The water’s push and pull of the tides caressed his ankles. The air was even silent of all things except the waves but when he looked up all he saw was the moon. She was so close he felt he could raise his hand and touch it. So up- up he reached, even feeling the cool wisps of thin clouds over his finger tips. The feeling drew a bubbling giggle from him. It seemed like the clouds were a hand with thin fingers weaving through his. It was strange the way love swelled in his chest. Then, just when he thought he would also feel the fine space dust and dip of craters a gasp echoed behind him.
He turned and saw a girl standing in the water. She was so far away that he couldn’t see her face but her sky was beautiful. It was such a clear blue with large fluffy clouds. It framed her in such a way with her long white hair and sea blue dress carried by a wind he couldn’t feel that it looked like a picture. A picture he couldn’t quite recall but a picture nonetheless. He could see her lifting her hands to her mouth then an unintelligible shout.
He knew she was asking his name and the moon seemed to press down on him while the constellations watched impassive. He couldn’t remember his name. Was it truly such an important thing to recall?
He stepped closer to her with the splashing echoing loudly in his ears and stood in front of an ice wall. The frost smoke rolling over the water at his feet and over his arm when he reached out. Over the wall he saw a twilight sky but it wasn’t twilight. The night sky and a crisp blue swirled and flirted with the edges of their boundaries but never intermingled. The blue pressed forward, trying to pull evening into it’s dance but the dark sky glow contorted and pulled from the embrace. His eyes were drawn from the show to the wall where next to his own hand on the smooth surface was the silhouette of a smaller, almost dainty hand. He knew the hand wasn’t dainty at all when the girl's muffled yells fought the wall.
He could see that hand, loved by the sun and holding a gardening tool as a weapon. He could even see the hand wrapping firmly around his wrist, calluses pressing into his skin. But he couldn't remember her name either. She hadn’t stopped yelling and he felt her tears ripple and the way she stomped the water at her feet from frustration.
“I’m okay,” he whispered and her screams stopped. Tears still falling, the hand slid down the wall as her knees dipped into the water. His moon, the thought came to him unbidden. Her wave laugh and voice soft as a stream seems like something burned into his mind, a branded carving to his heart. He felt he knew her even without remembering her. “Do you know who I am?”
The wall cracked and a tearful red-brown eye stared at him. Her lips parted, words starting to form and he sat up.
Amane looked around the small room with bleary eyes. He didn’t know why he was awake with his palms sweaty and back damp. A dream? Steady his breathing, he knew. As he did he took another glance around his bedroom. The dark walls decorated with cheap glowing stars carefully arranged to mimic his favorite constellations was casting a strange aura over his soccer trophies. Even the thin glow of the slow rising sun peaking through the pulled curtains on the far wall seemed somehow ominous.
His heart started pounding again just when arms tightened around his waist, dragging him back down to his bed. Looking into his own face with anger he sneered. “Do you have to sneak into my bed every night ?”
Mirror golden brown eyes were barely open in the early hours, a haze settled into them that made them seem darker then they truly were. “But Amane,” the reedy whine made his temples ache, “your bed is so much more comfy than mine!”
“Tsukasa,” he bit through grit teeth and admirable patience, “we have the same bed!”
Tsukasa only grinned, becoming more away by the second, and tightened his hold. “But my bed doesn’t have a big brother that has nightmares or kicks me in the stomach.”
He could only scowl at the dimples as he grumbled. “More reason not to sneak into my room like we’re three years old.”
As he spoke, the younger’s face fell serious in the grim room. “Do you want to talk about it?”
He sighed. Yes, he needed to. So he reached for the threads of the dream. When one finally filled his grasp he blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Daikon.”
“Daikon?” The bafflement in his voice made Amane laugh.
“Yeah, I know it’s weird but it’s all I remember. Something about losing a daikon- like it was dying or something. I was so terrified that… I don’t know- like I watched something important to me was hurt and I couldn’t reach it…”
Tsukasa hummed as he burrowed into his brother’s chest. “Maybe you should talk to Mom about it. She knows a lot about dreams and stuff.”
“Maybe,” he hummed. He held his brother close as he thought, savoring his warmth. “I just don’t want her assuming every bad dream is a spirit, you know?”
He felt him nod. “Part of being a part of an exorcist family though. And what if it was- caused by a spirit I mean. It could be a sign or a threat. Maybe even a glimpse of a-“
“I don’t care!” He snapped with far more anger than he intended. Tsukasa even stiffened in his arms but relaxed when Amane sighed and buried his face in his twin's hair. It was the same short uneven cut he had. The same messy look they gave each other that their mother had to attempt to unsuccessfully recover. “It’s just that we start the new school year today. I don’t want anything to ruin it.”
“That’s right!” Tsukasa squealed, shoving Amane off the bed in his rush to sit up right. He had the gall to ignore his injured older brother’s grumbling as he flounced off the bed and bounced. He never stopped cheering as he pulled Amane to his feet. “Come on! Come on! Come on! We have to get ready!”
Then just like that he was swept up into the tsunami that was his brother. By the time Tsukasa had dragged him to their spot for the entrance ceremony Amane had forgotten the dream entirely. This was the next chapter of their lives. They were officially high school students! Somehow though, it felt odd.
It was almost unreal by the time he was standing in the school courtyard watching the cherry blossoms flutter down. Something was missing and clutching his chest. When Tsukasa made him tell their mother about the weird dream she had said something along the lines of “getting to the time in a man’s life where things start changing”. At the time he was mortified but now he wondered if he misunderstood. If the daikon was somehow a sign of change…
Next thing he knew, Amane was staring into Tsukasa’s wide eyes. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Are you?” He countered looking at the awkward bend of Tsukasa's spine. He only stared so Amane finally sighed and looked around for listening ears. “Just a bit intimidating, being here and all that. And I can’t stop thinking about what Mom said.”
“About you starting puberty?”
“Shut up!” He shoved his brother’s face away and smirked when he fell on the pavement. Turning to the fluttering cherry blossoms he let himself speak freely. “I don’t think that was it. It seems like something big is about to happen and I think it was the gods warning me. Lately it seems like I’ve been missing something and I think that’s finally going to change.”
He had only just finished the thought when he was suddenly bent backward by arms around his neck at a horrible angle that made his back ache. “Or maybe,” Tsu giggled “you’re a coward and looking for signs that aren’t there!”
With a practiced movement he twisted and wrapped his arms around Tsukasa’s middle and squeezed. “I’m not a coward!”
His monster of a twin wheezed and adjusted his grip to a choke. “Coward!” He sang with a strangled note. “My brother’s a coward!”
“You little-“ Amane grit his teeth and lifted him. Ignoring his yelp, he made his way to the nearby grass. Even Tsukasa’s wriggling and squealing pleas of mercy wouldn’t spare him from being dropped in a particularly mushy spot in the green. Satisfied to see him effectively wet and muddy, Amane picked up his hat brushing off the dust. “You might have the stronger spiritual power but I’ll always be the strongest twin.” He turned, taking Tsukasa’s grumbling as his win, but froze in his tracks.
A girl with long blonde hair and large red-brown eyes was giggling with a petite girl. He couldn’t hear the sound but he was entranced with the way her shoulders shook and the small hand that curled into a loose fist to cover a dainty smile. She wasn’t dainty though. She was sturdy and seemed perfectly capable of doing to him what he did to Tsu. He would absolutely thank her if she did…
“God…” he whispered as a presence stepped beside him to throw a muddy arm over his shoulder. “She’s beautiful…”
The petite girl said something raising her hands to mimic claws and the dainty facade broke. The pale haired angel snorted loud enough that he could actually hear the strain on her palette. She bent at the waist and a large breathtaking sound erupted from her lungs. It was like the wind in the trees with the melodic power and he knew that power had him. He was undoubtedly hers and he had no issue accepting it as mere fact.
“Her?” Tsu’s voice pitched low. “She seems to be in our grade. Doesn’t look like much. Except her legs look like poles or radishes or something.”
“Or daikons,” he said with a whoosh of breath.
Tsukasa groaned and slammed his hand between Amane’s shoulders. “Don’t do that to yourself. Let’s just go find our classes.”
“Whatever.” Grasping hands they walked through the halls. Yes, this was what it was supposed to be. Him and his brother against the world. Against bullies, spirits, and even their family it was them and them alone.
“I can’t believe they put us in different classes,” Tsu grouched as he looked up at the class markers. “We’ve never been in different classes before.”
“Maybe it was the restroom incident last year? I bet that teacher snitched when he found out where we were applying.”
Tsukasa’s giggle was enough of an answer so they stayed in silence. They stayed silent even as they found their neighboring classes and bumped their fists. He could see the send off to cause chaos just as Amane knew Tsu would see his warning to avoid it.
So his first day was starting. He was alone for the thirteen steps that it took for him to get to his classroom’s door. High School was different. High School was lonely already and it was cold. Like literally freezing- he would kill for a sweater or something. With everything he couldn’t quite bring himself to step into the room. That would mean accepting the change and Amane didn’t know if he was ready.
“Excuse me,” a soft voice called.
He jerked to attention and turned sharply to see the angel from before. She was even more beautiful up close. He could see her voice matched her sweet round face. Her red tinted brown eyes were wide with curiosity with just a tinge of anxiety. She seemed just as strong a personality as the laugh he had been graced with in the courtyard. “Sorry?” He choked around his own too thick tongue.
“I believe this is my class… is it yours too?”
“Uh-“ he muttered gracefully. God, what was he doing ? He felt his face was hot but desperately ignored it. They just met! He couldn’t be this- this- whatever this was! “Yeah,” he eventually managed, “my name is Yugi Amane. It’s nice to meet you.”
She gave him a dazzling, sparkling smile. One that bloomed over her face like the time lapse videos his mom loved that grew into a full rose. It made his knees weak and his blood rush in his ears. He would later thank the divine that it wasn’t loud enough to drown out her words. “It’s so nice to meet you Yugi-San! My name is Yashiro Nene! I hope we can be friends!”
“Yeah,” he murmured, feeling his own smile bloom. “Me too, but please just call me Yugi-kun.” Or Amane. He shook the thought away and just watched her smile widen.
“Okay! Let’s go in! Maybe we’ll even sit next to each other!”
She grabbed his wrist and pulled him along with her. Her touch was so gentle but he could feel distinct calluses that rubbed roughly against his wrist.
They soon discovered that he sat right behind her. She looked so happy but he knew the truth.
He was screwed.
Next time: Ivy
Chapter 2: Ivy
In which Nene gets to know Amane a little better.
So fun fact I’m actually really bad at crack but I’m great at drama.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A few weeks into the first year of high school Yashiro nene was loving her new life as a real high school student. Her uniform was cute. She was in the same class as her best friend. And most interesting, she sat in front of a quiet boy that seemed to draw her in.
He wasn’t her type and wasn’t all that attractive but was interesting to watch. He was pale like someone that didn’t see the sun that often and his black hair was chopped like he took his own pair of scissors to it. His face was always blank of emotion which was creepy especially considering his eyes. They were large as moons but a deep golden amber color. The rare moment he did look at her it was always guarded. He seemed so far removed from the class that aside from their first meeting she hadn’t even heard him speak.
Or that was the case until a few weeks into their classes a childhood friend visited her during lunch.
“Kou,” she smiled wide when he entered with his own bento in hand. The second son of the Minamoto clan was still a little extravagant and always someone with a wide smile and kind eyes. He greeted everyone that way. Or so she thought
“What are you doing here?” A voice from behind her sneered.
Kou’s face dropped to a scowl as they turned to face Yugi’s glare. “I go here. So does Teru-Nii. Does he know you’re here?”
“We don’t need to notify him or your family what school we go to.”
Kou opened his mouth for a retort but Nene took her opportunity to jump in. “You guys seem close. Are you friends?”
“I wouldn’t say so.” Yugi huffed, leaning back in his chair.
Kou shifted. “I wouldn’t say we’re good friends.” His eyes shift to Yugi “Hey! We’ve known each other since we were kids. What the hell?!”
“Just because we’ve known each other since we were kids doesn’t mean we’re friends.”
Both Nene and Yugi watched with a strange mix of confusion and fascination as Kou tilted, eyes on the label on Yugi’s pencil case. Kou straightened quickly and leaned on Yugi’s desk. “Come on,” he said, “What about all those pranks I helped you get away with? Or that time we snuck out of the autumn festival and you tried to teach me to swim?”
“The only reason I did that was so your brother wouldn’t kill me if you drowned. Besides, I literally just saw you check my name and that’s not a sign of a good friend.”
