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This Is Gonna Hurt

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Usually, Haruna would be the kind to hold her weapon proudly, bestowing her bow like Artemis and Apollo from the legends school had told her about. She’d fire with deadly precision, her aim never mistaking her, her swift arrows never missing a target. She had never had a reason to hesitate when it came to fighting against the forces threatening their society from the inside. She had always managed to defend herself and her loved ones with no issues, as if naturally gifted because she was born to this world to guard the innocent and fight against the shadows.

Perhaps she was a bit overconfident in her abilities. Ever since mastering her weapon, she had been nothing but proud of herself, her capacities and her progress up until that point. Her hands had gotten steadier, stealthier, faster, deadlier; and if she could use them to help a life out, she wouldn’t hesitate. She had, in fact, no reason to hesitate. Hesitation had become a foreign feeling she was now experiencing withdraw from, with an unpredictable force, because she had before her a polar opposite.

 

They were two high schoolers facing against one of the most menacing bounty hunters in the city, nothing more than that. They were young, too young for this, too young to face off against the remnants of what once was the most inhumane trafficking deal of their society. All of those that were left were powerhouses, absolutely nothing like the training dummies and teachers going easy on them from school. In that moment, truth be told, Haruna deeply missed her mentor, their mentor.

If she was scared, then her partner only showed it further. Tachimukai (yes, she referred to him by his last name, that was part of both of their cultures) had always been a terrible liar, bearing a face who no mask ever fitted, and she could only notice his twitching eyebrows and trembling hands as he clapped them and summoned magic yet again, trying to fight off the hand on his throat. They had snooped around too much, this much was painfully clear.

 

Obviously, Haruna wouldn’t leave a friend in such levels of dangers, so she immediately prepared aiming, methodically summoning her bow and placing an arrow with crystal fingers. She did everything as perfectly as she had been taught, remembering how her brother placed her hands on the weapon, retelling herself all the time her mentor had told her how to target. Not to be left in the dust, she charged the arrow with as much magic as she could, only satisfied when it had almost become a miniature tornado twirling around the stick.

With that, she aimed, but her hands were shaky. They trembled with anticipation and fear, with what-ifs pulsing through her palms and fingers. She had to save him and couldn’t fail now, had to show herself as more than competent, as more than she must have been, even to her eyes. She had to fire with the deadliest accuracy, target the hand and nothing else, as piercing someone’s throat with the intensity she felt resting between her fingertips would result in a wound impossible to recover from.

 

And yet, it was because she was making this gambit that her hands were now shaking. She had never felt so much pressure in a single moment before, head burning, her entire body trembling. She was nothing short of their last hope and, now that she heard muffled words trying to be her name, she could only fire and hope she was a good aimer.

Taking a last breath in, Haruna decided to follow her words and show to her confidence-lacking friend that she was right to trust in herself.

 

The arrow departed from the bowstring at speeds she had never made one fly before, piercing through the air and tearing it apart in its way. Her hands hadn’t stopped shaking, barely hanging onto her bow and a second arrow, silently preparing themselves for the second shoot she’d soon attempt, feet already calculating the best speed to flee at.

She almost thought of dropping everything and come to his help until her reflexes got back to her and, as she watched her friend fall from the grasp holding him hostage, her arrow fired, hitting the hunter in the head. Before she could really realize it, she had run to Tachimukai and helped him to his feet, her hand gripping on his wrist, and they ran. Ran until they ran out of breath.

 

In a short moment of needed break, he looked at her again, smiling in relief despite the sweat pearling down his face and his breathing almost hiccupping in distress. As she glanced in the direction they came from to make sure they had escaped, his words surprised her:

“Thank you, Haruna,” he almost whispered, the smile not leaving his face despite everything that had happened.

Without hesitating, she took him in her arms, even if her hands were still shaky, even if his were still trembling, thankful for life and thankful for surviving this ordeal this well.

“Call me that again, once we’re out of here,” she responded, heart beating equally in anticipation and excitement.

Chapter Text

As soon as he smells the foreign, yet menacing, scent of gunpowder or nitro-glycerine, Iori takes his manager by the wrist and takes cover behind a wall, breathing quick with panic and adrenaline making his hands unsteady. She almost yelps, but he puts his other hand on her mouth before she can, and he hopes for dear life that nobody has heard them taking cover like this. If someone was to find thy had escaped, they’d be even more doomed.

 

A ticking noise resonates in the empty corridors, footsteps having fled from the place, and Iori hopes that everyone has escaped safely from the soon-to-be-burning building. In a glance, he sees it: the bomb, in all its bursting glory. In a reckless reflex, he drags the both of them away, most likely hurting her in the process, until he’s more or less sure the detonation won’t immediately kill the both of them. Still, he can’t be too sure, so he decides to eventually shift their position as to give his back to the corridor.

 

The ticking stops before Tsumugi can fully ask him what he’s doing or he can ask her if she’s all right, detonating in a deafening noise. It’s a small explosion that he thought it’d be, leaving his ears alive and somewhat well after the bomb has disappeared from the world, even if it’s getting way too hot and impossible to breathe in around him. The air is contaminated by the smoke and they need to flee, even if he feels like he got burnt by the bursting fire, getting her back to her feet without asking.

 

They can’t see anything around, be it the walls or each other, eyes stinging and crying from the irritating greys. Still, he has his fingers wrapped around hers, holding hands in the least idealistic manner possible. They didn’t split apart by the explosion, she’s fine (or so he thinks, from what he can feel of her), and they’ll find the exit.

 

Even if his ears are ringing, even if he feels too hot and suffocating, even if his airways and eyes are pleading desperately for a change of air, he’ll find the way out with both of them alive; this much he swears.

Chapter Text

Will-o-wisp-like shapes levitate before him, dancing in an unorganized waltz, unable to synchronize among themselves. They used to scare him, when he was a child, but nowadays they don’t do anything to him, merely confuse his mind. He still doesn’t understand them, but he knows they’re inoffensive as long as he thinks they are. If he focuses enough, they can start making sense, although it makes his head hurt and spin if he does. He’d rather have them be absurd and abstract rather than afflicting himself with further pain and ailments.

 

They shine bright in the sunlight, bathing in the brightness coming from the barely covered windows of his room. They contrast with the white of the walls, splashing against their pale paint, reforming in a bounce, continuing their dance. They twirl and twirl, spinning happily amongst themselves. If he sees them in that regard, they look reassuring, warm, not like the cold flames they used to be in his eyes. Anytime he tries touching them because of a reckless urge, however, they feel away from his fingers before getting close again, sometimes trying to present themselves right before his eyes.

 

They sing too. Their chants are as enigmatic as their appearance and nature, filled with voices both foreign and familiar, distorted, speaking a language that doesn’t quite exist just yet. They whistle close to his ears, inspiring a wide array of emotions: fear, intimidation, relief, joy, sadness, anger, jealousy, empathy… The one feeling they never carry in their whispered lyrics is that of being accompanied: they’re not his friends, they’ve never been and have never pretended to be. They’re merely here to fill the air when he feels lonely, yet has no way to remediate it. They’re a complexly composed distraction, nothing else.

 

Some of the them are more familiar than others, if that makes sense. They come back each time the phenomenon happens, always bear the same tone in their chants. The purple one moves around at great speeds, bouncing around more than the others, likes to flirt with his arms as if it wanted to be caught. The crimson one usually stays far away, often following after its purple counterpart, mostly quiet and with a low, sharp voice it whispers in, mentioning death more than any of the others. The green one is gentle with him, never getting too close, always hesitating before fleeing like it wants to be embraced. It’s often accompanied by a paler one, who makes sure to give him some space too, silent, flying after its kind. Finally, there is the pink flame with a crystal voice and the only one whose words he can sometime understand, always supportive, sometimes too harsh in doing so, refusing to get too far away from him. It’ll go as far as brushing against his fingers, whenever his hand hangs off over the ground.

 

These familiar flames are reassuring. They give him a sense of normalcy in a context were meaning and logic are absent, when everything around them goes in and out of existence for no reason, there one second and vanished the next. Time and space only occasionally impact them, as some of them simply stand in the middle of a wall or the floor, others going upside down, some standing, some moving, some stopping, some never doing so. They’re a nonsensical ecosystem where he’s the only living, breathing thing, filling the air they don’t modify despite burning for hours on end.

 

A knock on the door sends a shockwave through the floating flames, shaking them away, making way for the frame to the bed he’s currently lying in. Some disappear, perhaps never to come back, others stay, and the pink one goes on to float over the head of the person entering: a blonde-haired, pink-eyed girl about his age whom his heart beats for quicker than usual. She looks concerned, her usual smile gone, eyebrows frowning. His unfocused gaze follows her to his side.

“Are you doing any better, Shuichi?” She asks in an uncertain tone, not losing any time to refresh the cloth he has on his forehead.

“Eh… Kinda…?”

Kinda?”

“…kinda.”

 

His brain is unable to have a real conversation and his throat is drier than the desert, but she’s the rain in the Sahara and the will-o-wisps won’t ever touch her, won’t ever risk burning or frostbiting her skin. His certitude is solid: they can’t, he forbids them to.

“Hmm… I’m not convinced,” she continues, asking him to open his mouth before taking his temperature. “You don’t look much better to me.”

“I can’t ever fool you, huh, Kaede…”

“If you think I can’t see through this half-lie, then you don’t give me enough credits,” she winks before taking out the thermometer. “The numbers seem to agree with you, though. Good for you.”

 

She wipes his face with another cloth, tongue sticking out of her mouth when she focuses on her work, as he observes the flames vanishing one after the other. The last one to leave him is the pink one, whispering in a soothing voice, singing an unintelligible lullaby.

“What are you looking at, Shuichi?” Kaede sounds confused as her eyes dance around the room, frowning.

“A-ah, huh… Nothing. It’s gone anyway, now that you’re here…”

“Like an imaginary friend? A tulpa? I’ve heard about these before.”

“…kinda.”

She giggles, “I suppose I should ask you about that once you’re doing better. You still cough a lot.”

He nods.

 

His eyelids are closing progressively, on their own, but his hands still tries to grab her wrist as she tries to leave.

“Hey, Kaede…”

“Hm? What is it, Shuichi? If you need to rest, I can leave!”

“Could you… sing for me, please? I don’t want the flames to come back… not just yet.”

“The… flames?”

Her face shows confusion, but she shakes her head and smiles before it can fully settle.

“Sure thing. You want me to watch over you?”

“It’d be great, please…”

“It’d be my pleasure.”

 

He’ll see the flames again once she’ll have left. He doesn’t need them when there’s someone so important right by his side.

Chapter Text

They were right in the wolf’s jaw, faced with the last of Academia’s forces: a couple guys dressed in that silly-looking uniform that had terrorized his people for way too long, armed with much too familiar disks. He had had his option to card them removed from his and, while he had been forced never to use it again, the danger of the situation called for it in his opinion.

Serena’s hand on his twitching wrist was telling him otherwise, making their walk through the deserted corridors stop in its tracks.

 

“We’ve finally found you, Miss Serena,” one of them engaged, stepping forward. “Please come with us if you want nothing to happen.”

“And why would I do that?”

“Doctor’s orders.”

He felt shivers running down her arm and hand while her face contorted.

“I refuse,” she told them, gulping.

“Then we’ll have to use force.”

 

In a reflex, not even thinking twice, Shun put himself forward, an arm in front of her. He wasn’t willing to let those goons even attempt abducting a friend. Not again, not after Ruri’s disappearance, not after Yuto’s, not after losing his world to some maniac’s demented project. He wouldn’t let people be made prisoners under his watch, especially by the same persons who had turned his entire world into an unliveable hell. He wouldn’t let Serena be made their captive, even if it cost him his life.

“Kurosaki,” she whispered next to his ear, “let me deal with this”.

“Wha-”

 

Before he could say anything back, Serena threw herself in front of him, arms wide open, legs firmly planted into the ground. The gesture immediately rose the wrong vibes within him back to life, reminding him of all the times he had failed to do what she was trying to accomplish, her gaze inaccessible to him.

“You’ll have to stomp on my corpse before you get to him!” She screamed, fierce, biting.

 

He was as surprised as the Obelisk Force agents of her reaction, sudden and frankly unpredictable. She seemed sure of herself, confident in her strength, as the three goons in front of them blinked and stood in awe for a couple moments.

“The Professor wants me alive,” she tells him in another whisper. “They can’t hit me unless they defy orders.”

“And what if they do?!” He asks back, barely keeping the volume of his voice in check.

“They won’t, believe me.”

 

Serena sounded so certain and firm that he couldn’t help but buy a bit into her words. It was a stupid thing to do, to believe someone from Fusion like that, and his sister would most likely be unhappy with how he decided to go; yet the situation called for it. He had to believe in Serena, put his life into her hands, completing a process that had started oh so long ago. He begged Ruri to forgive him in silence.

For now, they both needed to survive, to make it out alive and beat the evil from the inside.

