways,” she quickly changes the subject, “Why did you want to look through my music?”

“Oh!” Akira turns to face her, “I was making a mixtape for Ryou. It’s a thank you for the radio he got me. I wanted to know if you had any suggestions for what I should put on it.”

“Suggestions from me?

“Yeah,” Akira says, “I think the two of you listen to really out there music.”

“Uh,” Miko hops off her bed, crossing her way towards the desk, and puts her hands on her hips, “Well… Any specific genres you were looking for?  I don’t think I really own any albums that Ryou would be into…” she pauses for a moment, and goes to flick through the records, “I don’t really know him all that well... but he seems like he’d be into new wave stuff,” She laughs,  “He’s got the right sunglasses for it. Sadly, I don’t have any music like that.”

“You… can tell a person’s music taste just by looking at them?”

Miko glances at him and turns back to the records, “Akira. I can easily tell you listen to rock music.”

“How?”

Miko continues flipping through her albums.

“By the way, if you’re going suggest a Fleetwood Mac song-” Akira starts.

“Who said I was going to suggest a Fleetwood Mac song?”

“You own all their albums on vinyl.”

“I listen to other stuff!” Miko says, puffing out her cheeks.

Akira shoves her over and goes through the crate, “Hm… let’s see. Rumours , Tusk , Tango in the Night , Behind the Mask-”

Miko groans and pushes him away from her desk, “I have other music!”

“Like?”

She pauses, “I… have some of… Stevie… Nick’s-”

“Wasn’t she apart of Fleetwood Mac?”

“L-Lindsay Buckin-”

“Also apart of Fleetwood Mac.”

Miko makes a noise and moves away from the crate, sitting back on her bed. Akira laughs, and takes his time looking through the Fleetwood Mac box.

“Oh wow, there’s a Patti Smith album, no surprise there.”

“Hey! Stop judging my music tastes. You exclusively listen to Nirvana.”

“No I don’t!” He stops and turns to face her.

“Then don’t say I exclusively listen to Fleetwood Mac!”

Akira sighs, “Okay. Fine. I’ll let you suggest one Fleetwood Mac song.”

“Hm…  Okay. Lemme think…” Miko says, leaning forward, “Uh. Oh!” She snaps her fingers “‘Over My Head’.”

“Isn’t that a love song?”

“Yeah? Isn’t this for Ryou?”

“What… what do you mean?”

Miko laughs, “Akira. You’re making him a mixtape.”

“I don’t… follow? Why are you suggesting a love song?”

“Never… never mind.”

“Well,” Akira says, “I’ll take it into consideration, but I don’t think it’s gonna fit.”

“It might… who knows.” Miko adjusts her hat while glancing at her door, noting a sound in the hallway. Distant muttering can be heard, with something about how unfair their RA is.

Miko raises an eyebrow, “Are my neighbors still complaining about the curfew change?”

“Curfew change?”

Miko nods, standing up again to pull a piece of paper off her desk, “Yeah. Our RA had a floor meeting the other day and gave us this,” Akira takes it from her, “Apparently the dorms aren’t closing at 11 p.m. anymore? Said we have to be back by 9 p.m. or we have to use our night pass. Didn’t your RA have that talk with you guys?”

“No? Ours is still open until 11.”

“Huh. Weird.” Miko grabs it back from him, “I wonder why it’s just my dorm…”

“Maybe they trust the engineering nerds to stay in their rooms all day.”

“Hey!” Miko says grabbing the stuffed bear on her desk and chunking at his face.

“Ow.” Akira rubs at his cheek.

Miko pouts and picks up the plushie on the floor, “We’re both STEM majors, you can’t say shit to me.” She slams the bear back in its original spot.

“... Fair.” Akira remarks.

 


 

“Oh,” Miki says, putting a hand to her chest, having to set down her fork, “You want my suggestions in music? But I thought you thought you were too goodfor pop music.” She adds a little too loudly.

A couple people a table over from them, take a glance before going back to their own food. Miki only winks and turns back to Akira.

“So, what suits your fancy? Or are you planning on changing your mind, Mister I-blast-the-hell-out-of-Talking-Heads?”

“Are you going to give me shit or are you going to suggest something for me?” He says, tiredly.

“Both.”

Akira sighs, “You always give me shit.”

Miki shrugs, taking a bite of her salad, “You’re the one who wanted to get lunch with me.”

“Anyways…” He tries to distract her from going off on another rant, “...suggestions?”

“Well, you said this was for Ryou right?” Miki asks, twirling the straw in her soda.

“Yeah.”

She takes a sip, carefully thinking, “So, what kinda songs you lookin’ for?” Miki adds another wink.

“You better not suggest me a bunch of Madonna songs.”

Miki shoves her drink to the side of the table, “You. Do not. Appreciate. Her musical talents. I’ll suggest all the Madonna songs I want.”

Akira raises an eyebrow. Miki reaches out for her cup, but makes no motion to drink it, only staring him down.

“God, okay fine, one Madonna song.”

She sets her soda back on the table, “You’re in luck! I got a good one.”

“Which is…?”

“‘Live to Tell.’”

Akira stares at her for a moment and says, “Isn’t… that a love song?”

“Yeah…?” Miki looks around, crossing her arms, “What’s wrong with that? You’re making R-” She stops suddenly, “Never mind, never mind.”

“Huh?”

She waves him off, “It’s nothing.” Miki turns back to her food, but then stops, “... Oh. I got another one… And it’s not Madonna; don’t give me that look. It’s Blondie.” She points her fork directly at him, “‘Heart of Glass’.”

“What is with you and Miko suggesting love songs?!”

Miki nearly drops her fork, quick to cover her mouth.

“What?!”

“Nothing, nothing.” She says finally, moving her hand, “What’d Miko suggest?”  

“Uh. ‘Over My Head’. That one Fleetwood Mac song?”

“Of course she’d suggest Fleetwood Mac,” Miki remarks, stifling a laugh, “But. Okay, like, her suggestion is better than mine. She wins.”

“What?”

“... Nothing,” Miki says again, almost sing-songing.

Miki turns back to her salad, and pauses. Expression suddenly turning dark, “By the way… seen any serial killers by the comp sci building?” She smirks.

“What?”

“You didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”

“Of course you wouldn’t…” Miki sighs, “... but someone got murdered near the woods… I think near the comp sci building too…” She adds, leaning forward.

“You’re… you’re joking right?”

“Would I ever joke about a murder?”

“You’ve said a lot of shit to scare me in the past fifteen years,” Akira says, trying to not visibly show he’s nervous.

“Well, it’s true. Someone got murdered… right by the comp sci building… They might strike again.”

“... No they won’t!”

“Why, are you so scared?”

“I’m not!”

“Uh-huh,” Miki says with a roll of her eyes, “Who knows… maybe they’re targeting STEM nerds… this is payback for being good at math.”

“Shut up Miki!”

 


 

"...Why would someone get murdered by the comp sci building?" Ryou asks, shooting a skeptical look at Akira as he lights up his cigarette.

Currently, the two of them are sitting in Ryou's car, which is parked on the side of the road overlooking the foothills. It's early evening, and the sky is still mostly blue, but there are hints of colour coming up over the horizon. The only sounds apart from them talking is the general ambiance of the forest around them, and the low music playing off of the car speakers.

"Miki said-" Akira starts, but Ryou makes a face and cuts him off.

"And you believed her? No one got murdered on campus, moron. If they had, there'd be police and investigators everywhere. She was just saying that to scare you."

"Oh, yeah, I guess you're right…" Akira looks down.

"They got murdered out here."

"What!?" Akira jumps, gripping the door handle behind him.

"Yeah, it's true that some freshman got killed in the woods, not too far from my house. They found the body all mangled and shit, but it didn't look like regular animal attack. I saw the police come and take it out, but I couldn't get a good look at it from where I was."

"Y-you're just joking, too, right?"

"I'm not. It's fucked up, right? I think it happened around this area, actually."

"Is that why you stopped here!?"

"Yeah. I wanted to see if anything else would happen."

"You drove all the way out here to see if a murder would take place? I thought it was because it was nice outside…"

Ryou shrugs, "I had nothing better to do. And I like being in the woods; it's calming."

"Not when there's a potential murderer on the loose! Why did you ask me to come with you anyways?" Akira sounds a bit panicked.

"Well, I didn't want to do it alone."

"I swear to god Ryou, if you get me killed because of this…"

"Don't worry; I'm armed."

"That doesn't make me feel any safer."

"Akira, relax. I'm just fucking with you," Ryou pauses, "About looking for the murderer, I mean; I really am armed. Still, nothing's going to happen. It was probably just a rabid animal, not some horror movie villain."

"They're restricting the curfews on the dorms, though."

"It seems like an overreaction, if you ask me. I'm intrigued by the peculiarity of it, yes, but there's probably a logical explanation somewhere. I doubt this was done by a human."

"If you say so…" Akira says, unconvinced, "But even if it's an animal, it could still dangerous to be out here."

"Nothing wrong with a little excitement."

"I don't really see how this is… Nevermind. Oh, right," he says, trying to change the subject, "I have a question for you."

"Shoot."

"So, I'm making this, uh… mixtape. For a… for a friend of mine. And…" Akira is starting to think that this wasn't the best topic to jump to, because he's suddenly feeling a different kind of anxiety, "Well, I was wondering if you had any song suggestions."

"B-52's. Revolution Earth."

"Oh, I don't think I've heard that one. I like their song 'Rock Lobster' though."

"You would," Ryou smirks.

"Why is everyone making fun of my music tastes!?"

"You listen to alternative rock music almost exclusively."

"I listen to other stuff! …Sometimes. Uh… we both listen to Pink Floyd."

"There isn't anyone with decent music taste who doesn't like listen to Pink Floyd."

"Okay, true. Why that song anyways?"

Ryou shrugs, "It's stuck in my head."

"Oh."

"What, did you think there was a deeper reason for it? You didn't really give me any criteria, you just asked for a song."

"I guess I hadn't really thought of anything specific."

The conversation trails off, leaving the two of them sitting quietly for a moment. It's not an awkward silence, but it's not exactly a comfortable one, so Ryou turns up the radio to break it. Akira stares out the window, looking out into the trees and trying to ignore the creeping paranoia brought on by their earlier discussion.

After awhile, Akira registers a new sound mingling with the song that's playing. He turns back to Ryou, who is looking out the other window, and notices his mouth moving. It suddenly occurs to him that what he is hearing is Ryou singing, albeit quietly. His voice is soft and melodic, and, combined with the way the warm light is illuminating his pale features, it's almost otherworldly. Akira is transfixed.

"I didn't know you could sing," Akira says as the song fades out.

"W-what?" Ryou flinches and whips around to look at Akira, as if he hadn't been aware of what he was doing.

"You have a nice voice-"

"No I don't."

"You do! It sounds really pretty-"

"Shut up!" Ryou cringes back into the car door and covers his face with his hands.

Akira grins and pokes at him playfully, "Why are you embarrassed about it?"

"I'm not embarrassed." Ryou retorts, smacking his hand away.

"Your face is completely red."

"SHUT UP." Ryou slouches back into the seat, shoulders hunched and arms crossed, pointedly not looking at him. Akira laughs; he forgot how much fun it was to get him worked up like this.

"It's not funny," Ryou mutters.

"It's a little funny," Akira says, still grinning, "And I meant what I said about you having a nice voice."

"And I meant what I said about you shutting the fuck up before I throw you out of my car."

"Can you even lift me? I'm taller than you now."

Ryou glares at him, "Don't remind me."

The song changes again, and Akira decides to give Ryou a break by shifting his attention back to the radio, "Oh, I like this song. I haven't heard it in awhile."

"Of course you do."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"That you just proved my point about your narrow music selection."

"Hey! Don't diss Heart."

"I'm not dissing Heart, I'm dissing you," Ryou's expression softens, just enough for Akira to let his guard down, and then Ryou shoves him in the shoulder.

Akira pushes Ryou back, but overestimates his force and causes Ryou to bounce against the car horn, the sudden noise startling both of them and all of the nearby wildlife. There's a brief pause, and Akira is afraid for a second that he might have hurt him, but Ryou makes a pfft noise and bursts out laughing, completely unfiltered. Akira cracks up, too.

He'd really missed this.

Chapter Text

It's been three weeks since Akira last saw Ryou, and he's starting to get worried. Though, worried might be an understatement, and it certainly doesn’t help that someone got murdered around the time he last saw him. Right near his house.

Akira tries to keep himself from jumping to the worst possible conclusion, but Ryou hasn't even been answering his phone, let alone showing up on campus.

He’s skipped class frequently before, even in high school, and he’d usually give sparse information about his location. Akira knows where he lives, but between his lab work and homework assignments he hasn't had time to drive all the way out there; he's not sure how Ryou even handles that commute every day. Not to mention he'd feel rude showing up uninvited…

"Well," Miki says to him, adjusting her camera lense, "I heard from some higher ups that his dad hasn’t turned in any recent research reports… like. I think since the murder." Miki keeps moving up and down the hallway of the student center, clicking at random and groaning.

The intent was to return to Miki's house for her birthday preparations after she finished up some homework for her supposedly "lame-o" photo class.  While he’s excited for that, Akira can’t get Ryou off his mind.

"Ryou said there wasn't really a murder though…"

"And you'd believe him over me?" Miki sets the camera down on a table near the bench Akira’s sitting on and puts a hand to her chest.

"In sixth grade you tried to convince me that eggs weren’t real." Akira notes, sighing.

"Touché. But seriously, no one's heard from either of them since last month. Don’t they both live out in the woods?" Her tone shifts to genuine concern.

"Yeah, but like I said I haven’t been able to go…"

Miki opens her mouth to say something else, but stops, looking back at her camera. "Well, I could go with you before we head back home? I can just let mom and dad know we’re gonna be late… and I have to finish this photo set anyways." She picks her camera back up, "God. I have no idea how to do this assignment… what the fuck do they mean methodology? Stupid."

"Every single assignment for this class you have called stupid."

"Because it is stupid! The only good thing about photojournalism is the rental camera," Miki zooms in on some poster on the wall, "Anyways. Let me get a couple more shots and then we can head out."

"Thanks Miki."

"Yeah, of course."

Miki finishes up her photos finally — Akira’s never seen her put this much effort into a class she "hates" before — and starts shoving her camera back in her bag, mumbling about how her professor is a dumbass.

"Again, why are you taking this class if you think every homework assignment is dumb?" Akira asks, standing up.

Miki slings her camera bag over her shoulder, and starts making her way towards the exit at the end of the hallway, "Because I want nice enough photos for the awards so I can tell the journalism department to fuck off."

"So it’s to be petty."

"Uh," Miki says holding the door open for him, "Duh?"

Akira doesn’t press it further but rolls his eyes and goes down the steps of the student center.

"Is your motorcycle parked by your dorm?" Miki asks, waiting for him at the bottom of the steps.

"Uh, yeah. There was a parking space open for once."

"Ugh, I don't wanna walk all the way over…" her voice trails off as she leans to the side and squints at something behind Akira, "Is that Ryou?"

Akira whips around and, sure enough, there's Ryou, who is practically sprinting towards them down the sidewalk. The minute he gets within six feet of them, Miki reflexively pulls out her camera and snaps a picture, pointing the flash directly into his eyes.

"GAH!" Ryou skids to a stop in front of them and covers his face a moment too late.

"Oops, I didn’t mean to do that." Miki says nonchalantly and starts putting her camera away. Akira opens his mouth to retort, but directs his focus on Ryou, who has lowered his hands and, in place of his usual cold glare, seems genuinely pissed off. However, behind the anger, Akira picks up hints of a different emotion… Fear?

His hair is messier than normal, the circles under his eyes are dark and prominent, and he seems generally disheveled. His breathing is heavy and irregular, and, though that might be from running, he's definitely panicked about something. Yet, despite this, he seems oddly focused.

"Akira," he says between breaths, making direct eye contact, "We have to go."

"Uh… where and why?"

"No time to explain. But we have to go. Right now."

"O-okay," Akira moves to step towards him.

Miki grabs Akira's arm to stop him, "You’re seriously just gonna go with him? Without question?"

He turns to her, "It seems important."

"Uhm? What about my birthday party…? Ya know, what we were planning on going home for?" Miki stops, sighing and looks to Ryou, "Hey… by the way… if you wanted to come to the party you’re more than welcome to."

Ryou barely seems to register her comments, not shifting his attention from her hand on Akira's arm, and seeming to want to grab him himself.

Miki finally lets go of Akira and says, "Well, okay. If it’s thatimportant, I can just go wi-"

"No." Ryou cuts her off harshly, then turns back to Akira, "Are you coming or not?"

"Sorry, Miki," Akira looks at her apologetically.

"Okay, well," Miki tries to add something else, but sighs instead, "Okay, I’ll tell mom and dad you’re just going to be late. But you better be back by tomorrow."

"Yeah, I promise I will- Ryou, wait up!" Akira rushes to follow behind Ryou, who is now walking briskly in the other direction, not looking behind him.

Miki shakes her head as she watches them leave, muttering under her breath, "Oh my fucking god."

"Okay, Ryou, you've got to tell me what the hell's going on," Akira says as they speed walk across campus.

"I'll explain in the car; it's not safe here."

"Not safe?"

"I said I'll explain in the car."

"Is this about the murder?"

Ryou makes a frustrated sound, and offers no other response until they reach his car in the parking lot. He throws open the driver's side door and practically leaps into the seat.

"Ryou, seriously, what's happening? You're not acting like yourself." Akira remarks, getting into the passenger's seat and closing the door.

"I've been looking all over campus for you," Ryou says, jamming the key into the ignition and barely waiting for Akira to buckle his seatbelt before peeling out of the parking space, "I need your help. I think I'm in danger."

"Is this about the murder?"

"No. Well, yes. But no."

"You’re not making any sense… what’s going on?"

Ryou hesitates, "…My father is dead."

"W-what? Ryou, I'm so sorry. He seemed fine last I saw him…"

"He… didn't die of natural causes. It was suicide."

"What!?"

"Akira, before you hear what I'm about to tell you, I want you to know that the last thing I wanted was to get you involved with any of this. But, please understand, there's no one else I can trust."

"Ryou, where are you going with this…"

Ryou turns off of the highway to head down one of the backroads, going off towards the farmland that surrounds the main part of town.

"Do you trust me, Akira?"

"Of course I trust you, I probably trust you more than I trust anyone, but you're seriously scaring me right now."

"Before my father died, I noticed some unusual changes in his behavior," Ryou begins, "He became… aggressive. You've met him multiple times, you know how he typically acts: calm, rational, lighthearted. Not the type of person to lash out over trivial shit. He would be going along as normal, and then suddenly lose it. He would start yelling and throwing shit off his desk or whatever. It was really concerning.

"Then, he… tried to kill John. I saw him coming after him with a kitchen knife. I jumped in between them, so he tried to swing at me instead, but I was able to wrestle the knife out of his hands. When I grabbed his wrist, I got a good look at his eyes and what I saw was… inhuman. Whatever was acting at that moment wasn't him."

"What do you mean?"

"My father was possessed. By a demon."

"D-demon? B-but those aren’t-"

"They are real," Ryou reaches behind him, grabs a folder off of the backseat, and tosses it at Akira, "I wouldn't have believed it either until I saw my father's research."

"So if he really was… possessed…" Akira starts nervously flipping through the contents of the file,pausing to look at a photo of the found remains, "Why did he kill himself?"

"The demon hadn't fully taken over; through his willpower, he'd managed to maintain shreds of his humanity. When he realized what had happened, he couldn't handle the fact that he'd tried to murder his own son. I found him in the garage coating himself in gasoline. He… he told me that he wanted to die while his heart was still human. I couldn't do anything to stop him, so I just stood there, helplessly, while he light the match and burned himself alive."

"That's horrible!"

"I didn't understand what he meant at first, but I scored through his reports and read up on his findings. You see, according to what he found, demons are an ancient race, predating humans by millions of years. They possess a unique ability to fuse their bodies with other matter — animals, plants, even non-living things — and take on their characteristics. Obviously, humans are included in this, which is what had happened to my father.

"With each fusion, they become more powerful, but more grotesque. And, when you consider that they've been doing this for thousands of years… it's any wonder what sort of crazy shit they've got in their arsenal."

"If they've been around for that long, surely people would have noticed them…?"

"Think about it: werewolves, vampires, satyrs, onis, harpies… hell, even unicorns. Mythology all over the world is full of creatures like that, and there's a good chance that those legends came from actual demons. My father theorized that most of the demons froze during the ice age, but overtime they've been emerging, and more frequently as of late. Probably due to climate change thawing out the ice."

"I mean, it's not like humans don't stand a chance against them, right? We have militaries, and pretty advanced weaponry."

"It's not that simple. Demons have naturally violent tendencies, and take 'survival of the fittest' to the extreme. Weakness means death. It's not enough to adapt to survive; you have to adapt to kill, to grow stronger than your enemy so that you can strike first. Like I said, demons have been studying us for years; they know that humanity is only as strong as its weapons."

"Then is there any hope of defeating them?"

"Well, I have a theory, but I haven't put it into practice y-"

"Look out!" Akira yells, pointing ahead and bracing himself against the door. Ryou hastily swerves the car off to the shoulder.

There, standing in the middle of an otherwise empty road, is a strange woman swathed in a cloak, seeming innocent. In an instant, she tosses the fabric aside, eyes wild, hair flairing to reveal a forked tongue and large mouth on her waist line.

"WHAT THE FUCK?!" Akira screams.

"It’s a demon!" Ryou slams the car into reverse, then gases it towards her. She releases an ear-splitting screech from her lower mouth as the vehicle collides with her, shattering the windows as she rolls underneath. Akira throws his arm over his face to shield it from the glass, but Ryou powers forward and pushes the car over her body.

As soon as the back tires hit the asphalt, Ryou is speeding away down the country road. In the cracked rear-view mirror, Akira can see the demon staggering after them, her screams becoming more distant as they make their escape.

"That's what I'm talking about!" Ryou says, frustrated, "Nowhere is safe!"

He reaches into the backseat again, this time producing a gun, which he thrusts into Akira's arms, "Here."

"W-what do you want me to do with this?!"

"You’re in shotgun!"

"That doesn’t mean I know how to use one!"

"If another demon shows up, just aim the gun and pull the trigger!"

"I don't know if I can kill anything-"

"That's not an option, Akira!"

There's a loud thunk above them, causing the entire car to shake and bounce them around. An octopus like appendage suckles itself onto the car door, snaking its way onto Akira’s seat.

"Holy fucking shiiiiiiiiit," Akira tries to leap backwards, but the tentacle creeps closer.

"Fire the gun!"

"A-ah..."

"AKIRA." Ryou swerves the car again, trying to shake the demon off. They can't see it in full, but another grey tentacle is reaching down through the open windshield. It wraps around Akira's neck, dragging him towards the hood of the car.

"Akira ! Fire the fucking gun!"

"H-help me!" Akira chokes.

Ryou grits his teeth and slams on the break, causing them and the demon to lurch forward, then whips out a knife from his pocket and stabs it into the tentacle. He slices downwards, severing it from the demon's body and freeing Akira from its grip. Akira peels the tentacle off of his throat and gasps for breath, holding a hand up to where it had been attached.

The demon laughs in response, high-pitched and distorted, and lowers its face by the driver's side window to taunt them, even more tentacles protruding from its scalp. Ryou snatches the shotgun out of Akira's lap, steadying it forward. He takes the shot and blasts a hole straight through the demon's forehead. There's a splatter of thick, dark purple liquid, painting the hood of the car and everything in the front seat.

The demon's body falls forward and rolls off of the car and onto the street beside them.

Ryou turns to Akira then, demon blood streaked across his face, "Are you alright?"

"I’m," Akira starts, trying to catch his breath, "... okay."

Ryou glances at the demon again, which is currently laying in a heap on the ground next to the car, "I don't think it's quite dead. We need to get out of here before it gets back up."

"Holy shit…" Akira manages to get out, leaning in his seat, still processing what just happened.

There are circular bruises forming on his neck where the suckers had been fixed to, but aside from that and a few small cuts from the shattered glass, he really does feel okay, if not a little freaked out.

Ryou exhales slowly as he starts driving again, "Sorry for pressuring you. I know you don't like violence."

"Huh? Oh, I mean, I understand. It was an emergency situation. I should've just shot it…"

"It's not your fault. It's hard to act under stress."

"You handled it pretty well."

Ryou gives a short laugh, "I didn't have much of a choice."

"Where… where are we going anyways?"

"Right; we're going to a sabbath."

"A what?"

"A sabbath," Ryou repeats, "Specifically, a black sabbath. Or black mass, whatever you want to call it. It's a sort gathering where people trying to summon demons and shit."

"I thought… I thought we were trying to get away from the demons?"

"It's complicated. We're almost there, though; I'll explain more when we go in. It took me awhile to track one down since they're not exactly heavily advertised, and it doesn't help that ever since my dad's suicide these lower-level demons keep showing up everywhere."

"Those were only… low level…"

"Yeah. Luckily I'd finished most of my preparations before I was chased out of my house today – though it's basically trashed from fighting off the ones that got in. That's when I came looking for you."

The car pulls off the road in front of a worn down, seemingly abandoned building. There don't seem to be any other structures nearby, and if it weren't for the other vehicles scattered around, Akira would doubt that they've come to the right place. It's a mostly square building that seems like it was once painted white before succumbing to the elements. There is a single bell tower emerging from the triangular roof, topped with a small wooden cross. A chill runs down Akira's spine as he realizes that this is- was a church.

Akira glances at Ryou, who seems more tense than he was a moment before, perhaps coming to the same realization.

Ryou steps out of the car, opens up the door to the backseat, and pulls out his backpack. He places it on top of the trunk and begins digging through its contents, pulling out several articles of clothings.

"What are you doing?" Akira asks, getting out of the passenger's seat and walking around to the back.

"Here," Ryou says, handing a towel, a pair of jeans, and a black t-shirt out to him, "I didn't expect that you'd need this but it's a good thing I brought it anyways."

Akira looks puzzled for a moment, then, remembering the clothes he's currently wearing are soaked in demon blood and who knows what else, pieces together what Ryou is suggesting, "Oh! I mean, should I just… change out here?"

"Do what you want. I'm changing in the car," Ryou says, gathering his own clothing and sliding into the backseat.

"I mean I guess there's no one around- Hey, wait, how did you get my clothes?"

"You leave your shit at my house all the time," Ryou calls from inside, "I just grabbed what you'd left over from last time – after washing it, obviously." He adds a little too quickly, then closes the car door behind him.

"Oh, thanks… I guess."

Akira glances around to double-check that they're alone, then pulls his probably ruined shirt off over his head. He feels a little exposed stripping down outside, but he supposes it's better than the alternative of walking into a room of people covered in blood. Though, he remembers it's also some kind of demon-summoning ritual, so maybe that wouldn't be too out of place.

He towels off his face and hair and changes into the fresh clothing. It's a poor substitute for actually taking a shower, but it's better than nothing. He holds the shirt out in front of him and, sure enough, this is the Nirvana t-shirt he wore when he'd spent the night at Ryou's house nearly a month ago. He was starting to think he'd lost it.

Ryou is still moving around inside the car, so Akira leans back against the trunk and waits for him to finish, trying (and failing) not to syke himself out over whatever lies inside the old church. Ryou had said that he hadn't wanted to get Akira involved in this, yet he seemed to have been prepared to do just that. Akira decides not to read too much into it.

After a few minutes, Ryou exits the car again, looking significantly more presentable. He's swapped out his bloodied trench coat for a windbreaker, which Akira figures he brought as a backup jacket. He also notices that he took the time to apply makeup, for some reason, and tries notto notice that the crop-top he's changed into shows off most of his stomach and hips.

Pretending to be unaware of Akira staring at him, Ryou walks over to dig through his backpack again, eventually grabbing something that Akira doesn't quite see and slipping it into his pocket. He zips up the bag decisively and tosses it back into the backseat.

"I guess there's not much point in locking the car," Ryou says sourly, eyeing the broken windows. "Are you ready?"

"About that," Akira says, "You still haven't told me what we're doing here."

Ryou doesn't answer immediately, instead looking away from Akira with a complicated expression on his face.

"Well…" Ryou says after a moment, still avoiding eye contact, "You remember how I said I had a theory. About demon fusion."

"Yeah…"

"When my father killed himself, he left behind a note detailing what had happened to him. As I said, he hadn't entirely lost himself to the demon's will. He described it as not only a merge of physical form, but a merge of consciousness, and at times it was hard for him to differentiate which thoughts were his own. Sometimes he would succumb to the demon entirely, such as when he sought to kill John — and then me — to satisfy his bloodlust.

"In the end, he felt that he wasn't strong enough to hold it back much longer, and committed suicide an effort to destroy the demon and stop it from using his body to hurt anyone else. Through his possession, however, he learned that the demons have been purposefully merging with humans, in order to infiltrate us unsuspected and discover our weaknesses. Outwardly, many of them are able to appear almost completely human, despite their monstrous true forms.

"Additionally, through his ability to suppress the demon to an extent, he theorized that there could exist humans who would be able to fuse with a demon and overtake their will completely. Someone with the strength and supernatural abilities of a demon, who would be strong enough to take on those too powerful for human weapons, but without losing their humanity.

"It would have to be someone with an iron will, a pure heart, and a strong sense of justice. Which brings me to you, Akira."

"Uh… Me?"

"Yes, you. A lesser man would be too easily overtaken, even if they fought it as my father tried to. That’s why, I believe it is youwho has the ability to become a devil with the heart of a human. A devil-man."

"Are you sure? I don’t think I… really have any of those things…"

"Don’t worry; I have faith in you," Ryou says, clasping a hand on Akira's shoulder.

"But," Akira starts, "What if you're wrong? What if the demon takes over? Or what if it's too weak to fight the others?"

"Then you'll have to die, same as my father."

"So, you're asking me to become a demon, and fight against other demons, until I either die or am forced to kill myself?"

"More or less. I'm also going to attempt to fuse, but I'm less confident in my own success. If it comes to that, then I ask you to kill me as well. I understand if you don't want to go through with this-"

"Ryou, this is beyond crazy, but…" Akira takes Ryou's hand in his own and grips it tightly, "I'm not about to sit back and watch you suffer through this alone. We're in this together, and if… if you believe in me, I think I can do it."

"Akira…" Ryou feels a mix of emotions swell in his chest, "You’re my best friend… and I will ruin you."