Nene was trying so hard not to let her laughter show. She could admit that she hadn’t guessed that Yugi would be a prankster but somehow it fit! Nene even though she remembered the night Kou was talking about. Kou’s mother had been babysitting her that night and the men of the family had stormed in with Kou drenched head to foot with ocean water. Teru had been trying so hard not to laugh while their father just sent Kou to bathe before going to bed. His parents had also spent the night arguing while Nene and Kou whispered about ocean adventures.
“He’s got a point, you know?” Nene snickered.
Kou’s look of utter betrayal brought Nene’s snickering to full giggles. Behind Kou’s arms she glimpsed Yugi staring at her wide eyed, his amber eyes seeming to shift and shimmer oddly as his fist came up to his mouth. When it muffled an already silent laugh and his gaze turned soft her cheeks warmed.
“Don’t laugh, you little bastard!”
“Don’t call me little, you glorified lightning rod.
“No way! As long as you’re still a small bastard, you have room for improvement. At least you're better than your father.”
Nene jumped when Yugi surged to his feet with something dangerous in his eyes. The air even seemed to get more humid in response to his anger. It was chilling up until Kou bumped a loose fist on Yugi’s shoulder with a slight smile. It almost seemed to be an apology from the way Yugi’s shoulders eased ever so slightly. “Only reason I’m such a bastard is you saying shit like that about my height.” The temper was still there in his eyes especially as he stayed standing.
Kou even seemed slightly wary of the boy now that he seemed to have crossed some kind of line and knew it. Nene however couldn’t ignore the fact that he really did stand about a head taller than Yugi. “Oh yeah, I seem to remember you saying that you enjoyed my company because of my honesty.”
“I never said that.” Thankfully Yugi eased back down to his seat. “ And I have you know, your family is just a bunch of giants.”
Nene couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around exactly what happened but neither boy seemed too concerned about it as Kou shifted his full attention back to her and their plans after school. Strangely enough the conversation felt watched but not by Yugi who had gone to stare out the window, but by the students still in the class for their lunch break. She apparently wasn’t the only one surprised by the sudden shift in Yugi.
After Kou left, plans to try a new ice cream shop in her neighborhood now set, another of the boys in his class approached Yugi and dragged a chair over to plop down right next to Yugi’s seat. She wasn’t eavesdropping when their classmate spoke so loudly.
“You were really good at soccer the other day.” She recognized the voice as Yamabuki Lemon from the same middle school that she went to. He was an odd guy, always watching but not bad per se. “Were you in a club in middle school?”
“No,” Yugi’s wary voice said. “I wasn’t in any clubs and no one really wanted me on a team. I’m just kinda athletic I guess.”
“Cool, would you want to be on the team here? It’s not too late to try out and the captain was talking about asking you yesterday.”
“He wants me on the team?”
“Yeah, you were good and with some practice you would probably be the star of the team.”
There was a long span of silence. “You good bro?” Yamabuki asked.
Nene turned only to see the most hilarious look on Yugi’s face. Eyes wide, mouth slightly open, he looked like all brain function had effectively stopped. “I uh-” his brows furrowed and mouth set into a deep almost conflicted frown. “I can’t. I have martial arts practice. I’ll be too busy.”
“Cool,” Yamabuki said. “Also call me Lemon.” He jabbed a thumb towards his headband that was decorated with lemon wedges. “Basically everyone does.”
Yugi’s face twisted. Nene could only guess it was confusion. “Uh okay- call me uh-“ his eyes darted around, to her staring, to lemon, to his dotted notebook paper. “Call me Amane, I guess.”
“Cool. Nice to meet you Amane.”
“Yeah… same to you.” Lemon was quick to pull out his phone and insist they swap contact information, only leaving when he was properly satisfied.
When he finally did though, Yugi Amane turned and looked at her with pure shock and uttered “what just happened?”
Nene couldn’t hold back her laughter even as the teacher entered the class. “You just made a friend dummy.”
His soft “oh” made her smile as the teacher called for attention and they settled for class. She hoped it was a good thing that he didn’t really speak for the rest of the school day. Even after however, when they gathered their things he was his usual quiet self.
Nene had hoped that making a friend would allow him to open up a bit more but somehow he seemed more closed off than usual. When Aoi flounced up to them with her wide smile Nene noted Yugi gathering his things quicker.
“Nene-Chan!” Aoi’s singing voice greeted. “You’re joining the gardening club this year right? You’ll join with me?”
“Of course!” She grinned and glanced sideways to see Yugi pausing, intently looking through his book of dots, stopped on a loose page with a hospital logo on top. “Yugi-kun,” he jumped at her call. “I know you said that you would be too busy for a club but was there any you considered?”
When he looked up from the pages his ears were a cute shade of pink that dusted over the bridge of his nose. “Ah, one of the sports teams maybe. I enjoy competing in nonviolent things and ah-“ the red in his face grew as his hand rose to his mouth again. “Maybe if there was a science or astronomy club.”
Nene’s heart skipped but before she could comment Aoi leaned forward. “Yugi-San, do you like stars?”
“I just think they're cool.” His mumble carried just enough for Aoi’s smile to grow.
“That’s great! I bet you know all the good stargazing spots. Maybe you can show Nene some time! She loves the stories behind the constellations! Right, Nene?”
“I suppose,” she started but looking at Yugi’s open curiosity and what she thought was hope she couldn’t deny it. “Yeah, I really like them but don’t know a lot about them. My cousin does and told me a few stories like about Orion but I would love to hear and see them.”
“I could show you!” He said quickly. “There are so many cool things in the sky and it’s really beautiful on a clear night without the city lights!”
“Great!” Aoi cheered, “so now you guys just have to decide on the date and time right! It’ll be great!”
Yugi awkwardly nodded as he clutched his book to his chest. “If that’s something you would be interested in.”
Nene just smiled, hoping to balm his obvious nerves. “I typically have Sundays open and next Thursday there’s supposed to be a meteor shower right? Why don’t we plan on that?”
“Yeah,” he said softly with a faint up turn of his lips. “Next Thursday sounds great. I’ll find a good spot.”
After that they said their goodbyes and with Yugi out the door Nene turned to Aoi. “You do plan to come too, right?”
She hummed with a thoughtful look. “You know, now that I think of it I think I have to give a fish a bath that day. And I think everyone else has something to do that day too. I guess you’ll just have to go together.”
Nene only scowled at her friend's obvious set up but didn’t think much of it. Aoi was always just a bit odd, insisting on pushing certain people together. Normally her selected pairing worked wonderfully but Nene wouldn’t argue with her friend. Even as they left the class for the greenhouse, Nene resolved to let Aoi’s insistence run its course and they would deal with the awkwardness when it inevitably came.
When she say Yugi having a chat with Kou in the courtyard though, well away from the rest of the bustling student body a reliasation struck her.
Yugi Amane was like a lily. The meanings of most lilies might not have suited him but their shape with the graceful arch of the petals matching his smile and the sturdy stems that seemingly stood so much but just the right touch breaking seemed so him . Even the hard bud that most lilies seemed to have before they matured seemed to match the walls and mask he threw up to the world.
He was a beautiful lily and she couldn’t wait to get to know him.
Next time: snapdragon
Chapter 3: Snapdragon
A much more introspective chapter but eh. In
which the Yugi brother’s home life is revealed and Tsukasa meets Nene and is Smitten.
Thank you guys so much for the love and support! It keeps me going 💚💚
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A few weeks into the school year Tsukasa spent an evening breaking his routine to drape himself over the couch and whine as loudly as he could manage. “Please Amane! I totally forgot about it!”
“How do you even forget a test?” His brother in true brother fashion didn’t even care! He just busied himself with grabbing a father approved snack from the fridge. “In my class the teachers at least give us a couple days to prepare.”
“He mentioned it when I was asleep! C’mon! It’s about stars! You love stars!”
Amane threw an apple at him, Tsukasa barely catching it before it hit the back of his head. “Don’t sleep in class then!” Amane sighed though when Tsukasa just stuck out his tongue. “Don’t be childish and get moving. I had that test today, you know. It wasn’t that hard.”
“So you would already know the questions and answers!” Tsukasa called as he dragged himself off the couch to glance down the hall to their father’s study. “Locked,” he called, “and that should make it easy!”
Amane crossed the living room peaking around to scan the patio and courtyard where they meditated and practiced forms. “Clear, and you know that’s cheating! I can’t just take a test for you.”
“C’mon!” Tsukasa whined again, “Most people at this school don’t even know we’re twins yet! Half my class thinks I'm an only child!” He crossed to the window and looked out over the cluster of sprawling homes. “Spotted, going to the elders with a bottle.”
Amane came up next to him and looked out the window. “That should give us at least two- maybe three hours if Elder Okano is in a good mood.”
“It’s pretty close to the new moon too,” Tsukasa noted quietly when their father stopped to cheerfully chat with someone that looked only vaguely familiar. Amane likely recognized him, he thought bitterly, he could probably also say what family he was from and where he stood as an exorcist. Joys of being the heir, he supposed.
“So Mom will be sleeping most of the day then.” Amane turned to him with a wide grin. “So essentially, we have the house to ourselves for a few hours.”
Tsukasa was quick to shove down his bitterness and return the smile. “That’s true. So essentially, I have until Father gets back to convince you to take my test for me.”
“Gods- fine!” Amane threw his arms up in surrender. “I'll switch with you for a day! But if we get caught you’re doing all my chores for a week!”
With a cheeky grin he nodded his agreement. As the evening carried on Amane shared the annoying revelation that the Minamoto sons attended their school. He then did his usual gushing about his Yashiro and how she actually talked to him today. Somehow he even managed to ask her to watch the upcoming meteor shower with him. Yipee for him. When he went to Amane’s class he would have to be sure that he actually met this Yashiro girl- and her friend Aoi apparently.
When their father did come home he was drunk. He was too drunk to notice their homework was just barely completed and the family record was closed in front of them. He wasn’t too drunk to run them through endurance training and drills with their family affinity. It was just their luck that all his instructions were just vague enough that they never completed them correctly. Because of that their evening was filled with yelling and insults that didn’t stop until the courtyard was covered in small pools of water and both brothers collapsed exhausted on the cobblestone.
The sky was streaked with reds and purples and it made Tsukasa’s blood boil. “No way he was drunk through all of that.”
He heard Amane grunt an agreement. “We both know how Father is.” His words were too breathless to show the anger they both knew they had.
“It’s not right,” Tsukasa said. “The other families don’t get treated like this. The Minamotos don’t get treated like this.”
“The Minamotos don’t face what we face. You know that’s why they’re soft.”
Tsukasa looked at his brother, arms spread on either side of him with his tanto loosely grasped in his right hand. His chest wasn’t rising as quickly anymore- probably from having the moment to catch his breath and partially because he’d always been under a stricter training regime as the older twin. He had stripped himself of his shirt a while before and the sight always made Tsukasa’s stomach pitch.
Amane was covered in large, sometimes nasty scars that deformed that part of his body while others varied in size and provided a knit of discoloration. He had stopped wearing anything that showed too much skin when they were about eleven and the bullies at their school had gotten more bold with their harassment. It didn’t help that the very same day they had walked in on their parents arguing about Amane’s physical appearance and scars. Tsukasa had been the only one to see him cry that night and to hear his persistent questions asking if he was ugly. If their family made him ugly.
“You don’t believe that- do you?”
“That’s what Dad says.”
Tsukasa frowned at the answer and change in formality as he did a quick scan of the area. With horror he saw the window to their father’s study was open.
“Right…” Tsukasa grit his teeth. How long had the window been open and why didn’t he hear it? It wasn’t unusual for the bastard to eavesdrop like a creep forcing them to walk on eggshells constantly. Even in their middle school and elementary school there was always someone that would report all their actions and words to their father. Even now with the new public school they weren’t sure they were out of his reach. Sometimes it seemed they never would be…
“It doesn’t really matter,” Amane said as if reading his thoughts. With a grunt he dragged himself to his feet then offered a hand to Tsukasa. “Let’s go get cleaned up.”
Tsukasa took his hand and let himself be guided into their night routines up until they both collapsed into their respective beds. Tsukasa didn’t have any energy to move or even shift from his side to his back. Even with his body’s exhaustion however, his mind wouldn’t stop running.
All he could think about was Amane’s stupid grin everytime he tallked about that stupid girl in his class. Every time he learned something new the first thing he did was gush as if he finally touched the moon itself or discovered a secret from the depths of the oceans. His eyes did that weird sparkle thing and he bounced about like he used to before their father forced them to hide their personalities in their own home. His brother was acting almost like a child because of her but everytime Tsukasa tried to get him to open up he was brushed off like he was nothing. Amane had been changing ever since he met her in small ways that might be insignificant to others but were miles to him.