 

The Obelisk Force goons lowered their disks, instead putting them in duel mode. They’d have to beat them the usual way around, turning their own on, the familiar jingles and voice clips playing as they did so. Serena had since then moved back to being by his side rather than having all four of her limbs trying to cover him, still looking as determined and about to get ruthless on her enemies. Shun, as a consequence, decided to pay her back and protect her during the game, even if it’d mean becoming her human shield.

He wanted their relationship to be reciprocal in terms of strengths and services and, well, he had always hated owing someone for more than a minute. She must have agreed, considering their matching glances at each other, filled with trust. He had missed being able to trust someone like this, despite how catastrophic their meeting had been and how dangerous their current situation was.

 

The one certain thing was that they could mutually put their lives in each other’s hands.

Chapter Text

“I’ll pull the trigger before you’ll even know,” she told him, the metal-cold muzzle of her gun against his forehead. “I’ll pull the trigger and it’ll be like we’ve never known each other”.

“You don’t want to do this,” he responded back. “You don’t want to do this, I know it”.

“Shut up. I don’t listen to the dead”.

 

Kaito wasn’t agreeing with anything about this shitty, fucked-up situation. How could he? He was backed against a wall in a dark alley, getting stared into his eyes by one of the most precious persons of his life, whose hand trembled on the gun she was holding right against his shivering skin. He knew her enough to know that wasn’t something she was willing to do. She hadn’t chosen to show up before him this way, the clay emotionless façade on her face crackling before his eyes.

He was unarmed, the backs of his hands against the wall, forced to comply by being threatened with a firearm. The relief he had been washed over from seeing a dear friend reappear in his life after she had disappeared for the past weeks had vanished as quickly as it had rushed in, leaving him faint and distraught. The advantage she had over him, armed from head to toe, was overwhelming. This wasn’t how he had envisioned reuniting with her for sure…

 

“Drop that gun, Maki,” he tried ordering her, voice trembling. For how much he usually bragged about being brave, he suddenly found himself with wobbling legs and her pride shoved down his throat.

“Shut up.”

“Killing me won’t get you any further,” he tried bluffing next, “even if you hide the body.”

“…Shut up.”

“Please, Maki,” he then tried making her feel sympathetic. “You’re my friend; I don’t want to fight you.”

“…Shut up….”

“Why are you doing this, Maki?” He ended up asking, desperate, having run out of options. Panic had never coped up well with his brain.

“…Shut up!

 

Upon seeing how distraught she was starting to get, the façade crumbling as her face distorted in anxiety and hesitation, Kaito quickly attempted disarming her with a tap on her hand. The gun dropped to the ground, clicking as it fell, the trigger unleashed a bullet crashing in the wall, brushing against his shoulder and tearing into his shirt. The tinge of pain he immediately felt told him it had left a trace on his body before digging a hole into the bricks.

Even then, Maki had lightning-fast reflexes, and had pinned him to the wall yet again before he could even guess what was coming for him, his head hitting it with a heard thump. Sending him in somewhat of a dizzy spell, he couldn’t do anything as she pulled a second revolver from a holster hidden under her skirt. She had come more than prepared.

 

But then, why was she not putting the muzzle against his temple as she had had before? Had something about the situation made her change her mind?

He wasn’t given the time to either think about it or be relieved that she wasn’t wanting to take out his life, as Maki quickly decided to put the cold of her gun against her own temple. At this point, she was holding herself at gunpoint, and he wasn’t willing to risk her life on that gamble. Not after he had almost lost her forever. He couldn’t withstand being heartbroken a second time, let alone even further than he had been when realizing he could very well never see her again.

 

So he pushed her to the ground, her finger slipping off the trigger as she caught herself back, the bullet soaring upwards and disappearing in the sky before falling back right next to her moments later, creating a hole in the ground.

All he could think of, looking into her troubled eyes as she hesitated for a second to reach for either weapon, was to clutch her against his chest. What were her reasons to kill him, he had no idea; but he also had very little care as to these reasons. That wasn’t what mattered, at least for now.

 

“You’re gonna explain yourself later,” he told her as her arms failed to get her away from him, her attempt lasting for a second before giving up and shoving her head out of sight. “For now, let’s just go back to my place. You sound like you need help”.

He took her silence for a positive answer and, smiling, gave her back her freedom, then his hand.

“Deal?”

She took the hand.

“…deal.”

Chapter Text

Her screams echoed in the corridors of the ER, tearing her vocal cords apart, sorrow filling her voice with hiccups and coughing fits. Her lungs dug through the air for oxygen to continue screaming with, as if she’d stop breathing altogether if she stopped and the world would shatter before her shining eyes. She had become nothing short of a banshee whaling over someone soon to be gone, her despair wrapped around her soul like a snake smothering its prey, untamed, unmatched.

 

Her hand reached for the other side of the corridor as a stretcher wheeled at full speeds, pushed further and further away from her by a team of dedicated nurses, legs about to follow to the other side of the building if she had to. Her heart was beating against her ribcage, throwing itself forward as she tried to push through her own barriers, feet hurting from having stood around for so much already and yet forced to continue doing so. Would have she listened to her instinct, and only her instinct, she’d have sprinted towards the stretcher she could still her distressing information told by medical staff.

However, a hand grabbed her arms and pulled her against someone else’s chest.

 

“Kaede, that’s enough.”

Kaito’s voice was firm and no-nonsense, eyes staring right into hers with all the worry in the world she wasn’t already stocking inside her heart. The way his eyes glimmered under the overly bright neon lights were conveying the sense he, too, wanted to cry and was retaining himself from doing so. In that regard, he was much stronger than she was, considering the tears running down her cheek and melting her mascara into black stains.

 

“B-b-b-ut!” She stuttered, panicked, anxious. “W-w-what if…”

“You can’t do anything against it,” Maki then told her as she handed her a tissue. “We can’t do anything against it. Leave them to their job.”

 

Even if her partner was right, Kaede wasn’t quite willing to believe it, not yet at least. Her mind wasn’t ready despite being on the verge of either exploding or collapsing, that she didn’t really know. All that she knew was that Shuichi was getting dragged away from her and that she was getting dragged away from him at alarming, dizzying speeds for a brain that was plagued with fears and black thoughts. Her body wasn’t keeping up with her mind, leaving her limbs weak and easy to drag around like a rag doll.

 

Feeling somewhat of a disconnect between her different parts, she let herself get carried around by the wrist, which Kaito clutched with weakening strength. The air was heavy and tense, the three of them concerned beyond their minds, sinking deeper and deeper into silence with moments passing, to the point the only noises around were their breathing, footsteps and distant conversations carried by the walls. All these sounds floated in a sea of buzz in her thoughts as she lost her touch with reality for a few moments, too deep in thought to even realize where Kaito was walking her.

 

“I hope he’ll make it,” Kaito tried starting a conversation, hesitant.

“I think we all do,” their girlfriend replied, bite lacking in her words. “Even if there are chances that…”

“Don’t, Maki,” he interrupted before she could finish her sentence. “Please.”

“…understood.”

 

In truth, they had barely moved from where Kaede had been screaming for minutes. They were having the hardest time dragging themselves away from the leftovers of the catastrophe, feet heavy and heads heavier. In an attempt to find comfort, Kaede picked both of her partners’ hands in hers, letting herself be walked by her most trusted persons, as the fourth side of their square was in great danger. She finally admitted that there was nothing any of them could do, head hanging low and hair flowing down her face.

 

“Rise your head,” Maki told her, glancing at her with concerned features.

She silently obeyed, sniffling, as her boyfriend wiped her face with his arm.

“Hey, he’d hate to see you that way and you know it,” he said to her, a forced smirk on his lips. “We need to be strong, don’t we?”

“Of course,” Maki replied, nodding along despite her eyebrows never leaving their frowning state.

“…yeah,” Kaede eventually responded, her voice hurting from how overexerted it now was.

 

Her smile wasn’t coming back and so was her usual optimism, but she knew they were right. Shuichi would have hated to see her collapse like that, so she shook her head as the three of them headed for a waiting room, dragging themselves away from the pain and the fatigue soon to plague their limbs even further than it had already had. They couldn’t let their worry and anxiety take an unsustainable toll on them, could they? Shuichi counted on them, they counted on each other. Part of the deal, she’d say.

 

Their fingers intertwined and didn’t leave each other’s hands as they sat in the waiting room, trying to find harmony in the cacophony of life brought upon them by the most unfortunate accident. Putting their faith in the surgeons’ hands and their boyfriend’s will to live, the three of them finally released a breath they were all holding.

Chapter Text

“C’mon, Maki Roll, lemme out!”

“No is no. You’re not getting out of here today.”

 

Maki was standing with all of her weight against the door to the secondary bedroom of the house, crossing her arms. The show was a sight to behold, Shuichi figured when he walked up to it with two fresh cups of coffee in his hands, planning to reread his literature classes drinking said coffee; but he supposed papers on the historical novel genre could wait and, instead, stopped in his tracks, amused.

 

“So that’s why you were already up when I woke up”, he told Maki as he handed her one of the cups. “Kaede asked me to bring one to you and I didn’t quite know why.” He glanced at the door, a smirk on his face. “I should’ve known immediately, though.”

“This idiot won’t listen,” she replied before taking the cup. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Mind if I just greet him?”

“You do you,” she said as she sidestepped from the door, sipping on her coffee.

 

As soon as Maki had left the way free, the bedhead face of their partner showed up right in front of Shuichi’s face, surprising him almost enough to make him jump and pour coffee on the both of them.

“Ah, Shuichi, here you are!” Kaito displayed more than relief as soon as he saw the latter. “You’ll make me escape from Maki Roll’s clutch, right?”

“Eh… No.”

“No?! Why?!” Kaito heavily coughed in his fist, voice hoarse, as soon as he tried to yell. “C’mon, I feel all better now!”

“With that voice of yours?” She chimed in, side-eyeing him. “I don’t think so.”

“Maki’s right, you should still be resting. Plus I’m here today, I’ll be able to keep you company if you want.”

“C’mon, that’s not fun guys…!”

“If you want to get better soon, then rest and don’t generally be an idiot,” Maki kept her ground, stare intensifying.

 

Kaito pouted to the both of them, but it didn’t quite work in his favour. He had always been too transparent not to be seen through like this. Both Maki and Shuichi stood there, crossing their arms, stuck trying to figure out a way to stop their partner from infecting the entire household with his pesky germs. They had been good until then, much to Shuichi’s surprise considering how easy it had always been for him to catch all kinds of inconvenient illnesses; and they all wished it to remain like that.

 

“Sorry, Kaito, but I think that’s for the best too!”

Kaede’s voice suddenly came to them, prompting the three others to turn their head towards her, only Maki’s deadpanning face hinting that she had heard her partner come when neither of the boys had. The blonde had a smile on hers, slowly making their way towards them, but preferring to remain by Shuichi’s side and far, far away from the epicentre of a potential epidemic.

 

“That’s three against one, so I’m afraid democracy is winning here, Kaito,” Shuichi commented right afterwards, embraced his nearby partner as she left a kiss on his cheek.

“You’ve heard them,” Maki continued, coming up to the main point of focus and turning him back to his room.

“B-but…”

“It’s all in good spirit,” Kaede finished, her smile not about to leave. “You wouldn’t want to make them sick, would you?”

 

Kaito’s little glance at the hand she had put on her stomach, along with the little smirk they could all see on his face, meant victory on their side.

“Fine, you win,” he eventually said, shrugging his shoulder before coughing again. “I guess isolation isn’t too bad if it’s for good reasons.”

“You won’t be isolated if one of us keeps an eye on you, you fool,” Maki responded, pushing him into the room. “Let’s get you far away from society before we get ourselves more people to keep an eye on.”

 

He gave them a last thumbs-up before the brunette closed the door behind the two of them, leaving Kaede and Shuichi to giggle among themselves.

“I’ll have to do a videocall with him so he doesn’t feel too lonely,” she said, not even trying to hide her amusement.

“That’s a good option, if you ask me.”

“I always have good ideas, I don’t know how you can dare suggesting it’s not always the case.”

Shuichi found himself laughing.

“That’s such a Kaito thing to say.”

“Someone has to substitute for him while he’s away.”

“Fair enough.”

 

She kissed him again.

“Let’s hope he can leave his quarantine as soon as possible.”

“Agreed.”

Chapter Text

Truth be told, Felix has always thought of fighting on a battlefield as a solitary, almost lonely experience. It’s always been to kill or be killed and counting entirely on one’s army is a sure way to end up deceased by the end of the day and, even worse, showing a severe weakness. As he hates dependence on someone else and vulnerability in almost the same amounts, he’s always carried his duty on with himself in mind and, piercing through the air, his leader’s orders. Relying on his instincts, techniques and observations is a much safer way to fight a war and nothing could ever change his mind about it.

 

Although he may have counted a bit too much on his instincts.

 

His ears pick up on a distressing sound. Instead of feeling enhanced by her singing voice, the lyrics melting away into a choir guiding his moves and thoughts, he hears Annette’s words being filled with pain, almost strangled. His eyes quickly follow to get a visual on the scene, rushing without thinking twice about it as soon as he sees her getting threatened by a guy almost twice her size and more than double her weight for sure, discarding the body he’s just slashed with his sword. His legs are almost running on their own at that point, adrenaline more than enough to serve as a substitute for the energy he’s just poured on the battlefield.