Akira's confident expression falters, but he keeps holding Ryou’s hand, unsure how to process what was just said to him.

They stare at each other for a moment, before Ryou clears his throat and drops Akira's hand, looking away as a hint of colour spreads across his face. "A-anyway. Let's get going," Ryou turns and begins striding towards the church door. Akira follows close behind.

"So, I guess you're kind of like Charon, leading me into the underworld," Akira says.

"And the doorway is the River Styx," adds Ryou, pushing open the door with a creak. He steps inside and holds it open for Akira to enter behind him.

The inside is just as torn up as the outside, but there's a low sort of pulse that Akira can feel resonating through the floor. He keeps near Ryou, who seems to have a better idea where they're going, and follows him towards the altar and off to a side door, the pulsing getting louder as they approach.

They step through and descend the basement stairs, stopping in front of the final door.

"After this, there will be no turning back," Ryou says solemnly, "This is your last chance."

"I'm with you to hell and back," Akira affirms.

"Let's go, then! Through the gates of hell!" Ryou throws open the basement door and Akira braces himself for-

Certainly not this.

Akira looks out in disbelief as the church basement bursts into different colors from various flashing lights, which reveal the silhouettes of several dozen people throwing their bodies around wildly to the bass-heavy music blaring from huge speakers – the obvious source of the pulsing he felt upstairs.

Many of them are dressed in bright colours that seem to blend together through the laser lights and artificial fog, and Akira's not really sure where to focus his attention. Ryou grabs Akira's arm and drags him further into the room until they're right on the edge of the crowd, then throws himself back and starts jamming to the music, laughing hard as he imitates the rest of the crowd. He pauses to catch his breath, and shoots Akira a mischievous grin.

Akira blinks a few times, his thoughts lagging behind reality. Suddenly, it clicks that Ryou not only knows what's going on, but is laughing at him about it , and Akira finds his confusion turning to anger. He reaches out and grabs the collar of Ryou’s windbreaker, and dragging Ryou right up to his face, " Are you fucking with me?!"

"Heh heh, a little bit," Ryou says, unphased, "I wanted to see how you'd react."

Akira frowns, but releases him. "I don't get it."

"See, the thing with demons, is that they're creatures of instinct," Ryou explains as he skirts back along the edge of the crowd, leading Akira to one of the couches lined against the wall, "And the main thing that dissuades them from fusing with humans rather than other animals is the fact that humans have reason . If you want to get possessed, you have to lose that sense of reason, and act solely on instinct. It's why demons are attracted to events like this," he gestures outwards, "where everyone is too far gone from sex and drugs and alcohol to put up much of a fight. That's why modern sabbaths evolved into what are basically raves."

"Then, will everyone else here get possessed, too?" Akira asks, sitting down on the old leather cushions, trying to ignore the fact that there are people currently having sex on the couch next to the one he's on, and he's pretty sure the people at the table nearby are snorting coke. Ryou plops down next to him and slings his arm around the back of the seat.

"Most likely," Ryou continues, "Or they're get killed by those that do. Given the likes of this crowd, the chances of anyone else here successfully overtaking a demon is slim to none. Once the ritual gets going, consider everyone here to be an enemy."

"Oh…"

"Speaking of trying to get possessed," Ryou reaches into his jacket pocket and retrieves a lighter and a… cigarette?

"Why… are you smoking?"

Ryou snorts as he lights the joint, "It's not tobacco."

"Okay, why are you… smoking pot?"

"Did you not hear what I just said? If we're going to merge with demons we've got to lower our inhibition. Besides," he pauses to take a drag, "if it makes you feel better, I was already high when I came and picked you up, it had just mostly worn off by that point."

"That doesn’t make me feel better at all!"

Ryou takes another hit, breathing out the smoke and says, "Here, you try some."

"Uh," Akira holds up his hands as the joint is passed over to him, "I’ve… never really smoked before."

"Not even cigarettes?"

"No…?"

"Huh. With the way you dress, I thought you would've at least tried something."

"Uh, I’m more straight edge…"

"Hmm…" Ryou thinks for a moment, twisting the joint in his fingers. He looks back up at Akira and grins slyly, "I can help with that."

Ryou holds it up to his lips again and inhales, and before Akira has time to react, Ryou is swinging his leg over, practically straddling Akira's lap, and pressing his open mouth against Akira's. Akira's eyes grow wide as Ryou releases the smoke directly into his mouth. It's not like anything Akira's ever tasted before, and the smoke burns in his throat a little, but neither of those are what his brain is focusing on.

Ryou pulls back, smirking, "How was that?"

Akira only stares at Ryou’s face; he can't seem to formulate a response. The one thing on his mind right now is the way the flashing colors from the walls highlight Ryou’s features. He opens his mouth to say something, but all that comes out is smoke.

"Want another hit?" Ryou leans in closer, their foreheads nearly touching.

"W-well, if you think it will help with merging," Akira stammers out.

Still smirking, Ryou takes another drag, longer than before, and breathes the smoke right past Akira's lips.

Ryou breaks away to breathe again, this time only hovering an inch away from Akira's mouth before draping his arms around his neck and diving back in. This feeling is completely different than what Akira remembers from that day back in high school; that kiss had been fast, close-mouthed, and one-sided- but Akira would rather not think about it at the moment. Instead, he wants to focus on how Ryou is kissing himright now.

This is all pretty new to Akira, but god damn if he doesn't want to taste all of it. It's a little messy, mainly because neither one of them really know what they're doing, but Ryou seems pretty eager and Akira finds himself naturally going along with it. He puts his hand on the back of Ryou’s head, fingers threading through his hair, and pulls him even closer. His other hand goes around Ryou’s exposed hip, feeling the soft skin of his back.

Ryou gasps into kiss, his back arching slightly as he presses down into Akira's lap. Honestly, it's a really good distraction from the seriousness of the situation; it's kind of hard to think about anything at all with Ryou's tongue practically down his throat.

Ryou slides his free hand underneath Akira's shirt, feeling over his abs and up onto his chest. Akira's not really sure what to do with this attention, but he suddenly feels really hot under his clothes, so he impulsively leans back and pulls off his shirt. Ryou seems pleased with this, pushing himself as close as he can to Akira's chest as soon as they're reconnected.

Soon enough they're kissing again. Akira experimentally takes Ryou's bottom lip between his teeth and sucks — something he'd heard of but never actually tried — and is rewarded with a stifled moan and something hard pressed against his stomach.

Oh, right. He'd sort of… forgotten that Ryou is also a guy… but Akira decides that he doesn't care about the implications of that right now; that's a problem for future Akira. Present Akira just wants to try and get Ryou to make that sound again.

Akira brings his right hand away from Ryou's head to place it on his other hip, gripping him a little tighter as he moves his tongue back inside Ryou's mouth. He still tastes kind of like pot, but then Ryou moans softly into his mouth again and Akira decides he really doesn't care. At least, his dick doesn't, given that he's half-erect himself.

Ryou slowly pulls back from Akira, a trail of spit running between their mouths before breaking and running down Ryou's chin. He wipes it off against his sleeve, taking with it the last bit of lipstick that hasn't been smeared against Akira's face. His smug expression is gone, replaced with one Akira's never seen him make before, his face flushed red and his breathing heavy.

But, despite this, Ryou breaks eye contact and sits further back on Akira's legs – much to Akira's disappointment. He brings the joint up to his mouth again and realizes with a hint of frustration — embarrassment? — that it's no longer lit.

"It's not enough," Ryou mutters, looking back out to the crowd of people that Akira, with a rush of self-consciousness, suddenly remembers are here.

"Huh?"

"If we want to attract demons," Ryou says as he slides off of his lap and walks over to a nearby table. He snatches a near-empty liquor bottle and turns back to Akira, grinning darkly, "We'll need a bit of bloodshed."

"What… what do you mea- Ryou!" Akira cuts himself off at the sight of Ryou taking the bottle and smashing half of it on the edge of the table, glass shards flying everywhere. This sudden shift in his demeanor is… unsettling, to say the least.

Akira watches in horror as Ryou whips around and shanks the bottle into the chest of a woman on the outskirts of the crowd, laughing as she screams and clutches at the wound. Ryou retracts the makeshift weapon, then lunges forward to swipe it against another unsuspecting victim. Several people have turned to see the cause of the commotion.

"The fuck do you think you're doing!?" One of them yells.

Ryou swings the bottle around wildly, something manic in his eyes, "Which one of you wants to go next?"

Another guy takes a swing at Ryou, who dodges out of the way and slices him in the side of the head. Ryou cackles again, "I'll paint these walls with your blood! I'll- oof!"

Whatever Ryou was about to say is cut short as a much larger man slams his fist into Ryou's stomach, knocking him backwards.

Ryou doubles over, coughing up spit. The man takes another hit at Ryou, smashing his fist into his nose, blood spurting everywhere. Someone else approaches from behind and knocks Ryou down, where he curls into himself as a kick is delivered to his gut, followed by another to his back.

"Ahh!" Akira runs over to where Ryou is, "Stop fighting! Stop! I hate the sight of blood!"

A man in the circle beating up Ryou sharply pulls Akira back by his hair, "Shaddup! It’s your friend’s fault!" He’s only got a second to react until he’s clobbered right in the face. Akira spins out and crashes into another guy behind him.

"Gotcha," The man says before kneeing Akira harshly in the back, falling forward into the chest of a woman.

"Aw, you wanna suck on some tits?" She says in a mocking motherly tone, "How about you suck on this instead!" She pushes him off her breasts, breaking a shot glass right into his nose.

"AUGH!" Akira presses his hands to the wound, blood gushing over and onto the floor.

The group surrounding them laughs, Ryou still curled up on the floor and being kicked back down every time he attempts to sit up. The woman who dealt the injury to Akira keels over laughing, until… she pauses for a moment.

Her body twitches, convulsing in all over, clutching her head as she screams, and the scream turn to a shrill pitch, like a siren. One of her eyeballs pulses, squishing out and growing in immense size. A seam, no smaller than a thread, cuts across her nipples, and suddenly her breasts are splitting apart. Two grotesque, fork-tongued faces form out of the skin of her chest. The rest of her limbs peel apart in two, and her teeth grow sharper and sharper until what stands before them is only an animal running on pure instinct.

The rest of the party goers around them pause for a moment, before gagging as their bodies too lose their shape and form, morphing into hideous beings.

There’s enough time for Ryou to push himself off the floor, eyes widening at the scene before him, "It’s starting! The demons are coming!"

Akira feels sweat roll down his body, mixing in with the blood, "Where are they coming from?" He notes the number of party goers morphing into monsters is increasing.

"They’re teleporting in!" Ryou shouts.

All that’s left of the circle of harassers is demons.

Akira and Ryou turn to one another then, realizing now that they are completely surrounded, and not having been able to merge.

"Do you feel anything yet?" Ryou asks urgently.

"I don't feel anything!" Akira tells him, panic edging on his tone.

"Damn it! We haven't let go of our reason yet!"

"So what do we do?!"

"Run for it!" Ryou bolts towards the exit.

Akira doesn’t take the time to think about it and charges after him, "Wait for me!"

Ryou looks over his shoulder at Akira just in time to be tackled from the side and slammed into the ground by a hulking beast. Ryou screams as it slashes at him with its talons, then disappears underneath its body.

Akira freezes, the taste of adrenaline holding in the back of his throat. He waits, not moving one inch, hoping to godRyou comes back up. He keeps watching, and watching but no signs of life come from beneath the monster.

"RYOU!" There’s demons behind him, moving closer, and without thinking Akira dashes forward in a blind panic, shouting for his best friend.

Akira keeps running, longer than he feels like he should be. Where was he going again? He can't remember. He can't remember anything. He slips away from himself and into the darkness as something electric starts pulsing throughout his body.

In that moment, Akira Fudo became a creature of pure instinct.

Something knocks the demon off of Ryou enough for him to roll out from underneath it and scramble up against the wall. He's bleeding pretty badly from the gashes in his stomach, and with the way his head is spinning he feels like he might pass out.

He hears someone yelling and looks up, trying to steady his vision enough to make out what's going on through all the blurred chaos. His eyes focus in time to see a bat-winged demon grab the face of the one with the split limbs and rip it clean off her skull.

"Amon! What are you doing!" A hoarse voice calls from the swarm.

"I'm not Amon!" The demon laughs, "I took over this devil's body, and now I'm gonna use his power to destroy every last one of you! I! Am! Devilman!"

Ryou shrinks back further into the wall as the demon- no, Akira tears into another one, slicing it straight down the middle like it was paper. Watching Akira shred his way through the demons and coat the walls in their blood and viscera, Ryou finds himself shaking involuntarily, a cold sweat building on his skin. His heart is throbbing so loud he can barely hear himself think. He looks around hazily to find a handful of humans remaining, cowering against walls and furniture much like he finds himself.

Poor suckers, he thinks, Just like me. Scared shitless and waiting for death.

Ryou looks back to the action and sees Akira gouge out another's eyes with his claws. He flinches. Is that Akira? Akira, who hates violence and avoids conflict, who is kind and polite and compassionate… is this really him? Slaughtering without a moment's hesitation and delighting in the shed of blood?

Has he truly retained his human soul, Ryou thinks, He looks more demonic than the demons. So far, he's taking down the demons, but… how long until that strength is turned towards other humans? If that happens, do we have any hope of defeating him?

It occurs to Ryou that, in attempt to create a protector for humanity, he may have created their greatest threat.

He blacks out.

 


 

Akira feels himself winding down, his breathing heavy from the adrenalin rush. His body, which a moment ago was huge, winged, and half covered in fur, has shrunk back down to it's normal size and shape. Well, almost normal; there are definite changes to his physical form. He's not entirely sure what's different, but he'll worry about that when he gets out of here.

The air is eerily quiet, and Akira surveys his surroundings, registering the scattered limbs and corpses of several dozen demons – and some humans. A chill runs down Akira's back at the thought that some of them might have been killed by him.

"Ah! Ryou!" Akira suddenly remembers. He runs around frantically, desperately hoping that he'll find him in one piece, and even more desperately hoping he's not the one responsible if that's not the case.

"Ryou!" He calls again, "Where are you?!"

He turns over a few corpses, none of which turn out to be Ryou, and Akira's not sure if that makes him feel better or worse.

"Maybe he merged as well," Akira thinks out loud, "And maybe I…"

Just then, he spots a glimpse of something blond underneath one of the dead demons.

"Ryou!" He yells again as he rushes over, flinging the body out of the way and uncovering someone who is thankfully Ryou, but who at first glance doesn't seem to be breathing.

Akira forces himself not to panic, and examines him more carefully. Sure enough, there is a weak, but present rise and fall of his stomach. Not dead, but possibly dying. Without thinking, Akira presses an ear to his chest, and feels immediate relief when he's met with a steady heartbeat.

"Don't die on me, Ryou," he pleads, scooping Ryou up into his arms, "Don't leave me alone in this hell!"

 


 

"Tako! Get off my keyboard! I have to finish this assignment!" Miki says, grabbing her cat while he meows as loud as possible, "Stop coming up on my desk!"

She sets him on the floor, before Tako’s already back pawing at her legs, "I’ll give you attention when I finish this script, god." He meows in response. "You are so needy."

Stupid professor assigning a VOSOT script. Can her professors understand that she has a lifeoutside of school? And to not remind them that the assignment was due on a Thursday, when they don’t have class, pisses her off even more. Now Miki has to go on campus tomorrow, hope the Liberal Arts and Sciences building is open, put the script in her professor's mailbox and pass it off as having turned it in on time.

And Miki should be having fun on her birthday. Stupid journalism department and having the most incompetent professors to roam the university.

She glances over at her alarm clock, noting it’s a couple minutes past midnight. Well, now it’s officially her birthday, but it’s midnight… and Akira isn’t home yet. He more than likely just went over to Ryou’s house after doing… whatever it was they were doing.

Ryou’s been a weirdo since she’s met him, but something was off about him today. Miki pushes the thoughts aside, going back to bullshitting this stupid ass script, and assumes Akira will just come home tomorrow. Or, well, in a couple of hours.

The front door to the house opens and then slams shut. Tako makes a beeline for the door to Miki’s room and starts yowling and scratching at it.

"I’ll open it, I’ll open it! God." Miki tells him, getting up from her desk and letting him out. He’s going to come back in like five minutes.

Tako pads over to the top of the stairs, hearing heavy footsteps. Well, Akira’s finally home, then. Miki comes out of her room, closing the door behind her, and hears Tako start hissing once the footsteps stop.

"Tako, hey cut that out," Miki says, walking over to scoop him up in her arms, "Hey, come on it’s Akira. What is your problem you never hiss at him," Miki turns to Akira, "Jesus christ… he will not stop. Anyways, why are you back so late?"

"Why are youup so late?"

Miki sets Tako back down after he keeps shoving his paw into her cheek, "I have an assignment due and I need to finish it."

"On a Saturday?" Akira questions.

"More like I just realized it was due, and I’m going to pass it off as having turned it in on time," Miki tells him, as Tako hunches up his back, and starts up the hissing again before running off, "Oh my god! Tako… what is with you today?! Anyways, like I asked, how come you’re back so late? I’ve never seen you stay out past like… eight."

"Ha, ha."

Miki raises an eyebrow, "Did you catch a cold?"

"Huh? No? Why?"

"Nothing you just sounded like you had one."

"Oh."

"You still haven’t answered my question," Miki repeats, leaning against the post of the stairs, "Why are you back so late?"

"No reason, it’s fine." He says, waving her off and moves across the hall towards his room.

"Ooookay, so did you and Ryou have fun with… whatever it was you were doing?"

Akira opens the door to his bedroom, "Sure."

"What’d you even do?"

"Stuff."

Miki snickers, "Oh? You’re being awfully avoidant."

"It was nothing," Akira tells her, grabbing the door handle a little too tightly.

"Uh-huuuuuh," Miki says, sauntering over to his bedroom, leaning against the wall and turning to him, "So did you two bang each other finally or what?"

Akira freezes, "What?"

"Oh… my god did you actually have sex? I was joking around, holy shit."

The grip on the handle loosens and he puts up his hands, "What? N-no… we didn’t… we, we uh…"

"Holy shit, you two actually fucked. Oh my god, I can’t believe it!"

"WHAT?"

"Who played pitcher and who played catcher?"

The vice he had on the door handle prior returns and Akira starts making his way back into his room, "Can you go away?" is all he says before closing the door behind him.

"... So did you and Ryou fuck or what?!"

He bursts the door open and shouts, "NO." and uncharacteristically slams it back closed, the lock clicking into place.

Miki takes a step back from his door, and hears Tako start pawing at her bedroom door again. Right, her stupid ass script. She starts making her way towards her room, but wonders… what exactly went down between Ryou and Akira’s little outing.

Chapter Text

The night air is oddly still, as if the world is holding its breath. A shadowy figure slinks along the roof of a building, his paws silent against the flat surface as he tails the lone vehicle on the street below. It's barely visible in the dim light, but perfectly clear to the creature's enhanced senses. He had picked up on something unusual about the person inside, and has stalking them for the past few minutes, aiming to confirm his suspicions.

The car pulls to a stop between two others, parallel against the building. Without a sound, the figure leaps down to a lower level, landing gracefully against a window sill. He can thank the cat in him for that; a clever disguise with physical benefits, unlike those that chose to take clumsy humans instead. From here, he observes this particular human exit the vehicle, and turn to walk down the sidewalk.

There's no doubt, this energy is definitely Amon's. But it's subdued, resting under the surface of something else. Someone else.

I must warn Sirene, he thinks. He stretches his wings out of the flesh of his back, splitting the dark fur, and takes off into the night.

 


 

Ryou awakens in a hospital room, alone. He tries to sit up, but a searing pain through his abdomen forces him back down. He tries again, getting further this time, but it's still too much, so he lies back down, defeated. Staring up at the tiled ceiling, he replays the events of the previous night, trying to make sense of what happened.

He'd been making preparations for the sabbath and debating if getting Akira involved was really a good idea (of course, he knows himself well enough to know that he would have probably done it regardless), and had finally resolved to take him along when that demon had shown up and chased him out of his house, wrecking the place in the process.

He'd spent the next few hours running around campus looking for Akira, finally found him (with her, unfortunately), and convinced him, without much effort, to come along. They got ambushed by those demons on the road but thankfully made it to the sabbath in one piece, albeit at the expense of Ryou's car. And then they-

Oh.

Oh god.

Ryou totally came onto him, didn't he? And quite shamelessly, at that. Why? Why did he do that!? What was he thinking! He can't even really use being high as an excuse because he'd only taken one hit. Granted, he was trying to be impulsive, so Ryou supposes he nailed that pretty well. And also possibly destroyed his and Akira's friendship in the process.

But, a part of his brain reminds him, Akira seemed to reciprocate.

But, a second part argues, Akira was also trying to act on impulse, and was probably just horny. Kissing doesn't require much emotional investment. Besides, he's only ever shown interest in women before.

Ryou agrees with the latter. Regardless of if Akira's straight or not, it's not like he would ever see Ryou like that anyway, and Ryou values their friendship too much to let his dumbass "feelings" jeopardize it. The fact that Ryou did something like that at all is enough to make him want to cringe into nonexistence, let alone that he got fully aroused after only a few minutes of kissing – even if it did feel as great as he'd hoped it would and makes him feel weak and fluttery just remembering it.

Not that thinking about Akira in general doesn't have the same effect on him; Ryou is fully aware of how bad he has it. He had hoped that in the time they were apart he would have gotten over this stupid schoolboy crush, but, if anything, reuniting just made his feelings worse. And it really doesn't help his situation any that Akira got hot. He'd been cute before, but damn, puberty had been kind to him.

He pushes those thoughts to the back of his mind. Focus.

After… that , Ryou had luckily come to his senses enough to remember why they were there and to pull back before he did something he'd really regret. But, he supposes that also set him back in a way, since he was supposed to be ignoring his rationality. Although sparking some mindless violence was enough to get him partially back into that state – at least until he was knocked down and got the shit kicked out of him. But hey, he still summoned the demons, right?

Then, unsurprisingly, he got attacked by one. And got his stomach torn open. That wasn't fun. The hospital did a pretty good job of fixing him up, but it's going to be awhile before he can get these stitches taken out.

Speaking of, how had he gotten here? The last thing he remembers clearly is seeing the demon that claimed to be Akira slaughtering the others, and, not having fused himself, being terrified of the uncertainty of what would happen next, then passing out from blood loss.

Then… he’s not sure how much time had passed, but he sort of came to for a moment, and Akira — actual Akira, not the monster — had been… carrying him? Bridal-style? While naked?? He… he thought he'd been dreaming, but evidence now suggests that this had actually happened. Ryou feels his face grow hot.

Calm down. Akira was naked because his clothes probably got destroyed when he transformed, and he was only carrying him like that so he wouldn't agitate his wounds. Ryou pieces together that he was the one who brought him here, and briefly wonders what sort of explanation he gave the hospital staff. He at least hopes that Akira had had enough sense to change back into his other clothes.

Suddenly, there is a knock on his door, and a young nurse pokes her head inside, "Mr. Asuka?"

"Yes?" Ryou rolls his head to the side to look at her.

"Oh good," she says, "You’re awake. You have a visitor, if you'd like to see him."

Before Ryou has a chance to reply, Akira is bursting into the room past the nurse.

"Ryou!"

Ryou sits up in surprise, then instantly regrets it, wincing but managing not to fall back down this time, "Akira?"

Akira moves towards Ryou, but the nurse goes to step in between them. Ryou holds his hand up to her, "It’s fine; he can come in."

She gives Akira a sideways glance, then looks back to Ryou, then back to Akira. She looks like she wants to say something, but simply shakes her head and exits the room, closing the door behind her. Akira watches her leave, then approaches Ryou.

Ryou can see him more clearly now, and, while this is undoubtedly Akira, he seems… different. The most obvious change is the black markings that have formed around his eyes – which may or may not have changed colour; it’s hard to tell in the fluorescent light. And, it could just be Ryou’s imagination, but he looks… bigger. Same basic body type, but slightly taller, maybe broader, and with more muscle definition, as visible by how his shirt is clinging tightly to his body.

Ryou tries not to dwell on that last thought, suddenly feeling a little sweaty.

"I was so worried about you," Akira says. His voice is recognizable but now carries a slightly rougher timbre, "I came to see you as soon as I could. How are you feeling?"

"I’m fine," Ryou replies.

"You seem to be doing better; I was kind of amazed by how well you held up."

"Well, I seem to be recovering quickly. It's already easier to move than it was when I first woke up. How are you feeling?"

"What do you mean?" Akira asks, sitting down in the chair next to the hospital bed.

"Your possession?"

"Oh, right," he thinks for moment, "Honesty, I don't feel that much different. Better, in some ways. Maybe a little more on-edge… but that might just be left over from last night."

"That was pretty impressive," Ryou admits, "I didn't quite see the whole thing, but from what I could tell it looked almost effortless."

Akira laughs, "Yeah, the demon who fused with me must've been pretty strong – 'Amon', or whatever his name was."

"He certainly looked it," Ryou says, "What was it you called yourself again?"

"Huh?"

"To the demons, when you said you'd taken over Amon's body, you gave yourself an alter ego."

"Uh…" Akira looks down at the floor and mutters, "Devilman."

Ryou snickers, "That's what I thought you'd said."

"Hey, you said it first!" Akira says defensively, "I just thought it sounded-"

"Like a superhero?" Ryou raises an eyebrow.

"Well, y-yeah, but… I mean, I kind of am a superhero now, right? I have superhuman abilities, and the entire reason I fused was to protect humanity."

"You're a nerd, is what you are."

"A-anyways," Akira says, trying to change the subject, "I'm glad you're okay. No one else survived…"

"That's not surprising. What is surprising is the fact that I did survive; after I'd failed to fuse I thought I was dead for sure."

"So did I."

"Oh." The sincerity of Akira's words catches Ryou off guard, and he almost wants to apologize. Before he has time to dwell on it, a thought suddenly occurs to him, "Have you been to my house at all?

"Recently? No, why?"

"My pets," he explains, "John and Bea never got fed this morning."

"Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Do you want me to check on them?"

"If you wouldn't mind; I don't know when they'll discharge me."

"I know John is your dog, Bea is your bird?"

"Yeah."

"What about your snake?"

"Lily got fed earlier this week so she should be fine. Assuming she hasn't gotten out of her terrarium and tried to eat Bea, anyways."

"Is… is that something I should be worried about?"

"I was joking."

"Oh, ha, it's hard to tell sometimes."

"Heheh. Good." Ryou grins, but then pauses, "By the way, what happened to my car?"

"I used it to drive you here," Akira explains, "Then I parked it on campus, by my dorm. Luckily, the part of the windshield that has your parking pass on it didn't break off, so you don't have to worry about it getting towed."

Ryou groans, "I'm not worried about it getting towed , Akira. It has no windows. It's going to get stolen."

"I mean, it's pretty beat up, maybe no one will want it?"

"Great." Ryou says, unamused. He decides it not worth it to be irritated about that right now, and it's not like it was Akira's fault, so he releases that tension with a sigh and decides to focus on more important matters, "You said you didn't feel that different, but what changes have you noticed?"

"Mostly physical ones, like, you probably noticed these," he points at the eye markings 

"I did."

"I can't get them to go away! I've fangs now, too, and these weird scars on my shoulders. I think they're from where my wings come out?" Akira pauses, "That feels weird to say. I guess I'm gonna have to get used to having new body parts."

"So, you can transform at will?"

"Basically. I was messing around with it this morning, but this is as human as I can get… Don't get me wrong, it's pretty awesome, especially with all the cool stuff I can do now, but it's just… well, different."

"Has anyone else noticed?"

"Not that I know of; Miki didn't even say anything. Not that we really talked about it, but I'm guessing this is something we should keep under the radar? If the demons knew my human identity it could put me and everyone I know at risk…"

"And if humans find out about the existence of demons which can live among them undetected, it could spark mass hysteria," Ryou points out, "So, yes, I think we should keep this secret for now – especially from anyone you know personally," he adds, thinking of a certain loudmouthed "journalist".

"Yeah," Akira agrees, "I don't think anyone would believe me if I told them anyways."

They sit in silence for a few moments before Akira fidgets uncomfortably and speaks again, "So, you said that the demons are trying to kill off humans, do you know why?"

"I said that the're infiltrating human society in order to learn our weaknesses and overtake us, yes."

"Okay I got that, but why? From what you said they don't seem like they'd be very organized."

"Whereas the low-level demons are more animalistic, the more powerful ones tend to be smarter and have more self-control; they're likely the ones orchestrating it. If you believe in biblical mythology, then it could even be Satan specifically. Either way, my guess is that they simply want to take back what they feel is theirs." 

"What do you mean?" 

"Think of it like this: the demons were here for thousands of years before humans ever showed up. If you've lived somewhere for several years, and you wake up one morning to find it overrun with vermin, wouldn't you want to exterminate them?"

"Vermin?" Akira sits up straighter, his tone bordering aggressive.

"It's not a one-to-one analogy. All I'm saying is that humans simply aren't the 'peak of evolution' as we like to see ourselves; we're an invasive species with destructive tendencies and no regard for our environment, and demons are our natural predators-"

Akira stands abruptly and grabs Ryou by the collar of his hospital gown, "How can you say that like we deserve to be wiped out?"

Ryou blinks in surprise, but somehow finds himself getting more irritated than nervous, "I'm just putting it into perspective. I want to prevent this, remember? The entire reason I brought you to the sabbath to merge with a demon in the first place was to give humanity a fighting chance."

Akira releases his grasp, causing Ryou to make a pained grunt as he falls back into the pillow.

"You're right… Sorry."

"So," Ryou continues, rubbing his neck near where Akira had been gripping, "My point is that if demons are the natural predators of humans, what does that make you, Devilman, but the natural predator of demons?"

"Then I guess I better live up to that title, huh?"


Miki jolts awake, throwing a hand to her neck subconsciously.

Oh thank god, she thinks, my head is still here... wait, why wouldn't it be?She looks around her room for a moment, confused, but starts sitting up in bed. Something feels off about her room, but Miki’s not sure what, it looks the same as it did when she went to bed-  the desk is still pushed against the wall, tack board with her photos hanging above it, her radio alarm clock situated on the window sill, and the printed copy of the script she wrote last night near her computer.

And yet something feels unsettling.