What was even so great about her anyway? It’s not like she was his destined! He would have had a dream about her that he absolutely would have talked about if that was the case. And he would remember it! The Yugi family didn’t even need destined or soulmates or balancers or whatever the other families called them.
For a moment, Tsukasa remembered the dream Amane had on the first day of school. He said he lost a daikon or something. He also often said that people made fun of Yashiro’s ankles by calling them daikons. Their mom even said it was a sign of change…
That was impossible though- unless she wasn’t ready for that kind of love and that’s why he couldn’t remember.
No- Tsukasa was overthinking it! He wouldn’t even care so much if Amane wasn’t such a bastard and just talked about something else Tsukasa didn’t care about! Before this it was always stars and occasionally something relating to the tides. There really would be no “going back to the way things were”, would there?
The words had been intended as encouragement from their driver when they had been dropped off to their second day of school but now it just felt like a warning. Ominous and foreboding in the way that threatened the loss of his brother forever. From the moment he met that girl- or maybe the moment they were placed in different classes his path had started to separate from Amane’s.
He was going to be alone. The thought broke something deep in Tsukasa. Finally flopping onto his back he stared up to the black ceiling that he knew in the light was covered in splashes and swipes of colors. Amame didn’t seem to even process the changes coming their way, too caught up with some new person that was just some normie that could never understand their lives as exorcists. He would spend every day lying to her and Amane hated lying.
His eyelids felt heavy and a thought occurred to him. If Yashiro hated him Amane wouldn’t abandon him for her. If they were switching classes anyway that would give the perfect chance to make her hate him. This is why he was the alpha twin, Tsukasa thought as he slipped into sleep.
He woke with a gasp, head butting Amane in the process. Both fell with groans and curses until Amane stood pinching the bridge of his nose. “I think you broke it!”
“You shouldn’t have snuck up on me,” he hissed back, fingering what had to be a growing bruise at the center of his forehead.
“You were sleeping in!” Amane snarled. ”We were going to switch morning routines. You agreed to do my morning exercises and everything. Oceans take me, I think I’m bleeding!”
“Don’t be dramatic!”
Amane only growled in a rare show of temper and threw the blanket of his body and rushed to his feet. Tsukasa shrieked and ran for the bathroom.
Beating Amane there by a hair he slammed and locked the door. They had mentioned the day before about doing each other’s morning routines so Tsukasa took his time doing Amane’s. The brushing and polishing that normally took Amane a half hour to complete Tsukasa stretched out as long as he could manage. By the time he opened the door Amane was already dressed with a sour look and messy hair. He was quick to shove Tsukasa out of the bathroom, ignoring his loud laugh.
Tsukasa sobered when he heard harsh whispers from the kitchen. That could only mean both of their parents were awake.
The thought sent this heart skipping and his palms to clam up. He instead swallowed to force his heart back into place and shook the chill from his spine and stepped silently down the corridor that was already heavy with humidity and the smell of ocean salt.
“Mind your temper Yoko,” he heard his father’s gruff voice and could almost see the flash of anger rolling through his eyes despite the old screen wall hiding him. “They mean well and just want what’s best for our clan.”
“Akihiro,” their mother said slowly with the silent threat hanging in the air. For a moment his stomach rolled as the humidity became suffocating. “They are calling my children half breeds again. You better fix this or I’ll show you what my temper really looks like.”
Amane approached him with silent steps. His eyes flicked from him to the sliding door. He only raised a brow at Tsukasa but he didn’t bother to answer.
“Are you threatening me?” their father hissed. “You must be forgetting your situation.”
Something in Tsukasa’s throat seized and he surged forward, tripping over Amane in the process.
“Good morning!” Amane called Tsukasa’s usual greeting and the humidity and salt immediately dispersed. Tsukasa on the other hand had fallen through the doorway with a grunt at Amane’s feet.
Their father was gripping their mother's wrist in what had to be a bruising grip. The angle had made the sleeve of her light pink kimono slip down to her elbow so the paper seal on her inner arm was impossible to ignore.
“Hello, Tsukasa.” their father said carefully, pulling away and folding his hands behind his back. “And Amane,” his eyes went down to Tsukasa, “what are you doing down there. You should have more grace than that.”
His skin prickled at the vague look of disgust behind the gentle disappointment. Never- Tsukasa didn’t have the expectation that would ever warrant that look. He was the scapegoat, the failure while Amane was the perfect one. Funny how clear that became everytime they switched. It was also interesting that their own father couldn’t tell them apart when they did as little as change the way they behaved. He never was able to tell them apart on his own.
Their mom on the other hand had mischief in her eyes when she saw Tsukasa brush himself off and apologize. “There’s no time for multiple lectures today. The boys need to eat and go to school.”
“If you didn’t fight me so much on getting them private tutors, they wouldn’t have to rush in the mornings.”
Their mother gave a chilling smile. “I will not have any of my lineage unable to function in the modern world. Besides, weren’t you and the Akane’s planning a lunch today? You should prepare for that instead of bothering Tsukasa.”
That was how their morning always went when both of their parents were awake and in the house. Cold comments and awkward silences were so commonplace that even the driver waiting outside sat in silence the entirety of the long drive to school. Neither of them even knew the man’s name. They were truthfully just grateful that he allowed them to be dropped off a few blocks from school and didn’t tell anyone that they walked the remainder to school.
The day was a strange mix of humid heat and overcast skies though. It put Tsukasa in an off mood that he couldn’t quite place while Amane on the other hand was chattering happily.
Tsukasa would almost say he was staying in character if not for the looseness in Amane’s shoulders and sparkle in his eyes that were never there before. Even as they approached the point that Amane normally became quiet as more of their classmates surrounded them he still chattered. He went on about the coming meteor shower, the pond in their courtyard, and aquatic plants- for some reason- and showed no sign of stopping.
It was a welcomed change.
So often Amane refused to speak on anything other than “safe topics” and even then was only amongst themselves. His laugh was quiet and reserved, his smile hidden behind a hand if his mask couldn’t quite hide it. But here, he was open because he thought Tsukasa was open. The realization had him stumbling. Had it been so many years since their last switch that they were really so out of touch with each other?
Watching him though, laughing openly and for the world to hear, Tsukasa couldn’t bring himself to correct the performance. Even he didn’t know when the shift happened.
Even with everything, here was his brother smiling and laughing so openly that the morning sun seemed to glow from him. If he hadn't seen it so often he could almost forget that Amane’s rare smiles were just shadows of dull joy. He was always wearing that stupid mask and hiding all his true feeling.
It was almost as if someone had spent Amane’s entire life beating down any form of independence and happiness a child could have, he thought bitterly. Old bastard.
He froze. The thought kicked him in the stomach, wasn’t he doing the same thing by trying to get in the way of him and this Yashiro girl? Was he really about to intentionally hurt his brother with some petty jealousy?
Amane had bounced ahead of him by a good fifteen steps with an excitement he hadn’t outwardly shown in so long. If this was what Amane saw everyday when they went to school it made sense why he took so much extra stress. He had told him so many times not to shield him. Tsukasa could handle all that stuff by himself and they both knew it! But this girl-
He couldn’t hurt Amane. He refused. He would just see what was going on in this class and scope out the class and make sure he would be okay alone.
So the moment Tsukasa strolled into Amane’s class with Amane’s relaxed posture he immediately scanned the room and was surprised. The entirety of the room was filled with colorful, loud people. Some sat on desks as they gathered the latest gossip while others crowd around desks as they cheated through homework from the night before. On the other side of the class but the window was two girls giggling over some plants with watering cans and little vials in hand.
One was small with dark hair that shone with purple dye under the sunlight. She seemed to be telling some kind of story that must have been something creepy from the look that the other girl gave her. He recognized Yashiro’s description as the fearful one who now swooned dramatically into her friend's arms only to yelp when water splashed on her skirt.
The classmates close to her laughed and in that moment with a bright smile Yashiro saw him and got a strange look on her face. He couldn’t quite place the feeling but he suspected he was in for a long day.
Nene was also certain of an interesting day as she watched the newcomer approach. He looked like Yugi and walked like him but he just wasn’t. She wasn’t quite sure exactly how her image of Yugi didn’t match the one in her head from the other day.
It was in the small things. They way he leaned a little too far to the left when he walked or the way he watched them. The small flashes of recognition as he went over every detail of them simply watering the flowers. There was even some kind of calculation behind his eyes as if he was measuring his options for something devious. The real Yugi Amane didn’t seem to have a devious side- or not one that she’d seen at least.
“Yo, Yoshiro-Chan,” the fake Yugi said with a very not Yugi like grin.
This time she couldn’t stop the twitch. He was definitely not him.
Instead of immediately calling him on the deception she pasted on a large smile. “Hey Yugi-kun, did you remember to grab some of that fertilizer your mom uses.”
When his eyes minutely widened at the lie and Nene swallowed her victory. If whoever this fake Yugi was could mess with them then he should have fully expected to get the same treatment. He pressed a finger to the corner of his mouth, pushing up to his cheek. Yugi pressed up on his bottom lip. “Right,” he hummed. “Sorry I forgot to ask her. Cram school ran really late.” Aoi gasped loudly, hand going to her mouth as the other slammed the watering can on the table.
“I knew you were lying about martial arts!” She grasped Nene’s hand and pulled her embarrassingly close. “Didn’t I tell you that someone that wimpy couldn’t possibly do martial arts.”
The fake Yugi let out a high pitch whine that was so painfully out of character that she almost broke. “I do martial arts, I just have multiple activities!”
Nene couldn’t hold back the snort. The duplicate was either so out of touch with Yugi that he was completely giving himself away or he was so close that he didn’t even realize this was out of the norm. A conversation from a few days ago flashed to mind.
She could recall the dark look that had crossed his face with a simple statement. “The Cain Instinct is real.” After that she had figured that he had a sibling but to have a twin…
“I do practice martial arts!” The new Yugi was saying to Aoi’s polite antagonism.
“Yes, yes,” Aoi said cheerily as if humoring a child. An idea struck Nene.
With a gasp she jumped to face Yugi. “Oh Yugi kun,” she brought her hands together in what she thought was an innocent and hopeful gesture. “Remember how you were talking about star gazing? We should go this weekend.”
Something conflicted came to his eyes. Nene couldn’t avoid the thought that she never saw her classmate so expressive. Even knowing this wasn’t actually him but his brother she couldn’t avoid it. She wondered if Yugi Amane also whined behind his cold exterior or could greet someone so warmly. “I thought we agreed on next Thursday for the Meteor shower.”
“Oh,” she hummed, twirling her hair around her fingers. “So you don’t want to hang out with us this weekend?” She asked innocently but may all the gods bless her best friend for knowing her so well.
Aoi bounced forward, leaning forward into his space. Yugi leaned back just enough to keep a respectable distance even as she waved a scornful finger. “Why not?” Something in that tone rubbed at Nene. “Are we not interesting enough for you? Are you too cool now to share the stars with us? Do you think you’re better than us?”
Nene could have smacked herself. Aoi didn’t realize this wasn’t Yugi Amane! She had assumed the teasing was Nene’s way of getting closer to Yugi kun because of one passing comment when they were walking home the day before that he could be cute like a lil. God she was so stupid! But it was too late to stop Aoi now.
Even as Yugi stuttered through excuses and clumsy deflections he was quick to notice the looming shadow behind him. “You dare refuse an invite from the dearest Aoi?” Akane growled, the air seeming to vibrate with a demonic intent. “As you should but who are you to believe yourself better or too good for the fair and tender affection of the sweetest Aoi?”
The Yugi twins made the same face, she realized with some amusement, when they didn’t know how to react to something. The face which seemed to be all eyes and you could almost hear the dialup noise as they struggled to process whatever unexpected circumstance was thrown their way.
The rest of the class was casually ignoring Akane’s antics, as usual. Yugi though, he smiled and tilted his head. The air seemed to chill as he opened his mouth to speak.
Then the teacher walked in demanding they all return to their seats.
She was surprised to see the pale look on Akane’s face when Yugi turned his back on him. He even watched as Yugi gracely folded himself into his seat and propped his chin on his palm. Another name ghosted past his lips but Nene couldn’t catch it. So Akane apparently knew the Yugi twins. She wondered-
Tsuchigomori Sensei’s voice cut through her train of thought and the threat of detention had her scurrying to her seat.
Just down the corridor, the entirety of a class sat in tense silence casting glances to a single student. The young man they thought to be Yugi Tsukasa had spent the morning silently sitting at his desk making dots on scrap paper. Even their teacher when she came in seemed hesitant. There hadn’t been this level of peace in the class since the start of the year. Tsukasa had quickly become notorious for his pranks.