He won’t let this battle be her swan song, not before he’s heard her sing again and teased her on the lyrics and spontaneity of her habit.

 

Alas, as he does to attack the axe wielder from behind with a sharp and to-the-point sword slash in the back, he doesn’t quite notice someone else sneaking up on him. When he does finally realize there’s a soldier waiting to kill him, it’s almost too late: their blades cross, and he feels like he’s getting punched, right before Annette’s horrified eyes. For a single moment, he wonders who is going to win, but he pushes his deep enough to inflict a mortal wound and, despite how ashamed he is of himself for having let his guard down this badly, he’s relieved to still be of the living.

 

“F-Felix…!” Her voice still trembles, far away from the melodious tones she has in her mouth when she cleans the library or waters the plants. “Y-You…”

He turns his head towards her, about to reply with some witty banter, glancing quickly at the Kingdom’s forces winning against their enemy, when a sharp pain makes itself known on his flank. His sword drops on the grass before he can even think of catching it back, putting a hand on the suddenly sore spot. One of his knees buckle without warning.

Felix!!”

 

He looks at his fingers, noticing the red dripping from them and tainting the fabric of his gloves. Stretching an arm to recover his fallen weapon, the pain obvious and blurring his thoughts until they can’t be recognized. The wound is deep, he knows it from how lightheaded he now feels, the blood loss too major to be ignored. From all accounts, he’s potentially fatally wounded. If he’s won the ambush, he’s only done so by the skin of his teeth, and the blood keeps pouring.

 

“I need help! Anyone, please, help us!!”

Annette’s voice is distorted by her fears and panic, her arms flailing widely in front of him. The singing usually haunting him everywhere he goes and whatever he does is now gone, instead replaced by an excruciating requiem. Surely he’s done for.

She kneels before him, letting go of an anxious breath, sniffling and sobbing. His knee buckles again, making him pitch forward, and she decides to instead put him on his back and look around, eyes sharp, the expression on her face constantly shifting between sorrow, fear and a fierce kind of anger he’s not seen her feel yet.

“I’m gonna repay you,” she tells him with hand sparking. “I’m gonna repay you, and you won’t die, and it’ll be fine, and Mercie’s gonna heal you, and it’ll all be okay, I promise,” she almost hyperventilates out, chest rising and downing at an ever-quickening pace.

 

Not wanting to be quiet beaten in that territory, Felix tries rising to his feet, only for his own body to betray him at the last minute. Dammit, if he could just swing his sword around, he’d be fine being stuck there for a little bit, but he can’t even do that… His arms are weak, his legs have given up for now, and he has to watch Annette do all the dirty work he was supposed to be doing in the first place. Still, seeing this fierce side of her isn’t the most displeasing sight… If he wasn’t heavily blanking from his flank, if his head wasn’t feeling this heavy and this dizzy, it’d have been quite the sight to behold. Instead, he’s feeling his soul leave his body further and further, helpless, and he’d have rather died on the spot than be the witness of his own slow, disgraceful demise.

He also wishes Annette wouldn’t have had his blood on her delicate hands; but alas, it’s too late to have regrets.

 

Eventually, after thunder upon thunder has struck the ground of the battlefield, Annette kneels back to him, examining the wound with tears in her eyes and horror plastered on her face. He feels like he should be telling her something to reassure her, but he’s never been good with words, and the state he’s currently in doesn’t make it any better…

“Mercie’s gonna be here soon, don’t… don’t worry! You won’t die!”

As if he was planning on doing so.

“Takes… more than that… to kill me…”

“I know…! I know, but you’re still dying, Felix!”

She isn’t wrong. In fact, she’s entirely right. He is dying and will be until Mercedes can do something about it.

 

His consciousness, though, isn’t quite patient enough to wait for her to arrive to their position. Dammit… He’s always been impatient, but this is just ridiculous and ill-timed. He doesn’t want to die and wants even less to make Annette thinks he’s doing just that even further. He misses her smile even more so than he misses her songs, he figures, right as Mercedes’s voice echoes in the distance until it doesn’t anymore.

He holds on, clutching at the last shards of awareness he still has, as magic pieces back together some of the guilty wound. His vision dims to complete darkness while he’s being watched over by a gentle voice and a trace of the smile he’s wanted to see desperately all this time, leaving him with almost a sense of peace as he lets himself lose consciousness, certain he’ll somehow pull through it thanks to his companions.

 

Seen like that, it’s quite the ironic fate and thoughts to have for someone like him; and yet, when he eventually wakes up, he can only show gratitude to the woman who saved him.

Chapter Text

In more ways than one, Ruri was shackled to a wall, by the wrist, by the ankle.

Sometimes, she had a real shackle right above her feet. It wasn’t chained to anything, because that was an outdated practice to have. Instead, it was meant to track her in her every moves, how much she walked around her cell, how much she got up or sat back down, if she was trying to escape or if she was a patient girl who was silently plotting in the dark of her pathetic excuse for a room.

She knew all this from its appearance alone. It was lightweight and shining under the light like chrome finish. It beeped red from a LED indicating it was functioning. From the corner of her eye, she was always waiting for it to remain black forever, but it only did so for longer periods of time at some points of the day (moments where the prison was struggling with its electricity bill, she figured). After some time spent there having nothing to do but calculating a pattern and being forced to watch a cruel program on the TV, she had mentally noted down the ideal times to flee would she have the opportunity to do so at last.

They hadn’t left her wrists alone. Sitting next to her left wrist was a bracelet not unlike her ankle cuffs, sitting against her skin with seemingly no way to remove it. It was tight shut around her forearm and there was nothing she could do about it except stare at her prisoner number. In the eyes of everyone but the black-winged mole that had made his way to her cell, she was XYZ2, the second high-profile prisoner they had gotten to from her people. Alas, she was but the first nor the last: their leader had led the ways, her brother had followed her in Hell, and neither of them had come back from Academia’s headquarters yet.

Ruri was shackled to a prison cell and couldn’t do much about it. Even Crow, a guard officially endorsed by Academia, didn’t have the keys to anything but the front door and maybe a staff room or two. Everything had a key because humans would too easily escape their cages if one key opened more than one thing at a time: a waste of resources because Academia didn’t care about the shortage of metal in some parts of the territory they were supposed to be governing. No point in getting outraged about common knowledge and mere facts: it’d be a waste of time and energy too.

Still, she had somehow found one way out of this misery, even if it was shabby and had nothing to do with how imprisoned she was. No matter how many hand and ankle cuffs they’d try to slap on her limbs, no matter how much steel they’d make her wear to disgrace her and strip her from her sense of self and humanity, she’d always find a way around, find the fatal flaw in their ecosystem to squeeze herself out of the mess and out of the sharp-edged darkness.

Because the only way Ruri had found for herself as long as she stuck with shackles around her limbs was to escape with her mind, she had picked up an unconventional style of meditation, that she had come up with on the fly. She’d focus and forget the tragic world around her, even if just for an hour or two, ignoring how much captivity hurt her. That way, she could give herself back her wings and fly away from her birdcage, and they’d never be able to catch her out of her body.

If she was shackled physically, then she’d refuse to let them chain her mind; and until they’d have invented mind control, she’d remain free, in her own terms. She wouldn’t let herself be trapped, not when she had Shun to save and a revolution to take part in.

Her will would be so solid that it’d break the shackles of the mind.

Chapter Text

It had been a normal evening shift at the coffeeshop. The regulars had bought their usual drink, some new faces discovered the shop, some people changed from their habits, others continued discovering the other drinks they had never dipped a tongue into. Things were calm, almost soothingly so, making for a comfortable after-class shift where she had managed to squeeze in some college work too. Reading a book between clients was a way to both earn some precious money and advance in her school business.

Alas, Anzu hadn’t gotten to closing the shop yet when things drastically changed.

 

The atmosphere until then had been of a cosy coffeeshop right before closure. The radio played softly the latest hit songs in the background, all chairs were empty and having been cleaned, her workmate had left already because his shift was ending before hers. Anzu had always appreciated this specific mood the shop could slip into once the sun was setting down, cleaning her counter before closing for the night. She had ten minutes left before shutting the lights off, a time that seemed very short compared to the rest of the day…

…and yet that had left the time for an unusual client to come in.

 

The bells ringing surprised her out of her cleaning affairs, making her rise her head to the doorway, only for her to notice the client was already right in front of her face. Her eyes then directly met with a long-time friend, perhaps someone that was just a bit more than that: second-year literature major Hokuto, whom she could swear she had never seen even looking through her shop’s windows. It was odd for someone like him, who usually prided himself in his stricter living style compared to their friend group (Subaru being his favourite person to tease), taught to him by his grandmother, to step into her shop at such an hour of the night, at almost eleven o’clock.

The state his face was in didn’t ring any better bell. She had almost not been able to recognize him: a low and raspy voice, fluttering eyelids, glassy eyes with deep dark bags under them, swaying on his feet and words half-making sense. Clearly, this man needs a good night of sleep; and yet he orders an espresso of all things. If not having seem him for almost two weeks wasn’t rising enough red flags, then seeing him this obviously sleep-deprived could only have made her worry even further.

 

Still, here, Anzu wasn’t Hokuto’s friend: she was an employee, a seller, a barista. She served him his cup, let him sit wherever he wanted, got his money. The full price wasn’t there: in fact, there was a chunk of the cost that he’d have usually noticed was missing. Still, she decided to brush it aside: it was the end of the day and some leftover coffee, it wasn’t a big deal, she’d pay the rest herself with some tip money. She could at least do that for him.

As she finished cleaning the counter, she noticed eleven was very near. Closing hour was coming next and she absolutely had to lock the door, prompting her to walk up to and inform him of the situation. He barely lifted his head from the hand barely holding it up. Concern and curiosity mixed together and, unable to help herself, Anzu put a careful hand on his forehead. He didn’t flinch, nearly didn’t blink, almost relishing in her palm; it felt like putting her hand on a stove that hadn’t fully gone cold yet.

She didn’t like it in the slightest.

 

What followed was a confusing mess. As if he had regained back the energy he missed, Hokuto jerked away and gulped his cup in a couple swallows, most likely parching his throat in burning coffee, before trying to get up, giving her nonsensical mumbles. Despite the signs she had noticed that kept piling up, she got astonished to see his body pitch forward, his eyes rolling in the back of his skull, without a word more comprehensible than a grunt. Her arms almost failed catching him in his fall, nearly sending him crashing onto the floor; instead, she managed to put him softly to the ground, using her lap as a pillow for his head before she had taken off her apron to do so.

Okay, now that she had an unconscious friend and a shop to close on her hands, what was she supposed to do? She couldn’t leave either of them like that, so she ran to get her phone from her purse, until she spotted something, or rather someone, interesting in the corner of her eye through the main window: Mao, a common friend of them. Anzu immediately began waving her arms in his direction, trying to get his attention.

 

To her relief, her friend immediately got the signal, running to her shop with a smile until it disappeared from his face as soon as he realized what was happening.

“W-wait…” He told her, face twisting in disbelief. “Is that really…?”

“Yeah…” She quickly replied before kneeling back.

“Quick question: how did you end up with a knocked-out Hokuto in your shop?”

“I… don’t really know. He stumbled here and ordered an espresso, but when I went to tell him I needed to close the shop, he got to his feet and fainted right here and there. All I know is that he looks severely sleep-deprived and that he’s running hot.”

Mao peered from above, crouching next to her, putting his own hand to make sure.

“Ah, yeah, I confirm, he’s burning up,” he shook his hand almost as soon as he had put it on their friend’s forehead. “He’s wasted for sure. How the hell did that even happen… I wouldn’t be surprised if that was me, but Hokuto? That’s a whole other puzzle!”

 

Anzu didn’t take her eyes off the unconscious boy in front of her, instead mechanically brushing his bangs from his forehead. Her fingers were wet from the gesture, but her brain was blanking out from how weird the situation was and how worried she was getting.

“Should we call an ambulance?” She eventually mused out loud.

“Honestly? I’d have if it wasn’t Hokuto we’re talking about. If we do, his parents will know about it, and his grandma too, and he’ll scold us for having indirectly told his parents…” A nervous giggle. “What I’m trying to say is that, if you ask me, Hokuto is the kind of person who doesn’t like suddenly waking up in the hospital with four people looking over him.”

She hummed as a reply.

“Still, I wouldn’t let him alone in his place either. If he’s passed out right here and there, he probably can’t even stand properly, so taking care of himself is out of the question until he’s slept for something like three days. How the hell did that happen…”

“Then, let’s bring him to my place.”

 

Mao froze for a solid thirty seconds.

“…huh?”

“Don’t you usually bring Ritsu to your place whenever he falls asleep in public?”

“I do, but we’re childhood friends, that’s not the same thing!” His face suddenly brightened up. “Heh, if you see it that way, I suppose it’s not too bad. I’d even say Hokuto would like waking up at your place!”

“What do you mean by that?” Her face felt a bit warmer, weird.

“Ah, nothing,” his smile was kind of going against that statement. “Let’s bring this guy to your flat then. Help me get him on my back so you can close the shop.”