The last remnants of her dream have already faded away in her mind, but her heart is pounding still. It wasn’t real… calm down.She breathes and shakes her head. Thoughts pushed aside, she finally slides out from under her sheets. Tako lifts his head up from the his pillow in the corner of her room and leaps after Miki.

"Hi kitty," Miki says, squatting down to scratch behind his ears. Tako headbutts into her hand, purring before bounding over to the door and yowling.

"You want out?" Miki asks. She hops over to the door, pulls down on the handle and watches Tako make a beeline across the hall towards the pit of the room across the hall from her… completely devoid of the person who made the mess.

She looks back to the clock- barely even noon and somehow Akira’s not in the house. Whatever he’s out doing, it probably has something to do with Ryou. As always. She rolls her eyes, closing the door behind her.

Tako keeps exploring around in the mess of Akira’s room, sniffing random pieces of clothing and pawing at the stack of comic books near his bed. He makes some sort of pathetic meow, and speeds out of the room, down the hallway towards Tare’s room.

Miki follows after Tako, scooping him back up and knocking on the wall next to Tare’s.

"What?" He says, as Miki peers into his room. Tare sits on his bed, messing around with some toy he got from a friend for his birthday.

"Aren’t ya gonna… tell me something?" She pokes Tako’s head through while he makes annoyed meows.

"Go away?" He groans, tossing his toy aside.

"My own flesh and blood, how could you?" Miki says, stepping through the doorway.

"How could I what?"

"Forget what today is."

 "I know what today is."

 "Then wish me a happy birthday"

 "... Ugh…"

 "I’m not leaving until you tell me."

"Ughhhh."

"Tell me or I’m sicing Tako on you," Miki warns, holding out Tako as he squirms around in her arms, trying to escape.

"Ohhh, I’m soooo scared." He says, unamused, picking the toy back up.

"You better be."

"That’s barely a threat."

"I dunno, he seems very keen on hissing and scratching you."

"Probably because you're holding him."

"No, see he loves me," Miki says, reaching over to kiss him on his head before he pushes a paw against her mouth, then leaps out of her arms and scampers off down towards the stairs.

Tare snickers, "What was that about him loving you?"

"Oh shut up, he loves me more than you. Anyways," She steps further into his room, closing the door behind her, "You have something to tell me?"

"Ugh, fine," Tare sets his puzzle toy on his bed, and adds with fake bravada, "Happy birthday, Miki."

"Finally! Thank you. What I’ve been waiting for." Tare sticks out his tongue at her, "Anyways, have you seen Akira? He came home really late last night and… now he’s… gone again?"

"He left like, an hour ago. He didn’t say what he was doing. Probably hanging out with that weirdo blond guy. I thought you told me he got arrested in high school?"

"Well," Miki starts moving to sit on top of Tare’s desk, "Ryou saidhe didn’t, but I’m not sure if I believe him."

"He probably weaseled his way out of it," Tare laughs.

"You’re probably right." Miki laughs too, and hops off his desk, "By the way, are mom and dad here or are they getting, like, stuff for the party?"

"Uh, I think they’re out getting your cake?"

"Ughhh, and Akira’s not here. Great I have to take the bus to campus. And it’s the weekend so I have to wait a whole hour before it comes by again. Ughhh, I hate public transportation!" She says, throwing her hands up in the air.

"Haha, that’s what you get for sleeping in late."

Miki makes a move towards his bed, grabbing his pillow and slaps it on his face to smother him.

"I was being funny! Stop! Stop, Miki!" He cries muffled by the pillow.

Miki lifts her hand away while he pulls the pillow off his face, "You’re lucky it’s my birthday. I don’t feel like committing murder today."

"So you’d try to kill me for real if it wasn’t your birthday?"

"The only time I’d kill you for real is on yourbirthday."

Tare rolls his eyes, "Anyways, if you hate the buses so much, why don't you just get a license?"

"Why do that when I can just get otherpeople to drive me?"

"Doesn’t work when the other people who drive you aren’t here."

"Oh shut up, you have to rely on other people to drive you."

"... You’re twenty-one! I’m only twelve!"

"As if that makes a difference."

"Oh, so does that mean I can drink alcohol?"

"No," Miki says, making her way back towards the door, "And don’t even think about doing it while I’m gone."

"You’re not the boss of me."

"While mom and dad aren’t here, I sure am."

"Go catch the bus and leave already."

She flips him off as she exits.

 


 

The door to the college of liberal arts needs some serious repainting.

It’s any wonder why people stay on campus during the weekend, the place is as empty as an eight a.m. math class. (Not that Miki would know how empty an eight a.m. math class would be, considering she never went.)

Though, she’s sort of thankful for whoever stays on campus on the weekend, considering they left the liberal arts building unlocked. Stupid ass VOSOT script turned in, with a couple other people’s assignments in the mailbox too, so her plan of posing it as having turned it in on time has worked.

While that went off without a hitch, now she’s stuck on campus for another hour before the bus comes back around. Whatever genius planned that out needs to be fired.

"It’s like they want to keep you trapped in this hell hole!" Miki shouts, kicking a rock on the sidewalk. "Why can’t come every thirty minutes like it does on weekdays?! Fuck this school!"

The area where all the liberal arts buildings isn’t that bad at the very least. It’s mostly just as woodsy as the STEM buildings. A little dated - budget cuts for non sciencey majors - but it’s not tooterrible a place to be stuck in for an hour. Or, well forty-five minutes. Whatever.  

Still, there isn’t much to do when everyone goes home for the weekend or is at least doing something better than sitting around in their dorms.

"Why the hell does Akira stay on campus? It’s so booooring!"

Miki figures at least walking around to the student center would take some time out of her long stupid ass wait.

She starts down the stairs that lead over to the main sidewalk. Usually the place is crowded and jam packed full of people going to and fro on whatever you can think of, it’s almost surreal seeing barely anyone on it.

Except for some lone bike rider coming down on the biking side, opposite way to Miki. She recognizes that hat too, even.

"Miko!"

Miko looks behind her before her handlebars twist to the left and she falls on the sidewalk, bike slamming down on top of her.

"Oh my god!" Miki runs up to where Miko lays pinned beneath her bike.

Miko tries shuffling out of the wheels, grimacing when the spokes drag across her back.

"No, no! I’ll get it," Miki tells her, bending down to lift the bike up, "Are you okay?"

Miko slides away from the tires and stands up, grabbing her hat and brushing down her capris. Her messenger bag is righted back over her shoulders, "This isn’t the first time that’s… happened, actually, don’t worry about it." Miko takes the one handle Miki’s holding out of her hand and brings the bike back over to herself.

"Are you sure you’re okay?"

Miko rolls the bike back and forth, shrugging, "It’s fine, like I said… Don’t worry about it." She pauses for moment, "Oh. Wait. What’re you doing on campus? I thought you commuted?"

"I do, but I had to go drop off an assignment. See, uh, forgot it was due on Thursday- and we don’t have class on Thursday either, so I had to sneak on campus and make it look like I turned it in on time. And on my birthday too! Totally uncalled for."

"Oh! Happy birthday! I wish I had known… I would have gotten you something."

Miki smiles, "If you want to celebrate it, you’re more than welcome to come to my house later on today! I’m having a party."

"Oh, uh," Miko blushes, "Sure. I’d love to come…  What time? I might be a little late."

"Around dinner. You know where I live right?"

"Uh… I don’t think so? Here," Miko reaches into her bag, pulling out an address book and a pen, "You can write it down."

Miki takes it from her, noting that there’s barely anyone in the book either. Miki jots her info down, and Miko takes it back and slips it into the front pocket.

Miko looks down at the bag for a moment, as if considering something but shakes her head, "Anyways. Are you sure they’re going to know that you turned it in on time?"

"The journalism department is stupid, they’ll believe me."

Miko looks a little concerned, "Uh? Are yousure it’s gonna be okay?"

"Psh, I’ve done it before. It’s fine. Anyways, why are youon campus? I thought most people went home for the weekend?"

"My house is… kinda far away. It’s an hour and a half train ride just to get back. It’s not… really worth it to go home." Miko says, a bit too sadly, "It’s fine though. I’ve got a lot of homework anyways."

"And you’re making time to come to my party, how thoughtful." She laughs, "By the way, is that why I haven’t seen you since Akira’s party? Staying cooped up in the dorms?"

Miko scratches behind her neck, still blushing, "Something like that… and, well, to be fair I’ve been kinda freaked out by the murder. I’m not really in the mood to get killed, especially during my last year of college."

"Oh? That thing?" Miki starts, "It was nothing. Probably some animal came and killed a freshmen who took a dare to go in the woods."

Miko runs her fingers under the strap of her bag, and shrugs, "I dunno. I saw the pictures, there’s no animal that produces those kind of claw marks."

"I can’t believe you and Akira bought into that." Miki says, with a roll of her eyes, "I only told him about it cause he’s such a babywhen it comes to spooky shit."

"My dorm was the first to go on the new curfew since it’s right by the woods… I’d think it’s pretty serious." Miko says, hopping onto the seat of her bike, "I don’t know if it was a murderer or some serial killer… But something weird is going on… Or, I could just be paranoid… I probably am." Miko adds, looking to the side.

Miki opens her mouth to say something, but closes it. She thinks and then finally says, "Well, I get it, spooky stuff happening, it’s okay to be a tinybit paranoid."

"Uh," Miko says, covering a cough with her hand, "I guess. Uhm," She presses down on the pedals, swinging back towards her original direction, "Yeah, anyways. I’ll see you at your house. I’ve uh, got some stuff to do… I’ll be there though!"

"Okay! See you then!" Miki shouts after Miko’s disappearing form.

 


 

Miko has absolutely no idea what to do.

Okay, well, she does. But. That doesn’t mean she’s sure it’s even a good idea. Just going to the birthday party of a girl that you’ve been crushing on for the past two semesters and acting like you don’t have a crush on her- which to be honest Miko is failing at hiding really, is not the easiestthing. Miki has got to know by now too on top of that.

Even worse, she doesn’t know if Miki likes girls… Still she hasn’t said anything about it.

But, Miko is pretty sure Miki was flirting with her. Or, maybe she wasn’t, maybe she was just being nice. Or maybe Miko’s just overthinking things (as usual) and she should just knock on the front door and join the party. (Which she’s been debating if she should do that for the past ten minutes. And now she’s thirty minutes late to the party.)

Miko’s also not sure where she should put her bike even. And if it would be even rude to lock it up on their porch without their permission? But if she doesn’t lock it up it’d get stolen.

Miko sighs, and drags the bike over to the post on the left side and locks it there. If they want her to move it, she’ll move it.

Now, comes the hardest part of actually going to the front door and knocking. (Okay that isn’t that hard, but the implications behind it are what’s making her worry.)

She knocks once before a boy around middle school age, wearing a baseball cap backwards, opens the door.

"Who are you?" He says, holding a hand on the door, almost ready to close it.

"Oh, uh I’m M-" is all she gets out before he starts slamming the door right in her face.

Miko stands dumbfounded and then she hears inside, "What the fuck Tare?!"

"I didn’t know who she was!"

"Stop using the f-word around Tare, Miki!"

"Sorry Mom!"

The door swings open again and Miki appears, looking behind at the boy from earlier disappearing up the stairs, "Sorry, that was my little brother."

"Oh." Miko says, standing still on the porch.

"Don’t just stand there," Miki opens the door wider, "Come inside."

"Uh," Miko manages to get out before Miki is dragging her through the doorway and into her house.

The Makimuras’ house is filled to the brim with various photographs, knick knacks and… cat toys. There’s some chatter coming from the living room to left of her, a couple of people she guesses are some of Miki’s other friends. Akira surprisingly isn’t amongst them. The only person she actually knows here then is Miki. Miko crosses her arms, a little defensively.

"It’s mostly just a bunch of people from the journalism department," Miki tells her, grabbing a bowl of popcorn off the near the wall of the living room, "They’re chill, I promise," Miki grabs a handful of popcorn and shoves it in her mouth, "Anyways we’re just watching some movie… you’re welcome to join us… we’ve got some popcorn," She shakes the bowl with emphasis.

"Uh…" Miko says, watching as Miki moves towards a couch near a window with some other girls she thinks are from the newspaper.

"Come on!" Miki calls out, "The movie’s just getting started."

Miko grips the strap of her messenger bag tightly, and takes a spot near the floor in front of the couch. Something taps her from behind, and sees Miki holding out the bowl of popcorn for her to take.

"Want some?"

Miko shakes her head, "Oh. Uh… I’m good…"

"Okay," Miki shrugs, taking another handful.

Miki picks up the conversation with the other people in the room, chattering about some professor that low balls everyone’s grades and what everyone’s planning on wearing for the annual journalism awards next month in November. Miki occasionally turns to Miko, but Miko turns her head away, not really sure if it’s her place and time to be apart of the conversation.

She’s also not really sure if she even got the right gift for Miki to begin with. After Miko saw her on campus, she rode her bike out to the mall to find some lipstick that she thought Miki would like. Only problem was, Miko’s not much of a makeup expert to begin with… and she feels kind of stupid at just buying lipstick. It’s pathetic that she’s even getting worried about buying her crush lipstick.

Apparently Miko’s zoned out long enough that the movie is now suddenly over, and the rest of the people in the room are getting up and wandering over towards the kitchen.

"Oh," Miko says, standing back up, "I didn’t know it was…" She stops short, realizing that Miki’s still sitting behind her, and is currently touching her back.

"Did you want to go up to my room?" She ask.

"Wh… what?"

Miki sets the now empty bowl on the cushion, and stands up too, "Well, you just looked like you wanted some time away from the party, so I was thinking we could just go up to my room for a bit… if that’s okay with you?"

"Oh, uh. Sure?" Miki grins at her response and tugs her along over towards the stairs and up to a hallway with two rooms on either side. The one on the left is closed, while the other is open and… oh that other one is definitely Akira’s. She can tell from the mess that’s inside.

Miki tugs open the door and gestures her in, "Aaaand, this is the best room of the house."

Miko steps through and Miki closes the door behind her. She really isn’t surprised by how pink everything is. And not surprised by how many Cyndi Lauper and Madonna posters are on her wall. On the wall above her desk is a tact board full of photos- most of which are of some black cat, that is also happening to be sleeping on top of Miki’s bed.

"Oh, I didn’t know he came back in here… how did he do that?" Miki says, picking up the cat, who instantly begins yowling at being held, "This is Tako. He meows… a lot."

"I can tell."

"It’s mostly cause he doesn’t like me holding him… he has to initiate the hold," Miki puts Tako back on her bed and kisses him on the forehead.

Miko gives Miki a small smile and turns to look at the vanity area to the right of the bed. Oh, good, at least the lipstick idea wasn’t too stupid.

"Oh, uh," Miko starts, reaching into her bag and pulling out the wrapped lipstick, "Here. I got you something… I’m not sure if it’s the right shade or if it’s… a brand you use… I’m not very knowledgeable about lipstick or makeup to begin with." She holds it out in her hand, and Miki comes back over from the bed, taking it from her.

"Aw, you didn’t have to get me anything," Miki rips the paper off to reveal the box of lipstick- a brand that Miko’s never even heard of but it looked expensive and the color was pink so she figured it would work for Miki.

"Well, I didn’t want to show up without a gift…"

"I just invited you today… you really didn’t have to go out of the way to do that… Oooh, I like the color!"

At least that part worked out.

"Thanks… I wasn’t really sure what kind of lipstick to get you honestly… I don’t… really wear makeup to begin with."

"Really?"

"Yeah, I just don’t know what to get… or like what colors would even work for me."

Miki contemplates for a second, and sets the box down on her bed. Miko raises an eyebrow as Miki starts making her way back over towards the vanity area. She picks up a couple lipstick tubes, looking at the colors for a moment until she picks up one that’s a peachy color and comes back over towards Miko.

"I think…" She untwists the cap upwards and presses it right to Miko’s lips, "This would work well for you…" and starts to paint it on.

Miki pulls back, and admires her work. Miko can’t formulate any kind of thought at the moment, and lets herself be dragged over to the vanity.

She only stares in the mirror, still in shock that Miki just put her lipstick on her. Miki leans in next to her, smiling, "Do you like it?"

"Uh… uhm…"

"You can take the lipstick if you want to," Miki takes Miko’s hand and drops it in her palm, "I think it looks better on you than it does me."

"Have you used it before?" Miko’s not even sure she’s ready to hear the answer.

"Here and there." Miki says, smiling knowingly, and makes her way back over towards the bed.

Was this an indirect kiss?!

"T-thanks," Miko blinks a couple times, looking at her lips in the mirror, feeling too cautious to even touch them, lest she ruin the job Miki just did… and she really, really doesn’t want to take this lipstick off for awhile.

Before Miko lets the thoughts get to her, she changes the subject, "Hey… where’s Akira?"

"Good question, and that is an an answer I do not have. My only clue is that he’s hanging out with Ryou probably… ugh it’s high school all over again."

"Sorry, another quick question, did he also ask you for song recs? For, like, a mixtape for Ryou?"

Miki laughs, covering her mouth, "Yes. He asked me too. I can’t believe you recommended him a love song… that’s so rich."

"... I thought they were dating and then I realized… they’re not… I’m kind of surprised Akira doesn’t… realize how much Ryou likes him."

"Miko, this has been going on since middle school. Maybe even earlier… but trust me, Akira’s been oblivious for a very long time and I see no end in sight."

"H-how… How does he not realize?"

"Have you metAkira?"

Miko’s about to retort but then shrugs, "Alright. You make a fair point. But seriously, where is he? He didn't say where he was going?"

"I haven't seen him since last night. He’s been gone all day. He and Ryou were apparently hanging out last night and Akira didn’t come home until midnight."

"That doesn’t seem like him…"

Miki shrugs, "Well. I think they went over to Ryou’s house, maybe they finally fucked. I asked him about it and he got really nervous. And also kinda mad? Whatever." 

"Oh… I see… Weird."

"Anything that involves Ryou is weird."

The front door suddenly swings open and is slammed back closed and locked into place.

"I’m guessing that’s Akira?" Miko says.

"Where the hell has he been, jesus christ?"

Miki gets up from her bed, taking Tako with her, who immediately starts yowling for mercy and leaves her room. Miko’s sure she probably shouldn’t be in here if Miki isn’t, so she puts the lipstick in her back and follows after Miki down the stairs and into the kitchen.

The rest of the party goers, plus Akira and two older people she assumes are Miki’s parents have started to take their pieces of cake.

Miki sets Tako down by her feet. He takes one look at Akira before arching up his back and hissing, making sure to show his fangs before scampering off into the living room with his fur bristled.

Miki frowns at Tako as he flees, then shakes her head and turns back to Akira, "You were gone all day, where did you go?"

"Out?" Akira replies dismissively and continues on his way into the dining room.

"For the whole day?" Miki pushes, following behind him.

He closes the door to the dining room, and Miko steps her way over, listening in, "Yeah, like I said, I was out."

"With Ryou? Which, by the way, is he thatpetty that he doesn’t even want to come to my party?"

"Oh, uh, he's… in the hospital."

"The hospital?" Miki repeats, "What didyou guys do last night?"

"I told you it was just… stuff, it’s not important," Akira sounds increasingly agitated.

Miki pushes again, "Then… why is he in the hospital?"

"I said it’s nothing important, it’s fine. Lay off already."

"He’s in the fucking hospital, Akira. What the hell is going on?" Miki retorts.

"Nothing," he growls.

"What. The fuck.Happened?"

"It’s none of your fucking business!" There’s a loud crash and the clattering of dishes and the entire party stops.  

It’s silent for a few moments, until Akira groans loudly and comes back out of the dining room, slamming the door shut and leaving Miki behind. Seconds later, Miki reappears and closes the door behind her, looking off at Akira grabbing his own slice of cake and glaring at her.

Miko taps Miki on the shoulder before she can attempt to do more damage, "Uh, what was that all about?"

"Hm, what was what all about?" Miki says, raising an eyebrow.

"Akira." Miko reminds her, crossing her arms and stealing a glance at him, while Akira throws the paper plate onto the table, "He was barely answering your questions… that’s really not like him."

"What do you mean?"

"Isn’t he… just, acting, like… super aggressive?" Miko notes, watching Akira continuing to glare at Miki. He gives up and starts to take his leave.

"I mean, I’ve told him to actually speak up for himself, maybe he’s finally taking my advice." Miki shrugs, walking back over to the kitchen table to pick up a piece of cake.

"That’s not speaking up for himself, that’s being a fucking dick to you. Something’s weird… he’s not acting like himself."

"Is he?" Miki asks in honesty.

Miko pauses for a moment, while Miki looks at her quizzically. She tries to think of a way to explain her reasoning, but nothing comes to mind. Maybe she’s just overreacting… but something definitely feels off.   

Miko watches as Akira walks into the darkness of the hallway past the kitchen.

Chapter Text

"I can’t believe it was that photo that won the award," Miki says, holding the door out for Akira to come back in, "It wasn’t even that good! Jesus the department really needs to get better judges."

Akira has nothing to say to her, and keeps going into the house and up the stairs. She sighs. At least last year he tried to come up with some kind of excuse. The journalism awards were always such a sham, and they only played favorites. It probably pissed the department off that Miki was decent at taking photos.

"It was a really nice photo, Miki," Her mom says, coming in from behind, "I don’t know why you’re complaining."

"Don’t worry Miki, I thought it was stupid, too," Tare offers, before running up the stairs.

"Tare, take your shoes off!"

"Sorry mom!" he calls back.

"Wow," Miki remarks, taking her own shoes off, "I can’t believe Tare and I actually agree on something."

Her dad finally comes through the door and locks it behind him, "Is she still complaining about the photo that won?"

"Yes Kozo," Her mom says, taking off her coat and hanging it on the rack near the door, "I told her it looked fine, but she doesn’t believe me."

Miki rolls her eyes and starts up the stairs, "You two don’t know anything about photojournalism, that was a bad photo."

"What constitutes as a good photo for you then?" Her father asks, "A picture of Tako?"

"Exactly."

"I don’t think pictures of Tako are going to be acceptable in the professional field."

"Well they should be, dad."

"Knowing you, you’re going to make that possible."

"I might," Miki says, "Anyways, I’m gonna take a shower if you need me. I have to wash off all this disappointment."

"Don’t spend an hour in there and waste the hot water!" Her mom calls after her.

"I won’t! Sheesh mom, take a chill pill." Miki rolls her eyes and goes into the hallway. Akira’s left his door open for once, and is already passed out sleeping on top of his bed, having not even bothered to take off his dress pants.

"What is with you lately…?" Miki remarks, closing the door.

She stops by Tare’s room, and finds him still awake and having changed into his pjs.

"You’re not planning on using the bathroom right?" Miki says, leaning into his room.

"Uh, no?"

"Ha ha, then it’s mine."

"Hey no fair!"

"You said you weren’t gonna use it!"

"That doesn’t mean I’m not gonna need it at all during the two hours it takes you to shower!"

"I do not take two hour long showers! You’re just gross and shower for five minutes!"

"I do not!"

"Stop shouting up there!"

"Sorry mom!" They say in unison.

Miki steps into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

 


 

The night moves slowly, waiting for trouble to stir. As if something is preparing to break the peace.

Soon it comes, an elegant creature that one would barely believe would even be a demon, but the raw power she possessed would prove it otherwise. She lands on the roof, poised and calculating.

She laughs, "You now have the power of Amon, Akira Fudo… no. Devilman. For that, you cannot be allowed to live."

Her antenna move high, rising into the sky and calling forth her power.

"Come wind," She commands, clouds making a curtain, shielding the moon from the view, "It is best not to watch this, moon. Unless you want to be stained with the blood of a petty insect."

She chuckles, gazing down at the house below her feet. It was time.

"Agwel! Ghelmer! Tonight we will be the ones to drag Devilman into hell!" Sirene calls to them, but vaguely wonders if she can truly take down the strongest of demon warriors.

 


 

"We need a new water heater! Why is the water still cold after ten minutes?!" Miki cries running out of the shower, shivering. "Piece of shit! Work for once!" She kicks the bathtub half-heartedly.

She grabs her towel on the rack and starts drying up the cold droplets of water. Guess it was going to be another ten minutes of waiting until it was at least lukewarm.

Miki looks in the mirror to catch any missed droplets on her cheek. Satisfied, she tosses it onto the counter and turns to walk back over to the tub, when she thinks she sees something move behind her. She looks again in the mirror, but it’s still just her.

"Weird…" Miki mumbles.

She vaguely wonders if the thing broke or something from the sudden onslaught of rain, which was especially unusual this late in November. Well, whatever, looks like her shower would only be a little bit longer than usual.

Good thing she's the only person who actually uses this shower, unlike some people she knows.

Speaking of one of those people, ever since her party last month, Miki can’t get Miko’s comment about Akira out of her head. But, Miko hasn’t known Akira as long as she has… though Miki has noticed that he’s been more aggressive lately. And not in the way she’s been encouraging him to do for… the past fifteen years.

Or maybe Akira’s just taking her advice the wrong way? But it doesn’t explain the way he’s been slamming shit around; it’s a miracle he hasn’t broken anything. Her dad seems to have noticed Akira’s increasing aggression, too, though he only brushed it off as a typical "young adult male" being a "young adult male." Whatever that meant. Tare has even started to avoid Akira altogether when he’s home. Her mom hasn’t really said much about it, though.

What bothers her the most is that he only started acting like this once Ryou suddenly came back. Miki’s had her issues with Ryou before, now she’s wondering — or, rather, suspecting — that he’s more than likely done something, but she’s not entirely sure what.

It’s not like that’s she can talk to Akira about it. Ryou’s, well, important to Akira, and bringing up her distrust of his best friend is not a good idea with the way Akira’s been acting lately.

Still.

Miki sticks her hand back in, pleased to see it’s finally at a temp she wants. God she’s ready to just have it burn her skin and be rid of the letdown… though now she’s not even sure what she’s letdown about at the moment.

She steps into the shower, and the water suddenly turns icy cold again.  

"Oh my god, you worthless hunk of ju-" Miki turns to inspect the spout and is met with two deliquescent claws reaching for her neck.

"WAAAAAAHHH!"

 


 

"Miki!" Akira jolts awake from a nightmare, the afterimage of Miki's severed head and limbs still fresh in his mind and the sound of her scream ringing in his ears. But, something about the noise doesn't set right with him as he comes back into full consciousness, and he realizes with a start that he'd actually heard it.

He launches himself out of bed and bursts open his door - did he close it? The door to her bedroom is wide open; Miki's not inside, but he can feel the presence of a demon nearby.

Shit.

He's been on edge all evening, feeling like he was being watched, feeling like he was being hunted, and now he knows why. His demonic instincts kick in, revving up his adrenalin for a fight. Dashing forward down the hall, he almost trips over Tare, who’s lying face down on the floor, shaking.

"Tare… Tare what’s going on?" Akira demands, going down to pick him up.

Tare scoots away, and backs into the wall, "M-mom… a-and D-d-dad!" and shakingly points a finger towards the master bedroom.

"Huh?" Akira turns, finding Uncle Kozo and Aunt Akiko phased into the house, dead looks in their eyes like corpses.

Uncle Kozo starts slipping through the floor, while Aunt Akiko stays stationary with only her face and hands poking through the wall.

He touches one of Aunt Akiko’s hands, and feeling warmth still. They were alive at least. Unconscious, but still alive.

"Where’s Miki?!"  Akira whips back around to face Tare.

"I-in the b-bathroom."

"Come with me!"

"No!" Tare scrambles up into his room and slams his door closed, locking it. "Y-you go look!"

Cautiously, Akira approaches the bathroom, heart pounding in his chest like a drum.

"Miki?" He calls, "Miki are you in here?"

No response.

Akira tries to open the door, but finds that it won't budge. He slams his shoulder against it. And again. And again. But still it remains closed.

"Argh!" Akira grunts, "Why won't it open? I'm Devilman, damn it!"

He punches the door in frustration, but slips forward as his feet begin to sink through the floor as if it were a liquid. In only a few seconds, he's waist deep and struggling to pull himself out. Amorphous tendrils rise out of ground and to drag him down further as an equally unsettling face emerges in front of him, snickering distortedly.

"Hell's envoy, Agwel, at your service," the demon gurgles smugly, "Here to guide you into the deepest pits!"

"'Hell's envoy'? What are you on?" Akira sneers, "Don't make me laugh!" He punctuates the taunt by extending his antennae out from his eyebrows and thrusting them through Agwel's eyes — or at least what he thinks are his eyes — and out through the back of his head.

It proves to be effective, as Agwel shrieks and melts back into the floor, allowing Akira to escape his trap and as the ground solidifies underneath him.

"Running away already?" Akira retracts his antennae, looking around at the floor and walls in preparation for another attack, "We've barely started!"

"AAAAAAAHHHH-glck!" a second scream comes from the other side of the bathroom door, cut short by a wet choking sound.

"Miki!" Akira snaps his attention to the source of the noise in time for the door to burst off its hinges, shattering. He shields his face to avoid the splintered wood, then lowers his arm to gauge what he's up against.

What he sees is not at all what he expects.

Miki is standing there, stark-naked and dripping wet, looking back at him with an uncharacteristic maliciousness in her dark eyes.

"So," she says, stepping towards him with awkward movements, as if she's not yet used to her own legs, "This is what's become of you, Amon. Hell's champion, overtaken by some human."

The voice is definitely Miki's, but the words she's saying are definitely not. Akira grits his teeth and steps back – not as a sign of retreat, but as a preparation for battle.

"You don't remember me? Ghelmer?" she says with mock-offense, "Fighting with you was always a challenge, and I have to say I'm pleased to get a rematch. But perhaps you are not the strongest demon after all if even I can successfully obtain a host body."

As if Akira needed it spelled out for him. The thought that this parasyte would dare to possess Miki infuriates him, but his human will reminds him that attacking it would also injure her, so he hesitates. He needs to find a way to get it out of her, and quickly, if that's even possible. Akira has never given a thought to demons unfusing, but he does not want to consider the possibility of this being permanent. He's not sure what he would do if he lost her to this…

Seeming to read his thoughts, Ghelmer twists Miki's mouth into an inhuman grin, "Have I found your weakness, 'Devilman'?"

She moves forward again and Akira moves back, but his foot does not meet solid ground, instead sinking down again as Agwel surfaces behind him. Fuck, he'd let himself get distracted and had fallen directly into their trap. Agwel laughs obnoxiously again, and Akira suddenly finds an outlet for his rage.

