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Harmonization

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There were some downsides to having your big brother be your homeroom teacher. For one, it meant there was no getting away from him. If Otone argued with him over something at home, the awkwardness of seeing each other in class was unavoidable. And Enta always knew if she skimped on studying or homework, and she could never hide it if she wanted to go somewhere after school on her own. Not to mention if she got in trouble at school, she could count on the lecture lasting all the way home. 

But it wasn’t all bad, despite what her friends thought. After all, she never forgot an assignment or test thanks to him. And he could never surprise her with pop quizzes, which meant her friends all got a warning too. And, arguably the most fun of all, she usually got to find out anything interesting that was coming up before anyone else.

So naturally, when she noticed Enta sitting at the living room table looking through a couple of folders one evening about a week before the spring semester started, she suspected it was only a matter of time before she got the dirt. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before he stopped by her room, folders still in hand, and said, “Hey, Otone. Mind if we talk a little? I wanted to give you a head’s up about something.”

“Sure,” she nodded, as she got up from her desk to walk over to him, “What’s up?”

“About the new semester...” Enta paused, rubbing the back of his neck. “Don’t spread this around to your friends before it’s official, but it looks like we’ll be getting a couple of transfer students for our class.”

“Oh, cool!” She beamed, already starting to buzz with anticipation. “Not just one, huh? How’d that happen?”

“Well, it was only gonna be one at first,” he said, opening a folder to take another look inside, while Otone resisted the urge to peek herself. “He uses a wheelchair, so accessibility’s an issue. Making sure his homeroom was closest to the lift seemed important.” Oh, Otone thought, blinking a couple of times. That was a surprise. She wondered what he’d do about P.E. then... well, if there was anything he wanted to do, she could always find a way to give him a hand! Enta interrupted her thoughts by continuing, “This is his first time going to a public school in a while, so d’you mind helping him adjust?”

Otone laughed a little. “C’mon, do you really think you have to ask?” She hit a fist to her chest proudly. “Just leave it to me! He’ll have friends by the dozens before he knows it.”

Enta grinned. “Thanks, knew I could count on you.”

“No problem.” She was still smiling, but she tilted her head a little curiously, “So... was that all? You just wanted to make sure I’d give one of the new kids a hand?”

The grin dropped from his face, the more troubled look he’d first come in with resurfacing. “Not quite...” He shifted the folders in his hands, mouth tightening as he looked down at them. “Guess there’s no easy way to say this, but... the other transfer’s Chikai.”

Otone blinked. “Huh?”

He looked up, seeming surprised. “Chikai Kuji - you remember him, right? It wasn’t that long ago-”

“Of course I do! I just...” Now she couldn’t help but grab the folder out of her brother’s hand and open it up. “Are you sure? It’s actually him?”

Enta sputtered, “Hey, don’t look at that!” She had just enough time to see the photo inside before he snatched it all back. There was definitely no mistaking the curly black hair or gray eyes. It may have been four years, but he didn’t look that different.

Otone just stood like that, hands still in front of her like she was still looking at it. “Sorry, I... I guess I just can’t believe it.”

Her brother sighed. “Yeah... I was pretty stunned when I found out too. He was supposed to be in another class, but- well, before I knew it, I was insisting he be placed in mine too.” He pushed his glasses up, frowning a little. “He had some trouble at his last school, so I said I used to know him and might be able to handle him better. Kinda made a big fuss about it. They’ll never let me hear the end of it if I screw this up...”

She looked up at him, finally letting her hands drop. “What kind of trouble?”

“From what I heard, he got in a fight with a couple of other students. A pretty serious one. It didn’t say why, but...” Enta paused, then let out a painful kind of laugh. “I mean, we can probably guess, right?”

Otone nodded, twining her fingers together restlessly. “Mm. Yeah.” She didn’t think about Toi a lot these days. It was surprisingly easy not to, actually. There were so many other things to do, and people to worry about, and he had stopped being a consistent presence in her life when she was seven and he left for college, years before everything seemed to collapse for the Kuji family.

But even now, getting a reminder of what happened with him ached. He’d always been really nice to her; she had lots of memories of watching his and Enta’s high school soccer games and cheering with all her might, or him teaching her how to do a trick with the ball that had eluded her, or the four of them going out somewhere like the movies or Hanayashiki together while their parents were too busy and her own too far away. Finding out he’d been arrested for something like murder had felt like the whole world getting knocked out of alignment. If he hadn’t confessed himself, she never would’ve believed it.