“Got it,” she said as she rose to her feet, doing as she was tasked to do, and recovering both her apron and the keys inside its pocket.

 

A couple minutes later, Anzu had left the shop in its optimal closing state: all clean, lights switched off, door locked behind her. Once that was said and done, glancing at both of her friends, she let out a sigh of relief.

“Thank you, Mao.”

“You’re welcome! Now, that was nothing, let’s get him home, shall we?”

Glancing one last time at the unconscious Hokuto propped on Mao’s back, she nodded.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

Chapter Text

“…does it hurt?”

Norika’s question is a genuine one. Like anything she doesn’t understand quite by herself, she asks with unhinged curiosity; but this time, she also asks with concern laced in her intentions, even if it breaks through their tranquil silence.

“It doesn’t if you don’t move around much,” Haruna answers her from the other side of the bed, sitting on a chair as elegantly as she always does.

“And you know that because?” Tsunami chimes in, arms crossed, sitting next to her.

“G-guys…”

“Yuuto once had a surgery where he ended with a few stitches.”

“Huh?” Tsunami looks utterly baffled. “I don’t really see Kidou get into trouble enough that it’d require stitches of all things!”

“Kidou, like, the Kidou?! Yeah, I don’t see it either!”

“I think I have a picture somewhere of the both of us from when he was still recovering from that… Ut wasn’t his fault either, so it’s not as incredible as you’re making it out to be. Even if it made for one unusual sight for sure…”

“G-guys, can I reply to Umihara myself?”

“Ah, sorry! Go for it!”

 

Sitting in the bed is an embarrassed Tachimukai contemplating his friends blabbering about someone else entirely in his own hospital room. They’re always fairly turbulent and tend to get carried away very easily, but this one is a particularly clear instance, to Norika. Much to her chagrin, Tachimukai still isn’t as assertive as the three of them, despite her encouragements. These are things that don’t change from a day to the other, she supposes.

Suddenly, six eyes are on him, and he almost coils when he realizes that; yet he laughs it off, a hand brushing against where his bandages must be.

 

“They don’t really hurt,” he describes, eyes glancing at the fingers dancing in the fabric of the covers. “I don’t feel them this much… They sting if I move around, sure, and it’s honestly frustrating to having to stay this still all the time, but they don’t hurt by themselves.”

“Ah, I see,” Norika responds, nodding and humming along. “That’s good then! I was worried you’d be hurting even further with these!”

“You’ve never had any stitches, Umihara?”

“No, I’ve never needed any surgery… Which is good, because Inakuni didn’t have a big clinic and my mom was worried for me. I feel safer getting injured in Inazuma because of that, talk about a paradox!”

They both laugh to her little joke. Tsunami joins them soon afterwards, most likely understanding her sentiment, before Haruna eventually completes their little outburst.

 

“Anyway, how are you feeling, Tachimukai?” Haruna then asks, arms crossed, putting her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose. “I believe the anaesthetics have faded away by now.”

“Heh… Kinda numb, I’d say? I mean, it feels sore where the stitches are, that’s the main complaint I can make about the situation for sure, but aside from this, I feel fine. Well, huh, for someone who’s just had surgery done on him, I guess!”

“You sound used to it,” she immediately comments, and Norika’s heart leaps.

“I’ve just been through it before, albeit not for that specific procedure,” he chuckles. “Which is a given, absolutely much so.”

“Why so?” Haruna presses on, eyes squinting and mouth frowning in the need of an answer.

“Ah… I broke something when I was in high school. They had to switch some bones around, I think? It was pretty bad, that’s for sure, but it’s not like I haven’t recovered since then.”

Something sounds… off in his tone, but Norika doesn’t point it out: maybe it’s just her, maybe it’s just the anaesthetics playing one last trick. She’ll figure it later, and Haruna will most likely figure it all out before she even finds the first clue anyway. No need to hassle herself with that impression just yet.

 

“Wait. I’ve just realized something!”

Everyone suddenly turns to Tsunami, who’s stuck his palm with his fist, eyes wide open and blinking rapidly. The change in tones is astounding, but that’s to be expected from someone like him, coming as spontaneous as possible from a human being.

“What is it?” Norika asks, curiosity instantly picked.

“Aren’t you gonna have troubles taking a shower, with those things?”

 

The two girls find themselves staring at their friend awkwardly, surprised less by the general mood whiplash, which Norika actually finds more comfortable than whatever they were trying to talk about earlier, than the fact neither of them thought about it before Tsunami pointed it out.

“T-that’s right!” She scrambles for words. “You’re not supposed to be able to wet them, right?!”

“Ah, yeah, that’s true… It’s going to be a little more difficult than usual, but it’s nothing I can’t manage. I’ll be fine! It’ll be more inconvenient and annoying than anything else.”

“You’re sure you don’t need help?” Tsunami insists. “Because I can always give you a hand in the bathroom in that case!”

“Ah, I can do so too!” Norika adds, fists balled up into excited balls.

Haruna simply giggles to all of this commotion, before adding a comment of her own.

“Just make sure to be careful, Tachimukai. Call for help if you need it, okay?”

“Ah, huh… Sure!”

 

Norika concludes that stitches aren’t such a big deal from this conversation, but still doesn’t want any of it near her skin. Doesn’t seem like her thing.  

Chapter Text

His body was screaming “don’t move” as soon as he had woken up in the morning, but he may not have listened to its concern for itself. Someone with half a brain would have also told him to lie down and remain still, not to force things out if they didn’t want to move; yet he hadn’t listened even to himself, instead having pushed his lethargic self out of bed even if it wasn’t a good idea in the slightest. All that for a presentation.

To be fair, it was an important presentation for an even more important class, there was no way he’d have been able to postpone things out.

 

And, well, the warning had been justified. By the time he had finished preparing for the day, all clean and dressed up, the numb pain in his abdomen and constant nausea were demanding him to go back to bed or, at least, not to go to school. He listened and listened, staring at his livid face for a long moment, before deciding postponing the presentation would be a hassle not worth it, promising in silence to skip the rest of the day if it got worse and he couldn’t go back home without his insides setting themselves on fire.

The world seemed to have stretched out overnight, as if telling him not to move either. Still, he pressed on, reaching his university and mentally preparing himself for a terrible day filled with pain and more pain, waiting for time to go by and the ideal moment to buy something to fight against the devouring jaw tearing through his organs. First signal, from his body to him: the nausea overpowering his will to keep his honour straight.

 

He stumbled with the least grace in the world from the bathroom, only to be greeted with a couple of his friends. In fact, his usual hangout group was there, as if they had identified him to the sound alone, lined up in front of the room with unhappy faces: Akehoshi, Yuuki, Isara, Anzu. No one was missing and no one was displaying even the shred of a smile. Great, just great… He’d ignore it, fine. He’d ignore that new message urging him not to move.

They asked him if he was fine, pointing out his terrible-looking face and trembling limbs. Yuuki pointed out how weird it was for any of them to see him with such a sharp expression on his features, most likely from the grunts he was trying to keep to himself while walking to their classroom. The presentation had to be on the one course they shared, of course, it’d have been too easy otherwise, and the pain just kept worsening under an arm that failed to subdue the anguish. It really wasn’t his day, wasn’t it?

 

Waiting for a prof to arrive shouldn’t have made him feel this miserable. His eyes were tearing up from the ever-increasing pain, stabbing him over and over again with no blood spilled on the floor tiles, prompting all of his friends to urge him not to attend class, that they’d tell the prof for him, until he fell to the floor himself, or almost did at least.

Don’t move! I’ll go get some help!” Isara yelled as he ran off, panic in his voice.

Every noise that wasn’t his heartbeats thumping against his skull or his own breathing sounded far away, too far away.

 

Despite having heard Isara’s words, he still tried to rise back up, sight blurred with water, drops pouring, and it repeated.

Don’t move!” Yuuki screamed, afraid, panicked, further and further from him.

His body was next to remind him of the message and its meaning, failing on him at this very moment, vision blackening and consciousness fading with his sense of sight. It was temporary, he knew; yet his heart was scared because of what was happening, leaving him to himself with the cold loneliness brought on by the lack of consciousness

 

That loneliness faded when he came to, some time later, the vivid pain replaced by a number, sorer one. Instead of bent in half, he was lying, limbs slow and heavy, head even heavier, white burning into his retinas until he started distinguishing four familiar faces bent over the bed. Even if he felt awkward about the whole ordeal and how dumb he had been to straight head first into this mess, bringing this fate upon himself, he was glad and relieved to see them sticking by his side (must have skipped class to get there too).

Still, when he tried to sit up as to greet them properly, he felt Anzu’s hands on his chest, telling him in a soft voice, “don’t move, just rest”. And, for the first time in this terrible day, he figured he should be doing just that. Staying still had its advantages, after all.

Chapter Text

Even if he tasted nothing but blood and felt nothing but pain numbing all of his other senses, there was something else beating in his heart, giving him back the energy he had lost in the kerfuffle. Something keeping him up and around, running, moving, living. Something he hadn’t felt this much of ever in his life, pumping in his veins, coming from the brain but flowing down his blood, or so it seemed. Never had been good at science, but he had always been much better at protecting those he cared about, and that made it all the much easier in such a gambit.

He could now ignore the different injuries he had gotten, from the scratches of glass shards having brushed against his skin to the stab wound painting his abdomen in deep crimson, his hand sometimes pressing against some of it in a pitiful attempt to stop the haemorrhage. Still, he had something to fight for, namely the safety of the person trapped in the underbelly of the earth, whose powers couldn’t help her in this dirty place.

They were both mere mortals, maybe ones that were slightly more exceptional from their shadier origins, in the gods’ place, his feet avoiding the waters of the Styx as he continued running, breath replaced by the something pulsing through his limbs, reactivating his lungs every time they wanted to collapse. Perhaps it was the blood of Themis flowing down his vessels; alas, it wasn’t the time to question things about himself, it was quite the opposite way around in fact.

His eyes were fixated on the much smaller than him Norika fighting for her life against the vengeful soul of a man whose memory had been condemned centuries ago, hands shining with water trailing behind them; a vision that prevented the pain from fully reaching his nerves. She must have been as tired and hurt as he was, if not more, and yet kept on living. He didn’t have enough time to admire her to fully set into an admirative stance, time was against them.

Once he reached the vengeful spirit, whose hollow eyes were gazing into hers then his, he grabbed the shield and net he had had on his back, arming himself and taking a battle stance. With the energy pumping inside his nerves, he locked into his target and threw himself into a fight, pushing Norika aside with a silent apology, and his focus shifted entirely.

All that mattered down was keeping her safe, no matter the personal cost, and for them to make it out alive. He’d push as far as possible for this to become a reality.

 


 

 

She was terrified beyond her own mind, both from being in danger and being in a very unfamiliar place, but she wasn’t letting herself get beaten. A daughter of Poseidon would have been nothing but wrong to have been afraid of the mysterious waters of the Inferno, of the rivers shining in the dark and whatever was reflecting in them. Instead, something was pulsing through her body, motivating her and brightening her condition that’d have been most likely terrible without its miraculous existence.

Usually, bearing Seiya’s weight with hers would have been an arduous task, even for a half-goddess with some knowledge of it like she was. However, now, she was more than capable of doing so, as if inhabited by forces she couldn’t put a real name onto. Perhaps it was coming from her nymph ascendance, albeit she had doubts: they both seemed to have felt it. Must have been a human thing.

He had almost collapsed before her, exhausted, panting; and that was when she felt a new rush of energy. They needed to escape from this place, as soon and fast as possible, and it was on her shoulders now. Her tired limbs and hurting feet stopped paining her as the feeling came back in a flooding wave, filling her with determination.

Let’s get out of here, she told him with a smile as their adventure took a whole new turn.

Chapter Text

Maki’s hands were stained with tears coming from someone else’s eyes. Water dropped from her fingers and palms, trailing on her wrists and forearms. She’d have usually minded the ugly sight, disgusted by such a display of weakness; but these were different. They carried with them the strength of what a dear person was going through, an experience she’d have wished on nobody she had ever cared about, a trial of a lifetime that had taken away some loved ones before.

Evaluating the risks and witnessing first-hand her wife crying out loud was heart-wrenching, even for a soul such as hers which had gone through terrible ordeals such as abandonment before. Now that she had found her family, she was faced with the possibility of losing a major part of it while bringing another to the world. Perhaps she should have endured it herself: she’d have been able to carry it on her shoulders too. She should have shouldered it.

Alas, it was much too late for regrets; and so, instead, she let her sleeves and hands be stained by tears that weren’t hers, whose meaning gave her worry and admiration all the same, and she missed the warmth of her partner’s smile. The sky was clouded, that day, hiding the sun away from the earth: this much, she was sure of, even if she was the night herself. The moon couldn’t live without the sun, couldn’t shine without its light, after all.

They were three moons whose sun was going through the hardest time in her life, for the sake of all of them at once, powering through an ordeal that had stolen the lives of many before her. This much she could only respect and wish it was in her capacity to truly help out. Instead, all she did was whisper words of support that felt too clumsy on her lips and give both of hands out, one for support and one to dry a cherished one’s cheeks. She put her faith and trust into her wife’s hands and bore on her shoulders a measly part of her burden.