Akira whips his antennae towards Agwel, but Ghelmer lunges forward, grabbing them and yanking backwards.

"GAH!" Akira cries out at the stinging pain and throws his arm back to smack Miki — Ghelmer — off of him. She grunts as she is thrown back into the wall and collapses onto the floor with a thud. Akira tries to ignore the twist in his gut at the sight of her motionless body, and reminds himself he hadn't put in enough strength to seriously hurt her. He hopes.

Now free, Akira pointedly turns his attention back to Agwel, who suddenly looks a lot less sure of himself now that his ally is down. Akira lashes out his antennae and wraps them around Agwel's slimy neck, constricting him. Agwel blubbers incoherently as Akira pulls tighter, eventually tearing upwards and severing his head from his body, which pops into a mess of thick goop.

But he's not yet dead, evident by the noises his head is still making. He's probably trying to get in some sort of last word, but Akira isn't listening. Instead, he regains his footing and scrambles over to where Miki lies. As he kneels down, he notices a water-like substance trailing out of her mouth and pooling onto the floor. Warily, he slides his arms underneath her and lifts her off the ground, causing her head to lull to the side and the last of the liquid to pour out. It joins the rest of the puddle, which is expanding much more than it should be physically able to, and alarmingly fast.

Akira turns on his heel and rushes into Miki's room, prioritizing getting her to safety before what he assumes is Ghelmer has fully reformed. Kicking the door shut behind him, he hurries over to her bed, where a startled Tako is now arched and spitting at him, and lays her down gently. Not wanting to lose focus, Akira turns back around in time to see the puddle seeping underneath the door frame and morphing upwards into a skeletal-like figure with rows of teeth, clawed arms, and a serpent tail. Ghelmer's true form.

Without hesitation, Akira whisks the sheet off of Miki's bed and flings it on top of Ghelmer, igniting it with hellfire along the way. Ghelmer screeches as the room fills with smoke and steam, but Akira's senses can still pick up its location, and he delivers a swift uppercut into its jaw. His suspicions were correct; boiling away its liquid cover weakened it significantly.

Making use of his advantage, Akira gives Ghelmer no time to recover before clobbering into its side, knocking it off balance enough to land another punch directly through its midsection, grinning darkly. Dark purple viscera splatters across his torso and Ghelmer releases a final scream, impaled onto his fist.

Another burst of the thick blood erupts from the open wound as Akira slices his arm back, shredding through the soft flesh, and he finds himself laughing wildly as the lifeless corpse crumples down before him. There's nothing quite like the high of a fresh kill, but he's almost disappointed that it went down so easily.

His laughter winds down to a pant as he begins to come down. He wipes the sweat off his brow, but pauses as he realizes, belatedly, that his arm is still covered in Ghelmer's blood, which is now smeared onto his face, too. Slightly disgusted, he flicks his arm out to try and shake it off, before remembering suddenly that Miki is still here, and he's made a huge mess of the entire upstairs. He wonders, tensely, how much she saw, how much she'll remember, and how the hell he's going to cover this up.

"At least I won…" he mutters aloud.

Suddenly, there's a loud crash from above, and his chest is being pierced by something sharp, gripping him from behind. Before Akira has time to react, he's being hoisted into the air and forcefully pulled through a hole in the ceiling. The last thing he sees is his own blood, dark and thick, dripping down from him onto Miki's body.

Akira struggles to escape, but the talons grappling him are too tight and he can't so much as move his arms. He strains his neck over his shoulder to get a look at his next opponent. Huge, white-feathered wings are carrying him further and further into the air, and at their center is the body of a woman with a face as terrifying as she is beautiful. She grins wickedly down at him and tightens her grasp.

"You think you won, Devilman? Ha! You are defenseless against me!"

"…Sirene!" Akira exclaims, some part of him recognizing the fierce demoness.

"Oh? So you do remember me, Amon."

"I," Akira shouts, attempting to shift out of the hold, "Am! Not! Amon!"

"Ah yes… I remember now. A human over took your consciousness. A pity."

Thinking that the expansion might throw her off (and that he would really hate to fall from this height without wings), Akira begins to shift into Devilman - but instead of transforming, a violent shock pulses through his body.

He tries again, with the same result. "I… I can't transform!?"

The demon laughs, "Electricity flows through my claws; It seals off your supernatural powers. And you cannot even think to escape them. They will rip to you shreds."

She gives another squeeze for emphasis, and Akira grunts as more blood oozes out of his chest.

But Akira is not intimidated. In fact, he's actually pretty fucking pissed off.

"Then do it!" He taunts back, against his human judgement, "Rip me apart! Obviously you've won, so spare me the shame of defeat and kill me already!"

"Cease, you insect!" Sirene punctures him again, "If you were a true warrior, I would gladly do as you requested. But you are not. You are but a crawling worm, a grub! A fool with too much of a human heart! You will die like the insect you are, Devilman. The judgement of the Demon Lord Zenon awaits you in hell!"

Shit, Akira thinks, How am I going to get out of this? Struggling against Sirene’s claws proves to be futile, and it doesn’t help that they’re probably miles away from his house by now.

His fears prove true, looking down at the landscape below, seeing the stretch of the woods that start at the edge of campus. He’s at least not too far from home. Akira hopes that they go far enough towards Ryou’s house and that maybe he could help… but it's a long shot, and he doesn’t have a plan- yet.

Akira bides his time.


Ryou taps his pencil idly against his father's desk, staring at the words in his textbook and trying to will himself to actually process them. Putting on his reading glasses might help, but they're all the way in his bedroom and also he just he really doesn't want to.

Trying to catch up on a month's worth of homework is a goddamn nightmare, but honestly he's lucky that his professors' are even giving him the opportunity in the first place (probably because they all knew his dad). Still, he feels like his brain is going to melt out of his ears if he has to read one more chapter of this pseudo-intellectual bullshit. Who does this author think he is, talking about morality as if its some universal scale of judgement and not a subjective offset of personal experience.

Ryou pauses mid-tap as the air shifts suddenly. Boredom forgotten, he's now alert and hyperaware of his surroundings. Something isn't right.

He pushes back from the desk and warily makes his way out of the office. He's beginning to recognize this as the inexplicable feeling he's been getting whenever a demon is nearby, but… there's another presence with it, this time. A familiar one.

Akira.

Akira in danger.

Abandoning caution, Ryou bolts down the hallway towards the master bedroom to retrieve his dad's hunting rifle, then sprints across the rest of the house to the garage, grabbing his keys and coat and passing Jenny — when did she get here? — along the way. He flings himself into the driver's seat of his car – well, his dad's car. But his is still trashed from the sabbath and this piece of shit is all he's got at the moment.

Gritting his teeth, he backs out of garage and speeds off through the gate and down the road. But this old Ford isn't nearly as fast as the Corvette, and it's struggling to make it up to even 80 MPH. Where Akira is, Ryou isn't going to get there soon enough like this.

As if on cue, he spots a single headlight coming down the road in the opposite direction. A motorcycle. Perfect.

Ryou swerves the car to the left to block the oncoming lane, and the driver of the cycle skids to a stop just short of him.

"Watch it, asshole!" The guy yells, yanking off his helmet, "The hell is wrong with you!?"

In lieu of an answer, Ryou throws open the door and jumps out, "Sorry, but I need this more than you do."

"Huh-"

Ryou socks him in the face, knocking him off the bike. Without waiting for a reaction, Ryou throws the car keys down at him before hopping onto the seat and peeling off down the road, whipping around a corner to head up to higher ground.

"Hang on, Akira! I'm on my way!"

 


 

They pass over Ryou’s house, most every light still out, and looking empty and lonely.

Shit.

Akira hadn’t accounted for the fact that Ryou might not be home, though he’s not sure where Ryou would even be since he’s been catching up on school work for the past few weeks. And it doesn’t look like there’s any way to figure out how to get out of these fucking talons.

Akira doesn’t want to dwell on the fact that this might be how he goes out, but…

Fuck.

Sweat rolls down his face as he realizes they’re nearing a cliff. Sirene said she’d take him to Zenon or whoever… but she doesn’t seem too against just smashing him against the cliff.

He closes his eyes bracing for impact… when he hears a familiar rifle being locked and loaded.

Tentatively he opens his eyes, realizing…

"Ryou!"

Ryou stands at the edge of the cliff — expression determined, trench coat fanning out behind him, and the barrel of his gun focused directly on Sirene's head — and fires. She notices him in the same moment, but is not fast enough to dodge the shot completely, and the bullet lodges itself into her shoulder. He takes advantage of her refractory period to fire off two more shots, one nailing her in the chest and the other into her thigh.

"AUGH!" The so-called mighty demon warrior drops her grip in shock, and Akira’s finally out.

"You vile human!" Sirene shouts.

Her fury at losing is instead taken out on Ryou, and she launches one of her claws at him, embedding into his back and sends him flying down the hill.

"Ryou!" Akira doesn’t hesitate and reaches behind him to flick out his wings.

Ryou’s disappeared behind the hill, Akira grimaces, but he’ll worry about him later. He’s got to take care of this bitch first.

Sirene isn’t looking too great at the moment, ha. Purple blood dripping down her legs and missing a talon- where’s that power of demons you went on about now.

"Sirene!" He calls to her, "You called me a worm didn’t you? You said I was nothing more than an insect! But don’t you know the saying?" Akira starts shifting into Devilman, feeling his skin breaking open and fixing itself anew (and ripping his dress pants to shred with his increased size), "A worm can turn!"

"Forget Zenon! I’ll finish you off myself, filthy pest!"

Both extending their wings out, they charge in for the fight, colliding in the center. In the recoil, Akira notices that he's managed to knock Sirene off balance, and charges downwards to deliver a kick into her lower back. Sirene grunts in pain as she drops out of the air, crashing down into the trees below.

"You're not getting away that easily!" Akira calls after her. He drops down, too, landing on solidly his feet into the underbrush.

Despite Akira following her path, Sirene seems have disappeared. Akira stands still, tuning into his enhanced senses, listening intently for any sign of movement.

The movement does come, but not in the way he expects, as large chunks of tree are launched at him, scraping into his already wounded chest. Another round comes, but Akira is prepared this time and knocks them out of the way, breaking some of the weaker branches into splinters as he hurls himself towards their source.

He pushes through a thick bush and comes face to face with her again. He throws out a punch, knocking her jaw upwards and then slamming back down on the side of her head, and finally coming back around with his other hand to punch her in the stomach. He goes in for another hit, but Sirene screeches aggressively and rakes him across the face with her talons.

The brawl continues, and Akira lunges at her again to tackle her to the ground. Sirene calls back the arm she'd used to attack Ryou and sends it flying through the trees in a circular motion until it collides with Akira's chest, knocking him off of her. Akira recovers quickly and wastes no time reentering the fight, until her severed talon comes flying back and saws straight through his arm.

Akira yells out, and Sirene claims his detached arm as her prize.

"Die, Devilman!" Sirene sends the blade at him a third time, spinning into Akira's gut and knocking him backwards. But Akira refuses to fall, grunting as he holds a hand to the gash. He is practically covered in blood, both his and Sirene's, and probably a bit of Ghelmer's left over from earlier.

"Pathetic." Sirene says, "I told you… you cannot escape my iron claw. Bit by bit, I will destroy you."

As the talon begins spinning again, Akira notices the twitch of Sirene's antennae. That must be how she controls her claw, he thinks, and thrusts out his own to grab hold of her's.

Sirene makes a surprised sound and tries to pull away from him, their tug-of-war sending her arm flying off course and richochetting through the surrounding trees. She attempts to direct it best she can, and thinks she's got it on a solid course back to Akira, but he pulls again and it makes contact with her instead, impaling her on her own talons.

Screaming, she uses her remaining arm to yank at the other, but it won't budge.

"Y… You!" She pants, "You dare to-" she agitates her organs, and suddenly a viscid liquid is spewing from her mouth. She remains hunched over, breathing shallowly as the streams of blood and bile run down her chin. Enraged, she clenches her jaw and whips back around to face Akira.

She screams again, this time out of fury, and aims to swipe at him again, but she's clearly weakened, and Akira is able to grip onto one of her headwings and rip, taking with it a section of her face and revealing the skull beneath. Panicked, Sirene attempts to flee.

"L-Lord Zenon!" She pleads in desperation, "Save me! Lend me your power! I cannot die while he still lives!"

A bolt of lightning cracks from the dark clouds above and strikes into the ground, bringing with it a hulk of a demon with skin like metal and tusks protruding from his shoulder blades, and several smaller creatures as backup.

"Kaim!" Sirene cries.

"Sirene!" The large demon calls back, "Merge with me! Use my body to save yourself!"

"What? Merge? Kaim… What are you saying? Do you not see my wounds?! I’m dying."

"I know."

"If we merge and my consciousness takes control we will both die. Even if we are successful in defeating Devilman…"

"I know, Sirene…"

Sirene feels more blood drop down from her wounds, "We have a chance if your consciousness dominates. But the odds are only 50/50… You. You are willing to take that chance?"

"I do not intend survive."

"What?" She asks softy.

"I wish for you to taste Devilman’s defeat. My body, my power… I will give them up for you."

"Kaim… Kaim, why?"

"Even while you are bathed in your own blood… you are still beautiful to me." Kaim remarks. Before Sirene can protest once more, Kaim’s tail comes forward, encircling his face, and rips it clean off.

"KAIM!" Sirene holds back her tears, there will be time for that later. She charges forward to the lifeless body of Kaim and merges with him, her torso melding into his frame and taking the place of his head. She lets out a roar, charging forward towards Akira, who has been preoccupied with slicing through the lesser demons that Kaim brought with him.

Akira pauses in skewering one of them on to a tree branch, turning at the sound of thick hooves approaching. His reaction is not fast enough, and Sirene users Kaim's - no, her tusks to send volts of electricity through Akira's body, temporarily paralyzing him as she drives forward and spears him with them.

"ARGH!" Akira screams in pain, flicks out his wings to pull back from his impalement. He can’t get himself higher than any of the trees, and the wound causes too much strain. Down he goes, crashing through branches and onto the tree roots below. Akira finds himself barely able to move.

"I’m finished…" Akira mumbles, hearing the thumping of Sirene charging forward to finish the job.

He tries to make one last stand, but ends up coughing out more of that thick dark blood.

Shit. Amon’s energy… is… draining. My… my power’s… slip…ing…

He feels himself grow smaller and his wings retract. Even holding himself up proves to be too much. Akira collapses on his side, clutching at the open wound on his stomach, barely making out the silhouette of Sirene in the distance at a standstill.

They’re not… not coming? Why… aren’t… you moving… Why aren’t you claiming… your… victory. Why…? Why…

Akira’s thoughts trail off, and he’s lost to the darkness.

 


 

Slowly, Akira opens his eyes. A blurry figure looms over him, illuminated in soft light.

An angel? He thinks, half-dreaming, Am I dead?

Akira blinks a few times and squints as the face comes into focus, and no, it's just Ryou. The light is coming from the sun, which has not quite risen over the horizon, and Akira is very much alive. And in pain. As if to emphasize this realization, Akira abruptly sits up into a coughing fit, and Ryou jerks back to avoid getting smacked in the face.

"Welcome back," Ryou says, offering him a flask. Suddenly realizing how dry his throat is, Akira grabs it enthusiastically and prepares to drink, but pauses.

"Wait, this is water, right?"

Ryou rolls his eyes, "Yes. Now drink. You're dehydrated."

Akira chugs half of it in a few seconds, but then another thought occurs to him, "Why're you here?"

"Here specifically?"

"I mean, how did you know where to find me?"

"Hmm…" Ryou thinks for a moment, "You know, I'm not sure. I was at home, when I suddenly just knew you were nearby, and in trouble, and I knew that I could help you. So I just… followed that feeling." He laughs, "Maybe I'm becoming psychic or something."

Becoming psychic…? Akira thinks, but doesn’t press it further.

Akira attempts to sit up properly, but grunts and lands back on his arms.

"Careful," Ryou says, "You're still recovering; you don't want to reopen your wounds."

At that, Akira notices that his chest, arms, and midsection have been practically cocooned in gauze, "Did you do this? Where did you get this stuff?"

"She managed to knock me towards the edge of the woods, and there's a 24 hour pharmacy not too far off from there."

"Weren't you injured, too?" Akira asks, noting the bandages wrapped around Ryou's chest as well, and also that Ryou is shirtless.

"Yeah, but I made it," Ryou answers dismissively, "Oh, and I found your arm."

"What?"

"The one that got cut off?"

"My ar…" Akira looks down at his arms, both of which are clearly attached, despite him remembering his left being severed, and is suddenly confused and alarmed.

Ryou, either not noticing or not acknowledging Akira's reaction, continues his explanation, taking Akira's hand in his own and examining it with a curious expression, "Anyways, I found it on my way back, and just kind of… stuck it back on. I figured with your demon body, it could probably repair itself like your other injuries. It was a shot in the dark, but hey, it worked."

Ryou runs his thumb along Akira's palm, and Akira closes his fingers around Ryou’s for assurance. Ryou stares dumbfoundead for a second and pulls away, leaving Akira confused.

"Wha?"

"N-nothing, I was just… I was checking to make sure your hand still worked. It does. It’s fine."

"Oh, well… your hand was really soft," Akira adds. "I didn’t min-"

"Anyways." Ryou cuts him off. Regardless of what Akira's intentions are, Ryou is not ready to have whatever conversation would have just unfolded. Luckily for him, Akira seems too distracted to read too much into it.

They sit in silence for a moment, before Akira speaks again, obviously still trying to process what happened.

"… Wait. How am I even still alive? I thought for sure Sirene was going to kill me…"

Ryou nods in the direction behind Akira, "Take a look." Akira turns his head to see the sun silhouetting a figure with large spikes coming out of the torso, and white feathers glittering in the light.

"Sirene? Wait is she… is she dead?"

"Your fight ended in a standstill. Sirene died before she could deliver the final blow and believed she had achieved victory."

"… and Kaim — that was his name, right? — just… went along with it?" Akira pauses, "I mean, he did say he was willing to sacrifice himself for her. With the way he was looking at her it seemed almost like… like he was in love with her."

"In love?" Ryou asks, tilting his head at Akira.

"Yeah. I don't know how to explain it… it just seemed like love. Is that even possible for demons?"

Ryou takes a moment to formulate his response, "…As I've said, demons are creatures of instinct; they don't put much value in any kind of sentiment, so I'm inclined to say no, but…" he looks up at Sirene, then back to Akira, "They're also individualistic. So who knows. Maybe."

Akira gets a closer look at Sirene’s face, still caked in her own blood, missing her wing and claw, and Akira thinks that she truly does look beautiful.

He turns back to Ryou, about to stand up and looks down at his legs, "Did you also buy me pants?" Akira notices.

Ryou's eyebrow twitches in annoyance, "Would you rather be naked?"

"Uh, not really but… you didn’t… have to put them on me."

Ryou mutters something Akira doesn't catch, then speaks clearly, "…I'm going home."

"Uh, isn’t your house… kinda far?"

"It's fine. I made it here, I can make it back."

"Want a lift?" Akira grins.

"Wha-"

Akira stands up fully, gathering Ryou in his arms in the process, and unfolds his wings from the scars on his back.

Ryou makes a panicked noise, then quickly tries to save face, "Akira! Put me down!"

"Would you rather walk six miles at 5 a.m.?"

"…Okay, fine. But if you drop me I swear to god I will re-detach your arm."

"I won't," Akira promises, bringing Ryou closer to his chest to demonstrate. Ryou, visibly flustered and trying to pretend otherwise, pushes a hand against Akira in protest, but Akira takes off without warning and Ryou is now throwing his arms around his neck and holding on for dear life. Akira laughs as Ryou claws at his shoulders.

"The threat still stands, Devilman," Ryou hisses, and buries his face in Akira's chest to avoid looking down - and to hide how red it's become.

 


 

Miki blinks awake with a pounding headache. And… somehow naked. She’s pretty sure she didn’t get drunk after the journalism awards… but there’s a lot of evidence suggesting otherwise. Speaking of… the last thing she remembers is… taking a shower.

But it still doesn’t feel right. Miki starts sitting up, looking around her room for a moment, there’s not anything out of place. It’s the exact way it had always been. But something’s nagging her… like she’s missing something - and speaking of missing something, her top sheet is gone. And her room stinks of that time when Tare burned a bunch of waffles in the microwave.

He probably did burn something in the microwave again. She groans. It’s too early in the morning to think about Tare doing stupid shit. Right now Miki’s focused trying to connect how she got from the bathroom to her bedroom.

Vaguely she remembers Akira carrying her. Though Miki’s pretty sure she didn’t pass out in the shower or anything…

Her memories from last night bleed into what she thought were dreams. In her mind she can picture Akira looking like a monster with fangs and claws, and cackling like something out of a horror movie, piercing through a hulking giant with only his hands and spraying purple gunk everywhere.

Part of her wonders just how much of it was from being too tired… another part of Miki… fears some of it might be true.

Psh, as if.  

It’s only 6 a.m. according to her alarm clock, so Miki figures it’s best she just go back to sleep. As she stands to pull on her nightgown, she notices there’s droplets down her chest and on her legs. Miki examines them closely seeing that it’s… purple. On her stomach are streaks of a dark red substance, thick and sticky… but not anything like blood.

"The hell?" It had to be something else. It couldn’t have… Miki shakes her head. Best to just get it off before heading back to bed.

Miki yanks the nightgown over her head and moves over towards the door, surprised Tako hasn’t woken up yet and began yowling to be let out. Instead, he’s curled up in a ball, facing away from Miki’s bed.

"What’s up with you?" Miki remarks to him.

She opens the door to her room, finding Akira… awake at this hour, and coming back into his bedroom… and for some reason, wearing his leather jacket. What a dumbass.

Miki closes the door behind her, and Akira turns to look across the way.

"Miki!" Akira says, like he’s relieved.

"Yeah…? What’s up? How come you’re awake?"

He shakes his head, "Nothing, uh… just… was doing… stuff."

Miki leans against her door, crossing her arms, "You’re always doing stuff."

"I mean," Akira shrugs, "I guess. But, uh… you’re okay right?"

"Yeah? Why?"

"Uh, no reason… you’re, uhm… just… up at this hour."

"Dude," Miki says, walking towards his bedroom, "So are you."

"I couldn't sleep," he lies.

"You? Not sleeping?"

"Uh, I woke up?"

Miki raises an eyebrow.

Akira leans back defensively, raising his hands, "What?"

She looks him up and down, suspicious, mostly ‘cause he’s wearing his jacket. So far that’s the only thing that seems out of place, until she pauses at Akira’s hands, noting that his nails are long… and sharp. The guy who would bite his nails constantly, has… nails that almost look like… claws. But that’s not the most surprising part, it’s the fact that…

There’s purple gunk caked under them.

Miki starts and moves backwards towards her room.

"Miki?" Akira calls after her, "Miki, what’s wrong?"

Miki tries to open her mouth, and she can’t even formulate a sentence. Akira reaches out to her but she shakes her head.

"Miki?"

In fear, she slams her door closed, locking it. Miki ignores Akira’s calls as she slides down to the floor, looking out at nothing in particular. Until her eyes come across something near her desk. It’s her missing blanket…

Charred and burned.

Akira, what’s happening to you…?

Chapter Text

Miko awakens with her arm stretched out, and hot tears rolling down her cheeks. A name is on her tongue, but it slips away and fades back into nothingness once she's fully regained consciousness. She pulls back her hand to her face, feeling the tear tracks down her cheeks. The nightmare she had is gone, but the sadness that came with it still lingers.

For a moment, Miko thinks that her room is in flames and caving in, and jolts, but realizes nothing has changed. There's still her potted plants lining the shelves, her record player and vinyls on top of the desk, science notebooks on the floor and all her torn magazine covers on the walls.

Weird.

Ignoring whatever the hell that was, she sits up, noting that the house is particularly quiet. Miko makes her way over to the door and finding all the lights out.

"Guess I'm spending New Year's alone," Miko says, re-entering her room and collapsing on top of her bed. It wasn't that much of a difference from last year, but the older she gets… the more it feels like this will never change.

She rolls over, looking up at the ceiling, groaning. Miko half heartedly debates if she should just go back to sleep, when her phone rings, startling her.

It was probably the hospital her mom worked at, or someone asking for her mom. But Miko knows she can't let it go to the answering machine, otherwise that would end in… not many good things.

She reaches over to the bedside table and picks up the phone, tangling the cords in her fingers.

"Hello?"

"Oh!" A recognizable voice answers, "Hey Miko!"

"… Miki?"

"Yeah, hey! I thought this was the right number."

Miko blinks, "Uh… how did you get my number? I don't remember giving you my house number."

"Oh, I just asked Akira, apparently you gave it to him? Anyways… are you doing anything for New Year's?" Miki supplies.

"Uh, no… not really," Miko takes the phone off the nightstand, and onto the bed beside her,  "Why?"

"Great!"

"… Why is that great?"

"Well, see, now you're coming to a party."

Miko pulls the phone away from her face, staring at the receiver for a moment, and shakes her head, "Uh? What? What party?"

"Do you know Masami?"

"I… don't think so?"

"Oh, it's her birthday party and Akira got invited and said he could bring guests. Naturally he's bringing Ryou, so I'm bringing you."

"Wait, were you invited though?"

"By extension."

"I don't… think that's how it works."

"I don't think Masami's gonna care. Anyways , we were gonna go in Ryou's car-"

"Does Ryou know you're going in his car?"

"… Anyways! You can take the train up here right?"

"Well, yeah but-"

"Okay, great! We'll pick you up there."

"Wait, Miki-"

"Bye! See you at ten! Look for the red Corvette!"

Click.

"…Miki? Hello? Did… did you hang up?" 


Miko isn't entirely sure if coming up to campus was even the best idea. It's not like she'd been particularly doing anything this winter break, and getting out of the house on New Year's seemed reasonable enough.

Though, what's really making her question her decision to come up here is the fact that it's ten minutes past ten and there's been no sign of the car Miki described. Miki didn't seem like she'd be joking about inviting her… but maybe Ryou might not want to even pick her up. Miko's honestly not really even sure how to feel about him… though saying anything about him to either Akira or Miki seems really rude since they've known him for a long time and, well, Miko hasn't.

What's even worse is the fact that bringing something like that to Akira when he's been… angrier than usual these past few months. Miko's felt bad about having avoided him towards the end of last semester, but, she really wasn't sure what she could have said to him. She hopes he isn't at least too mad about that…   

Or, as usual, she's overthinking things and they're probably just late. But on the other hand…

Sure enough a red Corvette pulls forward, the passenger window rolls down and Miki sticks her head out, "Miko! Over here!"

"Stop shouting." Ryou leans forward in the driver's seat enough for Miko to see him from behind Miki, wearing sunglasses and a near-unreadable expression.

"I wouldn't have to shout if you didn't blast your music the whole fucking drive over here." Miki replies, turning back to the driver's seat as Miko starts making her way over.

"You roped me into this. Deal with the consequences."

Akira opens the backseat door, surprisingly calmly compared to the last few times Miko's seen him, "Miko, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to hear this the entire ride over to Masami's." He scoots over to the passenger seat on the driver's side. "When they get like this, there's no stopping them. I've tried for years." Miko closes the door behind her, buckling in her seatbelt.

"At least get better taste in music." Miki complains.

"At least I actually have taste."

"Oh, what? New wave is supposed to be tasteful?"

"It's better than the mainstream shit you listen to."

"Insult Cyndi Lauper to my face one more fucking time."

Miko looks over to Akira, raising an eyebrow, "I see what you mean now."

"Yeah…" Akira sighs.

"You know that I don't have to drive you anywhere, right?" Ryou continues, "I'm doing this as a favour for Akira."

" I was the one who asked you, asshole."

"And if it was only you, I would have said no."

"Guys, please," Akira says, "Don't drag me into this."

"Hey, uh… shouldn't we get going?" Miko reminds them, "You two can continue when we get there. We've been sitting in here… listening to you argue for like… five minutes."

"Oh, it's been going on for much longer than that," Ryou assures her sarcastically, switching the car into drive and pulling out of the train station.

Miki rolls her eyes and leans back in her seat with her arms folded over her chest, propping her feet up on the dashboard. Without even looking in her direction, Ryou reaches over and pushes her legs back down.

"Hey!"

"I just got this car fixed. I'm not going to risk you damaging anything."

"Maybe if you didn't drive like a maniac it wouldn't have gotten wrecked in the first place."

Ryou grits his teeth, "Again, I don't have to drive you. And at least I have a license."

"I'm guessing this is why you were late?" Miko questions, obviously knowing the answer.

"You could say that, yeah," Akira sighs.

This party was going to be something else. 

 


 
They come up to an apartment complex not too far from campus, not too old like some places around campus. Probably from the 80s at the very least. Most of the place is quiet, except for some occasional sound coming from an apartment on the second floor. Which is more than likely, Masami's place.

Miko's hardly been to parties… at least not since high school. And most of those ended with Miko hiding in a closet until most everyone left. College parties might be a little different, but she really hopes to god she doesn't end up hiding somewhere.

She follows Akira and the others to an apartment in the middle of the hallway, which has really loud music beating behind the door- though not any techno music at least, so maybe the party would be a little calm.

Akira knocks on the door. After a moment, the door opens up and Masami is there to greet them. Miko somewhat recognizes her back from Akira's birthday; at the very least, she still has the same bobbed hair and round glasses.

"Hey Akira," Masami pauses, taking count of the rest of the group, "and… friends." She shakes her head, then continues, "Anyways, come on in- oh, you're all legal, right? I know Akira is, but I don't want to be giving alcohol to minors."

"Well I am," Miki starts, "Ry-"

"I am." Ryou cuts in, side-eyeing her. Miko's pretty sure that Ryou isn't twenty-one.

Masami turns to Miko then, "Oh," Miko says, "I'm twenty-two. I'm legal, I promise."

Masami steps back and holds the door open for them to come inside, "Alright, well, don't get too trashed. If you break any of my furniture, you're replacing it."

The furniture Masami owns doesn't look… incredibly expensive, but Miko's not really keen on attempting to break any of the furniture. Akira on the other hand… Or Ryou, for that matter. She still doesn't know him that well, and he seems kind of unpredictable.

The apartment is full of mostly grad students and the occasional undergrads – like them. (Or, wait, wasn't Ryou a grad student?) A boombox is playing some station that's doing some New Year's thing, playing some popular songs from the past year. There's an bedroom right across the way from what Miko assumes is living room- where a couple people are situated in front of a TV watching the ball drop special.