She could only imagine how her brother felt, if it even still bothered her this much. And it must be even worse for Chikai. So she clapped her hands against her cheeks, put on a smile, and said, “Okay, got it! One big cheerful welcome back, coming up!”

Enta blinked, then let his own expression relax into gratitude. “Thanks. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.” He looked at the folders again, then nodded and said, more to himself than anything, “Right. Let’s try and make this as easy for him as possible.”

Otone nodded too. Now wasn’t the time to go worrying about herself. If Chikai was back and needed support, then she and Enta were gonna make sure he got it.

But when her brother left her alone again, she turned and looked at the bottom drawer of her desk. Kneeling down in front of it, she hooked her fingers under the handle... and hesitated. There really was no point to hanging onto that thing now, she guessed. It really ought to just get tossed out. She knew that, but... she sighed and pulled her hand back. They just collected the trash this afternoon anyway. She’d make sure to throw it in with next week’s instead.

 


 

Waiting for the new semester was even more difficult, knowing what was coming. She’d thought about trying to go to Chikai’s new place before school started - her brother must have his new address, she bet she could pester it out of him - but decided that might seem a little creepy. It had been four years, after all. And he hadn’t told her he was coming back. Probably it’d be more natural to greet him when she saw him at school.

When the day finally came, she came a little early to wander around the school grounds and see if she could run into him and maybe talk a little before class started. But even though she did catch a glimpse of him, an older man she vaguely recognized as his uncle was with him. His hand was on Chikai’s shoulder, and he seemed to be almost herding him into the building. Injecting herself into that would’ve been super awkward, wouldn’t it? And it looked like they had something to do. It was fine, she told herself. She didn’t need to talk to him right this second - soon they’d be classmates, and then they’d have plenty of time to catch up.

So the first time she really got a good look at him was in their classroom, and he didn’t seem to notice her at all. That wasn’t such a surprise, she guessed. He kept his eyes down, a scowl on his face, his attitude looking all the worse when contrasted against the light-haired boy next to him, smiling eagerly at the whole class. Otone felt her chest tighten when she saw him, the impatience that had been nagging at her all week building to something unbearable. She wanted him to look up. She wanted to see his expression when he realized she was there.

As Enta finished explaining the presence of the two new students to them, he turned to them both with an encouraging smile and said, “Okay you two, why don’t you introduce yourselves to the class?”

“Hi, I’m Haruka Yasaka,” the light-haired boy said, bowing his head politely, “I like reading fantasy stories, and watching Sara Azuma’s broadcasts. I’m really excited to be here with you all!” That second interest got Otone’s attention. Asakusa’s local idol was super popular lately - she bet if she got him talking about that, it would help break the ice with a lot of other students.

Chikai made a scoffing sound, and just said, “Chikai Kuji. I’m guessing at least a couple of you know what that means.” Sure enough, Otone noticed two other students than herself shifting uncomfortably in their seats and glancing away from him. Rumors would probably have spread pretty quickly no matter what Chikai said, but he sure wasn’t wasting any time before he fanned the flames. She tried to catch his eye, but he still wasn’t really looking at anyone.

Enta’s smile looked strained, but he managed to keep it up and he just said, “Thanks - Yasaka-kun, there’s a desk up front for you to use. And Ch- Kuji-kun, why don’t you take that empty seat next to Otone?” And finally , Chikai looked up. Right at her. His eyes widened a little and the scowl on his face evened out to something more neutral... and then he lowered his head again and just walked over to the desk without saying a word.

Here goes nothing. Smiling as brightly as she could, she leaned over to whisper, “Hey, Chikai! Long time no see.”

He glanced at her for a moment, then let his eyes slide forward again. “Guess so.”

Not really the response she was hoping for. But maybe he was feeling awkward too. No, not maybe - she was sure that was it. Keeping the smile up, she tried again, “We gotta catch up! How about at lunch? We can-”

“Shouldn’t talk during class,” he muttered, this time not looking at her for even a second. She felt her hands tightening into fists, and forced them to relax while she tried to take a discrete breath. Of course he was in a bad mood. It must be difficult to be back here. And he was right that now wasn’t really a great time for chatting. She’d just... try again later, that’s all.