 


 

Kaito’s shirt was stained with someone else’s tears. He didn’t mind, quite the opposite: it was a sign that he was helping out, that he had been useful at least at some point. Staying here, helpless and useless, was nothing short of nerve-wracking: there must have been something he could to more than that, right? Much more than lending a hand as support and having something to stain, that was: this he had already done and was still gladly giving; yet left him unsatisfied and far, far away from peace of mind.

The stains were drying, then renewed, and the cloth continued sticking to his skin. The existence of those bothered him immensely for a reason that really wasn’t about the shirt itself: it was the tears, their reality, that annoyed him. It was unfair of life to have reserved this for someone as courageous as his wife: bringing someone to the world shouldn’t have been this painful for anyone to go through, shouldn’t have been a danger that had left all of them nervous.

He was certain she’d pull out of it, of course. She was doing superbly already, doing everything she was told to with perfection and no trouble, but the issue still remained: she was getting put through the worst aspect of a miracle he had been looking forward too for months on hand, excited like a child yet ready to finally feel like an adult with the closest people to his heart. If he could have shared the pain with her, he’d have without any hesitation; but it wasn’t not possible, at least not yet, and that was the current limit they had to stop in front of with all the disappointment and frustration in their spirits.

The most he could do was to let her borrow his hand, even if it’d mean for her to break it, and give her his shirt to dry her eyes into like a tissue that lasted for far longer. It was the least he could do in his mind, but the most in practical terms, and the dichotomy was pissing him off: it should have been a happy time, in his mind. Nature was fucked up, sometimes, and this was an instance of it, much to his dismay and everyone’s around him.

 


 

Shuichi’s forearms were stained with tears that weren’t his, patches of darkened blue spreading to the white shirt he had under them, sweater rolled to his elbows and hands covered in water. The discomfort brought by the soaked fabric was nothing to mind, he thought as he looked at the growing puddles on his clothing, then remembered why they were here and why there was no reason, no excuse to complain. It wasn’t about him and the petty discomforts brought onto him on this very special day, it was about his wife going through a hardship he couldn’t even imagine experiencing for himself.

It was just water anyway, for him at least. Water whose meaning was so much more important and impactful than just feeling discomfort. He wished from the deepest of his heart that he could have been doing something more, something meaningful about the situation; but he remained there, frozen, unable to provide any true help to the situation. Things were this way and it was infuriating to realize that as acutely as he was right at that moment; yet it wasn’t like he, or anyone in this room, could change the order of the world, no matter how much they wanted it.

This was supposed to be the best day of their lives, the day where they’d add someone new to their little household and brighten their daily routines with. He had felt a mix of anxiety, fear of the unknown, excitement and impatience until the fateful day, the one he was currently sitting through with a washcloth in his hand and a bucket of water at his feet. He’d occasionally dab a little water on his wife’s face to whip it from the sweat, sometimes allowing himself a peck on the top of her head. Knowing this was all he could do frustrated him to no end.

He had to put his faith in his wife’s hands, instead. They could all trust her, she was strong and powerful, having borne all of this until this point. She was doing great, he knew it, he was more than certain she’d succeed. Still, for the time being, the situation was wracking his nerves and made his spirit ache in anticipation: would it be alright? What if something was to go horribly wrong? Then, what would they do? Would they even be able to do anything about it?

Nothing was truly certain, if he thought about it too hard; so he stopped overthinking things and went back to actively supporting a loved one.

 


 

Kaede’s face was stained with her own tears. The pain was too much for her not to let a tear out, eyes watering like a fountain and without her consent to it, leading her to resembling a sobbing, soggy mess. She knew it’d get ugly really quickly, was prepared to look her worst on a day that should have been nothing but sunshine and rainbows. She hadn’t made herself delusional into thinking this’d have been any better than pure pain and a bloody mess: she had been right to remain weary, even if it didn’t exactly make the ordeal any smoother to sail through.

It was like getting torn apart from the inside by a force not to reckon with, a faceoff she was neck-deep into, hair soaked in sweat and body heat rising to high degrees she had only experienced as fevers before. This was the end, the grand finale, the climax of the opera and she could only scream for it. Her voice sounded broken, vocal cords damaged from the amount of yelling she had done until now. There was no soothing music playing inside her mind, only a cacophonic piano disaster going on an eternal crescendo.

She played the partition blindly, unable to say what notes would come next, listening to the conductor’s orders. She alternated whites and blacks, rests and plays, trying to immerse herself in a melody she didn’t understand, a tune she didn’t like. Her fingers were clutching her partners’, thoughts going through her mind about how she didn’t want to hurt them, yet the primal instincts roared supreme over her: she kept crushing them under her touch. Neither of them told her they minded, only telling the opposite, despite the pain she was surely inflecting on them.

Nonetheless, she was determined to pull through the suffer and the tears blinding her vision. She could barely see anything unless Maki’s fingers or Kaito’s shirt came to absorb the water, each time trying to thank them with a smile, even with the pain pulsing through her body. She always tried to give Shuichi a nice word for cooling her burning skin, usually without success, but she was thankful, truly much so; and it was a shame she couldn’t really express how grateful she was at that moment.

That was one of her main motivations for leading this ordeal to a good outcome: her partners, their love, and the one they were about to bring to the new members of the household. They were trusting her, entirely, remaining by her side despite the smell of blood, sweat and tears and despite the discomfort of sitting on a chair or standing by a bed for a long period of time. She had been gifted by three amazing persons and a lucky life, she could only show they were right to trust her, right?

And so she continued playing for the concert of her life, fingers firmly pressing the piano keys laid before her.

 


 

Their prides and joys, peacefully resting on Kaede’s chest, was leading every single one of them to shed a tear, a sigh of relief escaping most of their mouths. It was all over and, now, they were looking at the fruits of an excruciating labour.

“Was worth it,” she eventually commented, exhausted, “if you ask me…”

“Absolutely worth it,” Kaito confirmed, rubbing his eyes with his sleeve, speak for the three of them, Shuichi and Maki nodding along.

Worth the tears indeed, they all thought in silence.

Chapter Text

 

The stare she was giving his chest was a bit too intense to his liking, as if her eyes were deciphering some ancient writing on a wall, scrolling from top to bottom, gliding from the left to the right. For a first night sharing a bed in peaceful condition with so little clothing on either of them (it had taken ages for him to even get comfortable with the idea, let alone putting it into place), it was a weird thing for her to do.

Not like he was any better, considering his own eyes couldn’t seem to unglue themselves from the bits of exposed skin left alone by her pyjamas, trailing from her slender shoulders to her hands, focusing on the few imperfections left on her skin by time and experiences, the easily seen and the barely visible, the memories’ physical form laid before him.

 

“What are you staring at like that?” he still asked, right as he himself didn’t look quite exactly into her gaze.

“Your scars”, she bluntly replied.

He found himself puffing.

“They’re terrible, right?”

“They’re scars, really,” she continued, crossing her legs on the bed. “You’ve got a lot of them, but they’re a part of yourself. We wouldn’t be the exact same without them.”

That was a bit too deep for his late-night brain, truth be told.

“I suppose so.”

She must have been right, he silently figured, considering the number of scars he could see on her body.

 

Serena’s eyes didn’t deter. In fact, her gaze only grew in strength as it continued deciphering the foreign inscriptions in front of her eyes. Her hand twitched on her tight, fingers in a dire want to move, as if she was preventing them from taking off somewhere else.

“I see that you too have a lot of-”

“Can I ask you about them?”

The question surprised him beyond his mind.

“…Come again?”

“Can I ask you about your scars?”

His eyes were furiously blinking.

“Sure, I guess…?”

 

What was so interesting about these? They were just ugly, abhorrent traces left behind by wounds of all sorts. And yet, and yet, he found himself with her fingers dancing around his chest, her touch almost sending shivers down his spine (it was closer to a fluttering feel he wasn’t very familiar with, at least not yet), her eyes shining with the light of the bedside lamp.

He didn’t mind, frankly. It had a weird sense of comfort to have her explore him like this, curiosity filling her every move. It made it far less awkward for him to do the same, his own hands brushing against her shoulders, questions coming to his mind. How had she gotten herself these blemishes on her shoulder blades, as light as they were, near a crescent-shaped birthmark right over her breast? Where did the little scars on her arms came from?

Serena was right: they wouldn’t be the same without their scars. This much he could only realize, now that he was actually discovering someone else’s body for the first time in his life.

 

Her fingertip stopped on the freshest scar on his skin, laying right under his ribcage.

“This one is from what I think, right?”

“Our first meeting,” he commented. “Well, the aftermath of it, at least.”

“I remember you trying to escape the hospital right before your surgery. Reiji had to send Tsukikage to stun you before you did because Yuya didn’t want to hurt you.”

Her laugh made it worth the embarrassment.

“Sorry, I just… remember your reaction to it. It wasn’t funny at the time, but now that I think about it… It’s kind of funny.”

 

Her eyebrows then slightly frowned, making her smile bittersweet.

“…we didn’t start on the best first impressions, did we? You know, being on the opposite sides of a war, my people wanting to slaughter yours and the opposite way around, the Lancers…”

“I wouldn’t have said that. You were the best first impression I had in that dimension.”

“Was it because I looked like Ruri?”

“Maybe.”

 

She smiled as her finger left its spot.

“I’m just glad we’re at peace now.”

“Same here.”

 

Silence fell between them, albeit only for a short-lived moment, as her finger was still dancing around, eyes following it, before it found itself another spot to ask about.

“And this one?”

Her touch landed on his abdomen, on an old scar he had almost forgotten about from how used he was to seeing it every morning, every evening, every day, every night. Her eyes were sharp, to notice such a faded-out line.

“An old surgery from when I was a kid. I tried ignoring it, but it wasn’t an option. The best thing I remember about it was Ruri sitting by the bed asking me if it hurt.”

“And, did it hurt?”

“It was just sore, really.”

“What surgery was it?”

“Appendicitis, I think.”

“Ah… Never got it myself. Sounds rough.”

“Don’t,” he laughed, looking back at his younger self lying frustrated in a hospital bed. “It was a terrible time to be alive.”

It wasn’t funny, but she giggled back anyway.

“I’m sure it was.”

 

Her irises continued their dance, accompanied by her lips shaped in a soft smile. This was a face he could have never resisted, the one who had won him over when he was refusing to show more skin than his arms to her. She’d be the death of him, now that the people trying to kill his entire kind were gone and on the path of redemption – but what a desirable demise she’d be.

“Oh, and this one?”

Her finger gently pressed against a deeper, much more visible scar on his left flank. That one displeased him much more than he’d have wished to admit.

“I got stabbed by an Obelisk Force jackass back in Xyz, before Yuto and I came to Standard, right in front of Ruri too. If it wasn’t for her, I’d have bled out there.”

“That’s horrible…”

“Wasn’t a cosy time to be alive either. Just shows you how strong my sister actually is. Heh, I was blind back there.”

Serena was quiet, her five fingers now flat on his abdomen.

“Hey, don’t make this face. I’m still here, alive and kicking, and so are you. That’s what matters.”

This managed to bring a small smirk back to her lips.

“You’re right.”

 

She eventually sighed, cupping his face with her hands, her slender fingers brushing through his hair.

“I’ll have to tell you about mine someday. I don’t have as many, or with as much history, but…”

“That’s wrong. I’m sure they have more meaning that you’re trying to imply.”

“You think?”

“Try me.”

They exchanged mischievous looks, smiles and gazes swapped.

“For another day, then. We got to make the fun last.”

Peace meant they finally had time before them to enjoy life and all the things it brought with it, good and bad.

“Of course,” he said, before they closed the space between their lips.

Chapter Text

Norika didn’t know the mainland well, even after attending a year of middle school there for a sports exchange program in middle school with her former club. One could say that she had almost gotten lost in the busier life of Inazuma Town, now that she was attending college near it: it wasn’t wrong, quite the opposite. Still, she had managed to ask someone who had kindly indicated her where the train station was, mentioning where the university’s dorms were in case she was going to live there. Must have been one of her future classmates, if you asked her.

Much to her relief, she was on the right train, impatiently waiting to reach her stop. She had only seen the university once, and that had been quite a while back, so she was excited to see it again, spot a couple places she’d explore first, pinpoint where she could find herself a job so her mom could spend less on her studies. She was full to the brim with an enthusiasm she could barely contain, hands twitching, legs almost bouncing around on their own. However, she had to remain calm, as much as possible at least, so she wouldn’t scare off the other passengers on the train. As such, she breathed in and out, trying to calm herself down. First impressions were important, right?

Looking around, having only boarded the train a couple of times before (and that had been years ago too), she spotted something quite odd. It wasn’t the train itself: it was functioning properly, or so she assumed, considering there was no message telling the passengers about any problem. It looked quite empty, unlike what she had seen on TV, but that could be explained by the hour at which she was boarding it at: the beginning of the afternoon had always been a tranquil time, especially on Inakuni. No, the train wasn’t what was giving her these vibes: it was something else entirely.