Everyone else seems interested in the alcohol on the kitchen counter near the boombox. Ryou's the first to notice it and goes right for a jello shot.

Miko follows after him, suspicious, "How old are you again?"

Ryou looks her in the eye, slams the shot, and sets the empty glass back on the counter, "Twenty."

Miko blinks at him, then sighs, "I barely know you, and yet I'm not surprised."

Ryou shrugs and grabs one of the premixed cocktails, then walks away from the counter and back over to where Akira's standing.

"Did… did he just say he was twenty?" Miko turns around and sees Masami approaching the alcohol station.

"Yeah. His birthday isn't until June," Miki supplies, coming up from behind.

Masami groans, "I do not want the cops called on me about this…"

"Don't worry," Miki says, grabbing her own cocktail, "If you're worried about the cops and Ryou, he can weasel his way out of it. He's done it before."

Masami rubs her forehead and sighs and takes a bottle of beer, making her way over towards the TV set. Miko looks over to Ryou and Akira are standing, seeing that they're striking up a conversation, completely ignoring the rest of the group. Miki takes a sip of her cocktail and rolls her eyes.

"This is exactly why I invited you," Miki says, "I get tired of third wheeling. It's been like this since elementary school."

"Elementary school? Wait, I thought they met in middle school?"

Miki sets her drink on the counter "Oh, no, that's just when Ryou started getting obnoxious about liking him. They're known each other since first grade."

"They've known each other for that long?"

"Yes. And yet somehow," Miki gestures outwards, "It's… just like this. God, they're both gonna be in their 30's and still pretending like they're just friends. Or, well, Ryou is. We all know Akira's… well. Akira." Though, Miki makes some sort of face, and glances over in their direction again, as if she's suddenly not sure about that last part, "Anyways. Enough about those two dumbasses. Let's talk about us."

Miko starts and nearly knocks over a shot glass, " Us?"

"Yeah," Miki laughs, somewhat giggly, "Like, what have you been up to over break?"

Was she flirting? Was that flirting? Is this flirting? Are we flirting?! There's no way. She's not. She's just being nice.

She takes a moment to catch her breath, "Oh. Uh… nothing… really interesting. Reading mostly… uh. Just some science notebooks,"Damn it, why would I tell her that? "Yeah, uhm. Not… uh. Yeah. Anyways, what have you been doing?"

"Other than avoiding being third wheeled?"

"Oh, uh… sorry about that…"

"You really should come up here and hang out more often." Miki says with a wink.

Okay that was definitely flirting.

"Uh, maybe… maybe next semester… I could… I could try? Or, wait I'm gonna… be on campus anyways so… uh…"

Before Miko can do more damage to this already terrible conversation, one of Masami's friends calls from the living room, "Hey, who's up for a party game?"

"That sounds fun!" Miki says.

"We don't know what game they're play-" Miko is cut off by Miki grabbing onto her arm and dragging the both of them over towards the couch. Miki is still holding onto Miko's arm once they get in the living room. Though she doesn't really want to tell Miki to let go exactly…

Miko is not surprised by the lack of the aforementioned dumbasses by Miki. They're both still standing off in the kitchen, not really paying the party much any mind.

"The game," the same guy as before continues, projecting his voice over the crowd, "is Seven Minutes In Heaven."

Miko sees Ryou choke on his drink from across the room. The rest of the party reacts with a mixture of cheers and groans, probably exaggerated from the amount of drinking that's been going on. Most people seem on board regardless, and the next thing Miko knows she's being handed a scrap of paper to write her name on and a bowl to put it in.

She hesitates, but if everyone else is playing…

"For those who don't know the rules," the guy running the game says, "Everyone puts their name in the bowl, two names get drawn, and the lucky winners get to spend seven minutes in 'heaven'," he gestures towards the hall closet, "You can come out earlier if you want, but once that timer goes off, the door gets opened, no matter what kind of freaky business you've been getting up to."

Please don't let me get a guy… Miko thinks, hastily scribbling her name down and tossing it into the bowl as it comes around.

Miki drops her own slip of paper into the bowl, looking over into Miko's direction and winking.

Miko's mind goes blank for a moment, not sure how to process the fact that Miki is unquestionably flirting with her. As hard as her brain is trying to find one, there is no other explanation for that wink.

Though there is undoubtedly no explanation for how quickly Ryou writes his name down when the bowl comes over to him.

"Oh. My god." Miki remarks with a roll of her eyes and walking back over to get her drink from the counter.

Miko sticks around with everyone else, hoping Miki comes back fast enough.

"Masami should go first!" Someone calls from the couch. Others join in agreement, and Masami takes off her glasses to rub at her eyes in annoyance and then approaches to draw a name.

Miki doesn't get a chance to return back to the couch when Masami ends up pulling her name.

"Oh, fuck yes, I got a girl," Miko hears Miki say before she downs the rest of her drink and heads over to the closet.

Masami takes a swig of her beer, setting it back down before entering the closet with Miki. The door closes behind them, and the timer starts. Miko sighs, defeated, and slumps onto the couch. The rest of the group goes back to watching the TV.

Well, with Miko's luck, it shouldn't be that surprising that she didn't end up with Miki. Her only hope still is that at least she doesn't end up with a guy… especially the one that's been not-so-subtly checking her out ever since she walked over. She thinks it might be that guy from one of her freshman classes that's had a crush on her, but she really hopes it's not. (It probably is.)

Miko groans and tugs her hat over her face, flopping down on the couch. She feels the cushion shift as someone sits beside her, and has a small heart attack until she realizes that it's just Akira – with Ryou right behind him, of course.

"Enjoying the party?" Akira asks.

Miko sits back up, and shrugs, "It's okay, I guess. I'm… not really much of a party goer."

"Neither am I, honestly. I haven't really been to one since, uh…" Akira stops himself, "Well, anyways, Masami just asked if I wanted to come, since it's also her birthday, and said I could bring friends."

At this point, the closet is opened from the inside, and Miki steps out first, looking very pleased with herself, followed by a somewhat flustered Masami. The guy with the bowl calls out two other names, neither of which Miko recognizes. Miki doesn't even stop by the couch and just goes ahead and grabs another cocktail, downing half of it in one go.

"… Should we be making sure Miki doesn't… get super smashed?" Miko says, nudging Akira.

"She's going to get super smashed regardless if I tell her to stop." Akira shrugs. "Though, we should probably watch her at the very least. She can get a little…out of hand."

Miki comes up from behind, fresh drink in-hand, "You guys talking about me?"

"Unfortunately." Ryou says from the other side of Akira, and Miko remembers that he's been sitting on the couch the whole time, quietly sipping his drink.

"S'not polite to gossip," Miki says, leaning over the back of the couch between Akira and Miko.

"How drunk are you?" Akira asks.

"Not drunk enough."

Whatever snide comment Ryou is about to make gets cut short when his name is being called from across the room, followed by one that is clearly not what he was hoping for. His face shifts from his usual detached expression to one of pure dread, and even more so when the other person who steps forward is a rather enthusiastic girl.

He puts his drink on the coffee table and stands up, approaching the closet as if entering will lead him to his death. The door closes behind him and the other girl and remains shut for barely a few seconds before it's being swung back open and Ryou is hurrying out, covering his mouth and leaving the girl looking rather upset. He doesn't bother to look behind him as he walks briskly back over to the others, grabbing his drink and pressing himself into the arm of the couch.

The bowl guy looks between the two of them and shrugs, pulling out a new name, "Dosuroku!"

The guy Miko has been adamantly avoiding all evening grins at her. Her brain barely processes what's happening.

"Aaaaaaand… Miko!"

Shit.

Not even bothering to go into the closet, Miko makes a high pitched screech and bolts for the nearest vicinity to hide in.

"Or, maybe not," bowl guy says, "Damn it, is no one one gonna play this properly?"

"Maybe you shouldn't have picked something so cliche," one of his friends heckles.

The other guy, Dosuroku, who Akira now recognizes as one of those wannabe delinquents that had tried to fight him all those months ago, looks disappointed, and Akira vaguely wonders how he and Masami even knew each other. Or maybe he's just crashing the party. That seems more likely, Akira thinks.

Miki watches Miko hide somewhere in the kitchen and makes her way back there, "If ya need me… I will be uh, obtaining more… alcohol. Bye-bye!" She waves drunkenly and Akira awkwardly waves back.

"What was that about?" Akira turns to Ryou, who has pressed himself into the arm of the couch. He has since finished off the last of his cocktail and is staring at the bottom of the glass like he's willing more alcohol to appear in it.

"What? Miko running off?"

"I mean, yeah, but I was more talking about you."

"What about me?" Ryou asks flatly.

"You know, running out on that girl? You were only in there for a second, did something happen?"

"Ugh. I thought I would just go in and wait it out, but she practically threw herself at me the moment the door closed. I think I can still taste whatever she was drinking."

Akira laughs, "Clearly she likes you, what's wrong with that? She was kind of cute."

Ryou's face shifts into an off smile, somewhere between confusion and disbelief, "You… you know that I'm gay, right?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Akira I'm being serious."

"Oh." Akira's not sure where he was expecting this conversation to go, but this certainly wasn't that, "Really?"

"Yes, really!"

Shit, he seems mad. Akira finds himself rewinding basically every conversation he and Ryou have ever had with new context, and tries to formulate a response that hopefully won't make this conversation go even worse, "Well, I mean, I guess… that… explains some stuff."

"You really didn't…" Ryou starts, exasperated, then finds himself getting even more irritated the longer he thinks about it, "God, you're a fucking idiot sometimes, you know that?"

"What!? How was I supposed to know!"

"I don't know! Maybe because I've never once shown interest in a woman? Or maybe the fact that I…" Ryou trails off, face flushing, realizing that a couple other people near the couch have stopped watching the ball drop and turned their attention to the fight. Even Miki has come back over from her drunk shenanigans to watch this unfold.

"The fact that you what?"

"Ugh. Forget it. I'm going home."

Ryou stands up to leave, but Akira grabs his arm, "Ryou, look, I'm sorry. I don't have a problem with it; I just never really thought about it."

"Clearly." Ryou pulls away.

"I mean," Akira starts, trying to dig himself out of this hole, "It doesn't really change anything? At least, I don't think of you any differently."

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say, and Ryou turns on his heel and heads towards the exit, grabbing his coat and slamming door behind him.

"Oooh, you made him maaaaaaad," Miki slurs as she flings herself down on the couch next to Akira.

Akira sighs, "Now's not the time Miki."

"It's alwaaaaays, the time…" She giggles, a little bit too much, "Where's… where's Mikooooo ?"

"Miki. You've had enough to drink. Besides we should probably get go-"

"Fuck you, you ruin my funnnnnnn . It's… it's not. It's not midnight yet! Gotta… gotta kiss!" She stands up abruptly.

"Who… who are you even kissing?"

"You know," She says with a wink, pressing her finger against her lips, then sways unsteadily.

Akira pulls her back down to the sofa and glances around at the rest of the party, "I… I really don't."

"My girl , st… stupid. Where… where is she?

"Why are you hiding in my pantry?!" They hear Masami call out from the kitchen.

"Oh! Founddddd herrrr ~"

Miko appears seconds later, looking a little embarrassed and comes back over to the couch, sitting on the other side of Akira.

"There she issssss," Miki says, trying to crawl across Akira to get over towards Miko.

"Miki stop!" Akira tries to push her back to the cushion she was sitting on before. Miki flops back across the arm of the couch, laughing.

"Uh… did… did I miss anything?"

Miki giggles again, "Akira fucked up."

"… What happened? Wait, where's Ryou?" Miko notices.

"Akira made Ryou maaaaaaaad."

"Yeah," Akira admits sheepishly, "I pissed him off and he… kind of… left."

"What do you mean he left? He was our ride!" Miko slumps against the couch, "How am I going to get back home?"

"Ha, ha… You're so stupid , Akira. Akira is stuuuuuuupid~" Miki sings.

"And also wasn't he drinking!?"

"Oh, shit, yeah. Uh… I mean, I think he'll be okay? I'll… call him tomorrow to make sure. And we can take the bus back? Is there a bus that runs to the train station?"

"… The buses don't run this late."

"Oh," Akira realizes, "Wait. Shit. Ugh… I think Masami has a car, we can ask her."

Miko takes her hat off to run her hands through her hair, "Fine… So, wait… why did Ryou get mad at you?"

"Cause Akira's a dumbass," Miki supplies.

"I think she gets it," Akira says dryly.

"Yeah, but what did you do ?"

"He, uh… got… mad 'cause," He exhales, "I didn't… realize he was gay…"

"You. You didn't… you didn't know that?" Miko asks in honesty.

"Did you?"

Miko blinks, "Yeah? You didn't notice his earring?"

"What?"

"The… the earring," Miko says gesturing to her right ear, "If a guy has this ear pierced… it usually means he's gay."

"I didn't know that! I've never been exposed to this."

"I mean, there's also just how he acts in general… and how he dresses…"

"I thought he just liked being dramatic…"

"Oh my god."

"Could you tell because you're a lesbian?"

Miko sits up straighter, and turns to look at him, "Akira. You only know I'm a lesbian because I told you."

"Okay, Jesus, I get it, I'm an idiot!" Akira says, frustrated more with himself than anything, "I just don't know why he was that mad about it…" he pauses, a thought occurring to him, "Do you think it's because we made out?"

"You what?"

Miki perks up, "Ohhhhhh, when was this? You never told me about this! You two kisseeeeeed."

Akira's face turns red, "I-I didn't think it was a big deal! It was a few months ago."

"Akira Fudo are you absolutely the most dense person I have ever met," Miko says.

"I thought it might've been because we were high," Akira admits.

Miko wants to throw her hat at him, "How many hits did you take?"

"Like… two or three?"

Miko throws her hat on the couch instead, "That's…" She rubs her face, "That is not enough to get you high."

"Okay, well if it wasn't the pot, then why would he have kissed me specifically?"

"Because he likes you, dumbass," Miki chimes in.

"I doubt that," Akira says, still blushing, "I can accept that he's gay, but we're just friends."

"Oh my goddddd Akiraaaaa. He's been practically in love with you since we were, like, twelve. It's sooooo obvious," Miki flops over his lap again.

"Uhh…" Akira's not sure how to respond to that. He'd genuinely never considered the possibility that his and Ryou's relationship was anything more than close friends on both sides, but thinking over their history… maybe… it's possible…?

"H-he probably just… uh…" Akira tries to think of another justification, but his words are failing him at the moment.

He definitely wouldn't go as far as to say Ryou is "in love" with him;if Ryou thinks of him like that at all, Akira really doubts it's more than a crush. But, even then, why would Ryou like him like that in the first place? Not to mention Akira is hesitant to assume that just because Ryou likes guys that he likes him specifically.

Whatever. Miki's probably just been watching too many chick-flicks. And also she's drunk.

Miko sighs, drawing Akira out of his thoughts, "Well, how do you feel about Ryou then?"

"I mean, I told him I didn't care if he way gay-"

"That's not what I mean. Do you just like him as a friend?"

"Well, yeah, he's my best friend, and we're pretty close, but I don't… I'm not really into guys?" Akira says, suddenly feeling a lot less certain about it than he did before.

Truthfully, he's never really given much thought to his own sexuality, either. He knows he likes girls, at least – and his porn stash, if anything, would certainly be enough to reinforce that. But that is honestly the last thing he wants to think about right now, even if that part of him (part of Amon?) seems to want to jump on anything remotely related to sex or violence, to the point where even his dreams are revolving around one or the other, or both . Akira pushes those thoughts out of his head, along with all confusion about his sexual preferences.

Miko blinks and looks at him earnestly, and starts to ask him something, but stops, "Ugh, forget it. It's said and done. I kinda… just wanna go home at this point."

"Nooooo," Miki cries, muffled by Akira's lap, "You… you need to stay!"

"I'm… not going anywhere soon? The countdown is about to start." Miko tells her.

"Oh. Okay." Miki finally pulls herself off Akira's lap, suddenly fine, "Sooooo. Do you… have…. Anyone… to kiss, Miko?"

"Uh… no I don-"

The countdown hits five.

"What a coincidence!" Miki says, crawling across Akira again.

"Miki, goddamn it, stop!"

"Neither do I!" She says, blatantly ignoring Akira as she gets over to Miko.

"Wha?" Miko barely has any time react once the countdown hits zero and Miki's throwing her arms around Miko's neck and dives in for a kiss.

"Happy New Year!" Most everyone shouts.

Miko stares deadpanned while Miki pulls away, cheering, "Woohoo! I started the New Year kissing a cute girl!"

"You kissed Kawamoto!" Miko turns to find the voice, realizing that it's Dosuroku now standing and pointing at Miki.

Miki doesn't back down and stands up, "Yeah? And what of… wait, who's Kawamoto?"

"That's Miko's last name." "That's my last name." Akira and Miko say in unison.

"Huh," Miki turns behind her, looking sleepily drunk, "You… you have a last name Miko?"

Miko doesn't even know how to respond to that. Miki faces Dosuroku again, regaining her brash demeanor, "Yeah? What of it?"

"That's the last straw Makimura!"

"Miko's a lesbian, dude… Ha ha. Ohhhhh, my god! Tonight is… people having shitty gaydar." Miki falls back onto the couch in laughter.

Dosuroku watches Miki's drunk escapade in confusion and looks back to Miko, "Wait… wait you're… a lesbian?"

"… Y-yes?"

He puts his hands up, "Shit, sorry, Kawamoto I never knew."

Suddenly, a high-pitched screams rings out through the apartment, and all conversation stops abruptly. Heads are turned and a low, concerned mutter spreads as people try to figure out the cause.

Akira stands up, alert. There's… something here, but if it's a demon, he can't be sure. He looks around the party, then pinpoints the source of what's setting him off. It leads him to the door of Masami's bathroom, and he can definitely hear someone inside. Sweat builds on the back of his neck; this is uncannily familiar.

"…Are you okay?" He calls. The person on the other side makes a startled noise.

"Huh!? O-oh," Masami's voice, albeit shrill and slightly hoarse, replies, "Akira?"

"Yeah, it's me. Are you okay?" He asks again.

"I'm… I'm fine!" She says quickly, "But I, uh… I'm not feeling well. I… I think I'm really sick. Really really sick. And everyone should leave, in case this is contagious."

She sounds like herself – but, then again, so did Miki.

"Do you need anyth-"

"No!" She yips, "…No. No, I'm fine. I just… I just need to be in here for awhile. And I need everyone to leave. Like… like now."

"Okay… if you're sure."

"I'm sure! Just tell everyone to go!"

Akira steps back away from the door, unable to shake his feelings of uneasiness and suspicion, but not wanting to press the issue. He'll check on her again later. In the meantime, he guesses they'll have to look for another ride home…

 


 

 

"So, how was the party?" Mrs. Makimura asks from behind the wheel of her station wagon. "It looks like, Miki… had a good time."

Miko turns behind to look in the backseat, where Akira looks… very… unreadable at the moment, but mostly tired as having to deal with Miki passed out on his shoulder.

"Yeah," Akira says, absent mindedly, "Miki had… a time."

"Well, what about you two?"

"Uh… it was fine."

Miko shrugs, "It was alright."

"That's good… but… uhm. What happened with Ryou? Wasn't he driving you guys?"

"He… had to go home early," Miko answers first, not wanting to deal with whatever response Akira might've had to that question, "… And then, the party host got sick. So… uhm. Yeah."

"That's too bad. At least you made it to midnight," Mrs. Makimura smiles at Miko. Miko glances back at Miki asleep and then looks out the window.

Miko hasn't really wanted to process Miki kissing her. Half of her is pretty sure that Miki probably likes her back, but… on the other hand… Miki was drunk. And then there's the question of how much Miki will remember from the party. She slumps against the window, thinking of what to ask Miki once she's sober.

"Oh… Miko," Mrs. Makimura starts, "You needed to take the train back, right?"

"Huh," Miko says, "Oh. Yeah… if it's not too much troub-"

She laughs, not unlike how Miki does, "It's a bit late for you to go take the train back. And dealing with the crowds on the train might not be fun. You're welcome to stay the night."

"Oh… are… is. Are you sure?"

"Of course. Though, if you're alright with sleeping on the couch… we don't have a guest bedroom." She explains, turning down the street towards the neighborhood.

"That's… that's fine." Miko responds sheepishly, looking back at Miki, still passed out.

This sure was a way to start the new year.
 



Miko wakes up with a weight on her chest and two bright green eyes staring directly into her own, and has a moment of panic before realizing it's just Miki's cat. Tako, whose nose is practically pressed up against Miko's, closes his eyes and begins purring loudly as he kneads on her collarbone.

"Uh," Miko says, lifting a hand to scratch at Tako's head, "Hi kitty?"

"I don't think he's ever warmed up to someone that quickly; usually he doesn't like strangers," Miko turns her head to see Akira, coming down the stairs, wearing some sweat pants and an old oversized t-shirt.

"Oh, uh… thanks?" Was that meant as a compliment?

He makes his way into the living room and stops right at the hallway, leaning an arm against the wall, "Yeah he… generally only likes Miki. And hates Tare the most. For me, it depends." Akira moves closer towards the couch, about to pet Tako when he starts and arches his back, hissing and leaps off of Miko, "… Or not."

Miko laughs, taking the blanket she was given off and, sits up, "I'm not surprised at Miki's cat only liking Miki." Miko looks down to still find that Tako is still sitting at the edge of the couch looking up at her. "I guess he likes me too."

Akira tries again to pet Tako, but is met with scorn and he makes a beeline out of the living room, "I have no idea what his problem is sometimes. Anyways, sorry about… what happened at the party last night."

"Which part?"

"Hey."

"I mean," Miko says, "A lot did happen last night. I wasn't joking. What were you talking about specifically?"

"Well, I feel kinda bad that you might not have had the greatest time… and that it's partially my fault."

"Eh, not having a ride home isn't the worst thing that's happened to me at a party," Miko shrugs.

Akira finally takes a seat on the couch, looking he's been lost in thought for awhile, "Yeah… but, uh, aside from… that part… you did have some fun didn't you?"

"Uh…" Miko starts, but then remembers instantly that she and Miki kissed at midnight. There's a shitload of implications behind that, ignoring that Miki was totally wasted at the time. But without even overthinking anything about it for once, she actually managed to have a midnight kiss with her crush. Maybe this year wasn't going to be all too bad.

"I guess." Miko replies, trying to hide her smile.

"You guess what?" Miko hears from outside the hallway. She peers up the stairs to find Miki coming down, in her nightgown and pressing a hand to her forehead, with one eye closed.

"So, I'm assuming you're hungover?" Akira remarks as Miki comes into the room.

"Oh, no, I just wanted to hold my head for no goddamn reason. Yes, I'm hungover, dumbass. Ughhh, why didn't you guys stop me? Some friends you are."

"Miki," Akira says, "Would you have listened to me if I had tried?"

"… Okay, maybe not, but I would have appreciated some ef- augh!" Miki stops suddenly, pressing both hands to her head now, "Fucking christ, I am never doing that again."

"Sure." Akira replies, unconvinced.

Miki doesn't respond to him and only glares, before approaching the TV and turning it on, flipping through the channels.

"Are you seriously back on your ‘I gotta watch the news every day' shit?" Akira groans, "Can't we watch something else?"

"I am a journalist, I have to watch the news… how else am I supposed to be in the know?"

Akira rolls his eyes, while Miki finally settles it on a news station and listens to the anchor for awhile, and not finding anything important before she turns back to Akira and Miko, sitting on top of the table.

"So like, what did I do last night? ‘Cause I don't… remember a lot?"

Well, there goes asking her about the kiss, Miko resigns herself and slumps back onto the cushion.

"Well. You called me 'stupid'. Several times." Akira starts, "And then you ki-" Miko nudges him in the side, looking a bit panicked.

"Oh, I remember calling you stupid. But I don't remember why…"

"I'd tell you, but then you'd call me stupid again. "

Miki rolls her eyes, "Like I don't call you stupid anyways." She turns back to the TV, but pauses, "Wait. Didn't it have something to do with Ryou?"

Akira grumbles in response.

"Ohhh, right. Now I remember… you…" Miki then really realizes what happened last night and stops.

"Yeah." Akira agrees, then turns to Miko, "Oh, hey did you want a ride back to the train station? We can just take my motorcycle if you want."

"Hm?" She says, looking back over at him, "Sure… after breakfast, though."

Akira nods at that.

Miki glances behind for a second and shifts down the table to face Miko, "Did you sleep over?"

"Oh. Yeah. I did. Your mom offered."

"Aw," Miki says, disappointed, "I was too drunk to have a real sleepover with you. We should do that again sometime… Maybe at your place? Here can get a little… crowded. Especially with Tare."

Miko really doesn't want to get into the details of why going to her house would be a problem… but, maybe… it wouldn't be too bad if she could pull it off.

"Uh, sure… when did you want to do it?"

"Hmm… I dunno. But we should definitely do it! And Akira should come, too."

"Huh, why?" Akira asks.

"Why not? The only person you've ever had a sleepover with is Ryou." Miki, reminds him.

"What about with you?"

"You live here. That doesn't count."

"Fine."

Miki shrugs and turns back to the broadcast.

For all she claims about being a journalist, she sure doesn't like to pay attention to it much, Miko thinks.

Miko turns her own attention to the TV, just as the anchor brings up a familiar topic.

"Police have found new evidence regarding a recent murder on a local college campus. The discoveries were made last night, when some New Year's celebrators came across multiple corpses, which had been mutilated in a similar fashion," the woman on the TV says, "However, further investigation revealed that the person or animal responsible for these killings seems to have been different than the previous ones. As more and more of these scenes crop up all over the country, it leads to the public asking if there is a connection, and is it murder?

"But given the spread and variety of the attacks, there seems to be no correlation aside from the brutality, and how the bodies have been partially consumed, with certain limbs and organs missing from their autopsies. Some witnesses even claim that the victims themselves did not seem 'entirely human'. With this new information, biologists are being brought into the ongoing investigation. Reports now show that these murders may have been done by some type of undiscovered creatu-"

Miki clicks off the TV, shaking, not looking at either Miko or Akira. Instead she drops the remote and runs back up the stairs without a word.
 



Miko finds herself back in her hometown less than a couple hours later. There's some part of her that really wishes she could have stayed longer, but, like most things, that would have ended horribly.

But, even if the party did suck, it was nice to have spent New Year's with friends for once. The only thing that's still nagging her, is Miki's kiss. Miko really should have asked her about it… if the alcohol was only lowering her inhibition… then… maybe… there's a chance she could actually ask Miki out. Maybe once they get back at school, she could go through with it. It'll give her time to think about what she wants to say to Miki.

Miko gets a little embarrassed at the thought and tries to hide her smile. She's never felt super giggly about anything in her life like this before, and hopes she doesn't look too stupid walking down the street back home.

"Mi-ko!" Says a voice she realizes she hasn't heard in a good long while. And Miko doesn't plan on ever hearing it again in her life, and starts a brisker pace, all giddiness forgotten.

"Aw! We haven't seen you in forever Mikiko!" A second voice, calls out to her. Behind her is the increase of footsteps, following after her.

"Are you having fun at college? We miss you!"

Miko knows herself better than to respond, but she turns around, glaring at them, "If you want me to do some dirty work for you again, forget it. I don't do that anymore."

"Aw? Has being in the honors program made you a goody-two shoes? How nice," The third one of the girls she's been wanting to avoid pops up.

The last she ever encountered these walking piles of shit, was the day Miko graduated high school. She only "befriended" them out of desperation, and then put her to do the kind of shit that cost her more run ins with the law than all the hours Miko has spent in college.

"Why're you so upset?" The tallest of the girls asks, "We're just saying hello! Stop assuming things… you do that too much. It's really annoying."

"I said," Miko repeats, "I am not going to do anything for you. One way or another. Piss off!"

"Oh you think you know everything, don't you, Mikiko?" The one with the ponytails grins.

Miko restrains herself, figuring it's just best to not further provoke these shitheads. But, damn if she doesn't want the satisfaction of making them eat their own words. Throwing one last glare at them, Miko continues her way, doing her best to ignore their constant calls.

It's starting to grate on her, the fact that she went all these years without having to deal with them (though it honestly contributed to the fact that she didn't really leave her house when she came home from school) and now they decide to come back, just to harass her. This shouldn't even bother Miko, she's older now… and… yet it makes her mad that this shit still gets to her.

The only solution Miko supposes is just get home, listen to some music, and try her best to survive the next twelve days before going back to school.

Though, Miko should know by now that everything goes amiss whenever she tries to do anything for herself. Something always goes wrong. When she comes home, she finds that her mother is actually not working on a holiday for once. And that implication tells Miko… that she's in trouble for not telling her mom she went anywhere for the night.

Miko finds her mom sitting on the armchair near the family room, looking a bit… scornful.

There is no time for an excuse or any explanation for her absence before her mom starts, "You couldn't have left a note, Mikiko?"

"It… was short notice. I just went to a New Year's party with some friends. It… it wasn't a big deal." Miko explains, and tries to start her way up the stairs.

"But. You didn't tell me? And what friends?"

"Just… just from college."

Her mother doesn't seem to take that answer, and Miko keeps trying to make an escape. Though her mother doesn't move, doesn't budge. Just keeps staring at Miko with that same disdained look.

"Do they not have names?" Her mother presses.

"Uh… Akira and… Miki."

"Last names?"

"Why does it matter? You wouldn't know them anyways."

"Don't talk back to me, Mikiko," she raises her voice, "If I ask you a question, I expect you to answer it – honestly."

"I am being honest! I went to a New Year's Party with Akira Fudo, Miki Makimura, and Ryou Asuka, all friends I know from college. Happy?"

Her mother narrows her eyes, "You didn't mention this 'Ryou' person the first time."

"He's one of Akira and Miki's friends, I just met him! I don't know him that well."

They stand in silence, Miko waiting on the next question from her mom, but it never comes. Like she's daring Miko to offer more an explanation that she can use to incriminate her. All Miko wants is to go up to her room and not leave. But, she knows what her mom is doing; she's keeping her trapped. Going up to her room will cause only cause this to prolong. Going out of the house will just…

"What are you doing?" Her mother finally makes the move, "Either go upstairs and mope or, god forbid, shoplift like you did in high school. This is too tiring." Having lost the fight, she gets up and makes her way to the kitchen, completely ignoring Miko.