Except despite her invitation, as soon as the lunch bell rang, he vanished from the classroom almost instantly. The thought of running after him was tempting, but she’d promised Enta she’d help Yasaka get used to the class. It would’ve been best if she could have done both at once, but if it was a choice between definitely helping someone and only maybe being able to track someone down, she knew which one she had to go with.

It helped that Yasaka was already proving much easier to deal with. When she asked if he wanted to eat lunch with her and her friends, he agreed right away, beaming ear to ear. Her brother’s fears that he might not adapt well seemed completely unfounded - once she introduced him to everyone, he was able to take it from there. He had a friendly, earnest attitude that made it easy to talk to him, and soon they were all chatting about today’s lucky item and how silly it’d probably look to take a selfie with a trash can. 

“I think it’s kind of a fun idea, though,” Yasaka pointed out, “It’s a neat way to encourage everyone to throw stuff away right and keep the city tidy.”

“You think she’s thought about it that much?” one of the other girls said, laughing, “She’s super cute, but she seems like kind of a space cadet to me. Her manager might’ve just thrown it in for a gag or something.”

He shook his head, still smiling, but something a little more serious was in his eyes when he insisted, “No way! I’m sure Sara-chan knows what she’s doing.”

The conversation carried on easily enough without Otone needing to make much input. Which was good, because she couldn’t go more than a couple of minutes without checking the clock on the wall. If she was this distracted, then she guessed she knew what she really ought to be doing. And there was still some time left. “‘Scuse me, I gotta run out for a few minutes,” she said, packing up her bento and standing, “I’ll be right back!”

“Careful you’re not late! You’ll break your brother’s heart if you start skipping,” one of the boys said, to some giggles from the rest of the group. Otone rolled her eyes good-naturedly and hurried out of the classroom to try and find Chikai. She tried to think of where he might go. There was no sign of him in the hallway... but if he was upset and stressed about being here, then he’d probably want to be alone, right? She headed for the smaller stairwell at the far end of the floor. It was his first day here, after all. He wouldn’t know about any particularly well-hidden spots yet, so it might have caught his eye if he was just trying to find somewhere out of the way.

Once she got there, after some brief consideration, she decided to head down instead of further up. He didn’t seem like he was in the mood for a climb. As she kept glancing down over the railing, sure enough she was able to spot his distinctive mop of hair once she got a little lower. The smile came right back up and she quickened her pace, calling down, “Chikai, hey!” He jumped at the sound, and she thought she caught him slipping something into his uniform’s chest pocket. But now wasn’t the time for prying. “I’ve been looking for you. Why’d you run out of class so fast?”

But he just stood and headed up the stairs, passing her before she knew it. “Does it matter? It’s got nothing to do with you.”

Nothing to do with- she felt her cheeks turn red with frustration, and followed him. “What are you talking about?” she said, throwing a quick laugh in, “It’s been ages since we saw each other. Don’t you want to catch up?”

“Why would I?” He looked back at her, eyes flat, the shadows under them all the more prominent now that she was looking up at him, “Like you said. It’s been ages. What do we have to talk about now?”

She just stared at him. Was he really serious? “Gee, I dunno!” It was impossible to keep the annoyance out of her voice when she spoke this time, as he started up again and left her to chase him, “How about the last four years, to start. Or maybe why you’re back now. Or how you’re feeling. Any of that would be great !”

“Well, too bad,” he said, opening the door back to the hall, “ I’m not interested in talking about any of that.”

The door shut behind him, and she... she took a deep breath and tried to get a hold of herself. This was so frustrating, but he was dealing with a lot right now. She didn’t want to give up just like that. After a few seconds, she headed out after him, jogging a bit to catch up. As cheerfully as she could, she asked, “What do you want to talk about? Anything’s fine with me.”

At first, he just kept striding ahead without looking back at her or even hesitating. But when their classroom door was in sight, Chikai finally paused and said, “Look. I get you’re being nice or whatever, but you can knock it off. I’m not looking for anything, so you don’t have to try so hard to pretend.”

Her own steps stilled as well, and she couldn’t keep her own puzzlement off her face when she asked, “Pretend what?”

“That you’re happy to see me.” And then, without looking back or waiting for her response, he headed into the classroom on his own.

 


 

The whole rest of the day, she fumed silently next to him. It was so unfair of him to just brush everything she was saying off like that. So what if they hadn’t seen each other in a few years? She’d known him practically for as long as she could remember, why wouldn’t she want to reconnect now that they had the chance?