On the other row of seats was a guy around her age, most likely older than she was, heading forward, arms crossed against his chest and face buried in a face mask, forehead against the seat in front of him. The music blowing in her earphones made it so she couldn’t hear much that wasn’t the tune currently playing on her phone, even if the sight itself was enough to rise a red flag to her: his eyes were oddly shiny, even considering the bright lights of the train shining upon them even in the middle of the day. Their whites even seemed a little red, although that made her wonder if she wasn’t imagining things after getting an idea that’d have influenced her perception. Wasn’t her business, she figured, and tilted her head back to the window…

Still, she lowered the volume of her music and began hearing whimpers shortly thereafter, making her think the person sharing the train with her was on the verge of crying. She was getting concerned for a complete stranger, this much she knew, while the signs she was noticing were piling up: ash blond hair was sticking to his forehead, some shivers here and there, fluttering eyelids. Still, there was someone next to him: if something was to go wrong, horribly wrong, this person would react, probably better than she’d have in the same situation too. Still wasn’t her business, she figured again, and tilted her head back to the window…

The train slowed and eventually came to a halt, making a stop. From the corner of her vision, she saw the woman next to the stranger leave her seat, the stranger now all alone in his seat with tears about to spill and a plethora of other signs ringing all the wrong bells to her. She didn’t quite know what it was (after all, Norika was no student in a nurse or doctor course: she was here to study marine biology and make her mom proud), but she knew something was wrong. It now was her business, she then figured, and she leaped to the seat now empty next to him, bringing her luggage with her onto the other side of the train.

She immediately sat right next to him, discovering she had been right all along (much to her dismay: she’d have rather been embarrassed realizing she had worked herself up for nothing than discovering someone really was about to cry on public transportation), as he barely realized she was now there, only a few centimetres away from him, glancing at her with bleary eyes and frowned eyebrows. He didn’t seem to happy to see her. Well, as to be expected, from someone who didn’t look happy to begin with.

“Hey, are you alright?” She asked, putting a hand on his shoulder, her other holding onto her suitcase. “Do you need something?”

He wasn’t responding, at least not with words, because she seemed to be getting a gulp as a response.

“Wait. Where are you heading? What’s your stop?”

“The uni…”

“Oh, okay. That’s great then, this is where I’m stopping too! You’re living there or you have someone for you waiting at the stop?”

“Th’dorm…”

“Well, that’s kind of convenient…” That wasn’t the time for witty commentaries, Norika! “You’re gonna be able to walk there.”

He nodded, grey irises trying their best to focus on her. She was having serious doubts about his affirmation there, but at least she’d be able to check for most of the trip down there. He was a fellow student then…

“Is that the right train…?” He then asked her, voice trembling, almost muffled.

“Yeah. By any chance, are you lost?”

“I don’t know…”

Oh. He was definitely lost then.

“I’m not that familiar with the place either, but I’ll help you out as much as I can. You don’t seem to be doing too good.”

“I’ll be fine…”

“I really doubt it, you know… but fine. My name’s Umihara Norika, I’m a student at Inazuma Uni, what’s your…”

Her question was interrupted by his head finding its way onto her shoulder, eyes shut, and a sudden source of warmth appearing against her clothes. His phone fell from one of his sweater’s pockets, prompting her to take it. On its screen, an incoming call from someone apparently named Nosaka, which she picked up.

Hello?

“A-ah, hello! This is going to sound weird, but I just p-picked up the phone from its owner on the train! I’m with him, but he seems completely lost… and I think he’s sick? My name’s Umihara, by the way, I’m a student at Ina Uni!”

God this was so weird and so messed up on so many levels, where could she even begin?

On what station are you? The voice on the other side (Nosaka’s, she guessed) asked back, suddenly sounding more urgent than it had before.

“We’re near Uni! He told me he was heading for the dorms. Do you happen to be there?”

I told him we already were at the station to pick him up… He mumbled, sounding somewhat further. You’ll see a group of three people waving at you. That’s us.

Panicked, she shook the shoulder of the stranger, prompting him to slowly stir back to consciousness. Phew, that was a small relief.

“Hey, we’ll be here soon! Ah, also, you have a phone call from someone called Nosaka.”

His hand picked up the phone, giving her the time to gather her luggage, making sure she had everything in order. She tried not to listen the conversation in the meantime, despite her curiosity.

His head was still on her shoulder, lulling with the phone on his other ear, until the train stopped and the call ended. At that moment, despite their whole lack of knowledge of each other, she picked his hand in hers as they got up, partly to stabilize his balance and partly because she was afraid he’d get lost again. Getting off the train, the university was towering above them, and she recapitulated the direction she had been given to find her way.

She’d learn his name later, she figured, as her head titled to the left.

Chapter Text

Would an angel sell their soul to the devil in the name of love?

This was a question as old as time, she realized, as she stared at her own white wings full of feathers. She had heard of fallen angels before, of former comrades that had betrayed their kind’s guidelines to live with a mortal or, in the worst rumours, a demon. They had various names: the black-winged, the banished, the betrayers, the traitors, the fallen, the forgotten. All in all, they all had a common point: they were angels whose identity had been erased by the term, punished for their crimes by getting lost in the sands of times and fading memories.

For a long time, the Angel of the Moon, Selena assumed she was over asking herself that question. She was an exemplary angel amongst her peers, only doing what was right and what was allowed. She used her powers for the greater good and nothing else, defending the right, condemning the wrong, never stepping out of her zone. She had been promoted as an archangel as the result of her hard work, presented as an example for all other angels to follow. Her footsteps had been blessed by the gods, her halo shone brighter than most, a statue had been erected in her name in the place she assured the peace of minds and hearts of, Cordelia.

However, things changed on one fateful day.

 

The Moon was lighting the territory of Cordelia in its cold, benevolent light. Not a word was to be heard in the peaceful streets of the city, the inhabitants either already asleep or taking care of the last tasks of the day: ends of dinners, children’s bedtime stories, the last words of a letter. The windows shut down one after the other, the walls losing colours, dark blues winning over yellows and whites.

In the dark of the night was Selena, Archangel of the Moon, flying around, ensuring the tranquillity of the city. This was a mere duty to her: she had never had to enforce anything before, merely making sure nobody was stepping out of line. Crime was absent from the streets, even when the sun had set down, because her watchful eyes were always there. She was but a well-meaning agent of peace and order, an agent sent by the gods to ensure serenity in the mortal minds they had given life to thousands and thousands of years before.

 

However, and despite her best judgement, there were citizens she preferred watching over than others. One of them was a young girl trying to live by with her older brother. Her flower shop was one of the places Selena liked the most watching over during daytime, amazed by her talent at growing flowers and her crystalline voice who sang like the most beautiful of birds. She spent more time there than anywhere else, charmed by her kindness and dark locks of luscious hair falling to her hips.

Unbeknownst to her, one of her feathers once fell on the floor of the shop during the day. The girl picked it up as soon as she noticed it, intrigued by its pure white, and looked up. Unable to flee, back round against a corner of the shop’s roof, the angel’s eyes met hers as her smile melted her surprise away.

I see you, benevolent angel, she said, putting the feather in her hair and against her ear. Thank you for watching over my shop.

Selena was unable to reply, surprised that she could be seen, forbidden to talking to mortals no matter what; so she nodded along, her thoughts swirling around. This was nothing but wrong, she knew it with an undefeatable certainty; yet this felt right, too right, and her wings shivered as she flew away from the shop, leaving another feather behind her. Even in her panic, she wished for the girl to pick it up and wondered if she

 

However, during a harsh winter that almost froze all of the city’s cultures, the brother of the girl eventually fell sick. Despite his condition and his sister’s pleas for him not to, he continued working to afford them to continue living as they always had. Ruri tried everything in her power to convince him not to, promising she’d go as far as selling the shop or finding a rich husband if it meant he’d rest. Alas, her brother valued her dreams above everything else on this earth and ended up refusing all of her offers, leaving her broken-hearted.

For a time, watching over the shop hurt Selena. As soon as he had collapsed from his illness, the girl spent most of her time at her brother’s side, her hand in his, as she told him stories to less his pain; only to tearfully beg him, in silence and when he’d be asleep, to stay with her. She’d try brewing healing concoctions with her knowledge of plants, to very little effect, until she had spared enough money to pay for a doctor. The verdict was decisive, falling upon the little family like a sword, as the boy was doomed to die soon; and poor Ruri was left even more heartbroken than she had been before.

For the first time, Selena wondered if she shouldn’t have made a deal with a mysterious force for the boy’s life to be spared, as the pain of her citizens pained her to witness. Alas, she was no healing force: her light did nothing to his ill, as the gods had decided for this mortal and no angel could go against the goddesses of life and death. His thread would soon get cut by a steady hand. There would be no benevolence or malevolence in her fingers and scissors as they’d execute their decision, only their mission to make sure the cycle was running properly.

On the day the boy died, the angel was watching over their house, mourning with the girl. His last words were of care and attention, asking her not to cry and not let herself get consumed with grief, for she needed to outlive him now that he’d be gone. He begged her in a voice breaking under its own weight to take care of herself and her dreams, now that he wouldn’t be there for her, promising he’d still keep an eye on her from wherever his soul would go next. Yet, even with his warm words and the smile she was forcing herself to give him, the girl broke down crying as soon as his hand went limp and his heart went cold.

Please, watch over my sister, his soul begged of the angel as soon as it left the body, eyes shining.

I promise, she replied. Now, you can join the skies above and reunite with all those that you have lost, you who spent his life caring for his dearest.

 

From then on, Cordelia mourned the loss of one of its youngest inhabitants. People gave the grieving sister their condolences, bringing gifts with them, buying her flowers as support. The plants almost died because her tears prevented her from properly caring for them, leaving them to dry and wither away like her brother had in front of her eyes. Would no action be taken, desolation was soon to fall onto the small flower shop, life leaving it day after day, ivy growing and covering the façade.

As such, to honour her promise, Selena spent most of her time in the city taking care of the shop for the girl, feathers meddling with the roots. Her fingers gave their life back to the plants, slowly but surely, petals getting their colours back and the agreeable scent she had always known returned. Things were finally looking better, the light and warmth of the sun coming back: this wasn’t time of dying for the little shop and its owner.

She’d often get spotted by the girl, who’d then tell her some stories or, simply, talk to her about her day. Selena couldn’t answer her questions with words, but she could nod along, and that was more than enough for them. They’d spend a morning, an afternoon, an evening or even an entire day conversing like this. Before long, the mortal girl had earned her smile back, making her promise to her brother a reality. By all means, her mission was a success; but she didn’t leave, continued taking care of a mortal’s plants with her, and loved every second of it.

 

On one day, the gods told the angel she had been assigned a new task. From then on, her status as an archangel would fully come into play: she’d be supervising other angels and never go back to the mortal’s soil. The news that should have warmed her spirit and gratified her instead made her feel nothing but resentment and hatred: she didn’t want this. She wanted to spend her days with the girl from the flower shop, the mortal that made more sense in her life than so many of the duties she owed to the gods.

She had but a few days to engrave images of Cordelia into her mind before leaving forever. Even if it wasn’t forever, who could promise her that Ruri would still be there by the time she’d come back? Her only wish was to remain with this mortal until the end of her life, nothing else; and yet, she gulped her pleas when faced by the goddess she depended of, for she could not go against the gods. Keeping her feelings concealed, she instead let herself weep in the night streets of Cordelia, finding over and over the words of departure she’d give to her dearest, her soulmate.

Their adieux went horribly wrong. She tried conveying the idea through moves, but it didn’t work, and the girl didn’t understand her. Eventually, the conscientious angel was obligated to explain with the words she had forbidden herself to ever use. Her tongue burned and her throat knotted, the sin puncturing her ribcage. Nevertheless, nothing could have prepared her for Ruri’s reaction to it, full of another wave of grief, anger and confusion all the same. Would have angels had a heart, she’d have broken Selena’s.

 

Stay with me, she then pleaded with her mortal eyes and her mortal voice, hands tied in a prayer, her legs folding into a kneeling position.

The angel wavered in her certitudes and convictions, a foreign temptation invading her thoughts like poison flowing in its victim’s bloodstream.

I cannot, for I have a duty to serve, Selena replied. I am an angel, you are a mortal; this is not meant to be. I am so deeply sorry for it.

Please, stay with me! Ruri cried, youthful eyes filling with sorrow and misery. I don’t want to see you go, I can’t be without you!

Her halo’s light dimmed with each word she told the mortal, her wings twitching, urging her to stop the blasphemy and go back to her former idealistic self. The dilemma was eating away at her very soul, feathers falling from an anxiety foreign to her kind. That was when this sentence came back to her, the question she used never to wonder about.

Would an angel sell their soul to the devil in the name of love?

 

Her mind repeated it over and over again, weighing pros and cons, meticulous and obedient spirit leaving place for a burning chest devoured by a very human passion. Her feelings were, for the very first time, sent into a turmoil unknown to her species, the one the gods would go through whenever they were faced by their own faults, and she realized how hypocritical the people commending her had been all along. Would angels have been able to cry, tears would have stained her porcelain face, rotting her luminous skin with the darkness and dirt of the pain she was currently experiencing.