Though… now that she thinks about it… staying upstairs is what her mom… would expect. Shoplifting, on the other hand.

Part of her tells her that doing this sort of petty crime as an adult means nothing. Though there's a rather loud part of her… that's increasing in volume, telling her… who cares.

Without a word Miko slips out of the house and back down her street. Not even hearing a call from her mom to come back, she moves at a faster pace, remembering the exhilaration of slipping an item in her bag and getting away with it. God it's been so long. Miko's trying to remember what exactly would be a good store to steal from.

Those girls from high school weren't even the start of this crime, oh no. They only approached her because they knew how good Miko was at stealing things. Everyone only thought she only started doing it in high school. Shoplifting was something she'd done even before middle school. Those shitheads have no idea what it means to be a thief. The items Miko took didn't matter, the thrill of not only getting away with it and keeping her "honor student" image was what really made her addicted to it.

There's only a sliver of Miko's rational side that wonders what her current friends would think if they knew what she was really like.  

She keeps walking down her street, still trying to remember any store that was good to steal from. For once her luck gives her something. Not the best thing… but something. Miko finds herself in front of a drug store. Oh. This was going to be easy.

Miko enters the store, but hears a couple of the cans of soda outside be knocked over. Paranoia creeps up on her, and she thinks she sees movement out of the corner of her eye. She turns her head to look at it closely… but finds nothing.

Just get something and move on , Miko reminds herself. She should know by now that psyching herself out will make her more likely to get caught. Besides, she's stolen from here before; she doesn't have anything to worry about.

The store is mostly empty, being full of just regular old customers, not caring about some college kid strolling through. Miko snickers to herself, and goes down an aisle. She finds herself in the makeup section, not even sure what she's looking for. A store employee is down at the very end, stocking some things up. Looks like some high school student. Easy enough to take from under their noses.

Miko pursues her selection, not even sure what she could take since she's not that big of a makeup person. She's about to move on into the next aisle when… she spots it.

The very same peach colored lipstick that Miki gave her at her party two months ago. Perfect.

Miko glances down at the employee, seeing them still preoccupied with the stocking, and slips the tube into her pocket. Out of sight, out of mind.

The guy at the end of the aisle doesn't even look at her while she passes to the front of the store. Still has that charm of stealing with her.

Miko's this close to crossing the threshold of the store when…

"Hey!" Miko hears behind her. She stops, and knows better not to turn. Turning will get her caught. But instead… Miko spares a glance.

"I saw you take that lipstick…" The guy says, pointing at her. Various other store employees have started to look at her, murmuring with the fact that they recognize her from previous shoplifting sprees before.

Miko says nothing, still frozen in place at the front of the store.

"Aren't you going to pay for it…?"

Miko's breathing becomes haggard and heavy. It's the only sound she can hear over her racing heart. In a brink of panic, and anger at having gotten caught, Miko sprints and bursts through the doors of the store, too frantic to check if anyone is following.

Running is a lot harder than it had been four years ago. She could outrun anyone back then since she was in track. Now having spent the past couple years in a dorm, her skills have been lacking.

This is what I get! This is… this is what I deserve. I shouldn't have done this.

Beating herself up won't help her get out of this situation, Miko focuses her energy on continuing to run, realizing that she's managed to get to a good distance away from them. They could still be behind her… she has to keep going… she has to get away… she has to… to…

In an instant, Mikiko Kawamoto abandons all reason.

Throughout her body starts a burning sensation, spreading like a rash from the tips of her fingers, right down to the balls of her feet. It's too much to handle, every part of her is on fire, Miko can barely move. The pursuers have to be closing in by now.

I can't get caught. I can't get caught! I have to keep going!

The heat spreads to her head, banging around in there, sending her thoughts a flame. Miko presses a hand to her head, trying to get the flame out, but her blood has turned to magma. She's trying in vain to stop herself from screaming, but the pain is becoming too much.

I have to keep going!

Gritting her teeth, Miko slams her hand against the wall and opens her eyes, suddenly finding renewed strength, like a geyser quelling. Her head still throbs in pain, and her clothes feel too tight, but she starts sprinting again.

And hits a speed from her track days.

Within minutes, Miko is back home. Not even out of breath. The massive heat within her has started to cool, but she feels off. Something's not right… but she can't even think right now with the way her head is pounding.

She opens the door to her house, and wants to collapse in her bed… or maybe take a bath. A bath would be good maybe… Miko sluggishly brings herself up the stairs, barely even walking at this point.

Her mother comes up to the bottom of the stairs, and tries to reignite the fight they had previously.

"Where were you? Where did you go?"

Miko's too tired to even want to argue with her.  

"Hello? Mikiko? Where were you?"

Miko continues up the stairs.

"I'm talking to you!"

She looks behind at the face of her mother, still with that nasty scowl and Miko rolls her eyes. She laughs, and makes her way up to her room and closes the door behind her, promptly collapsing onto her bed.

"Right… I was gonna, go… take a shower or something," Miko says, walking to the bathroom.

She starts the shower, and walks over to the mirror to see if there's any evidence of whatever stopped her earlier. Her reflection however… shows thick dark lines under her eyes, curling right under the water line.

"I… I didn't put on any eyeliner?" Miko says, bringing a hand to rub at her eyes, finding that whatever these marks are… they're not going away.

"Weird…" She remarks, and takes off her hat instead. She looks back up into the mirror realizing… that her ears are pointed? Her nails seemed to have changed too. They're now long and sharp to a point, and a little bit darker colored than they normally are. Miko bites her lip in fear, puncturing the skin and causing blood to run down her chin- dark, thick and sticky.

She presses her face closer to the mirror, and quickly pulls back her lips… to find that her two upper top teeth have become fangs.

What… what is this…

Maybe she's just tired and stressed. She shoplifted for the first time in years and getting caught was… probably too much to handle. Miko's only seeing things.

She starts to pull off the rest of her clothes, and stops at her shirt. Pulsing peach-colored veins now line her stomach, and her belly button has expanded around them. She raises a shaking hand to her side, immense heat boiling off the new growths on her body.

Is… this is. Is this real?

Miko tentatively unhooks her bra… to find that her breasts have now become pores, two gaping holes right where her nipples should be. The discoveries of the changes to her body continue once she drags down her pants and underwear to be met with…

Two yellow eyes with slitted pupils looking up at her… and a much larger hole protruding from her pelvis.

Miko lowers herself to the floor, sitting open legged, only listening to the sound of the shower behind her. She stares down at the face on her stomach, which stares back in silent anger.

What is this!?

Everything Miko said about this year being better has gone down hill. How could she ever face any of her friends like this?

I've become a monster…

Chapter Text

Ryou's car makes its way across the country road, like a drop of blood in an otherwise white landscape. Akira sits in the passenger's seat, looking out the window at the headlights splitting the darkness and reflecting off the fallen snow. Today's fight was a bit of a let down; just another group of weak demons that thought they'd be stronger in numbers. Akira had torn through them in minutes.

Not to mentions things between him and Ryou have been a little… off since the party. At least, to Akira they have been. Ryou has yet to bring up what happened, and seems kind of determined to act like nothing did. Akira wishes he could ignore it as easily; it raised a lot of uncomfortable questions.

Akira kind of wants to talk about it, and he's pretty sure Ryou does too, but, he knows that Ryou isn't going to make the first move, and the fact that this tension is one-sided is bothering him more than anything, so maybe he should-

"Hey, Ryou," he starts, before he can stop himself.

"Hm?" Ryou responds, not taking his eyes off the road.

"Are you… still mad at me?" Akira is already regretting this.

"About?"

"You know, the whole, uh… gay… thing."

"Oh. That."

There's a long pause. Akira fidgets uncomfortably and opens his mouth to say something else, but Ryou starts before he can.

"I wasn't really angry," he says, still not looking at him, "I was just… irritated. About the whole situation. I may have overreacted."

"No, I mean, I really should've picked up on it. Sorry."

And other things, Ryou thinks.

"No shit." Ryou says instead.

"Well," Akira continues, "Like I said, I don't think of you any different; you're still my best friend."

"As are you to me," Ryou confirms, and though he means it, he can't shake the heavy feeling in his chest that comes with it, or the afterthought that he really wishes Akira did think of him differently. But there's no way he can tell him that his words of reassurance are part of what hurt him in the first place. Instead, the most Ryou can do is ease Akira's insecurities and try to ignore his own.

Ryou knows it's unfair to not only have expected Akira to notice his feelings but to also want him to return them. He'd been foolish to give himself hope that maybe Akira's view of him had changed, to think that maybe him returning the kiss had meant anything. It was completely irrational for Ryou to have even gotten upset about it in the first place; it was just spitting back at him what he already knew. Like salt in a wound.

But, he reminds himself, It's probably better this way. For both of us.

"So…" Akira speaks again, startling Ryou out of his internal monologue, "Are we good?"

Ryou almost laughs, "Yeah. We're good."

Soon enough, the car pulls into Miki's neighborhood and rolls to a stop in front of her house.

"Well," Akira says, unbuckling his seatbelt and opening the car door, "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, see you then."

Akira shuts the door and watches Ryou drive off down the street. That conversation didn't go nearly as bad as it could have, and he's kind of grateful for that. Though, he wonders, too late, if maybe he should've asked him about what Miki said, but decides that it's probably better he not mention it; he doesn't want to give the wrong impression.

Akira shakes his head, then looks towards the Makimura house. Most of the lights are off, so maybe if he's stealthy enough he can make it up to his bedroom undetected and avoid the inevitable questions of where he was (out in the country), what he was doing there (fighting demons), and who he was with (Ryou).

Pausing to scuff his shoes on the doormat, he really hopes that he doesn't have any obvious signs of the conflict on him. He's been pretty good about remembering to take off his clothes before transforming, and Ryou usually brings things in his "hunting kit" to clean him up afterwards, but, still; Akira wants to do anything he can to avoid arousing more suspicion that he probably already is.

Quietly, Akira slips through the front door, hoping to find the sitting room empty – but, instead, he finds that Uncle Kozo is still up, sitting in one of the chairs with a book in hand, and he looks up when Akira enters. Damn it.

"Out late again?" Kozo asks.

"Yeah," Akira says as he starts up the staircase.

"With Ryou?"

"Yeah?"

"That damn kid," Kozo shakes his head, tone shifting to disapproval, "He's always dragging you into trouble."

"Y-yeah I guess so," Akira dodges the topic, "Anyways, I've got, uh, homework that I have to do before I go back to campus tomorrow."

"You might have more time for your studies if you didn't spend so much of it out doing who-knows-what this late at night."

"I'll… keep that in mind."

"Just be sure you're making smart choices," Kozo says, then turns his attention back to his novel, and Akira hurries the rest of the way up the stairs before Kozo has a chance to continue the conversation.

He's almost made it to his bedroom, when Miki steps out of her own, Tako in her arms.

Of course. Miki especially seems to have a knack for catching him when he's trying to avoid people.

Akira tries to sneak across the hallway, pretending like he didn’t just see Miki, when Tako starts up his goddamn hissing fit again.

"Why’re you back late again?" Miki asks, stepping closer.

"I was just… hanging out with Ryou, and we lost track of time," Akira says, not entirely lying.

Miki rolls her eyes, "You said that last time. You’ve been hanging out with him even more than you did in high school."

Akira shrugs, "Ever since his dad died he's been kind of isolating himself; I guess I just worry about him being alone all the time."

"Oh?" Miki starts, raising an eyebrow, "I see. By the way… have you talked about the whole… 'Ryou is gay and you're an idiot' thing? Have you resolved that little issue? And taken… my advice? Just, curious!" She smirks, avoiding a paw being shoved into her face.  

"Why do you keep trying to imply that there's something between us? I told you, it's not like that!" Akira finds himself getting irritated.

"You really haven’t talked about it yet? It’s been like… three weeks."

"We did, actually."

"And? What happened?"

"None of your goddamn business."

"That’s become your response to everything I ask you about Ryou."

"'Cause it’s none of your goddamn business!"

"Why not?"

"Jesus Miki, would it kill you to not be so fucking nosy all the time?"

"I’m just asking a question!"

"Well don't," Akira says harshly before marching into his room and closing the door behind him with more force than necessary.

"Real mature!"

"Shut up, Miki," Akira shouts from behind the door.

"Both of you shut up!" Tare calls from his room, " Some people are trying to sleep!"

"Kids, can you all stop shouting," Akiko calls from down the hall.

"Sorry Mom!" Miki replies, heading back into her room and taking Tako with her. She releases him finally and sets him on the floor.

This has been going on for the past four months… if Akira is home for the weekend, he comes back at some really late hour, says he was with Ryou, and then pretends like he wasn't doing anything, yells at her when she tries to ask about it, and then slams his door shut. Then the next day after one of Akira’s midnight escapades, there’s something in the news about some monsters’ mangled up corpse.

Not to mention this past week when another "monster" showed up on campus, somehow Ryou and Akira were nearby.

It’s a long shot, but the fact that these two things are happening close enough to one another… is giving Miki enough suspicion to think that Ryou’s up to something. And whatever it is, he's getting Akira involved in it.

Ryou’s dragged Akira into asinine things before, and honestly, whatever. They're stupid enough, but at least… Akira would actually tell her what they were doing. Now he’s been hiding stuff from her. Miki could care less about the dumbass shit they’re up to, but she’s curious as to why they’re hiding it from her. (Well, she knows why Ryou is hiding it from her.)

There’s a part of her though, one Miki is trying to ignore, that thinks they’re getting into a mess that’s way over their heads. Maybe one that's somehow related to all these deaths and monster sightings…

She glances over to the camera and notepad on her desk. Miki has the tools… perhaps she could investigate the shenanigans.

No, it's not worth it. She's just reading too much into this; it's probably nothing.

But it might not be.

Miki grabs her camera and checks to mark sure she has enough film.

 


 

"What is with you damn kids and always staying out late?" Miki's father asks, sounding exasperated over the library phone.

"I haven't had a curfew since high school, Dad!" she whines, "And besides, this project is like, super important!"

"You had to specifically pick this event to cover?"

"It’s the only lecture that wasn’t boring as shit."

Her dad sighs, "Alright. Just make sure you turn it in on time."

"Yeah Dad," Miki rolls her eyes, thankful he can’t see her, "I got it handled. I have a time-slot booked in the dark room and everything."

"Well, okay, have fun. Come back before midnight. "

"Unlike someone we know? And I kinda have to; the last bus goes out at eleven."

"Don’t miss it."

"I won’t, sheesh!"

"I know, but… with everything that's been happening around that area… I just wanna make sure you’re okay."

"I promise I’m gonna be fine. I’ve got my switchblade with me, I’m in no danger."

"That's my girl," He laughs, "Alright I’ve kept you long enough. Go have fun, and be safe."  

"Bye, Dad."

Miki hangs up the phone, pausing for a second, and finally takes her hand away.

The plan so far was to stay a little bit later on campus than normal, and hasn’t gotten much farther than that. Miki could very well just go by Akira’s dorm and wait and see what happened. But entering Akira’s dorm, with her camera out too, wouldn’t exactly end that well either. Maybe something would happen? Or maybe something wouldn’t… Standing outside of his dorm holding a camera in freezing rain doesn’t exactly sound that solid.

Maybe this is a bad idea… but she already went through with her lie… there really isn’t any way to back out of this now. (It was only partially a lie, Miki’s already finished the assignment. She did book the time-slot for the dark room, however.)

Miki glances at the clock, I’ve got six hours to do this. Might as well.

She unzips her camera bag, checking it to ensure that everything’s in proper order, and making herself not think about the inevitable discoveries. Once that’s settled, and she can’t delay her plan any longer, Miki sets it back in her bag and starts back up the stairs onto the first floor of the library, then makes her way outside into the rain.

Though the rain has stopped for now. The sun peeks through the clouds, dusting the snow in an orangey-tint, and glittering in the golden light. Most everyone is inside, the campus deserted and empty like it is on the weekends. None of those "monsters" are around either… Miki shakes those thoughts aside, and cuts across the grass towards Akira’s dorm.

The scene at the dorm is similar to how it looked near the library. The wind is bitter, and the snow keeps freezing and refreezing, not really a time to go outside.

Miki walks further down the sidewalk, towards the door, and spots a familiar red car. She stops. So Ryou is here.

The dorm entrance doors creeks open and slams shut. Miki backs away from the car, realizing that it’s Ryou coming out, almost on cue.

Oh fuck.

But, instead of walking towards his car, he goes the opposite direction, thankfully not having seen Miki.

Where the hell is he going? And where’s Akira?

Miki pulls her camera out, settles it around her neck, and moves forward. Ryou doesn’t seem to be in any rush, keeping a normal pace. Though for some reason, he’s wearing sunglasses, at night and in the rain. Well, thinking about it, it’s not that unusual. It’s Ryou.

Miki follows close behind, taking smaller strides. Thank god he’s not running.

They barely make it past Akira’s dorm when he stops suddenly. Ryou opens up his trenchcoat — a heavier one than he normally wears. How many jackets does he fucking own? — and pulls out a couple sheets of paper.

How can he read them if he’s wearing sunglasses at night?!

As if to answer her question, Ryou lifts up his sunglasses and holds the packet out away from his face, flipping through the papers. Yep, there it is.

Satisfied with whatever that was, he slips it back into his pocket. Ryou starts back down the sidewalk, and Miki keeps a close distance. So far, so good. Ryou hasn’t noticed her.

Ryou leads her down the road towards the main office building of the university. The sidewalk is sprinkled with salt, but has been barely shoveled off. There’s still ice underneath her feet, and Miki loses her footing. She almost slips onto the ground, but flails her arms around enough to keep from falling.

Phew.

She regains her balance, only for her foot to slip again and her to catch herself by stomping down into the snow-covered grass with a loud crunch.

Ryou freezes in his tracks. He was fully aware going into this that he might become a target, but he hesitates a moment too long, and when he turns to look behind him, nothing is there. And maybe nothing was, but he is fairly certain he just heard something in the snow.

Miki presses her back against the tree she'd ran behind, her heart pounding up in her throat. That was way too close.

Sceptically, Ryou turns back around and begins walking back towards his destination, quicker now, but not fast enough to raise suspicion from the few other students still walking around campus at this time. There's pretty much a fifty-fifty chance that either something really is following him, or that he's just being paranoid because he's following something else. He doesn't sense anything nearby, so it's probably the latter. He grips his umbrella tighter.

By keeping tabs on the news of these "monster attacks" (ha), Ryou hasn't had much trouble tracking down demons for Akira to go after; they don't tend to be good at being subtle. Today, though, Akira said he was too busy working on this stupid lab assignment to go hunting, so Ryou is taking this opportunity to try something different.

The smarter demons are getting better at hiding amongst humans, but they're far from perfect, and sooner or later one of them is bound to fuck up and reveal itself. Ryou thinks he can help make that happen.

Over the past few months, he's been making use of his father's connections, asking around his colleagues about anyone —  student, faculty, whatever — who's been acting unusual. Changed personalities, strange eating habits, any red flags. If Ryou can provoke one out of hiding, then… well, there's one less demon hiding under their noses. And maybe by exposing enough of them, the rest of them will lay low for a bit. It's only prolonging the inevitable, but Ryou feels like it worth a shot.

He thinks he's nailed one. Some professor who's been sporadically absent, and has reports from coworkers of being "uncharacteristically aggressive" and "seeming like a different person at different times". Textbook scenario.

Based on the professor's class schedule, Ryou guesses he should be somewhere around here at this time-

Another noise comes from behind him.

Ryou whips around in time to see a flash of movement dart behind the nearest building. He is definitely being followed.

Shit! He caught me! Miki thinks as she dives behind the wall, camera bouncing against the ground as she lands on all fours. Fuck! She sits up, and brushes the snow off of the lense. There’s no scratches on it at the very least. Not wanting to risk anymore damage, she zips the camera back into the bag. Miki will take it out when she needs it.

Cautiously, Miki peers back around the building to find that Ryou’s now disappeared.

"Oh, god damn it!"

Ryou sprints down the sidewalk, taking as many turns as he can and cutting between buildings wherever possible. He doesn't know what was tailing him, but he's definitely not going to stick around to find out. His boots crunch down on the salt, but he's careful as he can to avoid any ice patches. He goes and goes and does not stop until he is about half a mile away from the main offices, where he finally dips to the side of one of the cafeterias, pausing to catch his breath.

He waits, listening. He hears nothing, and feels nothing. He lost them.

Ryou recollects himself and starts making his way back over to the office building, inconspicuously scanning over anyone else on the sidewalk and trying to match them to the photo on the profile. It's starting to get dark, but just as Ryou gets about halfway back, he spots him, sneaking off towards the edge of campus. Ryou shifts direction to follow him, staying a good thirty feet behind him.

The professor heads out the north side of campus and into one of the surrounding neighborhoods. He's either hunting or going back "home" to meet appearances, but either way Ryou sees it as a good place to confront him, and continues following him towards the dead end of the road ahead.

"Professor Maegawa?" Ryou calls.

He jumps, and whips around to face Ryou, "Yes? And you are…?"

"That's not important!" Ryou whips out his umbrella, of which he's replaced the tip of with a small blade (increased campus security means he can't risk carrying around guns anymore), "I've got some questions for you."

Maegawa tries to play it off, but Ryou doesn't miss how nervous he looks, "Look kid, this is a little unnecessary. My office hours are-"

"Shut up! You've been missing a lot of classes lately, yeah?" Ryou steps closer towards him.

"And?" He backs up.

Ryou continues the pursuit, "Where's your son? Not like him to just vanish."

"He… went to visit his grandparents."

"For two weeks? At the start of the semester?"

"Well, you know-"

" Save it. You've been pretty careless, you know. He just turned up dead this morning. Did you not see the news? Did none of your coworkers tell you?"

"Are you trying to blackmail me!?"

"You'd only assume that if you had something to do with it. And what about your wife? No one's seen her around, either." Ryou's got him cornered.

"If you're looking for a confession, you're shit out of luck." He snarls.

Ryou smirks, "Were they tasty?"

"What!?"

"You ate them, right? Well, her, and most of him. Didn't have time to finish the job, though," he laughs.

"Are you out of your mind?"

"You're one to talk; I know what you really are."

"Who are you!?"

In lieu of answering, Ryou swipes him across the face with the blade of the umbrella, "Show yourself, demon!" He swipes again, slicing through his ear.

"Who are you!" Maegawa demands again.

"A predator of predators," Ryou says, still grinning, "I'm a demon hunter."

The man before him hunches over and grips at his face, growling as his skin bristles with thickening fur and a horn breaks out of his forehead.

"Ha! It actually worked! Good, this form is much better suited for an ugly demon like you!"

Ryou's victory is short-lived. The demon roars, rearing back as it rips out of its clothing and begins to grow larger. He… he hadn't thought past this part of the plan. Shit.

Miki stalks up and down the sidewalk, following footprint trails that lead to wherever Ryou is not. How many people at this school wear that style of boot?

About to round the corner to try a different path, she hears a shout come down the street, near the stretch of houses.

Bingo.

Miki pulls her camera back out, and charges her way towards the source. She slows, realizing that nothing else has made a noise. Tentatively, Miki waits for another sound to come… but it stays silent. Another dead end.

Just as she’s about to turn and find a different path, Miki is blinded with a bright flash of light, brighter than the sun, and pure white. It doesn’t stay for long and she regains sight. Blinking away the imprints in her eyes, she follows the shrinking light down the other street. And there she finds…

Ryou is lying on the ground unconscious, the sidewalk charred and steaming. Even the snow around it is melting.

Is… is he dead?

Miki pads closer towards him, staying close to the houses in case he wakes up. A shadow of some kind of massive horned creature is now etched in the street.

What the hell happened…?

Ryou groans finally, and starts to sit up, holding his head. He blinks a couple times then eyes the marking below him. He moves back away from it and stands up, shaking at whatever is at his feet.

Miki brings up her camera to take a picture, when one of the neighbor’s clicks on their front porch light.

Fear overtaking her, she slips the camera back into her bag and backs away from the scene, before charging back towards the union.

 


 

Miki needs to do another stakeout.

When she got home after that incident, too many things were left unanswered and now she’s got a bunch more questions. The biggest question she needs answered right now is… What the fuck is Ryou?

The other question coming from that then is, what is he if he’s not human? And there’s nothing to answer that either. There’s no way he’s not human.

But… what could even… make that kind of mark in the street?

It’s probably something else that burned the sidewalk and he was just a pussy and got knocked out, Miki thinks.

On the other hand… Miki really needs to do another stake out. She can just make an excuse that she’s getting dinner with Miko or something (Though, Miko been kind of sparse on campus lately) and follow after those two dumbasses instead.

So, Miki decides to stalk them a bit earlier. Mostly so she can hear what Ryou will tell Akira about what happened last night.

They’re in their usual spot in the cafeteria near Akira’s dorm. The big table right by the window, in front of the creek near the woods. She situates herself in a booth, far enough that they can’t see her, but close enough Miki can hear them.

"… and then I woke up, and the demon’s shadow was etched into the street…" Ryou explains.

Demon?!

Miki turns to look at them then, in shock from the fact she was right that they are getting involved with those monsters- demons?

"So you were chasing him," Akira says, almost laughing, "And then you just blacked out ?"

"Yeah… I don’t remember what happened after that…"

"Ha ha, he probably shapeshifted and tricked you. You didn’t think that through enough."

Ryou sighs, "I realize that now."

He sounds kind of… dejected. Akira isn't normally one to make fun of someone like that, let alone Ryou ; he should know better than to do that kind of shit to him. He's teased people, sure, but right now he's just being kind of a jerk, and Miki can't shake the feeling that it doesn't really feel like Akira.

"You should've waited for me," Akira continues, "Finding demons is your job, but killing them is mine."

Killing… demons? Akira’s been killing demons?!

"I… yeah, you're right. I should have."

"You've been acting kind of weird lately."

Ryou’s the one who's been acting strange lately? Are you listening to yourself talk?! You’re apparently killing demons!

Well that explains why he's been being so secretive lately. But it doesn't explain everything, Miki thinks, her mind flashing back to that night a few months ago, seeing Akira like… well, like that. What she needs is answers, and if anything this information has just raised more questions. She definitely needs to do another stakeout.

Realizing that she'd been letting her thoughts wander, Miki tunes back into the conversation.

"Just let me handle the dangerous stuff," Akira says, "And besides, I’ve been craving to fight more demons. You wouldn’t understand."

You absolute shithead! You refused to fight for me last semester.

Ryou quirks an eyebrow, "Having trouble controlling your urges?"

"Well, uh, no," Akira backtracks, "I mean, not really, it's- I've got it under control."

Okay now that sounds like Akira. But what the hell does Ryou mean by "urges"?

"The rain's supposed to let up by this evening," Ryou leans back in his chair, "Why don't we go out tonight since you couldn't yesterday? I've got another lead downtown we can follow."

Miki stands to grab more food, figuring she has enough information for tonight. Hopefully most of her questions will be answered after this. Though… even if Miki finds out everything that she wants, what’s she supposed to do with that information anyways?

"Oh, Miko," Miki hears Akira call, and she turns behind her.

Miko stands petrified, and absolutely haggard, still wearing her ski hat and coat indoors.

"H-hey…" Miko starts to move away from the table, "Uh. Sorry I’ve been really busy… I uh, gotta… go eat and uh…"

Miki’s been meaning to talk to Miko about the kiss at the New Year’s party, anyways. She didn’t even mention it when she slept over the next day…  

"Oh hey there you are, Miko," Miki immediately makes a move over to the rest of them, "I haven’t seen you all semester." Ryou narrows his eyes at her, "Oh you two are here, too! What a coincidence."

Coincidence? Ryou thinks. He can't explain it, but he has a feeling that somehow she's lying. But, why would she? It's not like she deliberately planned for all of them to be here at the same time. He knows for a fact she had nothing to do with him or Akira being here; that had been Ryou's own suggestion.

Unless…

No, she wouldn't have been the one following him yesterday. She's not that stupid. But, if the thing tailing him had been human, if might explain why he hadn't picked up on it…

Still, that's a stretch. Ryou might not like her, but accusing her of spying with no evidence aside from a hunch is pretty far from rational, and he certainly wouldn't do it in front of Akira. If she had been though, and she was just now… Ryou wonders how much she could have seen or heard. He makes a mental note to keep an eye on her; if there's any truth his suspicion, Ryou would rather be safe than sorry.

"Yeah, uhm, great to see you guys." Miko says, suddenly, backing away "But I really gotta get goi-"

"Aw," Miki steps closer, "But you just got here. Come on… just ten minutes?"

"M-maybe, uh-"

"… Do you have a cold?"

"Huh? Wh? Oh, no. Why?"

"Nothing… your voice sounded different."

Miko stuffs her hands in her pockets and bites her lips, "Ow!"

Ryou watches the trickle of blood roll down her chin before she quickly wipes it onto her sleeve. But not fast enough to hide its color. Or, maybe that was just the lighting? He scans over the rest of her. Were her nails always that long? And her eyes… is that makeup? He doesn't remember her wearing that before. And it looks an awful lot like-

"Jesus, you okay?" Miki questions.

"Uh, yeah…" Miko replies checking to make sure she got all the blood off, "Sorry I bite my lips too hard sometimes." She glances out of the corner of her eye, and realizes that Ryou’s looking at her, very intently.

"Uh… do… do you need something?" A hint of worry in Miko’s tone.

"No," Ryou says casually, "Just wondering why you're still wearing your coat."

"Just… just cold," Miko explains, tugging a little too tightly on her bag.

Miki rolls her eyes, "Why do you care, anyways?"

"I don't really; I just thought it was odd."

"You’re one to talk. You wear sunglasses inside all the time."

"That's not really the same thing. And it's not important, she just looked uncomfortable. I don't know why you're trying to argue with me about it."

Miko attempts to break them up before they really get into it, "It’s… okay Miki. Really. It doesn’t matter. Anyways I gotta go-"

"Come on, just stay." Miki says again, "I wanted to talk to you!"  

"Actually I should get going, too," Akira stands up from the table, "I've got class soon. I'll see you guys later."

Ryou gets up to leave as well, but Miki stops him, "You should stay, too. I also wanted to talk to you about something."

Ryou eyes her sceptically, but sits back down, "About?"