The lack of slick floors, gas bombs, sudden flashes, or even rapidly expanding foam clued them to one of two things. Either someone had really made Tsukasa angry and he was plotting something truly cruel or hell had officially frozen over. More than likely, they had all come to the silent agreement that the peace was the quiet before the storm.
Even the breaks were filled only with anxious chatter as “Tsukasa” only sat at his desk not speaking with anyone. He just did the given homework or played on his phone. Someone pointed out the different colored phone case in a hushed voice but the observation was dismissed as a trick of the light.
Amane however could only think about how nice it was to have peace for once. The only flaw he could find in the quiet was the fact he wasn’t able to see Nene or hear her laugh.
In the break for Amane’s classes, Tsukasa had mixed emotions. The people in Amane’s classes were much roudier than his. The class he was spending his day in was filled with much more colorful and loud people. They even were so relaxed to come up to him and poke at his temper or try to start a conversation. He easily dismissed all attempts to socialize even with an annoyance with a tacky t-shirt under his open button down with a lemon printed on it. Even with the boy grumbling that they were friends now and the boy looking uncomfortably familiar, Tsukasa just ignored him and drew random dots on the back of his homework until he went away. No one would know the difference between Amane’s precise placements and his random specks anyway.
Strangely enough through each of the breaks he felt Yashiro watching him. He was able to pin her curiosity but every time their eyes met she just smiled and turned away. He ignored it well enough until the break before their final class of the day.
This time when their eyes met from across the class where she was standing with Aoi she again turned with a smile and Aoi giggled. He felt his face flush and his temper prickle under his skin especially when Aoi’s face went slack at something Yashiro whispered. Both of them turned to look at him and he pointed his glare at his brother’s desk. Tides take him away, Amane’s class was infuriating! Amane wouldn’t engage directly though, so he couldn’t either.
After classes with the clatter of cleaning almost drowned the mindless chatter, Yashiro approached him. Her long hair was pulled back into a messy braid and the bandana across her head pulled back all of her hair to show her round face and wide smile.
“How are you doing?” She asked in such a simple way, as if this was a common exchange for her and Amane. If he hadn't heard Amane whining so many times about not being able to talk to her he probably would have fallen for it.
He only shrugged and turned back to his sweeping.
She only bent around him persistently to look at his face again. “I’m really excited for next Thursday. Have you found a spot yet? Should we meet somewhere?”
That meeting again. What was Amane even thinking? He knew they had meditations to do that day! He thought for a moment then sighed. “I might actually have to cancel…”
Something angry passed over her face but quickly disappeared to concern. She grabbed his arm and pulled him to face her. “What do you mean cancel? Is everything okay?”
He sighed again, leaning on his broom handle. He knew this was going to happen. This was why they stuck with each other. No one would understand. “Father is very strict and Thursday we are supposed to be doing meditations to strengthen our spirituality. I doubt I’ll be able to skip that.”
She looked away thoughtfully. She seemed to be measuring something before turning back to him. “I can understand that. So you’re just trying to look out for Yugi kun right? Make sure he doesn’t get in trouble, I mean.”
Cold water washed through his veins. Instead he smiled. “Sorry, I don’t think I understand what you mean.” No one can tell them apart. Even their mother sometimes struggled to tell the difference. “Why are you talking about me like I’m someone else?”
She tilted her head. “Well you are, aren't you? You mimic Yugi kun really well but you’re his brother right? I never caught your name by the way.”
“Yeah.” He mumbled stupidly. She was just watching him with those big eyes totally empty of malice. He only saw that innocent curiosity. “I’m Yugi Tsukasa. How did you tell us apart?”
“Oh it wasn’t that hard,” she laughed, “I'm surprised more people didn’t know. I’m Yashiro Nene by the way. Why don’t you just call me Nene chan?”
“Alright, then call me Tsukasa. Can I have your number?”
Nene’s face lit up like a light bulb. “Of course! We should hang out sometime.”
Tsukasa just smiled and leaned close to her so he could whisper. “Okay but only as long as Amane doesn’t realize you can tell us apart.”
Her grin turned devious. “Deal.”
So they swapped their contact information and Nene smiles brightly as she saved it. “I hope we can be friends. You remind me of a snapdragon.”
Before he could ask her to explain she excused herself to finish her cleaning duties
Oh no, Tsukasa thought, watching her leave the class. He pressed his hand to his chest in an attempt to calm the pounding but nothing could quiet it. So that’s why Amane liked her so much?
She was just extraordinary!
Next time: Gardenia
Chapter 4: Gardenia
Thank you everyone for your amazing support you all are so sweet!! 💚💚
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Amane woke up to his alarm the surreal feeling of peace overwhelmed him. His bed was empty and he couldn’t hear Tsukasa at all. His stagger to the bathroom was uninteresting even as he heard his mom and brother whispering in the kitchen.
He didn’t think much of it until he finished his shower. With his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth he sprinted to the kitchen. “Where is he!”
The shout made his mother jump and almost drop the single bento covered in rockets. “Amane-“ she breathed, hand pressed to her chest. “Where’s who? Your father already left for the day.”
“No!” He strode to the sink spitting out minty foam. “Tsukasa- he’s up to something, I know it.”
He heard her mutter something in exasperation before pointing at the door. “He’s getting ready to leave. Unlike someone,” She gave him a pointed mom look, “Tsu is trying to make friends. He’s meeting someone before class.”
The gears in his head ground. A friend? Tsukasa didn’t have friends. Neither of them did unless…
He ran for the entryway and saw Tsukasa slipping on his shoes. He took one look at Amane’s suspicious fury. “Hey bro! Lovely day.”
“What did you do!”
“Nothing,” he whined with a grin. “Nene and I were texting and we agreed to get smoothies.”
“That’s not fair! She thinks you’re me! You can’t go out with the girl I like!”
“Well you’re welcome to come with me but I’m not waiting on you. You think you can be ready in three seconds?”
Amane’s face turned red in his anger but Tsukasa just waved happily. “Well then I’ll see you at school! Have fun!”
Just as he closed the door he heard Amane’s yell. He paid it no mind as he went up to the driver and smiled “hey, sorry you’ll have to work more this morning but I’m meeting someone and Amane’s not invited.”
The driver barely hid a snort but still opened the door and they were on their way. He even had the kindness to ask if he wanted to be dropped of a bit away from his location like he normally did with school.
He graciously took the offer and when he saw the shop Nene had texted him he ran. When he saw her he pulled her into a hug and spun, dragging her with him a good two feet.
“Nene! I made it!”
She laughed awkwardly pulling away and did her best to straighten her now messy hair. “I see that. Did you get lost?”
Tsukasa only scoffed, pulling away enough to dramatically raise his chin and stick his nose in the air. “Of course not!”
She just rolled her eyes as she led him into the shop and he was surprised when she ordered something as “sickeningly sweet” as the drinks he liked. With a gleeful giggle he bumped her out of the way to order the same and pay for both of them. Even with her frustration he only grinned. “I asked you so I’m paying. Get over it.”
Nene just puffed her cheeks cutely and huffed. Tsukasa just laughed and when they were walking something caught his eye.
A book fell from the bag on her hip and he had barely caught it before it fell into a puddle. He immediately recognized the cover and couldn’t say he was surprised. “You read romance novels,” he asked anyway just to see the way her face turned red.
“A lot of teenagers read romance novels!”
He laughed again and flipped through the pages with his free hand. “Yeah I know. You should see Amane’s collection.” He heard her stop and turned to see her staring into the depths of her drink. She was probably trying to connect the Amane in her class to the Amane that shamelessly reads lame romance novels. “Don’t think too hard about it. My brother is really good at compartmentalizing. Someone got him one as a joke and now that’s probably all he reads other than stuff about stars.”
“That’s…” her pause had her looking up at him with searching eyes and he realized she was taller than him. The realization wounded him but not enough to miss her words. “That’s really surprising actually. Not the star books but that he likes romance.”
“Yeah,” he said slowly, calculating the height difference as she joined his side again for them to continue their walk to school. “There was this woman that we would sometimes have to spend time with when Mom said we were losing our way. She was a storyteller and she loved anything romantic so she loaned Amane this book once about Tanabata- you know the star crossed lovers- and he’s been reading them since.”
He could still remember the heated arguments Amane had with the Minamoto matriarch. Neither of them believed the possibility for anyone, especially a goddess to have such devotion for a human, especially of her own will. He and Tsukasa had both argued with her saying that love was freedom. Love was being happy that the person you loved was alive and not bound to an obligation. Chaisa San had been so frustrated with two four year olds arguing with her about love in the middle of a summer festival she had given them candy just to shut them up. After Amane had slipped away to do something else he had overheard her ranting to her husband over a cup of tea about how their father had distorted their view of anything good in the world. When he told Amane they had agreed to further “research” romance and relationships.
When he told nene this- leaving out the part of their father of course- her eyes burst to life. “Chaisa San? Like Minamoto Chaisa? She was my babysitter growing up and she would tell me all kinds of stories and poems! She was so amazing!”
Tsukasa could only agree and listen to her chatter about one of the few people in his life he had enough respect for never to prank. Rival family or not, Minamoto Chaisa never looked at them with scorn and always treated them as children. To her they weren’t the “cursed twins” or heirs to one of the four families of their region, they were just kids becoming people. When she died, he and Amane both grieved her loss.
So they compared and shared stories. Some from books or mischief, even a few that showed Amane as the real mastermind of their chaos he pretended not to be until Nene surprised him. They had settled on a park bench a couple blocked from the school when she asked him a question. It was a simple one really, something he should have answered easily. “What’s one story that you think shaped you to who you are?” But the more he thought about it the more he realized there was only one answer.
“It’s not a very common story, more of a family legend. It’s kind of like Tanabata actually but not.” When she leaned towards him with interest he focused on his cup. “It’s not a happy story.” He warned, staring at the bitten patterns in the plastic straw and the strawberry seeds sticking to the inside of the clear walls.
“That’s okay, I’m curious. You don’t have to share it if you don’t want to.”
So he did.
“It’s kind of stupid and you wouldn’t like it. Basically there was this goddess and she loved to spend her time watching humanity. Her best friend was actually a spirit of the tides that gave up her humanity and connection to the earth to protect her friends and family so the spirit would tell her what it was like to be human and the goddess would tell her all the new events in the world and about her family.
“One night when the goddess was visiting earth a human stumbled on the secret beach that they used to meet and he immediately fell in love with her. She was beautiful, you know? Long black hair and skin that glowed. When she looked at him he knew she would be his bride. The spirit knew better and retreated into the waves but the goddess was too slow. The man introduced himself and the moment the goddess let down her guard he put a seal on her arm.
“He was a powerful exorcist so he had the power to bind her to earth. After a few days of begging him to release her so she could return to the heavens he revealed that even he couldn’t break it. The seal was bound with his soul so it would only break when he died and she wouldn’t be able to kill him herself because it also restricted her divinity and protected him. She was cursed to walk the earth until he died. They married and had a family because that’s all she could do. She could only live once he died and she would only have to wait.”
While Tsukasa spoke Nene was entranced. The soft smile and down turned eyes as he remembered. His eyes lifting to the sky where the moon was still barely visible in the morning sky.
“I don’t think I’ve heard that before.” She whispered softly.
His lips curled then split into a wide grin. “I’m sure you haven’t. It’s something our mother told us a few years ago.”
She hummed a moment feigning thought but only watched him. That grin was so strained and somehow sad. He seemed so lonely at that moment putting on a mask just like his brother. Their masks were so different- Apathetic vs convivial. Two sides of a coin that made her want to cry. Nene had already decided to be Yugi kun’s friend after their interaction on the first day of school and the way he awkwardly stumbled over himself before just shutting everything out but after seeing that it wasn’t just him her conviction hardened. They needed someone and she just happened to be a great friend.
She leaned against his shoulder. “Granny tells a story kind of like that.” The offer of a change in tone was there. Her offer of company was already returned in the way he leaned into her. “She says that an ancestor used to have a strong bond with nature but as some kind of sacrifice she cut off her ties with it. The gods took mercy on her and made her a water spirit so she could at least feel the shore and still touch plants. Mom says it was just a kodama that was cut down and Granny is forgetting stories and stuff is getting scrambled in her old age.”
Tsukasa barked a laugh that made her jump. “Your family sounds fun! Maybe I can meet them sometime.”
“You might meet them sooner if we don’t get to class. Mom will kill me if she thinks I tried to skip.”
He just laughed again, hopping to his feet and tossing his cup carelessly aside. She almost chided him but stopped when the plastic bounced into the bin.