That was, until the girl, whom until then had been nothing but an untouched paragon of pureness, committed the ultimate sin. She ran to an angel, grabbed her shoulders and kissed her with a furious passion, the kind no being could ignore no matter their kind or nature, and the angel found herself giving it back, purposely corrupting her own lips with the saliva of a mortal. On that, her wings turned black as the night, feathers falling and spreading far and wide, the excruciating pain almost locking her into an eternal agony.

To her surprise, and despite the forbidden nature of her acts, her wings didn’t fall; and, right as they turned black, she saw white feathers blossom in the back of the person she had just gladly given her angel righteousness to, her eyes watered for the first time. With a tearful smile, Selena embraced her nature, her feelings and her dearest person.

If the devil was the holder of her happiness, and that of her beloved, then she’d sell her angelic soul to Them; and there was no regret to be had there. There was no shame in being part of the Forgotten if she couldn’t enjoy her immortality with someone else and, as she embraced corruption herself, she gladly let go of her burden.

 

Would an angel sell their soul to the devil in the name of love?

No, as there was no devil to sell angelhood to; instead, they’d give it to the goddess of love and make someone into an angel to her service. That was the answer that she had not been looking after enough until it had been almost too late.

Chapter Text

The smell of blood and red droplets flew before her eyes, her limbs locked up, images slowed in her mind. The reality numbed her senses out of the blue as the horrifying sight unfolded right in front of her nose. The wind blew in her hair, his and the sickening sound of his fall was the only thing who broke her out of her thoughts.

Would her vocal cords not have died on her, Ingrid would have let out a blood-curling scream.

 

Suddenly, a vague of rage invaded her thoughts, her hands moved on their own and she instead yelled someone she didn’t know to die as her spear impaled the person right in front of her, feet dancing on the grass, avoiding the third party as she went for the kill. For a moment, she had become nothing short of a beast, ready to give her prey to the arms of death. For what reason, she didn’t half know, on the moment itself; even if she had a small idea and she supposed that, after losing Glenn and after losing the Professor, she didn’t want to lose someone else close to her again.

Because, as much as she disliked Sylvain’s skirt-chasing tendencies, lack of care for anything around him and general rudeness, he was still one of her dearest friends and long-time comrades; and he didn’t deserve to die because he irrationally decided to protect her and take a hit not meant for him. He was too young to find his end today.

 

Once a new corpse had fallen on the battlefield, she rushed to her comrade’s side, putting her hand in front of his nose to make sure he was still here. To her relief, she felt a breath brushing against her skin, his eyes fluttering back open with a dishonest smile. 

“H-hey…” He said as he tried getting up, only to struggle doing so and falling back right into her arms.

“You…” The scream was muffled from the inside. “You idiot…!”

“Haha, I know, right…?” His smile seemed more genuine. “Still, I’d have been sad to see you go like that…”

The anger she was feeling disappeared in one go.

“Never do this again.” She attempted yelling to set the point straight once and for all, but her voice had almost given up on her, and it was instead a shadow of what she wanted it to be. “You… You fool…!”

 

Ingrid sighed, then looked over the wound. It was a deep cut, right on the one part the armour wasn’t properly protecting, worn by the previous happenings of the battle. It didn’t seem deadly, at least, so that was a good thing to point out instead of letting herself get submerged by her feelings again…

“Someone!” She started screaming again, her voice sounding strained. “I have an injured here!”

“They’re too far, Ing… You won’t be able to call out to them.”

To his own misfortune, Sylvain was right: Mercedes was too far to heal him directly and they were isolated on one part of the field.

“Then I’ll bring you to them myself.”

 

Silently, paying attention to every single detail about his condition, she put the both of them back to their feet, putting him on the back of her pegasus, taking the reins. No need to muffle a scream about it.

Chapter Text

“You can’t speak?!”

Akehoshi seemed surprised beyond his own mind as his eyes blinked furiously right in front of his nose. What, had it never happened to him? All things considered, Akehoshi seemed like the type of idiot who could never catch a cold, so that made sense, he supposed… Would have been less of a hassle if he wasn’t screaming that in the middle of the school, prompting the entire class to turn to their discussion. Nonetheless, he nodded as a reply, looking away. Something about being a leader…

 

“Ah, man, that sucks! I hope you’ll feel better soon, Hidaka. Sounds rough.”

Yuuki’s comment was far more considerate, his gaze full of concern and empathy. Well, not that he liked getting pitied, but the circumstances were playing against it. It didn’t help that both Akehoshi and he were making sad faces. He typed his reply on his phone.

Sorry for this, guys.

“No issue there, don’t apologize! We can still practice our choreographies, right?”

I suppose so.

“W-well, that’s only if you’re feeling well enough to it! You look kinda pale…”

“Ah, that’s right, you’re shinier than usual, Hokke!” (What did that mean? He didn’t know the connotation this carried, that was for sure).

I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.

“If you ever feel not up to it, please tell us, okay?”

Sure.

 

“Good morning guys!” Isara suddenly came into the picture, wide smile on this face, walking up to them from the neighbour room. By his side was their producer, just as smiling, waving her hand in their direction.

“Good morning!” Yuuki replied, perking up.

“Hi Producer, hi Sally! No student council work today?”

Stuck with his silence, all Hokuto could to was wave with his hand. God, that was so embarrassing…

“For once, I don’t! Not gonna lie, it does feel kinda weird…”

“That’s great!”

 

Isara chuckled.

“How are you, everyone?”

“I’m doing great!”

“Same here!”

Silence unfolded. Silence he should have been filling, but…

“What about you, Hokuto? You’re strangely silent today.”

He was about to type a reply on his phone yet again, but Akehoshi did the job instead.

“Ah, right! Hokke can’t speak today!”

Isara’s face instantly showed the colour of surprise, head bolting from the redhead to their leader.

“Wait, your voice’s broken or something?”

He nodded. No point bringing out his phone for that.

“I see. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask us, we’ll help you no issue. Right guys?”

The three others surrounding them nodded along. This was going to be tough, but with companions like them, it sounded less painful than it had when he had just discovered in what state his throat was.

 

 

Hokuto had a few observations to make about being the leader of an idol unit without a voice. None of them were any positive.

Singing was quite obviously out of the question, or else he’d have coughed until the end of times, so he instead playback-sang his own voice. That was pathetic at best, but it got the job done and the point across: the point was their stage occupation and choreography.

Breathing through his mouth itched. His throat was already sore from whatever he was infected with, the situation didn’t make it much better. The more they went, the more he pretended to sing, the more it hurt, to the point he hesitated between coughing every second or stopping breathing altogether. He picked the first, in the end.

Even moving around was awkward. He felt sluggish and, while that wasn’t linked to having lost his voice, it was somewhat related anyway. The day wasn’t good, but repeating the idea in his head over and over again as he tried recovering his breath wasn’t going to make things much better by the end of it.

 

“Guys, please stop for a moment,” Anzu interjected in the middle of their session, clapping her hands together. They stopped immediately.

“What’s wrong, Producer?” Akehoshi asked.

“Can I see you for a moment, Hokuto?” This felt like a sword of Damocles, about to fall upon him, but he nodded after finishing his coughing fit. “Subaru, Makoto, Mao, feel free to continue!”

“Roger,” Isara said as the three went back to their task.

Well, there was no point in disobeying her, so he did as he was asked.

 

They went to the next room, the music entirely muted by the walls, as she invited him to sit down at a table and poured him a cup of tea. Weird time to invite him to do so, but she must have known what she was doing, so whatever. Still, he had questions popping in his mind, so he got his phone out of his pocket and started typing again. He cleared his throat to catch her attention (she was focused on a couple of papers, and he immediately regretted asking his throat to put itself on fire again).

Why have you brought me here?

“Ah, right,” she giggled, “I forgot to explain myself, haven’t I?”

I don’t quite understand.

“You seemed tired, so I figured I’d help in some way. What about stopping for today?”

That sounds unreasonable.

“Hokuto… I don’t think your illness is going to go away this easily if you don’t rest a little.”

And was she wrong? Not really.

I’m still their leader.

“I know that, but I’m you guys’ producer. I can handle it just fine. Plus, it’s not like I’m asking you to go away, right? I’m just asking you to watch, I suppose…”

 

During a moment of silence, he figured he may as well eye the tea and discover why he had gotten served this in particular.

“That’s for your throat. Mao gave me a recipe to try, I hope it’ll work.”

Typical Isara, he figured. This man had tricks upon tricks down his sleeves. Still, he brought the cup to his mouth: it’d have been a shame to let this go to waste. It was just as sweet as he’d have expected a beverage filled to the core with honey to be like, but this was no problem as it was, in fact, a solution to the issue at hand.

Thank you.

“It’s nothing, really. Now, what about we go back to watch them?”

Let’s do that.

 

The moment they went back to their practice room was when he also realized the four of them had planned this all along. That was made obvious by the winks they exchanged, between themselves, between them and Anzu; and he tried, deep down, to find something to say against it, to get their routine working, to feel betrayed and fooled; yet nothing came to his mind but light-hearted gratitude. He, once again, typed his words on his phone’s keyboard.

Thank you, everyone.

 

For someone whose day was supposed to be filled with misery and silence, Hokuto sure was a happy and vocal fellow.

Chapter Text

Her eyes couldn’t believe it. The sight that had just shown before her eyes must have been a lie, an illusion, a mirage; as there was no way this was real, no way she had been graced with such a miracle. Her thoughts shook and swirled into a confusing, mind-boggling spiral; but that was no issue, at least, not compared to the state this was leaving her body in.

Her hands trembled, clammy and sticky with sweat and fingers twitching for the slightest change of temperature brushing against her skin. Her knees were buckling, legs threatening to drop her to the floor at any given moment. Her vocal cords were unstable, words failing to make it out of her mouth, lips bawling, teeth chattering from the cold and the fading anxiety alike. This was as frail as she could get.

Before she could collapse under her own weight, she rushed on her unstable legs to the bed right in front of her eyes, almost stumbling on her own feet and the air itself, until she settled in a hurried second for a chair standing nearby. Once there, her trembling hand picked her beloved in it, fingers squeezed between hers, her other on top of it.

“You… You’re back…!” She whispered, mouth unable to stabilize itself, eyes tearing on her own and breathing transforming into hiccups. Now that her sorrow had passed, she was stuck with its remains, unfortunately. “You’re back…!!”

“Sorry for worrying you, Kaede,” he replied, voice weak, groggy and trembling just as much as every fibber of her being was. “Wasn’t on purpose…”

“I know that. I’m… I’m just so glad you’re alright… I thought that… That…”

And here went the sorrow and the tears again, the stories that had flashed in her mind after she had learnt he had gotten into serious troubles with a killer on the loose, no details nor estimate given, leaving her alone with her anxiety and lonely despite being surrounded. Her friends’ words and gestures didn’t quite reach her when she was in such a state of violent panic and fear.

“It’s fine. I’m here now… It’ll be alright…” She had missed his eyes more than she thought. “That’s what you always say, right…?”

She whipped away the tears from her eyes with one of her sleeves and felt a timid smile make its way on her lips, her heart finally slowing down, trembling voice stabilizing, limbs recovering some consistence and resistance.

“Of course… It’ll be alright now that you’re here, Shuichi…”

She couldn’t help but leave a peck on his forehead, too relieved to address him the few things she had on her mind about how reckless he had been to head in there all on his own, because it wasn’t the time to do so. Not when she still felt this frail and he looked this vulnerable, so for now, she figured she’d be patient.

For now, she’d just enjoy some very welcome serenity, hand in hand, as the world stopped making her shake at least for a few moments.

Chapter Text

A queen cannot let her guard down, can she? In a world where enemies keep rising against her, both from the inside and the outside, she must keep a careful and watchful eye on everything possible. Alas, she does not have the eyes of the gods, cannot see through all of the lies and the darkness and cannot ride on the boat of the sun; she needs to take care of this with her limited human abilities. It is but part of being a mortal in a cosmos ruled by the deities.

Like any queen, she wears bright and luxurious jewellery for most of her days and nights, earrings complementing her hair, crescent-shaped headband and crown to show her social status to all, golden necklaces and shining gems decorating her breast, bracelets colouring her wrists in bright and regal colours, rings armouring her fingers. These are more than simple, superficial decorations: they are weapons in their own right. She can scratch an assassin with the claw-shaped accessory on her right index finger and has the most efficient powders in the other rings she wore, contained under the pretty gemstones making her hands shine like the early rainbow sky.

People of the court want her dead or alive, to exert their authority on her and, in then, get the country’s power in their filthy, egotistical hands. Alas, she was raised by a cunning pedagogue and taught by the winner of the Olympic Games of his youth: she knows her environment and how her high-ranked officers act. She prefers young, low-class citizens to serve her, as they’re more diligent and more deserving of her attention, having struggled their way to the top instead of inheriting from their parents’ status to her ancestors. The son isn’t always as good or bad as the father, after all.