"I'd like to join," Miko starts, inching away again, "But I really need to-"

Miko's words get drowned out by a scream sounding from the other side of the cafeteria. Argument forgotten, the three of them immediately turn to look in the direction. A student has dropped to his knees, splattering his food as his tray clatters to the floor. He grabs at the tiles, digging into them with extending fingers as his back arches up inhumanely.

There's a loud crack, followed by a fizzle, as the power surges and all the lights in the building shut off. Screams of other students cry out as the boy's muscles convulse, his silhouette morphing into a new shape that Miki can't quite make out from where she is.

Amidst the panic of people rushing towards the exits, Miki finds her determination overtaking her fear. She pulls out her camera, setting on the flash and snaps a picture, the lone light in the darkness.

The lights finally flicker back on, a bit dim, and the  screams get louder as the boy's fate is revealed. He lies face down in a pool of his own blood, with patches of his human self still distinguishable from the scaley masses breaking out on the rest of his body. There even seem to be half-formed wings protruding from his lower back, and he may have grown an extra joint with the unnatural way his legs are bending.

It's repulsive, but Miki manages to hold down the food in her stomach to take another photo in the better light. The cafeteria is mostly emptied, except for her and the other students who now stare in horror at the abomination that boy had become.

Ryou stands further back. Unfortunately, this isn't the worst that he's seen. The demon had tried to merge with a human who had not abandoned their reason, but who was not strong enough to overtake it, and the fusion had killed both of them. This is why they avoided merging with humans in the first place; this outcome is far too likely. A shame it had to happen so publicly.

Ryou glances back to Miko, who is frozen in shock, hand over her mouth. He hasn't forgotten his suspicions about her, either. She's acting like herself, but there's too many symptoms for him to ignore the possibility of her also being possessed, especially with how dodgey she's been acting. She may be in control for now, but it could only be a matter of time before she meets a similar fate.

Miko turns behind her, noting Ryou’s stare.

Does… does he know? He can’t possibly… Miko thinks, and backs further away.

Ryou looks away, finally, back to the corpse. Miko makes her exit, daring not to think that he might be following her.

Ryou's gaze shifts to Miki, who has turned away to mess with her camera. He narrows his eyes again. He can't blame her for photographing it, but he wants to know what exactly she plans to do with that, especially given the fact that she may be stalking him. How much does she really know?

 


 

Miki calls home again after class and gets her mom answering instead.

"Oh? Are you staying on campus again?"

"Yeah," Miki says, "Not for a project… I’m eating dinner with a friend."

"Okay, have fun! Don’t stay out too late. I heard what happened in the cafeteria today… The school called us about it to tell us that you were all fine."

Miki twines the phone cord around her finger, "The cops interviewed us too even… Like, come on. Like I knew anything about it."

"Just stay safe out there. Oh," Her mom starts, "I just remembered. Your father isn’t going to be home this week, he’s out on a business trip."

"Oh no, who else will catch Akira coming home late?"

"Miki, that’s not funny. I’ve been really worried about Akira lately. Would you mind asking him if he’d like to come home again for the weekend? I know he’s been home almost every weekend this past month, but after everything in the news…"

Mom, it’s better if you don’t know what’s going on with him.

"Yeah, sure. When I see him again, I’ll let him know."

"Thank you. And have fun at dinner!"

"Bye, Mom."  

She clicks the phone receiver down and starts her way up the library stairs back outside towards Akira’s dorm.

Like magic, there’s Ryou’s telltale red car, parked right in front. Miki pauses by it, and thankful that both of them aren’t in it. There’s nothing photo worthy on his car whatsoever, aside from a few random scratches that were more than likely from Ryou’s reckless driving. Instead, she makes her move towards the front door, to be met with Akira holding the door open for Ryou.

Fuck, I didn’t think this part through, she thinks as she scrambles down the sidewalk, avoiding the ice and ducking behind a tree on the pathway. She takes a peek from behind the bark and watches as Ryou and Akira… drive off in the car.

I forgot that they’d take Ryou’s car god damn it!

Now Miki’s stuck on campus, while they’re heading off towards downtown. Which means she has to take the fucking bus on campus, and it only runs every thirty minutes after 5 p.m. Now she has to wait for it to come back. Then she has to find them.

Why didn’t I think this through?!

 


 

After spending the past hour being stuck on the bus, again, Miki arrives downtown.

The main street after dark, especially during the winter, is like a barren wasteland. It’s mostly empty during the day too, but at night… the place is absolutely spooky. The trees are still twined with white christmas lights, the only thing really lighting up the sidewalk and snow. A couple lamp posts flicker on and off, some blinking off entirely, darkening the street.

Miki makes her way towards the nearest parking lot, hoping to spot Ryou’s car. She’s met with various Corvettes, but none of them are Ryou’s exactly.

There’s at least five more parking lots down this side of the street. The others are way too far out to walk there, and that’s not really downtown anymore.

Miki guesses she’ll check for the car in the next lot, which is the woodsy one behind the city library.

As she moves down the sidewalk, a loud whoosh startles her. It’s coming from above. She peers up to find something… a large humanoid… no, it’s not a human- that’s gotta be a demon. It’s got large black, bat like wings, and bluish skin. The legs meld into the darkness of the night, and she can’t get a good look at them.  

It doesn’t seem to notice her. She takes the charge, and knows well this demon will probably lead her to wherever those dumbasses are.

The demon starts its descent, right near the library parking lot as she predicted. In the distance Miki finally finds Ryou’s car, with Ryou leaning against it- the usual, wearing sunglasses, trenchcoat, aaand smoking. A cigarette this time, she's pretty sure.

He doesn’t seem shocked that the demon is starting to land right in front of him, the wings retracting into nothingness, spotting two striped scars in the blue skin. Quickly, Miki ducks behind a trash can near the corner of a building, fumbling with her bag and pulls out her camera.

Tail swishing behind it, the demon approaches Ryou, who isn’t making any moves whatsoever. He only casually looks up and acknowledges it, opening up his car door.

What? I thought they were killing the demons?! What’s… What’s he doing?! I have to take a shot of this…

Miki sets it to the rapid shots, and positions it right at the back of the demon. She presses down the shutter to take the pictures… and watches as the demon starts shrinking down in size, the blue coloring fading, and returning to a more human skin tone.

Miki realizes, just as the flash goes off on her camera, that she forgot to disable it. She panics as it goes off again and again, but it's over in an instant, and the demon is still facing away, not appearing to have noticed.

But… Miki is no longer looking at a demon. Miki is looking at a human, standing in its place. A human she knows all too well. Miki is looking at Akira.

She remains frozen in place, the weight of discovery setting heavily on her, and even more so when she thinks of how she managed to capture it on film.

Miki completely forgets about Ryou and realizes that he’s now glaring in her direction, but he doesn't seem to have spotted her.

Shit.

"Huh? What’re you staring at?" Akira says, following Ryou’s line of vision, but doesn’t see anything.

"Hold on," Ryou says, shoving the first aid kit into Akira's hands as he makes his way slowly towards the trash can, "I think I saw something."

Fuck fuck fuck.

Miki scrambles back and crawls on the ground towards the other side, pressing her back against the wall, and clutching her camera as tight as possible. The crunch of Ryou’s boots starts to get louder. Miki’s amazed she can still hear it with how hard her heart is pounding.

Ryou looks behind the trash can, finds nothing, looks around the corner of the building, and still finds nothing. Just an empty street. There is, however, a trail in the snow along the wall.

He knows that she's here somewhere, and that was definitely her camera flashing. Pulling his gun out of his coat, he dashes towards the space behind the building, but again, she isn't there.

"Damn it," he breathes. How the fuck does she keep evading him? Unless of course it's not actually her, but… this is just too far to be just coincidence. And if is is her and if she did just take a photo, then she may have the intent to publish them, which means that Akira could be in some deep shit, and that's not something Ryou is willing to risk.

He has to find a way to prevent that from even being a possibility. Destroying the camera may be too obvious, but if he can get his hands on the film…

Akira follows up behind him, "What is it?"

Ryou continues looking down the alley for a moment, then slides his gun back into its holster, "It was nothing."

"You don't sound sure of that."

I'm not, Ryou thinks, but does not respond, instead turning to head back towards his car.

Miki waits until she can hear them walking back to actually relax. There’s too much going on through her mind. The fact that Akira is a demon and that Ryou more than likely knows she took the photos.

It’s not until she hears the sound of Ryou’s car pulling away does she take out her camera’s film. She twirls it around in her fingers, and then holds it tightly to her body, knowing what could very well happen if she goes and develops the photos, what could happen if someone else got their hands on them.

Combined with what happened on campus today, this could stir even even more panic. Maybe it's best if she lays low for awhile…

Ryou probably knows that, too. It's only been sheer luck that she's managed to avoid him, and Miki can’t begin to imagine what would happen if Akira knew she took the photos.

Ryou… what did you do to him…?

Chapter Text

Miki barely remembers getting onto the bus and coming home. There’s too many thoughts going on through her mind right now. She can barely focus on a single one.

The film now resides in her backpack, and feels like a deadweight compared to everything else inside. Amazing how one little tube of film has so much fucking power. God, she doesn’t even know what to do with it. On one hand, developing the pictures might help explain what's going on. On the other… someone might take the photos the wrong way. Hell, Miki’s not even sure on how to take what she just saw.

It’s not like she can ask Akira. How do you deal with the fact that your adoptive brother is apparently a demon?! But… he’s also been killing demons himself.

Though, what’s scaring her the most is Ryou’s involvement. There’s no doubt about it though, he’s the one who got Akira possesed. The question is though… why? And how? Where did he get all this information about demons? Not to mention the fact that they’re hunting them too. It’s… just really dangerous.

Just like the goddamn film she has.

Miki’s also pretty sure that Ryou knows she has the film too. The guy carries a hunting rifle around all the time! There’s no telling what he could do.

There’s also the fact that there’s no one she can trust now. Maybe Miko, but does she really want to drag her into this? If it comes to that (which she really hope it doesn’t), then maybe. But unknowingly Miki’s become a part of whatever the hell Ryou and Akira are doing. Which is probably something neither of them want. Hell, she doesn’t want it, either.

Miki’s mood has turned sour enough that her mom picks up on it when she finally comes home. The backpack still feels heavy as she takes it off and sets it by the door.

“Oh,” Her mom says coming towards the front, “There you are. I was wondering what was taking you so long! Have fun at dinner?”

Miki pauses in taking off her coat and looks directly at her mom, then looks away, “Somewhat.”

“What happened?” Her mom’s tone shifts to concern.

Well mom, your godson apparently is a demon. I investigated it, all by myself. You’re welcome.

“Just… didn’t go how I thought it would.” Miki finishes taking off her winter gear and hesitantly grabs her backpack, making her way towards the stairs.

“Aw,” Her mother says, getting closer to the front step, “That’s too bad. Maybe next time you’ll have a better experience?”

The next time I see Ryou, he’s gonna one-shot kill me with his death glare. So no, I will not be having a good time.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“I hope so,” she pauses,“I’m sorry, I know you and Akira are in your 20’s now… but I’ve been really worried about the both of you lately. Just promise me you’ll stay out of trouble?”

Too late, Mom.


Miki’s timeslot for the dark room finally arrives a couple days later. There’s another piece of film she needs to develop for one of her classes, but the other one still sits in her backpack, like a timebomb approaching detonation. It’s not like Miki can put more photos on it, either…

But, Miki thinks, taking the pathway down to the art building, if I lose the film, anyone could develop it. It’d be even more dangerous.

Waiting until she can get a hold of a timeslot again would also end badly. Miki has to develop these photos now or never.

"Hey Miki!"

Miki practically jumps out of her skin as Akira comes up behind her. Speak of the devil, she thinks, then immediately regrets her choice of words.

"Oh, shit, I didn't mean to startle you," he says apologetically.

Fuck, “Uh, hey…” Miki says, stopping, “W-what’re you doing here?”

"I was just getting out of class," Akira gestures towards the general academic building, "Are you heading to the art building?"

“Y-yeah. I was, uh, gonna… develop some pictures… for class.” She adds a little too quickly.

"Oh, you want me to come with you? I'm free for the rest of the day, and Aunt Akiko said she wants me to come home again this weekend."

“Wait, how’d you know about that? She told me to tell you.”

“She called my dorm earlier today. Saying she was worried or something? And also to tell me that Uncle Kozo isn’t home.” He laughs, “Hey, maybe Ryou will actually come over for once.”

“What do you mean 'over for once'? He’s been over lots of time.” Miki says, hoping to god he’ll get distracted enough and leave her alone.

“Usually only to pick me up or drop me off. Kozo… doesn't seem to like him, so Ryou doesn't like to hang out there when he's around; it's why I mostly go over to his place."

Well, dad was right about something.

"I thought that was because he has better game systems. And what, my mom is okay for him?" she says, trying to mask her nerves by acting as normal as possible.

"I guess he's not as intimidated by her," Akira shrugs.

"Anyways," Miki would rather not stay on the subject of Ryou (especially with how touchy Akira gets whenever he comes up in conversation), "I gotta go develop these photos."

Yeah, did you want me to wait out for you?"

"No!" She says, too harshly, "Uh, I mean, it's kind of a big project so it might take me awhile, so you don't have to wait for me; I'll just take the bus and meet you at home."

"Oh, alright then-"

"Makimura!"

God damn it! Again? Now? Really!?

“Do you guys literally have anything better to do?” Miki remarks as Dosuroku and his gang start to approach her. It's the same assholes as before, although now with a new addition who seems like he might actually be worth shit.

“We heard what you did!” The shortest one shouts.

“... Wait. Remind me. What did I do this time?”

"You kissed Kawamoto! At Izumi's party!" Dosuroku himself asserts.

“I was drunk you dumbass. I don’t remember anything.” Miki shrugs, trying not to laugh. “Besides, I told you, she’s a lesbian.”

“You do remember!”

Shit.

“Why do you even care?”

"'Cause I was gonna do it!"

"What part of 'lesbian' don't you understand!?"

The new guy hangs a bit further back, paying attention but looking like he'd much rather be doing anything else than be involved with this horse shit. Akira stands near Miki, looking back and forth between her and the others, confused but growing agitated as it escalates. This… somehow gives Miki an idea of how she can be rid of both Akira and these clowns

“Sorry,” Miki tells them, “But I have more important things to be doing,” and starts her way back down the sidewalk.

3… 2… 1…

“I wasn’t finished with you Makimura!”

“Well,” Miki keeps walking towards the building, not bothering to look back, “I am.”

“Makimura!"

Dosuroku starts to charge towards her, but Akira is faster and socks him in the stomach, sending him flying backwards and landing flat on his ass.

Yes! They took the bait!

"Leave her alone," Akira growls.

"Oh, you got tough all of a sudden? Decided to stop being such a pussy?" Dosuroku taunts.

Akira stomps down on his stomach, causing him to fall back with an oof, and prompting the other three to jump in on top of Akira. Distraction successful, Miki makes a break for the art building.

Miki glances behind her, making sure that those idiots are still fighting. She snickers, and starts up the stairs to the front door. That went a lot faster than she thought it would go.

Though, now she’s wondering if that was the best way to escape. If Akira’s possessed, then maybe she shouldn't be encouraging him to be violent; it could prompt that demon to come out again. She may not like Dosuroku, but being ripped to shreds by a demon isn’t… a cool way to die. She wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Her backpack feels heavy again. Right. The film.

Maybe… developing the photos might not be a good idea. Someone could accidentally provoke a demon and end up as a human steak, like in the news lately.

Miki’s got other photos she needs to develop anyways, and starts her way towards the dark room.

Miki stops when she notices someone near the stairwell bench hunched over and groaning, holding their head.

Oh, shit. More demons?

“Hey,” She walks over, glancing to see if anyone else has noticed, “You okay?”

The person swallows thickly, and then suddenly starts gurgling. Their body is thrown back against the stairwell, screeching as one of their eyes dribble onto the floor from the socket.

Miki starts back, watching the other eyeball do the same. Two fuzzy limbs protrude from the two holes in their face and eyes breaks out of their skull. Six more limbs tear through their throat, and other creatures start pouring out of the body. Spiders, Miki realizes with horror. Dozens and dozens of spiders ripping the poor student limb from limb.

She screams as one tries to jump on her and Miki whacks it back with her camera bag and bolts back towards the front door.

Before Miki can even make it down the stairs she collides into something hard. Not bothering to look at what she hit, Miki starts smacking her bag around blindly, screaming still.

“Augh! Miki, Miki! Stop! It’s me!" Akira bats the bag away. "Stop hitting me, jesus christ!”

"Akira?!”

Akira grabs her shoulders, concerned, "Are you okay?"

"There's- there's a-" she bites her tongue on the word demon, and instead just points back down the stairs.

Behind them, the doors of the art building swing open.

"Oi! What do you think you're doing running away!" a significantly more beat-up Dosuroku appears, followed shortly by the others, who don't look much better off. Even the tough-looking guy, who's now brandishing a chain, looks rough compared to Akira, who is barely scratched.

Suddenly, something large and black jumps on Dosuroku from above, latching itself onto his forehead. Three more follow suit and clamp down on the others' heads. Their eyes glaze over as the spiders bite down into their skulls.

Akira turns to Miki, "You have to get out of here! Run!"

“What? You think I can’t handle this?!” Miki says, masking her fear.

The thugs start to slowly encroach in on them, moving eerily in sync with each other. While the hosts seem mentally absent, Akira can feel the focus of the demons controlling them directed at him. But this is different than typical possession, and somehow feels less like separate entities and more like the many eyes of one.

"Trust me," Akira insists, "This is way too dangerous for you to get involved! Just go!"

“I’m not gonna leave you!”

"Then stay behind and let me handle it!"

Before Miki has a chance to act, spider-Dosuroku lunges forward suddenly, straight towards Akira, whipping his knife out of his sleeve in the process. Akira dodges, herding Miki behind him as he grabs Dosuroku and throws him to the floor. The guy the the chain moves next, thrashing it towards them with newfound precision. Thinking quickly, Akira hoists a startled Miki up onto his back and jumps out of the way, then snatches the chain before it can be retracted and whips it back at him. The force knocks him off balance and into the wall, but Dosuroku is now up again and coming at them.

Miki screams again, swinging her bag over Akira's head, who ducks down as it moves towards Dosuroku. She overshoots his face, but by chance it collides directly with the spider, smashing it with a loud crunch. It's yellow innards run down over his blank expression, but then he shakes his head and regains the focus in his eyes, looking a bit lost.

Miki stares for a moment, then looks over at chain guy, who's spider has been smashed where his head hit the wall, but now seems to be back to normal, and it clicks with her, "Akira! Kill the other spiders!"

Akira springs into action. As one of the guys comes at him with a bat, he maneuvers himself in front of the last one, causing the bat to slam down onto him instead, crushing the spider. That guy seems to get the idea, and uses his brass knuckles to punch the final spider off of his friend's head. It lands on the floor, but Akira stomps on it before it has a chance to scurry away.

Dosuroku holds his head, "What… just happened?"

"I saved your life. You're welcome." Miki informs him.

"Miki…" Akira sighs.

"The fuck were those spider things?" One of the delinquents asks.

"They were controlling you," Akira says, "But I think we got all of them."

“Uh… actually," Miki starts, "There were a lot more of them.” She nudges Akira, “Also, let me down.”

Akira obliges, sliding her off of his back, "More? Where?"

She gestures towards the stairs, “That way.”

“How many more?” Dosuroku peers down.

A lot.”

"Well," the guy with the chain speaks, "What are we waiting here for, then? Name's Masa, by the way. That's Manjiro," he gestures towards the short guy with the bat, "And that's Tetsuya," the one with brass knuckles, "You seem to already know Dosuroku. Just figured putting names to faces would be helpful if we're gonna work together."

"Yeah, good point. I'm Akira, and… I think you guys know Miki." She flips Akira off.

"What's your last name?" Dosuroku asks.

"Uh… Fudo? Why?"

"Damn it Dosuroku are you still on about that?" Masa says, irritated.

“What! I don’t like calling people by their first names.”

Miki rolls her eyes, "Uh, guys? Isn't this kind of an emergency? We're dealing with a bunch possessed art students here!"

"She's got a point," Akira nods.

“Then what are we waiting for,” Miki starts down the stairs, “Let’s go squash some spiders!”

"Miki, wait!" Akira grabs her shoulder, "Don't just go charging in there, you're one of the least equipped to fight these things."

"Uh, I killed the first one? And I’ve got my switchblade on me."

"I'm not doubting you, but…" but I don't want to risk you getting possessed again, "But you don't really know what we're up against here."

“Why,” Miki raises an eyebrow, “do you?”

Shit, I shouldn’t have said that.

"It's better if you don't know. Just trust me, okay?"

But I already know, Miki thinks.

“Hey! Cut the lover’s spat and let’s go swat some bugs already!” Dosuroku shouts.

Miki makes a face, "Ugh, ew! Stop implying we're a couple!"

“Wait, you’re not?”

"No," Akira responds, "I've lived with her family since I was six."

"We're like siblings," Miki adds.

“Oh.”

There's an awkward pause, broken impatiently by Masa, "Are we going to go fucking kill these things or what?"

“First one is mine!” Miki charges down the stairs without even bothering to wait for any of them.

“Damn it, Miki!” Akira calls after her.

The basement’s main hall, however, is empty, except for the single tattered corpse. No shit ton of spider-controlled puppets like they expected.

“Where… where is everyone?” Masa remarks, coming from behind Miki.

“And where are the spiders, for that matter?" Akira scans the hallway. He can feel them nearby, but the presence seems to surround him and he can't place its origin.

“I don’t know… I saw a bunch of them, like, pouring out of that body. I wasn’t exactly looking to see if they possessed anyone.” Miki says, putting her hands on her hips.

"Maybe they're in one of the classrooms or something?" Tetsuya offers.

“Wait… do you hear that?” Dosuroku steps towards one of the other hallways, connecting to the mainone.

Everyone stills, listening. Akira picks up on it first, and starts running down the hallway and turning the corner.

"Hey! Fudo! Where are you going?!" Dosuroku calls after him.

“Jackass! Wait for us!” He can hear Miki’s heels clicking against the floor. (How can she run in those?)

He rounds another corner, then skids to a halt, coming to face roughly a dozen other students, each sporting their own identical spider, and each moving towards him with the same air of malice. Akira turns to look down the opposite way, and finds even more controlled students closing in from that direction.

Miki slows down, and pauses right behind Akira. The rest of the group follows shortly after, glancing down both sides of the hallway. The zombies are closing in, carrying various tools from the workshops.

"This doesn't look good…" Akira says, "Get ready."

“Uh… so, we just have to knock the spiders off their heads right?” Miki looks over to Akira, “Knock ‘em off and we’re good?”

"We should probably kill 'em," Manjiro says, "Otherwise they'll just latch onto someone else, yeah?"

Akira nods, "Just make sure you don't hurt any of the humans."

Humans? Miki thinks. You’re making it sound like… you really aren't one. Miki swallows the thought and focuses on the encroaching hoard.  

Miki barely has any time to react before a spider-student lunges forward with a scalpel.

“Miki!” Akira shouts, running over to protect her. Miki’s faster though. She draws out her switchblade and slices the spider’s head clean off.

“Who’s next, motherfuckers?!" She yells, waving her knife in front of her as they circle around. "Come get some!” She dashes forward and dices up another spider. Masa gets the idea and whips his chain straight through one of the bodies.

Manjiro whacks a spider off and squashes it in one go with the bat.

The controlled students either seem to move in unison or one at a time, Akira notes, making them relatively predictable.

It's like some kind of hivemind, Akira thinks as he grabs another spider and crunches it in his fist, but I can feel a stronger presence behind them. The real demon must be somewhere nearby…

He watches as the others work their way through the hoard. Despite his concerns, they seem to have a handle on the minions, but it's definitely too dangerous to risk any of them going after whatever's in control here. Amidst his own fighting, he tries to focus in on the source, but with all of the commotion around him it's almost impossible to make it out.

"Come on, you bastard," Akira says between gritted teeth, "I know you're around here somewhere."

Akira tries another spider, and another, but none of them are the right one. He swears he feels it laughing at him.

"I'll fucking kill you!" He rips another one off some girls head, again squashing it forcefully in his bear hands.

Miki stops mid slice, glancing in the direction of Akira, yellow fluid dripping down his clawed hands. The weird markings under his eyes have darkened and grown larger.

Oh fuck,she thinks, and watches him closely, stalking behind more of the zombies.

Akira breathes out. He has to keep control. He can't let Amon come out now, in front Miki and the others. He stops himself from transforming further, but he keeps his claws out. He pushes forward through the crowd, which Miki notices no longer seems to be targeting him.

The rest of Dosuroku’s gang seem to have a handle on the situation. Miki continues to follow after Akira, dodging the “deadly” art supplies aimed at her, but they start to close in, swarming her.

"Akira!" She calls out after him. She tries to use her bag to ram her way through to him, but gets quickly overwhelmed. Dosuroku jumps in, slashing through a few of the spiders and giving Miki enough leverage to fend off the rest, but now she's lost track of Akira.

“Thanks,” Miki holds her hand up, and Dosuroku nods at her. Swiftly, she weaves her way through the crowd. How many of these guys are there?

Akira nears the end of the hallway, when he finally spots him. One spider, much larger that the rest, sitting on-

"What the fuck!" Akira exclaims.

Facing him is… himself. But somehow more distorted, more demonic. The demon's puppet grins, baring its fangs in a haughty mimic of Akira's sneer. Akira charges forward, but the spider leaps off of its head, and Akira finds himself tackling thin air. The demon's laughter echoes through the hallway in the other direction, provoking him.

Miki comes from behind, “Hey what was-” She’s cut off suddenly when another spider puppet pulls her back, and then flings her straight up into the air.

Shit, he was distracting me.

Miki crashes back down, bracing for impact when Akira grabs her waist and sets her back down, slightly winded.

“You okay?”

Miki blinks around then meets his face, “... Yeah. What was that-” Miki stops when the remaining spiders spout webs, sticking themselves together and pulling back down another hallway, all of them simultaneously abandoning their hosts.

Akira runs after it, bursting through the exit doors.

“Oh my god, Akira! Wait for me!” Miki too follows after the webbing and out into the courtyard, where Akira stands, looking upwards.

The rest of the gang comes from behind and pause. All of them peer up at the sky to find a face floating in the clouds, somewhere between arachnid and humanoid, and all of its many eyes focusing downward, directly at Akira. Silky, web-like fingers take up most of its body, spreading out even farther than what is seen.

The creature speaks suddenly, its voice seeming to resonate from inside Akira's head, "You might have stalled my plans here today, Devilman, but don't think you've won. This war is only just beginning."

General Zan, Akira's subconscious informs him, One of leaders of the demon army.

“Lord Zenon plans an attack soon. I expect a better fight." With that, Zan's limbs retract, curling up into him until he disappears completely, leaving Akira to wonder if that was only another projection.

Damn it! If Akira hadn't been so preoccupied with everyone else, he could've transformed completely, and he could've easily taken this fucker down. A growl rumbles in Akira's throat, and he slams his fist down into one of the tables out of frustration, visibly cracking it.

Miki turns at the sound, watching Akira’s hand tremble, claws still extended. He groans and pulls his arm away, noticing that the sleeves of his outer shirt are sticking out, stretching the fabric before it suddenly disappears.

Miki approaches from behind, “Akira? Akira what’s wrong?”

“Don’t look at me,” Akira says in a low voice, gripping onto the table, “Don’t look at my face right now.”

“What… what do you mean-”

"Okay, what the fuck was that?" Dosuroku speaks up.

Akira does not turn to face him, and gives a clipped reply, “A demon.”

“Demon?” Masa asks, “Like… the biblical kind?”

"Worse. The real kind."

The rest of them stare in silence at Akira, who still holds onto the table in a vice. He gives up finally, and turns sharply, pointedly refusing to speak to everyone.

I don't know which one is scarier, Miki thinks as she watches him tread back into the building, tense and aggressive, The demon, or Akira.

Though, at this point she can’t tell a difference. Miki sets down her backpack and pulls out the film.

I’m sorry Akira, but I have to do this.


 

Miko bursts out of class the instant her professor dimisses everyone. Last class of the day, and it’s the weekend. Safe and sound for now.

She’s lucky that it’s an afternoon class too. The engineering building is empty, and barely any students have lingered around any of the classrooms. Miko’s can put those worries aside at least.

Though, how long can she keep this up? With all the news happening, Miko knows she’s become one of those monsters. Yet, it doesn’t feel right to her. The reports have been claiming one of the biggest tells is changed behavior. Aside from being even more cautious than normal, Miko doesn’t really feel different. Well, at least in personality. Her emotions on the other hand… haven’t been under her control much. Part of Miko wonders if that’s just from her freaking out over becoming a monster. On the other hand, she’s never been that quick to anger before.

It’s only a matter of time before Miko snaps and gets caught. (The worst bit is that it might be at the hands of her mother, with the way she’s been setting Miko off so much lately.)  Not to mention, the instant the weather warms up, she can’t wear enough clothes to hide… whatever the hell this thing on her is. The least she can do for now is follow her normal schedule and hope for the best.

"Normal schedule". Miko’s been isolating herself so much lately. She can’t even bring herself to face any of her friends. Not to mention Miki. (Or Akira for that matter, but that’s another issue entirely.) It’s why Miko’s barely spoken to Miki… or asked her if she remembers the kiss.

I shouldn’t worry about this so much. Worrying about it is going to get me caught. Just get home, Miko thinks, tugging her messenger bag tighter.

She’s almost to the front door when Miki herself bursts right through — how is she running in those heels? — and shouts for her name.

“Miko! Miko! I… I need to talk to you,” Miki stops right in front of her breathless, “It’s… it’s important.”

Is… is this about the kiss?!

“Uh, sure… What’s up?”

Not here,” Miki hisses, “We need to go… somewhere secure.”

Okay, I guess this is not about the kiss? Or maybe it is…?

“Well, there’s like… this longue up here that no one goes to? We just need to take the stai-” Miko gets abruptly cut off when Miki grabs her arm and pulls her towards the linoleum stairs behind them.

“Lead the way!”

“I can’t lead the way if you’re the one, dragging me.

“Oh,” Miki realizes, and lets go of her finally, “Right. Anyways. Please lead the way.” Miki gestures outwards to the steps.

“It’s just stairs.” Miko says, brushing past Miki and heading to the second floor. “So, Miki. Why is this thing so important that… we have to go somewhere private?”