“Well,” his voice snapped her out of her awe, “are you coming or staring at the trash? Oh I know! The bin reminds you of Amane, doesn’t it? It does have a striking resemblance now that I look at it.”
She shook her head and walked next to him sipping the remainder of her drink. “You do realize you two have the same face right?”
He gave her a blank, unreadable look. His eyes narrowed and his mouth curled in a mirthless smile. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
After that comment it was silent between them. The two minute walk seemed to take years. When the gate was in view Tsukasa started to divert his path. “By the way Amane still thinks that you don’t know that I’m me. If you want to keep the gag going feel free.”
He didn’t wait for her response as he approached a man in a suit a few feet away. She heard his question of if his father was angry and the man’s answer was a quiet confirmation. “I would advise that you inform him if you intend to travel unsupervised again. Certain individuals have started to-“
Their conversation faded out when Aoi ran up to her and demanded all the details of her “date”. When she again informed her that it wasn’t a date and that Yugi kun wasn’t her type she wilted. “That’s a shame I think he likes you. It’s insane that they’re twins though!” Her loud whisper was a dramatic one, barely hidden behind a hand. Even as Aoi threw herself at Nene to grab her arm and pull her along to class Nene couldn’t help but disagree.
Seeing Tsukasa being so different from Yugi kun made the differences between the brothers that much starker. Even with all the smaller things she had noticed when Tsukasa pretended to be his brother the large things seemed just as much a facade to hide behind. She still hadn’t seen Yagi kun smile more than twice.
“Twins aren’t that uncommon, and I doubt he likes me. We’ve hardly interacted and he doesn’t seem used to having friends.”
“You don’t see the way he looks at you, Amane totally likes you!”
“And you couldn’t even tell that Tsukasa wasn’t Yugi kun. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to pass on your guess.”
“You’re on a first name basis already? I Don't think I’ll ever understand how you can be so in love with love but deny it when it’s right in front of you!”
“Because Yugi kun and Tsukasa are not my type! Besides I like-“ she cut herself off with a squeak when she saw him.
In the doorway of her class speaking with Akane kun with a tranquil smile was Minamoto Teru. Her first love and prince. They may have grown up together but she knew he would never have eyes for her. He only had a mind for his family and his balancers that he never spoke about. She was lucky enough to be seen as a sister, but unlucky enough to never be more. She wanted so badly to be the one destined for him but that ship sailed long ago. Her and Kou were both there when he brooded over the introductory dream and who he saw in the middle of the night. She could still feel the mug of tea long cold from how long they sat. Even Kou had met his destined soulmate and was just too stubborn to make a move. She on the other hand wasn’t an exorcist. Normal people didn’t have clear indications that they were soulmates or if they even had one.
The three of them look good together. The realization sent a pain through her. She knew all three of them were gifted in various ways. The ways Akane kept an old watch in this pocket and things always seemed to get done a little too effectively when he was involved. The way Aoi’s eyes would linger on someone’s hand and the way she would follow something to another person. She had a habit of setting people now, insisting on romance and “being made for eachother”. Every now and then she would even whisper “tangled” or “not yet” but most often right before a new couple “taut, it’s almost time”. They were so amazing.
“You seem distracted.”
She jumped at the voice and turned to see Yugi kun’s wide quizzical eyes. She swallowed the snort. Amane’s already choppy hair was sticking up at odd angles with the dampness that still clung to it. The knot in his tie was crooked and made the fabric pucker at odd angles. The buttons under it were just as odd.
“Speak for yourself.” She said, reaching to tug at his tie. “Did you have a fight since the last time I saw you?”
His cheeks flushed with embarrassment and his hands patted at his buttons. “I was in a rush…”
She laughed and for a moment his sullen face seemed to turn redder. It had to be the embarrassment of being caught in such disarray so she reached up and unknotted his tie. “I had fun by the way. We should go out again sometime. I noticed you don’t like to get close to people but I would really like to be your friend. Maybe we can do something after school?”
He was all eyes and blush as he watched her reknot his tie and slowly tighten it. “I would like that,” he whispered, “maybe we could grab something to eat or something.”
She only smiled as her agreement and ignored the weight of Aoi’s eyes on her back. It wasn’t until Nene had stepped away that she was pulled back to the fact they were standing in the hallway where everyone could see. She was somehow embarrassed then mortified when she saw Teru watching. What if he got the wrong idea? What if he thought she was interested in her classmate? Yeah, she knew there was no chance they would ever be together but what if that changed?
“Yugi San,” Teru said in that frigid tone he always used when he was trying to be cordial but it was always too polite to be sincere. “Kou mentioned you transferred here.”
“Yes,” Yugi kun responded with a similar tone and stoney eyes. “It was decided that it was time for a change. If we realized this was in the care of the Minamotos we would have chosen a different school.”
Teru chuckled darkly. “I’m sure. Try not to cause any problems. As the student council president it will reflect poorly now that Kou accidently told everyone that our families are affiliated.”
Nene’s brows creased at the implication. She couldn’t recall ever meeting the boys before at any festivals or birthday parties. How else could they- the realization sent her mind buzzing with excitement as Yugi kun casually slid his hands into his pockets.
“I’m as happy about it as you are. Your brother has always been easily excitable. Don’t worry, I won’t get caught doing anything that would make you look bad.”
The Yugi family was one of the four Japanese Exorcism families. There couldn’t be anything else. Kou said that there were so many families and blood lines all over the world but their country had the main four with the most political sway but never went into detail about any of them. The Yugi brothers had to be the heirs for Kou and Teru to be affiliated with them. That had to be why Kou and Yugi kun had a complicated relationship that made them not quite friends.
“That’s exactly it. Don’t do anything. Just wait until I graduate or better, don’t do anything until you graduate. Spare the school your insanity.”
“I’m offended you think we’re insane.”
“Good.” Teru turned to her then, softening when she flinched under her hard stare. “Have a good day, Nene. Dad wanted me to ask you something so find me at lunch okay?”
She promised she would and when he left Yugi kun scoffed. His hard expression had fallen back to his neutral mask at Teru’s back. “He’s a snob. Are you really close to that entire family?”
“Well yeah,” she would be lying if she said she wasn’t surprised by his open hostility towards both of her boys but she couldn’t judge. They always left her out of exorcist stuff. “Their mom would look after me and I babysit their sister sometimes. Are you close with them? Teru has his job, so do you work together?” She hoped the underlying question was clear. Was he an exorcist? Was she right?
Instead of confirming or denying he just answered with a vague “you could say that” before unshuring her and Aoi into the class.
Next time: Sweet William
Chapter 5: Sweet William
I’m really not happy with chapter but I’m tired of looking at it. I’ll probably revisit and edit it later
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Amane wouldn’t say he’s a bad student. His grades were consistently average to not draw any attention and the fact he rarely cared for the study material. This particular day however his notes were blank. He couldn’t even bring himself to draw up a star chart. He just stared at his empty notebook and spun his pencil over his fingers like he would his tanto. The weight was wrong and the pencil was probably moments away from flying across the room but that didn’t matter.
Nene had asked if he and Minamoto worked together. So, logicly, she knew about him being an exorcist. Or she knew that Minamoto was an exorcist and assumed he was as well? Nene might not be athletic but she was smart. It wasn’t beyond possible that she would piece it together. He wanted to pace through his thoughts but he was trapped in his seat in a classroom. At least until lunch hour.
When lunch period started he ran out. He would have to apologize to Lemon for rushing past him so abruptly but that didn’t matter. He had something more important to do.
When he saw him Teru was leaving his class. Amane, without breaking stride, grabbed his arm and dragged him into an abandoned hall and slammed him to the wall. The door next to him rattled and his eyes turned dangerous. “You better be here to apologise for enrolling in this school.”
“As if you would be so lucky.” The words came out as more of snarl. “Leave Yashiro out of exorcist business. She’s a normal girl and has no place in our world.”
Minamoto’s calmly raised brow made his stomach roll with anger. “What makes you so sure of that? She’s basically a stranger to you.”
“We’re close enough for me to know she’s a normie! You can’t just drag anyone into this life!”
“I knew you hated the way we were so progressive but wow this almost seems like compassion. Someone alert the media, the Yugi heir actually gives a damn about someone.”
Teru watched fascinated as Yugi bared his teeth and grabbed the lapels of Teru’s blazer. He did care. “I said, leave her out of this!”
“You do know that she’s basically family, right?” The question had his shoulders raising and his narrowed eyes and tight lips show exactly how much he was bothered by the slight idea.
Something strange happened then. His shoulders stayed raised and defensive but his face slackened. Something like conflict crossed his features and Teru knew he had won. Yugi had probably seen how close they were and couldn’t deny it. A hope that Teru couldn’t place. His hope that Yugi Amane had some shred of humanity thought that maybe it would be a hope that it would be him realizing that it was okay for him to let someone in but he knew better by now. He was too much like his father. Set in some bullshit tradition preaching isolationism.
But he had made friends. Maybe he secretly resented the practice.
“Are you really that jealous?” Teru spoke lowly, watching the way his fists tightened again and the anger returned. It wasn’t the full fury from before though. It was half hearted- another mask. “We both know you’re not allowed to be close to anyone outside the families. Why is Nene chan so important to you? Why are you longing for one girl and hating me for it?”
“I don’t want you involving an innocent!” He growled, shaking him. “I’m not jealous of you or anyone else!”
“So you are just too busy idolizing your father. Have to keep that isolation alive and well to the point of forcing it on others. Wow, you really are the spitting image of him.”
His expression then crumbled. It turned into a raw twist of pain for only a moment before another mask came in its place. A cool detached expression matched his tone. “I really don’t see what Mom sees in you.” He gave Teru a final firm shove that had his head bouncing off the wall. “You’re nothing but a bastard.”
Teru watched Yugi walk away. Each step was slow and deliberate, likely unseeing. Nene had been standing in the opening of the corridor for who knows how long and he just breezed past her. Not a single word was exchanged but the moment he passed she ran to him.
“Teru,” she called, pulling him down to run a hand over the back of his head. “Are you okay? That seemed horrible! What happened?”
“Nothing much,” he smiled but winced when she touched what had to be a growing bump. “I think I just pressed a button.”
“Teru this bump is huge!”
“A really sensitive button. Maybe you should go check on him.”
Nene gave him one of her withered disappointed looks. “You’re the one that upset him. You should apologize.”
“He likes you more. I’m not asking you to apologize for me- not likely I would ever apologize to him anyway. I’m just asking you to check on him and make sure he’s okay.”
“No,” she snapped, pulling towards the main corridor. “Didn’t you have something to tell me?”
“It doesn’t really matter that much. It can wait.”
She tried to argue with him further but he used his “big brother voice” that always got her and Kou to just shut up and listen. “It can wait. Go check on Yugi.”
She gave him another withering look. “Fine, do I need to take you to the nurses office first?”
After a moment of reassurances she finally left him alone. The way she ran for him seemed interesting but he couldn’t quite place why. It didn’t seem that important anyway when she left his sight and his head was still throbbing.
Nene in truth had no idea where to search for Yugi kun. She checked anywhere she could think of. The classroom, cafeteria, courtyard, and club rooms were bustling with everyone but him. The more she thought the more worried she became until she remembered. Yugi kun loved the stars. He loved the sky in general from what she could tell so she checked the uppermost floors and was about to give up until the stairway to the roof caught her attention. The door was usually locked, student access banned without supervision, but something told her to at least check.
She was grateful she did.
The door had somehow been opened with a small rock keeping it from shutting completely and locking behind whoever was there. The moment she opened the door and saw him her throat tightened. Amane had leaned against the railing looking down over the streets and students below through the chain link fence with his back to her. She couldn’t see his face but she was almost certain it was the unsettling cool expression from before. The one that had a storm in his eyes that didn’t allow him to see anything in front of him and set him to some kind of autopilot. It was terrifying to see. At that moment he seemed capable of anything.
She swallowed her fear and stepped closer to him. He didn’t move except the tension in his shoulders growing to raise them to his ears.
“Yugi kun,” she called in a voice that trembled more than she would have liked.
He didn’t answer.
She thought he was ignoring her until she noticed his head turned ever so slightly away as she came beside him. He was facing away from her. She tried not to be hurt by the action, remembering that he was shaken by whatever Teru had said to him.
After another long moment of silence she reached out and touched his arm. “Yugi kun I-“
A sharp pain shot through her hand as Yugi kun smacked it away. “What are you doing up here?” He snapped and the humid afternoon suddenly seemed suffocating under his burning gold glare. “Shouldn’t you be off giggling over Minamoto or something?”