And what about him? She glanced over at him a few times, but he was always just hunched over his desk, staring straight ahead without actually seeming to be looking at anything. She knew that this had to be hard for him. She knew that Toi being gone, for such a horrible reason, had to have hurt so badly. But had he really not missed her at all, this whole time?

Just like at lunch, as soon as the last bell rang, Chikai left without even looking at her. Maybe that was just as well, though. She only had a little time before she had to get to her softball club meeting. It made her feel a little better to get out on the field and move around. A couple of the other members from her class did work up the nerve to try and ask her whether or not she knew anything about Chikai’s sudden reappearance, or if he'd said something bad to her at lunch, but she managed to get their focus back on practice. At least for a little while, she didn’t want to think about all of that.

By the time she was heading back home, she hadn’t really come up with any answers for what to do next. But tomorrow was another day, she told herself. Once Chikai had a chance to settle in some more, he might be in a better mood and actually talk to her. And despite Enta’s concern, Haruka didn’t seem like anyone she really had to worry about. After all, he was so friendly and sweet - she was sure could just treat him the way she would any other classmate and everything would work out just fine.

She was starting to feel more optimistic by the time she neared her house, only to see the trash bag left out front for collection suddenly open up and everything inside flew off into the sky.

For a moment, she just stared blankly. Was she more tired than she thought? But when she caught sight of a small piece of paper taking off along with everything else, her mind went blank. “Ah, wait!”, she yelled, even though she’d been the one to throw it out, and started chasing it down the street. “Stop!”

Otone had plenty of speed and stamina - she had no problem keeping up with the paper, or keeping track of it. But once she got into the city, she couldn’t help but pause with surprise when she saw how much trash was floating in the sky. Paper, broken objects, even some old food. It was just so strange, she couldn’t help marveling at the sight... until she suddenly felt something hit her forehead. “Ouch!” She rubbed at it, blinked, and realized the world looked... different. It was cooler, somehow, and the colors looked strange and murky. And when she looked down, there were two little green turtle-like creatures looking up at her, one worried and the other panicked, and just behind them a white... what was that thing? She squinted, leaned down towards it for a closer look, and muttered, “A frog?”

Everything after that happened very quickly, so much so that she barely even had time to think. Her own transformation into a kappa, the reveal that the two others with her were Chikai and Yasaka, and the explanation given by the self-proclaimed Prince Keppi as to what was going on and what they had to do. As he drove the three of them closer to the giant monster up on the bridge ahead, Otone caught sight of one of the smaller flying ghost-like creatures carrying off an armful of papers. She didn’t know if hers specifically was there, but...

“So the only way to get our stuff back is to defeat that thing?” she asked, looking up at the kappa zombie. It really was huge - even though it was shaped like a person, it had a trash can for a head, and its body was strange colors.

“Correct,” Keppi said, “Remove its shirikodama, and the zombie will disappear, kero.”

Otone didn’t even have to think. Bunching her new little hands into fists, she said, “Okay. Let’s go, then!”

There wasn’t even a moment of argument from either of the others. “I need it back,” Chikai said, practically a growl.

“Yeah. For his sake,” Yasaka muttered, as the carriage came to a stop in front of the monster.

“Then sing the song!” Keppi called out.

It felt like being hypnotized, almost, how easily the song came from all three of them. She took the lead, singing a verse about getting back what she’d lost that felt somehow nostalgic, while the two boys called out “Trash, trash!” as the chorus. When Keppi commanded, “Kappature it!”, their hands joined as if they had a mind of their own, and the three of them were able to use their power to launch themselves up over the zombie.

“I won’t let her throw me away! I won’t let her throw away anything at all!”, the kappa zombie whined, “Everything she wants to get rid of, I’ll keep all for myself!”

Otone felt herself getting annoyed, and once the three of them landed safely behind the zombie, she scolded, “What good does it do to hold onto something no one wants anymore? Just let it go!”

It was over in a flash - with a hard yank the three of them pulled the shirikodama out of the zombie. As Otone held it up triumphantly, the three of them called out in unison, “Got it!”

And then something appeared before Otone’s eyes. The shadow of a man rifling through trash left out to be collected by his ex-girlfriend, taking whatever he could carry home with him. It was creepy, no question. If she caught someone trying to do that to her stuff she’d scream and call the police. But... she still couldn’t help a twinge of sympathy at the sight. It was the woman he didn’t want to let go of, not the trash, but she’d made her decision already. That was as close as he could get to her anymore. 