“I can’t say that out here! We have to go where no one can see us.” She whispers.

“Is… is everything okay?”

“I don’t… I don’t even know anymore.”

The rest of the walk up is silent, Miko’s worrying increasing. Miki’s never been one to be so unsure of anything… she’s almost a bit too scared to find out what it is that Miki’s got up her sleeve. Vaguely Miko wonders if it involves any of those monsters around campus.

They make it to the longue situated on top of the little alcove that over looks the window front. There’s a couple chairs pushed back against the wall, with a large circle table encompassing them. Several science magazines liter the area, some worn and torn. Other still look pristine. A little bit of light tumbles onto the floor from the skylight.  

“Okay,” Miko starts, “We’re here. So what-”

“No, no. We need to sit.” Miki emphasizes. “What I’m about to tell you is… kind of heavy.”

“Alright?” Miko follows Miki over to the table, where she tosses her backpack on top and situates herself in the chair; sitting sideways with her legs crossed and holding her knee. Miko comes over, spinning the chair around and resting her arms on the back.

Miki breathes out for a second, looking over to her bag and then to Miko, “Akira’s a demon.”

“He… he’s what? Wait, wait, wait start over.”

“What do you mean 'start over'? That’s what I had to tell you. Akira’s a demon.”

“Define 'demon'.”

“You know those monster things that have been popping up in the news? They’re demons.”

Shit… is… is that what I am? Miko wonders. Her voice trembles, “H-how do you know?”

“I saw him transform into one. And I have the pictures to prove it.”

You what?!”

“Not so loud!” Miki presses a finger to her lips.

“How did you even catch him transforming?”

“Remember the other day in the cafeteria?”

“Yeah?”

“Well… okay, I was snooping on Ryou the day before and I caught him trying to kill a demon. I dunno if he actually did that or not-"

"Why were you snooping on Ryou!?"

"Anyways, he was talking to Akira about it and I overheard him mention the word demon. So I stalked the both of them again-”

Why?

“Will you let me finish, Miko?” Miki says with a roll of her eyes, “Anyways! So I stalked the both of them again… aaaand long story short, I caught Akira transforming back into a human. Or I guess his human form? I dunno, regardless… Akira was a demon.”

Wait? They can transform at will? How come I can’t?Miko pushes the thoughts aside, “So. Let me get this straight. You… were trying to stalk Ryou for some reason… and now you uncovered the fact that Akira’s a demon?

“Look. I know it was bad and I probably shouldn’t have done it. But you gotta admit he’s been acting so weird. You were the first one to figure it out. I should’ve believed you…”

“Hey, it’s not your fault, Miki. None of us knew what was going on.”

“Well, one of us did.”

“Hm?”

"I'm pretty sure Ryou's been in on this from the start. He's definitely involved, but I think he might be behind it somehow."

Shit. He might actually know I’m possessed. “Come on, Miki. I know you don’t like Ryou, but that’s a little too far."

“Who said I didn’t like him? I don't think he's a bad person, I just distrust him more than anything. Especially… after what he did when I took the photos.”

“He saw you?”

“I think so, 'cause after I took the pictures he went after me with his gun at the ready. I don't know if he saw that it was me, though.”

“Oh my god.”

“Honestly, if Akira hadn't been there… I think Ryou would have tried to shoot me.”

“He would have what?

Miki waves her off, “I said tried to. He wouldn’t pull the trigger. Too much of a pussy. Anyways.”

And yet you said you can’t dislike him, Miko ponders.

“I think Ryou hates me for some reason. Well, I think I know why, but it’s stupid.”

“Oh?”

“It’s not really that important.”

It… sounds like it is, Miki, if he would try to shoot you over it.

“Well… can I see the photos at least?”

“Uh, I don’t think these pictures should be seen by anyone else, Miko. If they got into the public eye, panic would ensue.”

“Then why would you develop them in the first place?!”

“It’s less dangerous than being on film! It’s easier to lose a roll of film than it is a stack of photos.”

“Why didn’t you just destroy the film then?”

“I don’t… know. I just… couldn’t bring myself to do it.” Miki pauses, looking back over to her backpack, where those photos likely sit. She turns back to Miko, “Please… know I didn’t want to drag you into this. Right now you’re… the only one I can trust.”

“Miki…”

“I’ll show you the photos later, maybe somewhere safer? Like… my house. We can meet up tomorrow and get dinner or something and then head back to my place. Sound good?”

Had Miko heard those words earlier, she would have been elated, but now it just hurts. The fact that she’s only being asked out of necessity, because Miko’s the only one trustworthy right now feels like a huge blow, but she dismisses it.

“Yeah. Sounds great.”

Miki smiles at her, and Miko finds herself pulled into a hug, “Thank you sooomuch!”

Though, Miko wonders, Miki... if you knew I was also possessed… would you still trust me?


"And he specifically said they're planning a 'war'?" Ryou asks from where he sits on the floor of Akira's room, back against the wall and homework strewn out in front of him.

"Yeah," Akira confirms from up on his bed, "Mentioned something about that Zenon guy, too. The one that Sirene was going to take me to."

"Hmm… Sounds like they're advancing their plans, so we should, too."

"Do we even have a plan?"

"…Not really, no. But we definitely need one. They've clearly got some kind of army organized, so we'll have to start being more strategic about how we approach this."

"Maybe… we could make an army of our own?" Akira suggests.

"With what, exactly?"

"Well, don't you think it's possible that there are others like me who've merged with demons and won?"

"It's possible, I suppose, but what are the chances of finding them? And even a 'successful' merge still runs the risk of the demon eventually overpowering the human's will."

"What if it was a weak demon?" Akira recalls Masami's party, and the low-level presence he'd felt shortly before she kicked everyone out. No one has seen or heard from her since, and Akira still can't help but wonder if it really did possess her.

"Possessions work by allowing the demon to take over, and then, in your case, taking control away from it. A demon that is too weak to overpower the human right away will die, and kill both of them in the process. A demon that is too strong will just overtake the human completely."

"I just find it hard to believe that I'm the only one who would be able to do it."

"You probably aren't," Ryou's mind flashes to Miko, "But, as I said, most possessions are doomed to fail, even if they hold on for a time – such as the case of my father. And by trying to find others you run the risk of outing yourself."

"I still think it's worth considering."

"Even if we are able to find others, we still need an actual plan; this isn't the type of battle we can just charge into, especially it comes down to just being you."

"It's worked before, why wouldn't it work now? I told you, if it hadn't been for the other people around, I would've been able to transform and take on Zan no problem."

"I don't think you understand just how powerful these demons are-"

"But Amon's the most powerful, isn't he? And I've still got his body, and his abilities, plus a human heart; you said so yourself."

"Amon is the strongest," Ryou corrects, "Not necessarily the most powerful."

"Close enough. The point is, I'm more than capable of defeating Zan, and Zenon, and anything else that gets in my way."

"You are not Amon."

The harshness of Ryou's reply startles Akira, and he sits up to look at him. He finds Ryou staring back, expression serious. Akira blinks at him, "I know that."

"Do you?" Ryou challenges.

Akira furrows his brow, "Of course I do. You're confusing me, Ryou."

Ryou clicks his tongue and breaks eye contact, trying to find the right words. They sit in silence for a moment, before Ryou finally sighs and speaks again, "Lately I've been concerned about how much influence you're letting Amon have over you."

"What do you mean?"

"Remember when I said that merging with a demon was also a merge of consciousness?"

"Yeah…?"

"Are you always able to tell which thoughts are your own?"

Akira thinks it over. Obviously, he can tell that any impulses about hurting or fucking or killing (or some horrific combination of the three) are probably nothis, and the few of Amon's memories that he has are definitely distinct enough from his own experiences, so he answers confidently, "Yeah," then doubts himself, "I mean, most of the time."

"But not all the time."

"I still don't really get where you're going with this."

Ryou was trying to be tactful about this, but perhaps being blunt is the best way to get his point across. He folds his arms and leans back, looking up at Akira, "Recently you've been much more aggressive, and much less likely to curb yourself when you are. I'm concerned that you're becoming so used to your possession that you no longer notice when it's affecting you.

"And killing demons no longer seems to be enough to satiate your impulses. You only really seem satisfied after a major fight, and now seeing you this wound-up after a stalemate makes me think that eventually even that won't be enough for you. On the chance that we do win this war, what will you do then, when all the demons are dead and you're left with no outlet for your contentiousness?"

"Are you… worried I'm going to start hurting other people?"

Or yourself, Ryou thinks, "Are you worried about it?"

"I…" Akira hesitates, "Sometimes. Yeah."

Ryou pushes himself up from the ground and steps over to the bed, moving Akira's abandoned schoolwork out of the way to sit beside him, their thighs barely touching. He grabs Akira's hand and looks him directly in the eyes, "Devilman or not, you're still human. Don't forget that."

Akira isn't sure how to respond to that, so he just squeezes Ryou's hand and looks away. He glances back, and finds that Ryou is now staring downwards, clearly thinking hard about something. They remain like that for what feels like ages, neither of them speaking, to the point where Akira feels the sweat building between their palms (he thinks it's more Ryou's than his). But Ryou is the one to break it, and wipes his hand off on his pant leg before resting it back on his own lap, still not looking at Akira.

"Maybe we could try to find a different outlet for you," Ryou says eventually, "Or at least something that could provide temporary relief."

"Like what?"

"Well… I may have an idea… but I'm not sure if it will work."

"It could still be worth a shot. What is it?"

Ryou tenses a bit. This is a gamble on multiple levels, but he's already brought it up, so he doesn't think he can back out now, "As you know, demons are inclined to act instinctively, and usually that means resorting to violence. But many of them are also inclined to… other instincts."

"Why're you being so vague about it? Are you talking about, like, hunting? 'Cause I'm hungry all the time now, and sometimes when I kill something I get the urge to eat it. I think I've done once or twice before I realized what I was doing…"

"…I was talking about sex."

"Oh."

"You get impulses about that, don't you?"

"I- I guess," Akira reddens slightly, "Usually more like… dreams? And… general horniness. Kind of like the hunger thing."

"Do you think that if you were able to satisfy your libido that it would make your other urges more manageable?"

"Maybe. I mean, I don't think masturbating more often than I do will really help anything."

"I don't mean masturbation. I mean sex with another person."

"Oh," Akira pauses, "With who, though?"

Ryou hesitates again, face burning, but now it's really too late to back out, "…I'm offering."

Maybe Akira should have expected that, but somehow it still blindsides him. The more primal part of him is already excited at the thought of having sex with anyone, but emotionally this suddenly got a lot more complicated.

On the one hand, he's still not really sure where his relationship with Ryou stands currently, and it almost feels like there's some sort of line here that he shouldn't be crossing, but on the other hand, he can't really bring himself to be opposed to the idea. It would be dishonest to say that it had never crossed his mind before that Ryou is attractive, and Ryou has managed to work his way into some of Akira's less-than-decent dreams. But Akira didn't really think anything of it, because they're just dreams, and now is probably not the best time to be remembering mental images of Ryou pinned underneath him, moaning into his ear like he had back at the sabbath. Or maybe this is exactly the time to think of that. But Ryou is still his best friend and also a guy and Akira doesn't know what to think about it. Akira isn't sure about anything right now.

"We don't have to go all the way," Ryou says, registering Akira's discomfort, "But I can… do something for you. If you want me to. I'm not trying to pressure you, I'm just offering it as a potential solution – at least, until we can find something better-"

"I'm okay with it," Akira says decisively, sex drive ultimately winning over his inhibition.

Ryou seems surprised, like he'd expected him to say no, "Then, let me try something…"

Before Akira has a chance to respond, Ryou has lifted himself off the bed and subsequently lowered himself down in front of Akira. Ryou pushes forward slightly, positioning himself between Akira's legs, and methodically unzips his pants. Wordlessly, he tugs down Akira's jeans and boxers, just enough to reveal the base of his dick, and finds that Akira is already semi-aroused.

Ryou uses his hand to slide it out the rest of the way and oh. He's… big. Ryou knew that he wasn't exactly packing light, but… damn. Ryou inhales sharply at the spike of his own arousal, wondering how much of that was there before and how much is thanks to Amon, and tries not to get excited imagining what it might feel like inside him. He has to be cool about this. He's not doing this for himself; he's doing it for Akira.

Truthfully, though, Ryou doesn't have a fucking clue what he is doing. Obviously he knows how to do this in theory, but having someone else's dick in your face is a lot differentin practice. Experimentally, he gives it a few loose strokes, and he hears Akira sigh at the attention. He can't bring himself to look up, but he can feel Akira watching him, and he's not sure if that's turning him on or making him more self-conscious. Maybe both.

Ryou readjusts his grip and strokes him more firmly, running his thumb along the underside of his shaft and working him until he's fully erect, using the bit of precum that Akira is already producing to ease the friction. It's not unlike touching himself, but it's still somewhat foreign to Ryou, especially at this angle, and especially considering what he's about to do.

Moving in a little closer, Ryou's mouth hovers over the head. Akira can feel the warmth of his breath against his skin, but before he has time to fully process it, Ryou presses his lips to the tip and leans forward until he's taken in the entire head. Akira grunts in approval as Ryou's mouth closes around him and stays there, running his tongue over it in small circles and occasionally pressing in on the slit. He keeps this pattern for a while, before releasing him with a gasp, lips wet with saliva and precum. But Ryou only pauses to breathe for a moment before he's back on him, a little further this time. He pulls back, almost all the way off, then pushes forward again, repeating the back-and-forth motion but never taking in more than an inch or two.

The teasing is starting to drive Akira a little crazy, and it's taking everything in his willpower not to just shove himself in the rest of the way and thrust down Ryou's throat. He's not able to hold back completely, though, and the next time Ryou takes him in, Akira places his hand on Ryou's head and guides him forward.

Ryou opens his eyes — when had he closed them? — at Akira's sudden involvement, furrowing his brow as he allows Akira to keep pushing until he's halfway in and his head is grazing the opening of Ryou's throat. He makes a noise somewhere between pleasure and discomfort, but it's completely muffled and comes out as a hum. Ryou can tell that Akira is restraining himself, and he's grateful for that, but he can also infer what Akira really wants to do, and indulges him by taking him in just a little deeper, trying to keep his throat relaxed so as not to trigger his gag reflex.

Ryou swallows around him, partially to get rid of all the spit that's been pooling in his mouth, but Akira seems to really like that, and the hand on Ryou's head grips into his hair, unintentionally pushing in even further. Ryou's eyes start to water, but he manages not to choke, instead moaning again as he finds himself wanting more. But, he's already past what he'd judged as his limit, and he doesn't really want to injure himself trying to deepthroat something this big on his first try. Though, maybe with practice…

On the off chance you'll ever be able to do this again, a cruel voice in his head reminds him.

Ignoring that thought, Ryou chooses to focus on the matter at hand, and starts to move again, bobbing up and down on Akira's cock, pushing as far as he knows he can every time. Akira starts to move, too, rocking his hips forward to match Ryou's rhythm, still holding onto the fistful of his hair.

It's rough and clumsy and sometimes it hurts a bit but god damn if Ryou isn't into it. His own dick is pressing hard against the fabric of his underwear, getting uncomfortably wet and begging for attention. Ryou absentmindedly reaches down and rubs his hand against the slight bulge, but stops. He can take care of himself later, when he's alone and can safely let his walls down. As much as he trusts Akira, he can't risk showing any kind of vulnerability, especially when Ryou is supposed to be the one helping him.

Instead, Ryou uses that hand to stroke the base of Akira's shaft where he can't reach with his mouth. Akira is breathing heavily and trying to concentrate all of his mental strength into not transforming like all his instincts are telling him to, but it's proving to be really difficult to think clearly about anything with the way Ryou is working him. He knows how close he is to finishing, and he can't help but thrust harder into Ryou, savouring the noise he makes in response and how good the vibrations feel around his cock.

It's just enough to send him over the edge, and Akira holds Ryou in place as he cums down his throat, keeping him there until Akira shudders through the last wave of his orgasm. Ryou jerks back, coughing, as the excess cum spills out of his mouth and down his front. He finally meets Akira's gaze, eyes watery and half-lidded, and his pupils blown wide with lust. His closes his mouth and swallows, but there's still streaks of Akira's seed running down his chin and onto his shirt and fuck Akira is fully hard again.

Ryou wipes his face on his sleeve and starts to stand up, but Akira seizes the opportunity to grab him by his midsection and pull him into his lap. Ryou makes a startled noise, and Akira wastes no time in flipping him on his back and pushing in on top of him. He runs his hands down Ryou's sides as he buries his face into his neck, breathing in his scent. If Ryou's body language wasn't enough, Akira can definitely smell his arousal, and subconsciously lets out a low growl, grinding down on Ryou's crotch with his still-exposed dick.

"Akira," Ryou whispers breathlessly, and starts to say something else, but Akira presses an open-mouthed kiss on the side of his neck, grazing his fangs against it, and Ryou only gasps.

"Akira-nnngh…" Ryou tries again, but Akira continues to rut against him as he moves to lean over his face. For a moment, Ryou entertains the idea of just letting this happen, because fuck, he really, really wants it to, but Akira moves to kiss him on the mouth and Ryou's rationality wins over, blocking Akira's face with his hand, "Akira, stop!"

Ryou removes his hand, and Akira pulls back and looks down at him, confused, "What's wrong?"

"We… we can't do this," Ryou's voice is a little rough, and the inside of his mouth still tastes like semen.

Akira frowns, "Why not?"

"Because…" Ryou struggles to find an explanation, "Because we just can't."

"How is this different than what we just did?"

"That was only to help you release tension."

"Wouldn't this also help with that? And I want you to feel good, too," Akira leans in closer as if to continue, but Ryou pushes against his chest in protest. Akira complies, sitting back and allowing Ryou to sit up and slide out from under him.

Ryou takes a deep breath, refusing to meet Akira in the eyes, "We just can't, okay? It's… it's too far."

"Damn it, Ryou!" Akira says, frustrated, "Why do you keep doing this?"

"Keep doing what?"

"Keep… I don't know, sending me mixed messages? You keep coming onto me and then pushing me away and then you act like nothing happened at all and it's starting to piss me off."

"…"

Akira waits for an explanation, but Ryou offers none, and won't even look at him. He seems like he's upset but trying not to show it, and somehow it just makes Akira even more irritated.

Finally, Ryou does speak, "I'm going to go wash my face."

"Okay." Akira flops back and stares up at the ceiling.

Ryou slides off the bed, gathers up all of his papers, and shoves then into his backpack, zipping it up and swinging it over his shoulder as he exits Akira's room, closing the door behind him.

Akira groans and presses a hand against his face, digging his claws into his skin slightly. He guesses Ryou's not coming back, and now he feels even more agitated than he did before. He lays there for a moment, then realizes, with a tinge of embarrassment, that his pants are still down, and sits upright to pull them back up.

He doesn't really know why he's as angry about this as he is, but god damn it why does Ryou have to make everything way more confusing than it needs to be? If Akira could just get him to be upfront about his feelings for once instead of pretending like he's above having them, then they could just talk it out and everything would be fine. But no, Ryou's being like he always is, expecting Akira to understand him but not giving him anything to go off of aside from his own intuition.

Admittedly, Akira can sometimes miss things that are obvious in hindsight, but he's not a fucking idiot. If Ryou does have a crush on him like Miki says he does, then it would definitely explain some of his behavior, but then why is he so adamant that they're just friends? Why does he keep doing shit like making out with him or fucking sucking him off and then trying to say that it doesn't mean anything? He just… he just wants to know for certain how Ryou feels about him. And he would tell Ryou this, if Ryou would fucking talk to him in the first place.

Akira punches his pillow, fist landing in the center with an unsatisfying thud.


 

True to his word, Ryou cleans up in the bathroom, washing the remaining cum off his face and trying to scrub out the spots on his clothes. Maybe by removing any trace of this he can just forget that it even happened. It was a stupid idea that he knew would come back to bite him, but he did it anyways. Story of his life. He rinses out his mouth a few times for good measure.

And now Akira's pissed at him, and justifiably so. Ryou hadn't been entirely dishonest about his intentions; he really did think it was a decent theory, but then he had to insert himself into the picture and ended up ruining everything. This is what he gets for being selfish.

He heads out of the bathroom and starts to move towards the stairs, when he hears a scratching noise against one of the bedroom doors. He approaches it to investigate and is met with a faint mrrow from the other side. He opens it, and sure enough, Tako slinks his way out.

Tako pauses to sniff at Ryou's leg before rubbing his head and the side of his body against it. Ryou leans down to pet him — which Tako responds to by purring loudly and weaving in and out of Ryou's legs, coating his pants in black fur — and glances into the room that's now been opened. Miki's room.

Ryou narrows his eyes, immediately recalling his suspicions, and steps inside, Tako following behind him despite wanting out a moment ago. It's pretty much what he expected, and doesn't look too different from when they were in high school (not that he ever came in here much then anyways).

She's got a large cork-board up on her wall with several pictures on it, mostly of her with friends and family and of her cat. Assuming she'd be smart enough not to keep something like that out in the open, he doubts any photos she might have taken that night would've made it on here, but he gives it a quick glance over to be certain.

Akira's in quite a few, and, to his surprise, Ryou even finds himself in one, from back in sixth grade when they'd gone to the fair that was in town. Miki's throwing up a peace sign and smiling at the camera, Ryou is looking away, half hiding his face behind the stuffed dragon Akira had won him, and Akira's arms are thrown around both of their shoulders with a huge grin on his face. Embarrassment starts to creep up on him from that memory, especially considering what just happened today, so he quickly moves on to look at a different part of the board.

Another photo catches his eye, of Miki and Akira, high school age and in matching formal attire. Ryou sneers at it. Of course they would have gone to prom together. And there's another photo of them as children next to it, Miki hugging a surprised Akira from behind. Something about that one not only twinges Ryou's resentment, but touches on something much deeper inside him. Sorrow? Guilt? Ryou isn't sure what specifically, but it's confusing and a little overwhelming, so he looks away from the board all together.

Besides, he knows he won't find what he's looking for there, and he has no idea when someone might catch him in here, so he shouldn't be wasting time. He starts opening various drawers on her desk, pausing when he pulls open the top one. Inside are a few stacks of photos, seemingly all the ones that she didn't have room to stick up on the board but still wanted to keep.

Ryou picks up the stack and shuffles through them. A good majority are of Tako (who hasn't left Ryou alone since he entered Miki's room and is meowing at him for more attention), and Ryou almost gives up and puts them back in the drawer when a dark, out of place scene catches his eye.

Six photos, in succession, of Akira transforming from Devilman to his human self. Ryou is mostly obscured at the angle at which they were taken, but there is no doubt about Akira's identity. Ryou slips the photos into his backpack and places the rest neatly into the drawer, back where he found them.

Investigation successful, Ryou heads downstairs, passing by Tare in the living room, who looks up from what he's playing on his Super Nintendo to make a face at him, "Oh great. It's the weirdo."

"Oh great," Ryou echoes, "It's the twerp."

"That's not really an insult; Miki calls me that all the time!"

"Be more original with your own, then."

Tare sticks out his tongue at him, and Ryou flips him off in response before exiting out the front door. He doesn't have time to deal with brats like that; he's got to figure out what to do with these photos, and what to do about the person who took them.


 

“Oh I didn’t know you wanted to do clean energy shit,” Miki says, rounding the corner down the street, “That’s pretty cool.”

Miko shrugs, “I guess so. I’m mostly doing electrical engineering though at the moment. Hopefully, once I graduate this semester,” If I don’t get caught by the police or something for being possessed. “I can get a job doing that.”

“That’s so cool.”

“I-I guess.”

Miki leads them down one last turn to her house, “Nah, come on. It’s super rad,” and offers her a sincere smile.

Miko feels her face turn hot and looks away.

The dinner had gone fairly well. Miko’s not entirely sure if she could call this a date, considering the intent behind it. It’s not fair. Miki’s putting all this faith in her and little does Miki know that Miko’s one of those demons she’s afraid of. There’s just no telling what Miki would do if she ever found out. It’s only a matter of time…

Though, she could ask Akira about the whole demon thing, but that’s too awkward to bring up. Especially if he asks her how she knew. Miko can’t betray Miki’s trust like that. She’s already betraying it with her own possession.

“You’ve been awfully quiet this evening,” Miki muses, “Why’re you sooo lost in thought?”

“Oh, uh. I-it’s nothing,” Miko says, pulling her ski hat a little further down.

“If you say so,” Miki replies, “By the way… you haven’t asked mewhat I want to do once I graduate.”

“Oh, uh,” Miko stops at the driveway of Miki’s house, while Miki fumbles through her purse for her keys, “Sorry…”

“It’s fine. I was gonna tell you anyways,” Miki nods her head towards the now open door of the house, “Aren’t ya gonna come in? It’s pretty cold out there.” Miko starts, and tugs tighter onto her bag to follow up after Miki, who shuts the door once Miko is inside.

Miki looks to Miko and smiles, pointing up the stairs, “This time I’ll lead the way.”

Miko laughs awkwardly, but sets her bag down by the front door, and continues her way up to the stairs, not really sure what’s to happen next. Miki shows her the photos. And then what? Miko thinks. There’s no way either of them would ever try to turn Akira in. Miki’s only doing this to prove to Miko what’s really going on.

Even still, she didn’t even need the photos to believe Miki. What’s even gonna happen?

So, aren’t you gonna ask what I’m doing after I graduate?” Miki says, taking Miko out of her thoughts. Miko stops at the top of the stairs and watches Miki pull open the door to her room and holds it out to Miko.

Miko blinks, and then continues her way towards Miki’s room closing the door behind her, “You can just say it, if you really want to tell me.”

“Aw, don’t ruin the fun,” Miki tosses her purse to the floor, where Tako wakes up from his nap and charges over towards Miki for a head scratch, “Hi kitty. You remember Miko don’t you?”

Tako sniffs the air and approaches Miko cautiously. She squats down onto the floor and holds out her hand for him to smell. He takes a whiff before making a confused mrow and walks away.

“Huh… I thought he liked you? Oh, well.” Miki shrugs and pulls open her desk drawer.

Miko stares for a moment at Tako, who doesn’t even regard her whatsoever. He only continues to lick his paw, and clean around his face. Vaguely, she wonders if Tako knows she’s been possessed too.

“Anyways, lemme get the photos. You can sit on my bed if you want,” Miki gestures behind Miko, who then takes a seat, tossing off her ski hat. She pauses, realizing her ears are exposed and starts brushing her hair over them.

Quickly, Miko thinks of a distraction in case Miki looks her way, “Right. Okay, so what were, you planning on doing after you graduate?”

Miki turns behind her shuffling through a couple photos she’s got in her hands, “Get a job as a political correspondent.”

“Really?! Wow, now that’s rad.”

“Why thank you,” Miki looks up to Miko then putting a hand to her heart, “That’s why I’m doing it…” Miki pauses in her photo search, “Wait. Did I not hide the pictures in this pile? I could’ve sworn it was this one…” Miki pushes them back together and pulls out another stack of photos. She gets the same result.

“Where are they?” Miki tugs out the drawer further, shifting through everything, “I know I put it in the pile of my Tako pictures! Where are they?!” Miko hops off the bed, looking over Miki’s shoulder to see the mess that the drawer has become.

“Oh, fuuuuck,” Miki slams her drawer closed, “Where are they?!” Tako pads over to Miki as she unzips her backpack and starts carding through everything, “Oh nooo. Please don’t tell me that they fell out…”

Miko walks over to Miki’s side, putting a hand on her back, “Are you sure you put them in there?”

“Yes! I guarded these pictures with my life… Oh, my god. I know someone who probably went through my stuff.” Miki drops her bag and walks out into the hallway. Miko follows after her and they pass Akira’s room… which is thankful closed. The room Miki’s intending to enter is the one next door, her brother’s room.

Tare’s sitting at his desk, playing around on his computer, clicking things at random.

Miki doesn’t even bother to knock and steps right in, “Tare.”

“I’m busy,” He responds, not even bothering to look over.

“I don’t care. You went through my stuff again, didn’t you?”

Tare, groans and clicks something to pause whatever he’s doing, “Uh, no, I didn’t.”

“Yeah, right. Some of my pictures are missing.”

“I didn’t take them! Ask Akira or his weirdo friend.”

Miko gasps, and walks further into Tare’s room, “What… weirdo friend? Are you talking about… Ryou?”

Tare rolls his eyes, “What other girly blond guy does he hang around with? He was over here earlier and then they got into a fight or something and then I saw Ryou leave.”

“How… how long ago?” Miki asks.

“Uh, like a couple hours ago? I don’t know, he called me a twerp and then flipped me off.”

Miki gestures for Miko to come in further. Miko closes the door behind her.

“Tare,” Miki says, in a hushed tone, “Did Ryou have anything with him?”

“Just his backpack? Why’re you being so weird about this?”

“‘Cause I need to know if he took my photos.”

“I don’t know! I was downstairs the whole time. It wouldn’t shock me if he did, though. Can I go back to playing my game now?”

Miki and Miko exchange worried glances, neither of them certain what will come of this.

One thing's for sure, Miko thinks, Miki’s now in a much worse position than me.

Chapter Text

Hi guys... I'm sorry that you clicked on this and thought it was... an update. Sadly, it is not.

But I'm not here to say that we're abandoning the story. We promise. But, I am going to say that the next chapter might be a little while longer. A lot of irl stuff has happened to us over the past couple months and we really haven't had much time to write.

The next chapter is partially written, so it is a matter of just finishing it up. The release date of it? The soonest I can give you guys is probably late spring. The latest would probably be around early summer. We'll see.

We really do intend to finish Ego Tripping, we promise.

Anyways, thank you guys for your support over the past couple months. We'll return... soon hopefully lol.

-Hida

 


 

 

Minor updates (04/20/2019):

Happy weed day!

Life continues to be a bitch, and we both continue to be busy with other commitments; our schedules haven't lined up well enough for us to write together for awhile now so we're kind of on an indefinite hiatus.

We talked about it, and we're probably gonna be making some revisions to what we've posted so far. Not anything major, just changing a few details and removing some filler so that the story flows better. Then, after that, we'll write out the whole rest of the story. We might upload it all at once, or we might do some kind of release schedule to give us time to double check each chapter before it's up; we'll see!

I can't give you an estimate of when that might drop yet, but HOPEFULLY it'll be by the end of the year.

Thanks again for your interest in our fic, it means a lot to us!

- Salem

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