The words bit as much as the sting in her hand. Her eyes burned and she felt the frown pulling at her features. “I was just coming to check on you. You seemed really upset but if you’re going to be a jerk I’ll just go back downstairs.”
He just glared at her and said quieter than before. “Go wherever you want. I want to be alone.”
Yugi kun turned his back on her and he gazed up towards the sky. Fine, he wanted to be alone? She would leave him alone!
When Nene got to the door she picked up the rock in the door and wanted to throw it at him. She was trying to help. They were supposed to be friends and he smacked her hand like a child and told her to get lost! He deserved to be locked in the roof and get in trouble for going to the roof without permission! He was-
He was upset, she realized with a sigh. All signs pointed to the boys not having friends before her and Lemon so they probably weren’t used to someone trying to comfort them. She couldn’t fault them for that.
Dropping the stone back in the door jam she left him for real this time. She had to check on Teru anyway and tell him how pointless it was to send her to check on him.
The halls were oddly quiet when she made her way to the nurse’s office. She couldn’t really bring herself to care. Yugi kun was an ass and there was little else to be sad but she didn’t think he was capable. In the admittedly short time she’d known him he never seemed the type to hold that kind of fury.
Teru did say that he pressed a button but she was only there long enough to hear him be called a bastard and to see that stormy look in his eyes. She never wanted to be afraid of her friends but at that moment she was terrified.
Yugi kun had even suggested they do something after school but would he want to after everything that happened? Would she? Should she remain friends with someone that had that kind of darkness in him? Her Granny would say that everyone has darkness and that normally doesn’t mean the entire person was bad. Her mother would say to end things early and protect herself.
Why did she even care so much? She wasn’t even that close to Yugi kun. He shouldn’t matter so much and she shouldn’t care what he thought of her or what their relationship was.
She heard a yell and looked up to see Teru. He seemed to glow in the sunlight streaming through the window and each speck of floating dust glittered.
Her skin was crawling and her stomach rolled. Something wasn’t right. Everything was too bright and all the noises were too loud but somehow muffled.
When she turned a scraping sound like something wet being dragged turned into a mass of spirits towered over her. They looked moments away from collapsing down and swallowing her.
Teru was the only one near and he was too far away.
This was it.
This was how she died.
The collection fell and she screamed as she was torn apart.
Amane stared at the fluffy clouds, watching them slowly darken for the forecasted rain. He didn’t have his watch or his phone but it was probably close to class starting. He should go but he couldn’t get everything out of his head.
Nene probably knew about exorcists but she was an outsider. She shouldn’t be a part of their dark and painful world. Minamoto was right. He did hate him for being so close to her and being allowed to bring people into his life but it was so much easier to hate him when he’s already been Amane’s opposition for so long instead of allowing him to hate himself. Then he hurt her
Amane hurt Nene with his words and shoved her away.
There was one girl in middle school that tried to befriend them then too. He and Tsukasa had been so mean to her and she retaliated. Said they were too scared to let others in so became self destructive instead. Maybe she was right. Maybe he was simply broken and he should allow himself to stop hoping for change. He was doomed to be like their father and he should just prepare for it instead of resisting. That’s why they transferred to this school in the first place. To try to be free. Maybe if he transferred at semester without telling Tsukasa he could still enjoy freedom and Amane- Well Amane would do what he was destined to from the beginning.
A burst of energy sent him staggering.
Amane gripped the railing and barely waited for his vision to return before he was running. He slammed through the door and took each step with leaps.
Nene had gone back to class. Nene was in the halls alone. An unknown spirit had been wandering the school and Nene was vulnerable. Amane didn’t think, just ran.
When he found her she was on the floor. She seemed so small slumped against a wall with Minamoto kneeling in front of her with his sword at his side. When Amane fell to his knees next to him her head barely lifted and she mumbled something. It was tired and slurred but he swore it sounded like his name.
“Yeah it’s me, are you okay?”
She hummed an affirmation and mumbled. “Tired.”
“You’ll be okay after some rest.” Teru said.
Amane turned to him and wanted to shake him again. Cause some kind of harm so he would just leave her alone. “What happened to her being part of the family? Shouldn’t you at least protect your own?”
“She’s okay.” His glare sparked with anger and made the area smell like ozone. “She just got dizzy.”
His own energy met in kind and he felt the back of his neck dampen with the rise in humidity. He felt the energy burst. He knew that couldn’t be the whole story and that Minamoto was lying to his face. He heard Yashiro stir and knew he couldn’t say anything and he knew it too. Those stupid blue eyes were challenging him, daring him to say something with nene right there and still conscious.
“Teru,” nene called, her hand barely lifting to him to get their attention. “Do you think they’ll let me go home? I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay awake much longer.”
Nene’s head lolled to the side and she looked up at Amane with a weak smile. It seemed that even such a small motion took all her effort. “Sorry, I might have to miss our meet up after school.”
“Don’t-“ the anger in that single word wasn’t for her. After she’s like this and he was such an ass that’s what she was worried about? He took a slow breath and smiled at her. “It’s okay, you should focus on your health. I can walk you home if you want. Or would you rather rest in the nurse's office?”
He felt Minamoto’s eyes on the side of his face for whatever reason but he tried his best to ignore them.
He didn’t know that Teru was watching him because after years of being forced to all the same events as the Yugi family he knew the Yugi brothers. He knew that the twins cared for no one but each other. They were always getting other’s, normally Kou, into trouble. Yugi Amane especially didn’t even bother to pretend to be sympathetic in most cases.
The shift tugged at something in the back of Teru’s mind. Something familiar in a way of someone telling him about it but he couldn’t recall ever seeing himself. Were they maybe destined?
He knew that even though Nene had suppressed and forgot her gifts she was insanely powerful. This burst of her spirit energy was proof enough. The release of all that pent up energy had sent Teru flying backward and he felt each lock and bariar she placed on herself shatter. He would have to bring this up to his father. They might even have to start training her spiritual power so she doesn’t have to face this kind of exhaustion again.
Nene was smiling at them though she looked ready to slide down the wall any moment. “Thank you for the offer but I’ll be okay. I think I’ll just rest in the nurse’s office.” She tried to look at Teru but felt her chin dragging down to her chest. She knew she must have looked pathetic. “Would you be able to see if my mom can pick me up? Or maybe your dad?”
He just smiled that charming, understanding smile and stood with his phone already in hand. When he walked away to make the call she was left with Yugi kun.
He was watching her with something like guilt and panic which she had caught just before she lost strength in her neck. With her head down and chin resting on her chest she couldn’t see him through her hair but knew. The air between them was so tense that even in her exhausting state she felt it pressing in on them.
His hand came up to the side of her face but stopped inches away. The shadow through her hair was impossible to mistake for anything else. “You’re dead on your feet,” he said instead, “I can carry you.”
Anger burned through her chest. After how he snapped at her he was trying to make nice? Probably just because she seemed injured. She wanted to ignore him, pretend he wasn’t there. She wasn’t going to feel sorry for herself just because he was a jerk. She had her pride.
“I’ll be fine.” She clipped. Raising her head was an effort but it was worth the shame she saw. He even looked away from her and seemed about ready to say something when Teru spoke.
“Now is not the time to be stubborn, Nene.” She could hear his disappointed big brother frown from where she sat and there was no avoiding it.
“But I’m heavy,” she tried to divert but she just saw Yugi raise a brow in disbelief. “Yugi kun is really small and I just don’t think he can carry me.”
“I’m stronger than I look.” He said it was a simple confidence that she didn’t really see from him. As if nothing else he knew he was capable of that. Something in her stomach fluttered but she ignored it.
“I hate to admit,” Teru said as he crouched, “but he’s right. Yugi is deceptively strong and if he can carry Kou I’m sure he can carry you.”
She couldn’t quit stamp down her surprise, knowing full well that Kou weighed significantly more than she did. “Fine,” she mumbled bitterly but Yugi kun’s smile was warm.
With some careful movements and some help from Teru, Nene was on Yugi kun’s back with her arms hooked limply around his neck and his grip firm in her thighs. He made sure she wouldn’t slide off his back before standing.
When she inevitably did start to slip he simply jumped so she bounced up higher onto his back and leaned forward so she would stay there while he adjusted his grip. “Comfortable?”
She hummed to let him know she was. Even talking had become too much but her mind still ran. It was like she was trapped in her body. A caged bird fluttering against its prison.
“I think she’s starting to fall asleep.” Yugi kun whispered.
“Probably,” Teru whispered back. “Also Yugi.”
She felt him turn, and Teru’s cold voice was quiet with something she so rarely heard. “If anything happens to her I’ll fry you.”
“I’d like to see you try.” Was Yugi kun’s only response before he started walking.
His body was so cool, it was like laying against a cool stone on a hot day. She found herself relaxing against him when he started to hum. It was a soft melody and his voice was low but clear. She could even occasionally hear the occasional mumbled lyric but wasn’t able to make sense of the words.
Listening to him almost did put her to sleep until she heard the rattle of a door opening. She could have sworn that the office was further away unless she really did drift off at some point.
“Okay, here we go.” she heard him whisper. Her weight shifted to the left but before she could even panic his hand was supporting her shoulder and she slid into his arms as her hips lowered to the cot. It was a painless transition for her when her shoulders lowered and her head was carefully placed on a pillow but she heard his soft grunt and mumble. “Gods, I didn’t think I could bend like that. Tides take me, maybe I should work on flexibility.”
It was an interesting phrase, she noticed vaguely as she opened her eyes and saw him rubbing his knuckles into his lower back. She could see his face reflected in the glass cabinets and wondered why his face was so red. He was pulling a chair up to her bed but it wasn’t until he sat that he saw her watching him.
His face lit up immediately. “Hey Yashiro, you feeling better?”
“Still tired.” A mumble was all her body would allow but laying down made talking less exhausting. She wanted to say more, maybe ask why he was such an ass? She wanted to tell him not to bother with the meteor shower if being with her was such a hassle. Tell him that he shouldn’t have put so much effort into bringing her to see the nurse when he “wanted to be alone” especially after she was just worried about him even after he attacked her best friend's brother.
The words snapped her back to reality and she saw the guilt in his eyes and her throat closed.
“I’m sorry too. It looks like I won’t be able to hangout after school. And I’m sorry for being so petty…”
He watched her for only a moment as he processed her words before looking away. He seemed to look anywhere but at her even when he took her hand with such a gentle touch she almost didn’t notice it. Except she did notice and felt each callous on his palm as he opened her hand in on of his and started tracing some kind of symbol on her palm with a finger.
“You weren’t being petty. I was unreasonable and an ass.” She would be lying if she said the admission didn’t startle her. In his lowered eyes, focused only on their hands, she could see his sincerity but also his confusion. “I know that I’m awkward and well- I’m still trying to figure out how to be a person. Someone trying to comfort me isn’t something I’m really used to. But Minamoto and I have never really seen eye to eye and he has a talent for getting under my skin. I’m not saying it’s an excuse but I know I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. What happened… you weren’t the reason that I was so angry.”
She smiled but felt her strength leaving her again. She thought she could smell the orchid on the desk but that was on the other side of the room. It didn’t matter she wanted to say it was okay that it was okay before she was trapped again. Instead of reassurances all she managed was, "So, we're still okay for the meteor shower?"
His smile lit up the room and she thought for sure that he seemed to be glowing but it had to just be the light streaming through the windows. Why were her eyes so sensitive? “Of course,” he said softly. He clasped her hand in both of hers and squeezed. “I already have a spot picked out. You’ll be able to see everything.”
"Good,” she managed as her eyelids got heavier and all strength dwindled. "I was looking forward to it.”
He sighed and she felt him lift her hand and press a kiss to her palm. Normally she would have freaked out. It was an embarrassing but romantic gesture. For him to do something like that made Aoi’s accusations that he liked her ring like a bell in her head, shrill and alarming. She wanted to yank her hand away and yell at him but with the cage back and firmly locked she couldn’t even make a sound!
Nene was barely even aware of door rattling open until she heard a voice that was quickly becoming familiar. “You know, that’s pretty creepy. Do I need to get a teacher?”
Yugi kun dropped her hand like a coal when he heard Tsukasa’s voice. “Shut up,” he hissed, “you know exactly what I was doing!”
There was a scraping sound as Tsukasa likely pulled up another chair. “You know the more intimate the kiss the stronger the protection. Why did you just kiss her hand?”
“I drew a few protection sigils in her palm. The kiss was just to secure them so she doesn’t wear through them the first time she goes back to working in a garden. Besides,” his quiet voice turned quieter, almost bashful. “I can’t kiss her on the cheek or forehead to make it stronger. That would be inappropriate.”