A noble-blooded accountant flatters her too much with empty-sounded words and verses she’s already heard or read somewhere else, gratifies her with gifts that smell like dishonesty and future treason. She sees the sharp, bright blade tied around his waist, clean and yet poor, handle made out of wood. His clothing is unnaturally crimson, colour of power in another city they have contacts with, he told her when she asked about it. Still, despite the flags this rises, she invites him to sit down at her table and invites a maid to serve them both a cup of strong-flavoured tea, waiting for him to turn an eye away during their conversations once the fuming cups are set before the both of them.

He glances at his blade, irises filling with a dark shine; she pours the powder hidden behind a sapphire into his drink.

Their conversation resumes. His words still sound empty, flatters that mean nothing, and she only listens with half of her mind. Instead, she focuses on the cup, drinking her tea with slow gulps, attention focused on the noble. He eventually puts the treacherous drink to his lips and, in a slow move of his wrist, takes a sip. His last, she knows it, as his hands go limp and he passes out. In a complacent nod of her head, she gets her maid’s attention and claps in her hands.

“Ruri, please,” she asks, the girl rushing to her side, “can you get this man to his new cell?”

“Absolutely, your Majesty.”

“I told you already, you can call me Selena when we’re alone like this. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a scribe to check on.”

The maid bows and runs out of the room, diligent as always, as the queen eyes the tea still drippling from the table. He should have known a woman endorsed by the moon would have Hecate by her side to protect her, her starry sleeves shrouded in the dark filled with tricks.

In the palace’s office, a man is slouched over a desk, a hand writing down accounts and books for the royal archives. She doesn’t need to glance over his shoulder to know this is what he is doing, because she assigned this task to him last week, and he’s been nothing but serious about it since then. A bit too serious, it’d seem.

“In how long have you not slept, Shun?” She asks as she enters the room, a sly smirk on her face, her guard slightly down despite the blade she has tied around her waist and hidden away by the precious clothing and the jewels.

The scribe rises from his slouched position, obvious dark rings under his eyes, hand almost hitting the cup of water he has next to him. She slowly walks up to him, bracelets tingling, stones shining under the gentle, dim light of the candle lighting his workspace.

“Ah, your Majesty,” he replies. “I’m almost done with this manuscript. It should only take a couple of hours left.”

“I appreciate your dedication, but your queen is ordering you to bed, so could you please do so right this moment? I am afraid you have, in fact, not slept for a couple of days.”

“I have frankly not seen the sun enough to judge, your Majesty.”

“This only gives me more reasons to order you to bed, Shun.”

“I swear on my life that I’ll do so once I’m done with this manuscript.”

Selena opens her emerald ring’s cache over his cup of water while he looks over his handwriting again. For someone who seemed as rough as he was when she first hired him, his is smooth and clear. People are full of hidden talents and traits, it gladly seems.

Shortly after she’s laced his drink, he grabs his cup it in his hand and almost drinks it, only to wince when it gets close to his nose. He glances back at her, a familiar smile on his face.

“Ah, I guess that Her Majesty very much wants me to go take a rest. I’ll execute myself without making her wait any longer.”

“I prefer that.”

She gives him her hand, which he takes, his head spinning for a moment. She didn’t say that for her own good, after all, she expected that to happen. Still, she got proven right, and that’s enough for her, for now, when it’s about her personal scribe.

She blows out the candle before leaving.

Chapter Text

For a moment, she was there, smiling, his soft voice speaking to him about her day, their friends, their school life. The air was gently blowing through their hair from the open window, the sun shining in the blue sky of late winter. Things were good, life was fine, there was nothing to be alarmed about. His chills subdued and tranquillity settled, at last, her hand on his, their fingers intertwining.

A voice’s whispers reached his ears, sneaking behind their cotton walls, filled with mean-spirited thoughts to tell him about. They slithered like a snake haunting a prey, about to feast on his peace of mind. Still, he had his guardian angel with him, one who didn’t have wings nor a halo, but whose presence was the same as if she had had these, a godsent in disguise. The whispers couldn’t reach him if his fingers could find hers.

His sight jittered, feathers falling from her torn-apart wings, and suddenly her irises became static and the voices caught up to him, their poison spewing all over his face as jittering greys oozed from her eyes. His fingers dug into her skin, only to find monochrome sand in their stead, his nails scorching themselves against the hardness of the shell shards it contained.

The voices were stronger than ever, prompting him to put his hands over his ears, unwilling to hear them anymore. They whispered about despair, death and demise, repeating to him that his friends weren’t real, that he was all alone and that, no matter what he did, everyone around him would eventually disappear and leave him in the dirt and the cold. He was nothing but a bringer of disaster for anyone he loved and aware of his he should have been all along; they were merely informing him of this fact, after all. Nothing to be mad against, right?

Whomever was haunting him had taken possession of her body too, to the point the static in her eyes was now showing a pair of pupils staring right into his, malevolent, about to devour his soul before he’d ever notice them about to feast on his consciousness. They were intimidating with unending threats, if not downright evil, rejoicing in front of the spectacle they were offering themselves.

He was tearing up, about to cry both from the emotional toll and the smoke suddenly engulfing the room from the shattered windows, desperately reaching for her embrace as the sky turned grey and the light faded away, shadows peaking into the room from the outside, pouring from the roof and flowing from under the door. It smelled like iron and sulphur, like danger and confusion, swirling around him like a snake wrapping itself around his neck.

The world was unrecognizable until her voice screamed for his name again.

A frantic “Shuichi!” broke through the walls of fog and smoke, her gentle fingers cupping his face as he realized it was nothing but a daytime nightmare, the static shadows flickering in the background, the sky lighting and darkening along. He figured the wings he was seeing behind her back were as fake as the whispers clawing at his peace of mind, her benevolence turning into a light he bathed in. She may as well have been the real deal all along and he’d have still not minded being fooled.

Her hands danced around in front of him, cold fingertips soothing against his body, her mouth turning into a relieved smile. He knew she was going to scold him soon, that she’d get emotional over his fever again in very little time; but she had broken him out of his own machine of nightmares and, for now, that was enough. She looked fine, unharmed.

He could fall back asleep in peace knowing he hadn’t printed his fingers in red on her neck again.

Chapter Text

Hearing someone knock on her door so late was an unusual occurrence to say the least. Despite living in an university’s dorm, she hadn’t had any issue with partying comrades asking her if she wanted some booze or had fire for a cigarette, or even people ordering pizzas late and giving the wrong address to an unfortunate delivery man or woman not knowing where to go next. It wasn’t the calmest dorm, but she enjoyed its liveliness that, in a way, reminded her of the dorms she’d share with her teammates during nation-wide tournaments and bus trips when nobody really slept because excitement and anticipation ran down their veins. Still, her flat was spared the troubles of her comrades, both to her luck and misfortune, depending on what parts of herself she asked.

As such, when around midnight someone knocked on Norika’s door on a Thursday evening, she was very much intrigued.

 

The eyelet on her door was broken, due to some sort of incident that had happened before she had gotten here, so she couldn’t see who was calling for her attention on the other side of the wall. She was about to go to bed, already dressed in her pyjamas and hair wet in wrapped towel, but a second knock, weaker, called out to her. She wasn’t the happiest about the sudden disturbance, especially when she had worked so late and had work on the next day but went to open the door anyway. This person didn’t seem like they were about to leave her alone. Moreover, what if they needed help? What if they had lost their phone or key and couldn’t enter their place? Opening the door wouldn’t kill her, would it?

Oh had she not expected to see what came before her eyes as soon as the door creaked open.

 

Of all people she knew were living nearby and shared a dorm with her, she didn’t expect a regular at the coffeeshop to turn up. And, of those people, she didn’t expect the silent (and considered menacing, even if she didn’t find him all that scary) Nishikage to be there, right in front of her, a hand lying against his flank and harrow eyes. She wasn’t a people-reader, this much was clear; but she could tell when someone wasn’t presenting the usual way and, well, when things were wrong.

He wasn’t saying anything that made the situation any less tense. Rather, he seemed busy trying to even stay up, his usual coolness nowhere to be seen, and she felt panic rise in her mind. What was she supposed to do? It was late and she still didn’t know where the clinic was. She didn’t even have a car or a license to drive one either! W-well, at least, maybe she could… If he was still conscious, it meant that he wasn’t doing too horribly bad, was he?

 

“C’mon in!” She urged him, pointing to the inside of her flat, locking the door behind her weight so it didn’t close on its own.

He looked aside, not looking like he intended on entering. Why had he knocked on her door then? It didn’t seem like he was able to tell her with words anyway, considering how much he was panting. He needed help, she was sure of it. If he wasn’t going to help himself on his own…

“I mean it, c’mon in!” She repeated, moving from her door to behind him, gently pushing him inside with barely any resistance. Considering how strong he seemed usually, how easily he could bear with Nosaka’s antics and carrying anything the latter’s group could have needed (be it soccer balls, a tray of drinks or heavy luggage), this was more than eerie.

 

Once they both were inside, the door closed and locked behind her, she noticed his hesitance about where to go or where to stand. If the situation wasn’t so weird, she’d have found it funny and giggled along. Instead, she was getting all the wrong vibes about it.

“Sit wherever you want, I don’t mind! Did you need something from me?”

He chose to stand against the wall, leaning on it with his shoulder. Even for someone as stiff as he usually was, this may have been overly much so.

“I mean it, when I say you can sit down. You look like you’re gonna collapse if you don’t have a wall!”

In the end, he listened and sat on one of her chairs, to her relief.

 

Still, Norika wasn’t in the mood to play guessing games. She wasn’t a good people reader and this was a context where she should have been as sharp as Haruna or Nosaka, how was she supposed to do that? It didn’t look like she’d get an answer out of him either… Quick, think something out, Norika, you can do it!

As she tried to find a way out of this, she noticed some red spewing under his hand, seeping through his fingers. This was all kinds of wrong and messed up, her legs rushing with her thoughts.

 

“Wait, are you okay?! Are you injured?!”

“I’m fine,” a bold-face lie.

“You’re bleeding, right?!”

He did look pale and his eyes weren’t as focused as usual. Where was the stare that scared some of her customers away? He looked like a child trying to play pretend. That wasn’t the guy she knew and enjoyed talking to so much at the café!

“I’m fine,” he repeated, tone-deaf.

 

Not liking any second of it, Norika yanked his hand away, prompting him to wince, until she saw the red puddle by herself. “Fine”, huh. That wasn’t quite the definition she had of the word; but again, was she supposed to be surprised when she tended to be like that herself, when her entire former team was composed of people like that, and when even her workmates had this mindset? That only made it easier to spot.

“Stay here, I’m gonna get something in my bathroom!”

 

Her flat was thankfully small, so she reached her destination in mere seconds. Calling an ambulance would have been a better idea, but he seemed determined not to go that way, and she supposed she was meant to respect that. Instead, she picked her first-aid kit and went back to her living room where, sure enough, he hadn’t bulged. May have been stubborn, but he wasn’t disobeying orders. How was someone her age so close to being a professional bodyguard?

Once she was done gathering the supplies, she kneeled to him, putting the kit right next to her, making sure to disinfect her hands beforehand (biology classes do teach you things that are useful later on). He was absent-mindedly there, unresponsive, this much she guessed from how easy it was to do her thing. The issue at hand: a gash in his side, not deep enough to make her want to call an emergency number, but still grievous enough not to be qualifiable as a scratch.

 

And so started a one-sided, tired midnight conversation.

“It’s gonna sting, please hang in there!”

“Hey, if you need anything else, like a glass of water or something, tell me.”

“You only have that one injury, right?” (He nodded).

“I’m not hurting you, do I?”

“H-hey, are you still here? Don’t fall asleep on me, please!” (He’d pat her shoulder when she asked).

“Okay, I’m soon finished with it! Good job for hanging in there!”

 

Once she was done with it, she noticed something peculiar: her shoulder was blooded, fingerprints on the green of her pyjama top. It was fainted than her hands that had just finished patching up a gash, sure thing, but it was still… suspicious looking. She went to wash them anyway, until a thought flashed in her mind.

“Wait, Nishikage, show me your hand.”

He seemed dully surprised, before giving her his left. The palm wasn’t covered in dried haemoglobin like his right’s had been, but it didn’t make it any better: there was another wound there, less deep, but still important. She sighed.

“You could’ve told me about this one.”

“It’s nothing.”

“A wound’s a wound. Lemme patch it up too, now that I’ve got everything out.”

It took less time to disinfect and bandage his hand too, so why be picky about that? Oh well, didn’t make sense in getting angry at him. She’d try to get an explanation as to how the hell he got himself in that position once he’d be better.

There were quite a lot of things that’d have to wait for daylight to arrive, though, she realized.

 

“You think you can go back to your place on your own?”

“I’ll manage,” he replied as he got up from the chair. “Thank you, Umihara.”

“You’re welcome! I’m just glad I could be of some help.”

If she wasn’t wrong, she could see some pink creep up on his face, but that must have been blood reaching back to it after the loss. Without thinking much of it, she opened the door for him, following along.

“See you soon at the café! Goodnight!”

“Goodnight.”

 

With a sigh of relief, Norika could finally go to sleep.