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Every piece of bad advice that Minamoto Teru ever received has told him this: trust is a leap of faith. Help comes from unforeseen places. The world works in mysterious ways. Straight out of the horoscope section from the cheesy magazines his grandmother used to buy as doorstops.

 

Avoid salad on Fridays. You will find comfort where you least expect it. 

 

Life as an exorcist has taught Teru otherwise. Trust is not a leap of faith, it is a hard-won battle that leaves you with bloody knuckles and scorch-wounds at the back of your throat. It is not a hand you extend easily. Sometimes you cannot even lend it to your own family. ( Love and trust do not always come as one.)

 

Life as an exorcist can’t explain why Teru- prideful, self-reliant Teru- walks into the student council room and asks school mystery number one for help.

 

Trust is not a leap of faith. Trust is painful and it sticks in his throat and it makes Teru hurt even more than the claw marks he can feel bleeding into the back of his school shirt. Akane stares at him like he’s grown an extra head, but he doesn’t flinch at the sight of Teru’s sword like he did months ago, before the world was broken and made new again.

 

The severance was a lot of things- a tipping point, more than anything. (A steady descent into insanity- a bitter part of Teru that sounds like his father reminds him. Why would a child born of lightning ask a supernatural, of all things, for help?)

 

“Who are you, and what did you do with Minamoto.” Akane narrows his eyes behind his glasses. If he wasn’t seconds from collapsing, Teru would be offended by the implication that he’d let himself get possessed.

 

“Don’t get smart with me, Aoi,” for all his years of training, all the hits he has taken and gritted his teeth against and pushed through- not even Teru can keep the pained edge out of his voice. Akane’s expression shifts, minutely, into something that almost resembles concern. “I can’t reach the injury on my back. I might have many talents, but rotating my head 180 degrees is not one of them.”

 

He settles into a chair- gingerly, to avoid disturbing the torn flesh further- before continuing. “I need help with dressing it, that’s all.” The words taste bitter in Teru’s mouth no sooner than they’re out in the open- pathetic, vulnerable, you call yourself an exorcist?

 

“And you thought I was the most qualified person to deal with that?” As skeptical as he sounds, Akane still rises from behind his stack of paperwork- attendance forms for a school trip to the art museum across town. A trip which Teru missed out on the year before, because a high-level spirit showed up in the local park the night before, and browsing through art exhibits was the least of his priorities. Such is the life of an exorcist.

 

“Not at all,” Teru flashes a poor attempt at his usual sharp-tooth grin. “Kou has midterms and I didn’t want to interrupt his sleep schedule.”

 

“Please stop smiling like that, you look like you’re going to pass out,” Akane motions for him to spin around. If he were a little less prideful, Teru might admit that Akane’s observation isn’t exactly far from the truth.

 

He shrugs off his jacket, pretends he doesn’t hear the sharp intake of breath that escapes Akane at the sight of blood, and tells himself uselessly that trust is a leap of faith.

 

School mystery number one has been an exception since the moment Teru met him. (A supernatural the Minamoto heir cannot kill. A school mystery who has a heart which beats and blood which runs iron-red. A boy who is no longer in love with the idea of his best friend, but who wouldn’t spare Teru a second glance anyway. Turning his back to a supernatural being- Akane makes him break that rule too.)

 

Trust is a leap of faith.

 

Teru peels the back of his school shirt away from the three, deep wounds that score diagonally across his spine, gritting his teeth against it. A Minamoto does not waver, even when sweat sticks his hair to his forehead and he can feel his heatbeart floundering at the pulse point of his wrist.

 

Behind him, Akane swears loudly.

 

The injury happened like this: the sun splintering over the rooftops, the familiar taste of ozone beneath Teru’s tongue, an amorphous creature from the far shore with a Noh mask for a face. A stupid mistake, one which Teru is glad nobody was there to witness, leaving his back wide open to switchblade claws that tore through lightning, fabric, the skin below. He changed in the bathroom of the train station then took the bus to school, because Kou doesn’t have time to deal with his foolish brother and his foolish injuries.

 

Teru has a vague idea of how bad it is, having craned his head around to assess the damage in the grimy bathroom mirror. Not the worst hit he’s ever taken, but still the sort that’ll leave scars he’ll alway carry with him as a grave reminder of how fragile life is. The sort of injury that he can’t leave unattended, unless he wants to pass out in the middle of first period history class.

 

“There’s a first aid kit just down the corridor,” Teru instructs Akane, when he makes no effort to move.

 

“You know, for some reason I don’t think an ice pack and some sticky plasters are going to cut it here, Minamoto,” Teru gets a grim sort of satisfaction out of just how unnerved Akane sounds. ( Now you know, he would tell him, if he wasn’t a coward in everything aside from exorcism. Now you know how it felt when I saw a hole through your ribs and thought that I’d been too slow. )

 

“There should be gauze and antiseptic too,” a lifetime of first aid training comes in handy, Teru finds, keeping his voice steady. “I’m sure you’d be glad to watch me bleed out, but I’d appreciate it if you hurried up.”