“You’re such an old man.” There was a fondness to Tsukasa’s voice that warmed her heart. “Just think, it’s not just us anymore. I can tell she really cares for you.”
There was a long span of silence and she felt his eyes on her face. So that’s what he meant. In his own eyes he wasn’t a person. Just a brother.
“Did you feel that energy burst earlier?” Yugi kun’s deflection caught her off guard. She wished he would have gone into more detail, confided in Tsukasa. If he would just ease some of that burden from his shoulders.
“That was her?”
“I don’t know, but I know she’s involved. When I went to investigate she was on the floor and Minamoto was there with his sword out.”
There was another span of silence. “It’s interesting,” Tsukasa whispered, “on my way here all the plants in the building seemed more- I don’t know- healthy? The flowers were bigger and all the leaves seemed more green. Not to mention the energy wasn’t malicious. It just seemed scared.”
“You’re thinking that it was a startled apparition that just retaliated?”
“Maybe, if it is you better hope we find it before the Minamoto brothers do. You know they’re not exactly known for their compassion and understanding.”
Nene wanted to argue with him. Teru wasn’t like that. He always said that he gave spirits the care they deserved! It was impossible that he or Kou- especially Kou- were known for being anything but kind.
Yugi kun scoffed. “Yeah, no kidding.” The sound made him seem so real. The mask and distance was almost gone with his brother but he was using the time to slander her friends! “Even if we can grant its wish I doubt we’ll have the chance. The poor thing is probably already exorcised.”
Tsukasa just sighed with his response. “I hate how they don’t even question it. You remember when we were helping an apparition that was just trying to get someone to feed his dog and the second son just exorcised him without hesitation?”
No! That couldn’t be her friend! That wasn’t her family! They were lying! That wasn’t who she was raised with! Not the people that went out of their way to help every person they met! This was nothing but lies! Maybe it was the family rivalry that skewed their version of events? That had to be it, she decided firmly. She would have to ask Tetsuo San when she could. He would make it all clear.
“Yeah,” Yugi kun was saying, “but Yashiro is safe. Right now that’s all that matters.”
She felt her heart jump when hair was brushed from her face. They were silent again and the air seemed charged with words left unsaid. It seemed like an eternity with her unable to move or see them. She didn’t know if they were having a silent conversation or if they even had those. She could only guess what they saw or what they were thinking. Or that was the case until Tsukasa spoke.
“Does she know about us?” It was a soft question but one that seemed like a land mine even to her ears.
“I don’t know.” Yugi whispered, his hand came back to hers again. This time he laid it over her stomach and traced the back of it with his thumb. “She asked a weird question before class about if Minamoto and I worked together and that could mean if we’re both exorcists but I don’t know what he’s told her.”
“Father would be furious if we told her”
“Don’t,” Yugi kun’s tone was low with a warning and he pulled away from her entirely. “I don’t want her to face the constant anxiety of knowing there’s stuff lurking in the shadows. If she has to live her life looking over her shoulder that would be on our heads. Is that really what you want?”
Tsukasa’s tone turned placating and sad. “Amane, it’s okay to be selfish. You keep telling me that when I get in my own head about doing something that Father would disapprove of but you never take your own advice. Have you considered she already knows? This morning she said she grew up with the thunder family and that might be better. If she already knows because of them the elders can’t be angry and we could protect her. No sneaking around and lying.”
“Don’t use my words against me. You know I hate it when you do that. As for her, it doesn’t matter. I’ll be there no matter what and I have a feeling you will be too. This incident will probably be written off as anemia or something. If she doesn’t have to enter our world I’d rather keep it that way.”
“Amane I don’t think that’s a-“
The door rattled again and the chairs scraped. They probably jumped to their feet and she heard Tetsuo san’s quiet “oh” from behind them.
“We were just-“ Yugi kun started.
“The nurse isn’t here.” Tsukasa cut in.
“We couldn’t leave her alone.” Amane finished.
She heard footsteps coming closer and Tetsuo san’s friendly laugh. “Relax, I’m not going to tell your father. You boys did the right thing. Thank you for watching her.” The boys were silent and there was a loud pa-pat and she could only guess that he had clapped both twins on the shoulder with his thanks. “You two really should go back to class though. I can handle it from here.”
Her strength was starting to come back to her but only enough to just open her eyes and see them staring at each other. They looked a little lost and surprised at what to do with the reaction but Yugi kun nodded and Tsukasa followed before facing Tatsuo san again. He was looking right at her but his attention shifted back to the boys.
“She has been in and out of consciousness for about 83 minutes.” Yugi kun spoke in a quick, efficient tone but she saw the way his knuckles were turning white where he had clenched them at his side.
Tsukasa was more relaxed but his shoulders looked uncomfortably straight when he nodded. “The energy burst that weakened her wasn’t malicious and I doubt it meant any harm.”
“And it was an elemental,” Yugi kun added. “From what Tsukasa saw on his way here and what I felt I would guess it was earth based.”
“If Minamoto hasn’t already, let us cross over the spirit instead of allowing any further violence.”
“And please keep us updated on Yashiro’s condition.”
Yugi kun and Tsukasa bent at the waist in mirrored bows as deep as they could manage. Tetsuo san was so clearly stunned that the wide eyed look and dropped jaw was almost humorous. It would have been too if not for the way his look shifted to concern before it was hidden with a soft fondness that he often reserved for his own children. He ruffled the boys hair then pushed on their foreheads so they stood straight again.
"Thank you,” he said softly with that same fond smile. “That information is very helpful. The two of you are shaping up to be excellent exorcists to be able to discern all of that from such a small amount of information. It's impressive."
She noticed something he didn’t then. Both of them took a sharp startled breath. Tsukasa beamed with pride but Yugi kun lowered his head. From her lowered angle she was able to see the way he squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip so hard she thought he might draw blood. His knuckles were white again and his shoulders trembled.
Tetsuo san’s fondness turned sad then. “You two really should return to class though. “I’ll make sure I talk to someone so you don’t get in trouble for looking after our Nene, okay?”
When they shuffled out of the room Testuo san closed the door behind them and electricity arced over his shoulders. “That bastard..” she thought she heard him but knew that he spoke too quietly and too far away for her to be able to hear him.
Nene tried to speak then but the only sound that left her throat was a small dry croak. Tetsuo san turned quickly with his usual easy smile back in place. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were still awake. How are you feeling?” He crossed the room in a few long strides and took Yugi kun’s chair.
“I was never asleep.” Her words were slurred and she hated it. She was reminded of an amphibian constantly swimming against the glass walls of it’s tank but never moving. She hated being the damn frog or whatever it was that was just smart enough to move but too stupid for her body to just obey her! “Mind didn’t stop, body just won’t work. Talking is exhausting.”
“Well that makes sense.” She glared at him and felt something in her shift. It was a vine curling under her ribs and around her heart. A choked wriggling that wasn’t natural and made her eyes burn with tears. “Now, now, calm down. Do you remember why your grandmother introduced you to us?”
She shook her head. She’s known them longer than she remembered. She couldn’t think of a time when Kou wasn’t in her life.
“That’s right,” he stroked her hair out of her face. He was a father to her and she bit her cheek to keep the comfort from being a distraction. “You were so young back then you probably don’t remember. Your grandmother asked us for help because you have an extraordinary gift. Probably more powerful than Teru and pretty close to Tiara in raw power. You were so scared of it you feared your own emotions and sealed it all on your own. Teru was so mad at you for disregarding it but he came around as he always does. It seems like those seals finally broke. I don’t know if it’s the time that’s passed or if something triggered it but you body has to refamiliarize itself with your gifts. It will feel weird and probably hurt but it will pass and you’ll feel more alive than ever.”
“How long,” she wheezed. The vines were back and playing with her lungs and tightening around her legs. The more she panicked the stronger they squeezed.
“Probably no more than a few weeks. I imagine that the worst will pass in about nine days.”
They tightened and something bloomed in her throat making her choke. She didn’t have nine days! The meteor shower was in six days and she promised Yugi kun she would go! He even had a spot picked she couldn’t! She couldn’t breathe!
“Hey!” Tetsuo San pulled up to sit and wrapped his arms around her as she coughed and wheezed. “You’re okay! Whatever you’re thinking about, stop it! The more anxious you become the worse it’ll be. You have to relax and let this run its course!”
She tried. She really, really tried but with every coil she wanted to scream. She had no idea how she didn’t feel it coming before but she wanted to cry. She wanted to scream if she didn’t feel like a flower was crawling up her damn throat.
Tetsuo forced her jaw up and cleared her air ways just enough that she felt air scrap through her lungs. The first breath turned into a sob. “What’s happening?”
“I told you. Your body is adjusting to your affinity again. You have to let it happen and stop fighting it.”
“It didn’t hurt like this before!”
He just held her for a long moment in silence as she used every drop of air to bawl her eyes out. She tried to relax and let each thorn sink into her bone and the leaves sprouting through her lungs to suffocate her but she was so scared.
“Tell me about your aquarium.”
She blinked through the tears and scrambled for thought. Her botanical aquarium that she had just refreshed. “Made it bigger.” She managed.
“Yeah, I overheard you telling Kou. How’s your lily?”
“It has a bud now.” She managed. The thought of her most precious flower made the pain ease ever so slightly. “It never had a bud, only leaves.”
“I know, what changed?”
She didn’t know but she’s been brooding over it for weeks. The bud had appeared during her first day at Kamome and she only noticed it when she got home but she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what she did differently. She thought of Yugi Amane and wanted to cry again.
“They’re going to lie to me,” she said through a sob.
“Who? Who’s lying to you?”
“Tsukasa and Yugi Kun. Yugi kun is going to lie to me about being an exorcist.”
She felt Tetsuo san’s hold on her waver before he pressed a kiss to the side of her head. “I’m sorry but you’ll have to forgive them for that. It’s simply their way.”
When she didn’t answer let only cried more at the growing pain he stroked a hand through her hair. “I’ll have to tell you a bit about the Yugi clan later. For now you’ll have to forgive them and not mention that you do know about spirits and exorcists. Their family isn’t friendly to outsiders.”
“But I’m not an outsider.”
“I’m sorry,” Tetsuo san said, pulling her closer to his chest so she could match her breathing to his. “By their family standards you are. You are not an Heir of a prominent blood line and you’re not a legacy of a common family familiar with exorcists. To them you are just a normal girl. No, stop it.” He snapped when she started to sniffle again. “There is nothing wrong with being normal. There are more of us that would die to be normal instead of risking our lives and looking over our shoulders every moment. Embrace who you are.”
“Yugi kun said something about that when he told Tsukasa not to tell me…”
“Exactly, he’s thinking of your well-being. I’ve known the Yugi boys since they were children so believe me when I say they are much more empathetic than most will give them credit for. Especially Amane kun. He is just doing what he thinks is best.”
“They’re still plan to lie.”
"I know it's difficult. Unfortunately the grownups are to blame for this one, and that’s just the way they’re being raised. Until they are talked around, it might be worse for those two if you reveal what you know."
“What if they never come around,” she whispered into his chest. The vines had reached her fingers and made gripping on to him painful and impossible. Still she clenched his shirt in a fist and let the burning tears fall down her face. “What if Yugi kun just always lies?”
"He won't.” Tetsuo san said firmly. He gripped her hand and stared her right in the eyes. He spoke with such conviction she could only believe him. "Those boys are stubborn to a fault. If anyone can change that family and break that cycle it's those two."
She swallowed hard around whatever blocked her throat but nodded. “Okay,” she said in a tiny voice.
He grinned at her. "They might just need a little push here and there from someone outside the exorcist clans"
She frowned at the words but then the implication dawned on her. The realization shone so clearly through the pain and misery it almost made the feeling of being ripped about from the inside out bearable. “I’m outside the exorcist clans.” She whispered her discovery then looked up to his fatherly smile.
"Exactly,” he gave her hand a small squeeze. "So, do you think you can put up with Amane kun’s excuses until he’s able to tell you the truth?"
She sniffed at the focus on the other brother but couldn’t bring herself to put too much energy on resenting it. Both boys were her friends now but Yugi kun was her friend first. Yugi kun was the one to make the choice to exclude her. “Probably,” she decided. “They seem to really like you. It’s weird that Yugi kun doesn’t get along with Teru at all”
His awkward laugh seemed to spill an entire story before he spoke. The history was just revealed in a way that she didn’t yet understand. "Those two have never really seen eye to eye, I think there's a little jealousy there and our families have such different rules it can be difficult to understand each other... Teru seems to get along better with the younger twin so that’s something at least. Amane kun probably wouldn’t even tolerate Teru if Tsukasa kun didn’t like him."