Then it vanished, and the shirikodama began to melt in her hands. Somehow, from inside her head, she could hear Keppi calling out, “Quick, to preserve the shirikodama, you need to transfer it over to me, kero!” From the surprised looks on Chikai and Yasaka’s faces, they seemed to have heard it too.

Otone frantically tried to keep the orb in one piece and asked, “Transfer it? How?”

“Perform the sarazanmai, kero!”

As soon as the word was spoken, something else changed. A tunnel of water appeared, enveloping the three of them, looking at once like both a river and pathway. She didn’t know what to do, but she found herself running along it, Chikai and Yasaka following close behind.

“What kinda explanation is that?” she groaned, but as she ran, something clicked inside her, and she heard herself calling out, “Sara!”

Chikai’s voice followed - “Sara!”

And then Yasaka’s - “Sara!”

In perfect harmony, just like the song had been, they said all together, “ Sarazanmai!

The current picked up around them as Otone took the shirikodama into herself. The water pulled them all forwards, and in the rush of the movement, Otone felt like she could feel Chikai and Yasaka’s hearts beating in time with hers. No - that wasn’t quite right. It just didn’t feel like there wasn’t any distinction between her own and theirs anymore. For the moment, their whole beings had synchronized and become like one.

And then, the shirikodama inside her resonated as well, and suddenly memories started to pour out of her into the two of them.

When she was a kid, coming home from a trip to Hanayashiki with Enta, Toi, and Chikai. She had saved her ticket and put it in the bottom drawer of her desk. Vague ideas of starting a journal or scrapbook lingered in the back of her head, but really there wasn’t any particular reason. She’d just had so much fun that day, it felt like a waste to throw out a reminder of it. 

Other moments flickered through her consciousness, of her opening the drawer and tossing other little reminders into it - tickets for movies and soccer games, a coupon for Soba Kyuu she’d saved instead of used, Christmas and New Years cards from the Kujis and her own parents - as it steadily built up into a pile of hoarded papers.

At first, she just felt embarrassed. Who hung onto things like that for so long? But soon enough that feeling was dwarfed by a kind of panic, when the memory shifted to just about four years ago, and she realized exactly what was about to be shared.

Chikai’s uncle was leading him away, Chikai himself silent and almost limp in the way he let himself be dragged by the hand. He’d been like that ever since Toi’s arrest. Otone hovered anxiously at the doorway next to Enta. She’d tried to say good-bye, but Chikai hadn’t even looked back at her, let alone respond. His aunt stayed behind, looking troubled. Then, she suddenly turned to Otone and said, “You’re Chikai-kun’s friend, correct?” Otone nodded up at her. The older woman took a piece of paper out of her purse and quickly wrote something down on it. She handed it to Otone, with a worried smile, “This is our phone number. Feel free to call any time, I’m sure he’d like to hear from you.”

Otone took it, and said, “Thank you.” But for some reason, it didn’t make her feel relieved at all to have it.

“Wait a minute-!” She tried to protest, even as Chikai said, “What...?”

The memory didn’t stop there. It continued on mercilessly to a few days later, as she sat at her desk with the piece of paper in one hand and her cell phone in the other. Otone saw herself hit the keypad and start tapping the numbers in. And felt her own fear and dread all over again as she couldn’t quite bring herself to hit ‘call’.

What was she even gonna say to him? She’d gone over and over the possibilities, but she just didn’t know how to comfort him about any of this. It was too big, too painful, and nothing like this had ever happened to her before. And would he really want to talk to her anyway? He barely said a word to her even when he was staying. He hadn’t even said good-bye when he left. If he picked up and was still like that - all silent and miserable - did she really think anything she might say would change that or make him feel better?

The longer she let herself hesitate and worry, the more daunting it seemed. Tears started to prick at her as she looked down at her phone. Chikai was totally different now... if she couldn’t even figure out how to reach him when they were face to face, how could she possibly manage to now that they were apart? Especially when she didn’t even know if he wanted her to.

And then, an answer hit her. It was so obvious. “He knows my number already,” she said to herself, rubbing her eyes dry and leaning down to open her bottom drawer, “If he decides he wants to talk, then he’ll just call.” With some relief at having reached a conclusion, she put the number in the drawer, with the rest of the things she still couldn’t throw away.