 

The condescending look Teru throws over his shoulder gets lost somewhere along the way, with Akane already half out of the door before he can meet his eyes. 

 

He returns with the first aid kit just minutes later, knocking first, keeping the door closed over so nobody looks in- even though it’s too early for most students to have arrived yet. Teru assumes the blood loss is finally getting to him, as he finds that he almost feels grateful for the gesture.

 

“I have no clue where I’m supposed to start with this,” Akane’s line of sight darts between the first aid kit and the injuries, more lost than Teru has ever seen him before. “Are you sure you don’t need a hospital, or-”

 

Akane fishes his phone from his pocket as he speaks. Teru feels an irrational spike of panic and slaps him in the hand- hard. The phone falls, bounces, lands screen-down against the wooden floor; suitably out of reach. Trust is a hard won battle. Teru is the only one who gets to decide who he fights it with. It’s a small mercy that Akane seems to get the hint, and doesn’t mention the hospital again.

 

“Antiseptic first,” Trying to look at anything but the phone lying on the ground, Teru focuses on the announcement board mounted to the wall in front of him. Task lists, reminders, the student council rota. He hopes, desperately, that Fuji doesn’t choose to show up early for once. “Sanitize your hands, then clean up the wound as much as you can.”

 

Breaking it down into steps, like he did when Kou first burned the skin off the palms of his hands, and Teru had to accept that he couldn’t protect his siblings from everything. The only response he gets is the sound of rummaging followed by the pop of a bottle cap.  It’s unnerving, to hear Akane working behind his back- unable to see him, unable to predict his movements, leaving himself so open to attack that it almost makes him want to scream. At least all of Teru’s thoughts are silenced when Akane goes in with the antiseptic.

 

It hurts. As proud as Teru is, even he can admit that.

 

He bites back a colourful series of curses, then tells Akane to keep going.

 

Akane works silently and carefully, so focused on his task that Teru almost feels suffocated under the weight of it. As he does so, the sun rises beyond the student council room window and Teru feels it burn while it plays across his fingertips; staining their small town golden. It’s the same sombre mood that accompanied the last day of summer, when Akane stapled his paperwork and asked Teru; how do you give up the only thing you’ve ever been certain about? When you woke up to a world without a Far Shore attached to it- did you feel as if a piece of you died?

 

“Are you enjoying this, Aoi?” Teru speaks through gritted teeth before his thoughts can swallow him entirely.

 

Akane’s hands falter for the first time. “No, I’m not.”

 

His voice is terse, pulled tight and ready to snap- Teru would say he sounded worried, if he didn’t know any better.

 

“You might be a bastard on the best of days,” Akane continues. “But fuck, I wouldn’t wish something like this even on you.” The statement hangs heavily around the light fittings, and when Akane turns to replace the cotton swab he’s using, Teru is thankful for the excuse to not respond. He doesn’t think he could find a thing to say, even if he tried.

 

Silence stretches long and uncomfortable through the room again, as Akane moves onto the third clawmark, the deepest of the three, stuck through with bits of debris from where Teru hit the pavement. It’s slow and painful work.

 

“Is this,” Akane speaks up again, as Teru is half way through a text to his brother asking for a bento delivery at some point before lunch. “Is this normal? For exorcists, I mean.”

 

In the shadow he casts on the classroom wall, Teru can see him gesturing helplessly at the wounds bridging Teru’s spine, the scars that decorate his shoulders; pale slithers of burn tissue and battle damage. 

 

“Injuries are an occupational hazard, yes,” the bite Teru tries to put into his words falls flat, as a small fragment of gravel dislodges and splatters blood across the floorboards. “It all depends on how powerful you are, though. The stronger you are, the safer it is.”

 

(Teru doesn’t tell him about the expectations, the weight of an entire family upon his shoulders. The stronger you are, the heavier the name you carry. Another occupational hazard.)

 

“Cold as ever,” Akane scoffs halfheartedly, tossing another cotton swab into the bin. “I guess not even you’re invincible, though.”

 

Far from it- Teru would tell him, if he knew how to trust a little more. If his sense of self preservation was not honed knife-blade sharp. 

 

“Dressing next,” Teru hurries him on instead, because he’s taken enough leaps of faith to last a lifetime. “Make sure you cut the gauze to the right size.”

 

Akane is mercifully compliant, padding the injuries with gauze, waiting to ensure that nothing bleeds through. He doesn’t say a word, although Teru can tell that he wants to. Teru supposes they’ve always been like that- too many things to talk about, but both of them too prideful to make the first move.

 

“You said you didn’t know what you were doing,” once the silence becomes too stifling, Teru speaks up again. Akane tapes the gauze down neatly with little instruction, evidently not as clueless as he’d suggested. “Did you just lie so I’d go and find someone else?”

 

“I never said that- I told you I didn’t know where to start with-” another helpless gesture towards Teru’s back. “-That. I know first aid for basic stuff. Took a class when I was seven because Ao-chan-”

 

Another hiss escapes Teru, from pain or something else, even he can’t quite tell.