It was Yasaka who reacted to that part, a soft and understanding, “Oh,” echoing in Otone’s mind even through her own panic at being exposed.

And then the shirikodama finally, mercifully, left her, to be consumed by Keppi. “Desire consumed,” he said, as the tunnel broke open and the three of them landed back in the real world just as suddenly as they were taken from it.

Otone vaguely recognized the spot as Kappa Plaza where a kappa statue normally was. Looked like it was gone now, and there were a few pieces of paper lying on the ground too. Chikai almost lunged for a pretty small one in particular, letting out a sigh of relief when he got a look at it. She couldn’t see what it was herself, though she caught a glimpse of something black before he put it in his uniform pocket.

“Um, could someone give me a hand, please?” Haruka asked, his wheelchair on its side just out of his reach. In his own hands, he held onto what looked like a crumpled-up poster of a soccer player.

“Oh, sure,” Otone said, getting up quickly to right the chair and help Haruka back into it. He was pretty light for a boy, it seemed to her, so it wasn’t any trouble. Her own piece of paper was still on the ground. She felt too guilty to pick it up while Chikai was still there. Speaking of Chikai... 

“I knew it,” he said under his breath, as he pushed himself to his feet, “I knew you were faking it.”

With Haruka settled back in his chair, Otone was free to gape at the other boy. “ That’s what you got out of all that?” she couldn’t help but ask, bristling, “I was a kid! I was worried and didn’t know what to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t really want to make up for it now!”

“Please. You could’ve called any time the last four years if you really felt that bad about it. I bet you didn’t even think about it once you put it away, did you?” Chikai laughed, short and bitter. “Guess it was easy for you to forget. You’ve always had so many other friends, after all.”

That hit close enough to the truth that she snapped, “And what about you? You never called me either, it’s not like you didn’t know our number. I was waiting for you to-”

“No, you wanted an excuse not to do anything yourself,” he said with a snort, tugging the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head. “And I’m not the one going around trying to act all buddy-buddy with you, am I? I don’t care about making up or reconnecting, or whatever other dumb ideas you have in your head. So just leave me alone from now on.”

“You-!” 

“Now, now, don’t fight, children.” A light began to glow from Keppi’s shell, bright enough to catch all of their attention. His shell opened and a glittering silver dish rose up from within it, somehow, which Keppi caught in his nubby... paw? Hand? She didn’t know what to call it. “Here, let me give you your reward - a Dish of Hope, kero!”

“Oh, how pretty,” Yasaka said, his eyes glittering as he clapped his hands together, “It sounds like something really special!”

“Indeed it is, kero. The Dishes of Hope can fulfill any desire, and can only be created by myself, the heir of the Kappa Kingdom. If you collect five, you’ll be granted a wish, kero.”

Chikai went completely still, eyes widening. Then, suddenly, he stormed back towards Keppi, grabbing his face roughly and snarling, “If this is some kind of joke, I swear I’ll shank you.”

Otone jumped at the viciousness with which Chikai moved and spoke, while Yasaka just said, voice faint with awe, “Can we really wish for anything?”

Seeming to ignore the way he was being grabbed, Keppi just said, “Of course. There’s no limits to their power.” Then his nubby arm stretched like rubber around Chikai towards Otone, to hand her the dish. “I’ll call on you to defeat more zombies when necessary, kero. So if you have any wishes, make sure you work good and hard!”

At once, Chikai’s attention turned to her, a desperation in his eyes that was honestly scary. “Give that to me! You don’t need it-” He abandoned Keppi to start towards her, and even though she didn’t have any wish of her own in mind, she flinched back, pulling the dish away from him protectively. 

Before he could get any closer, though, Yasaka wheeled himself between the two of them, still smiling. “You heard what he said. We’ll need five before anyone can make a wish.” He reached over and took one of Chikai’s hands, who seemed too surprised to stop him, and then one of Otone’s. “Until then, we all need to work together, okay?”

Chikai stared at him for a long moment, then back at her, and then yanked his hand away. “Yeah. You’re right. Until we get five.” But he kept glaring at her, and there was no give in his voice when he said, “And then I’m getting that wish.”

Otone held his gaze, a stubbornness of her own taking root. She had a feeling she knew what he wanted. And he was right that she didn’t have anything that she really needed a wish to fix or give her. But with the way he was acting, how he’d been treating her... she couldn’t really find it in herself to want to just give it to him either.