 

“Because Ao-chan got injured in the garden a lot,” Akane’s voice trails off into something quiet, sad, terrible. “I used to notice stuff like that.”

 

And then I didn’t any more- goes unsaid. That’s an open wound which no amount of first aid can fix, still bleeding and raw to the touch. Choosing not to reply is self preservation only- Teru tells himself. Akane could easily kill him from where he’s stood, and Teru is in no state to risk the wrath of someone who stands with one foot on the Far Shore.

 

(He doesn’t feel bad. He doesn’t feel pity. He doesn’t want to tell Akane he trusts it’ll be okay.)

 

“That’s enough,” Teru shakes Akane’s hands away the moment all three wounds are neatly covered up. “I’ll need you to fetch me a spare shirt, but I don’t need any more help.”

 

The disbelief in Akane’s voice is near tangible. “Are you sure you’re going to be fine?”

 

“Aww,” Teru plasters on the brightest grin he can manage. “Is Aoi worried about me?”

 

That earns him a light kick in the ankle. “I’m being serious, you ass. I’ve never seen you look so drained before.”

 

“And I’m being serious when I say that I’m fine, ” Teru lies. (He finds, quite suddenly, that he can’t remember the last time he actually slept.) “I’ve taken worse hits before, and I’ll take worse hits again.”

 

“That’s-” the strange mood from before returns, erring too close to concern. “You know, sometimes I think you’re even less human than I am.” Akane presses an open palm against his chest, where Teru knows from experience that scar tissue must lie. Even with his enhanced healing, the injury put Akane out of action for almost a week- there’s no way that it didn’t leave permanent damage. He’s admitted, more than once, that he still carries phantom pains along with him. A sign; that he’s still painfully human. 

 

Teru doesn’t think he would let himself take longer than a day to rest, before moving on with his head held high.

 

(He must be going delirious, if he’s entertaining the thought that Akane might be right.)

 

“Don’t push your luck just because I’m injured, Aoi,” wobbling to his feet is no easy task, and Teru has to grab pathetically at the edge of the desk to keep himself upright. Akane watches him, disbelieving. “I’m okay now.”

 

In the time it takes for Teru to regain his balance, Akane has crossed the classroom, pressed a warm hand against his shoulder and muttered to himself; I can’t believe I’m doing this.

 

There’s a mechanical click, and time stops.

 

The seagulls hang like decorations against a sunrise pink backdrop, the students filing in for morning roll-call freeze mid-conversation, the clock on the wall does not shift a second. Akane sighs loudly and tucks his watch back into his pocket, the only moving piece in a world brought to a halt. 

 

“Just sit for fifteen minutes,” Akane tells him, more defeated than he has any right to sound. “That’s all I’m asking.”

 

Even if Teru wanted to run, it wouldn’t make a difference. It’s not like he’d find anyone other than Akane with the power to resume time. Admitting defeat, Teru sighs and slumps back into the chair with all the grace of a sack of bricks. Satisfied, Akane settles down too, far enough away to be out of both Teru’s personal space and range of his sword. 

 

In the odd space between the seconds, Akane’s hair is stained warm bronze under the halflight when he resumes sorting through the signup forms. Teru only permits himself to look because he’s already broken more rules than he can count on both hands, and he’s starting to feel a bit loopy from the lack of sleep. 

 

“It’s funny,” he laughs, a little too giddy. The way Akane’s eyebrows furrow downwards is borderline comical. “I can’t even hate you completely any more.”

 

Some exorcist he is. Telling the keeper of the clocks that he doesn’t hate him. Turning his back to him. Trusting him. (Staring at the student council photo in the school yearbook and thinking they look good together. President and his vice. Exorcist and the only supernatural he cannot kill.)

 

“You’re so out of it, Minamoto,” Akane does Teru the courtesy of dodging his statement. “When was the last time you slept?”

 

Teru starts counting backwards on his fingers. Akane mutters something under his breath that sounds like fucking hell.  

 

“I swear that I’ll sit at the other side of the classroom and not move an inch,” as if to prove his point, Akane scoots his chair a little further away. “Please just take a nap before you collapse.”

 

You can trust me, it says.

 

Any other day, Teru would tell him to get lost- that he’d sooner die than trust a supernatural being to keep their distance. The Minamoto name is both an heirloom and a target painted on his back. Everybody knows the child born of lightning, for better or for worse.

 

Today though- Teru pillows his head against his arm, and he trusts .

 

At the other side of a room frozen in time, Akane stares out of the third floor window. “You exorcists really have it rough, don’t you?” He says, mostly to himself.

 

Teru was seventeen the first time he visited an arcade. He’ll never wear short sleeves in summer. He’ll never get to worry about trivial things, like stupid crushes on stupid boys with stupid sunrise-warm hair.

 

When drowsiness turns Teru’s fingertips numb, he wonders for a second time if Akane might be right.

 

Closing his eyes feels like he’s falling. (Trust is a leap of faith, after all.)