“Because tsukasa likes everyone is the embodiment of barely restrained chaos.”
Tetsuo san snorted. "I think you might be partially correct there though Tsukasa kun certainly does not like everyone. Kou and Amane are usually the ones cleaning up their messes. It made them closer- or as close as one can be to a Yugi heir."
She chuckled and tried to nod but a pain in her neck stunned her movements. “I can see that.”
“Good. It seems the worst of this wave has passed. Sadly, your mother is still at work but your grandmother is home so I can either take you back to your house and you can have some more rest or I can take you back to the Minamoto estate and you can be pestered by Tiara until your mother comes for you.”
“I want to see Tiara.” The little girl was the baby sister she always wanted. Being an only child wasn’t something she often thought about but she wanted to see the youngest of her second family with all her messy haired, wide grinned, spoiled glory.
He nodded, "Okay. Do you think you can walk? Or do you want me to carry you?"
“I don’t think I can walk yet.” The honest mutter brought heat to her face but Tetsuo san would never judge her. “Can you carry me please?”
He didn’t respond, just adjusted his hold and lifted her. “I promise you’ll be okay.”
She knew he was right. He always was.
Nene just focused on not crying in pain and tried to retain the strength she had regained. She was only vaguely aware of Tetsuo san talking with a teacher when he signed her out of school. It wasn’t until she was buckled into his passenger seat that she focused back into her surroundings and saw the furrow in his brows and the tense set of his jaw.
“Are you angry with Teru and Kou for not being there or with Yugi kun and Tsukasa for looking after me?”
“No,” he hissed through his teeth. “Neither and I’m not angry with you. I’m just thinking.”
“Nothing much.” Despite his answer his grip on the steering wheel tightened as they pulled out of their parking spot and onto the road. “Some people are just not cut out to be parents no matter how much they want kids.”
She frowned at the statement and couldn’t quite pin the origin of the thought but it didn’t matter. Soon she would be resting on their couch and when Tiara was home from preschool they would watch movies and she would probably want to play with her hair again. She would be okay and despite the ever growing pain she remembered it would pass. Eventually she would be back to normal and Yugi kun would hopefully trust her enough soon to tell her the truth.
Next time: Alstroemeria
Chapter 6: Alstoemeria
Tip from the author: The flower of the chapter is a hint as to what's to come <3
For example the Alstroemeria has a host of spiritual interpretations, from devotion and friendship to the achievement of aspirations.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The evening of the meteor shower was silent. The sun was just starting to set and cast the world in reds and oranges. When the Yugi brothers heard their father’s office door slam shut then their mother’s furious yell they put their plan into motion. They had already hidden their phones so they wouldn’t be tracked through the night and the bag under Tsukasa’s bed. Amane did a quick check; blanket, drinks, star map, and book of stories. Even a lantern was packed, just in case. They were all there. All that was left was Amane’s prized telescope that he neatly packed into a carrying case and held tight against his chest.
As he walked out of his bedroom he froze as the feeling he forgot something important washed over him. He looked around the room until a silver satin bow caught his attention. He almost cursed his stupidity as he grabbed the box. It was no larger than a deck of cards so it fit easily in his pocket. Every step he felt the corners press into his leg and it only made him pray to any of the gods that would listen that Nene would enjoy the gift. When he commissioned it from a small artist he found online it was a spur of the moment decision and he had been filled with anxiety ever since. All he could do was mask the dread as he usually did and pretend that a gift couldn’t make a friendship awkward and ruin everything.
When they made it to the window on the opposite side of the house that would lead directly to the side road, Amane grabbed Tsukasa by the shirt and yanked him to a stop. There on the windowsill was a large bento with both their phones resting stark black on the light blue wave pattern of the furoshiki with a note in their mother's graceful handwriting. “Stay safe and call if you need anything.” Even through the wood and silk wrapping they could smell their mom’s baking.
“She worries too much,” Tsukasa mumbled from where he was looking over Amane’s shoulder. He could only agree as he shoved his phone in his pocket and carefully zipped the box into Tsukasa’s bag. With a nod and a silent pat on the back of Tsukasa’s head they both carefully slipped out the window.
When they finally made it to the top of the hill where they agreed to meet Nene at, she was already there. She was beautiful. The moon light made her seem to glow and her fluffy pink dress made her look like a fairy from a book. She sat so carefully on the grass and seemed right at home with the way her fingers stroked and caressed the grass and little clovers.
When she noticed them her face brightened and his heart fluttered. Just seeing her warmed something deep in his chest and reminded him how desperately he had fallen for her.
“Yugi kun! Tsukasa! I knew you guys would come! Here, granny made tea for us.”
Tsukasa was quick to join her, never noticing the tension that snapped Amane still. Running ahead and plopping onto the grass,he easily shrugged out of his bag and accepted the little plastic cup. “It smells delicious!”
Yashiro knew they were twins. For how long? She knew that the one she met with wasn’t him. Perhaps she liked Tsukasa better? Maybe she saw them together on the first day of school. Why didn’t she say she knew she wasn’t talking with him? Why did she let Tsukasa lie to him?
He tried to stamp down those thoughts and set up his telescope. He folded himself to sit on the grass with crossed legs and the body of the telescope resting heavily in his lap as he screwed in the eye piece. He tried not to grumble at the laughter at his back.
Since when were they so close anyway? It didn't make sense! Calling each other by first name and being all friendly.
“Amane,” Tsukasa cheered, “Come here so we can open Mom’s cookies!”
This time he did grumble ignoring Tsuksa’s song that the telescope could wait. He was careful to set it aside in a place that wouldn’t send it rolling down the hill. When he did join them on the blanket that had been laid out Tsukasa nudged him and handed him a note with a significant look.
He read it and felt the blood drain from his face then back to his cheeks in a dizzying rush.
“Have a good night! Bring her by the house some time so I can meet her. Love Mom”
Amane ripped the paper in two and stuffed it into his pocket. “Not a chance,” he whispered.
“Never,” Tsukasa agreed as he grabbed a roll shaped like a rabbit from the box and handed him a star shaped cookie that smelled like cinnamon.
Nene leaned towards them with another cup in hand. Her glowing smile seemed to light the night and take his breath away. The slightest breeze tugged her long hair in beautiful waves and only emphasized the silver strands. The sudden urge to just tell her everything weighed in his chest making him realize how exhausting lying to her would be. Any injury, unusual attitude, or anything else she might notice would call for more lies and she deserved the truth. Nene, of anyone in their fucked up lives, deserved honesty.
He jumped when he heard his name and saw Nene and Tsukasa both watching him with blatant concern. A wire of guilt shot through him but he laughed. “Sorry,” he stood and brushed crumbs from his shirt, not that he had eaten any of the cookie yet. “I was just thinking that I should finish putting together the telescope. We wanted to see more than the meteor shower, right?”
He stuffed the treat in his mouth as he turned on his heel and planted himself in the grass again to complete his task.
He heard their whispering and Nene’s light giggles. A single glance over his shoulder ripped through them. Tsukasa was leaning into Nene whispering and she was smiling so brightly she out shone all the stars.
An idea had his face flaming and his back turning towards them but he spoke before he lost the nerve. “Isn’t it a hassle to call one of us by name and the other Yugi kun?” He stood to set up the tripod and his sweaty palms almost dropped it. “You can just call me Amane.”
There was a long span of silence, long enough for him to secure the telescope and step away before Nene spoke.
“I just wasn’t sure if you would like it.” Suddenly her demeanor shifted. It was something almost darker but not. Something that he had seen in movies and read about in books. Flirty? No, Yashiro Nene wouldn’t look at him like that , right?
He felt his mind stall. Her tone, the shape of her lips forming his name, the look in her dark eyes. Everything about her consumed him, including the memory of her pressed into his back and the smell of something vaguely floral from her hair. She was so soft and he wanted to hold her again.
His face flamed and he turned sharply, adjusting the telescope mindlessly.
“Don’t worry,” Tsukasa whispered, “I think he likes it.”
He cursed his brother, cursed his teenage hormones! If he was ever stuck in a teenage state forever then he would prefer to die. The thought of dying as a teenager and becoming a teenage spirit came to him and he shuddered. Talk about a fate worse than death…
“You’re thinking something dirty,” Tsukasa’s loud whisper came from over his shoulder. “Aren’t you?”
Amane spun on his heel. “Of course not!” Unfortunately his voice cracked and Tsukasa danced away laughing.
He lunged to grab Tsukasa by his stupid sweater but a giggle froze him. Looking over he saw Nene grinning a shining bemusement that soured his anger. The anger churned to a little ball in his stomach when she lifted a little rabbit bun. “It’s lovely how much you two get along.”
“I think ‘getting along’ is relative in this situation.” He muttered bitterly.
She looked away then to pour tea from a different thermos than what she served them with. Amane seized his chance and planted his elbow squarely in Tsukasa’s stomach. He earned a satisfying “oomph” from his brother.
When Amane flopped down next to her, grabbing a bunny just to add insult to injury, he looked over her shoulder at the red tea in her cup trying to ignore the heat lingering in his face. Theirs was black tea. “Did you not like the tea you brought?
“Oh this?” She looked down at her cut and the most adorable wrinkle in her nose when she scowled down at her cup. “A doctor that Minamoto San knows made it for me. I’ve been in a lot of pain lately.”
He felt a stone sink in his stomach as he remembered her form leaned against a wall. He only realized later that night that her presence was so faint he could only feel her when they were touching. Was the attack the source of her pain? Was he so obtuse that he never noticed her pain through all of that or why she was missing days from school. He should have checked on her. He should have done something .
“Hey,” Nene snapped. He jerked to attention and felt her hand over his. Her skin was so cool and he couldn’t tell if it was a lingering effect of her attack or just caused by the night. “I’m okay. They’re just growing pains.”
He repressed a sigh and gently squeezed the fingers that wrapped around his palm. It wasn’t until he ignored Tsukasa’s petty dry look and ate the rabbit bun that his eyes widened.
“You didn't tell me she filled them with red bean paste!”
Tsukasa only scoffed, taking a bun of his own. “Because I knew you would eat them all. Nene, you wouldn’t believe this but Amane is so selfish when it comes to red bean paste!” He barely dodged the foot Amane kicked his way.
Nene’s gentle scolding was ignored especially when Tsukasa launched into a horrifying story from their childhood. “I’m serious! The only time I’ve ever seen him grovel was when he was begging Father to allow him to eat taiyaki. His head was on the floor and everything and when Father didn’t listen they started arguing. We were maybe five or six years old when this happened so just picture baby Amane screaming and throwing a fit. It was actually kind of scary at that moment.”
Nene watched Amane roll his eyes but his face seemed to be burning red in the low light and he again gripped her hand. “I didn’t grovel.”
“Yes you did! It was also the only time I’ve ever seen you question our family traditions! I wish someone had recorded your tantrum!”
“What tradition?” Nene asked. She could only hope that the change of topic would alleviate some of Amane’s embarrassment. “Why wouldn’t you guys be able to eat taiyaki?”
“Oh,” they both chirped, then giving each other a measured look then grabbing another bun.
“We’re kind of like reverse pescetarians.” Amane offered.
“Yeah,” Tsukasa agreed, leaning back on his elbows while ripping his bun in half. “We can eat anything but fish and fish products.”
“That includes anything shaped like a fish.”
“It’s so stupid.”
Amane shrugged but Nene thought. Thinking back, Amane almost always ate his lunch at his desk and she really couldn’t recall what he ate. Aoi did mention wondering if he was allergic to fish once though. Something about that statement- that tradition- tickled some deep memory in her brain. Something she couldn’t quite reach but was right there out of focus. “So,” she started quietly, “If you can’t eat anything fish shaped how did you find out you like taiyaki?”
Amane hummed with thought and his head rested on her shoulder. Tsukasa’s head suddenly shot up. He stuffed the remainder of his bun in his mouth before rifling through his bag and pulling out an electric lantern and turning on its pale blue light with a quiet “it’s getting pretty dark.” Nene filed that information away for later but Amane just nodded in acknowledgement before he started talking.
“You know how the Minamoto clan puts up a summer festival every year?”
“Yeah,” Nene said, “It’s huge.”
“Yeah,” Amane said as Tsukasa wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Well, because of our family we have to make an appearance every year. That’s how the kid and I know each other. One year when I was little I wandered off and-”
“Wandered off?” Tsukasa snorted. “We turned away to greet someone and Amane was suddenly gone. He disappeared!”
“ Anyway ,” Amane said forcefully. “When I wandered off I ended up getting lost. I found some kind of clearing in between the tents and the trees of the park forest and I was only there for a few minutes when someone found me.”
Tsukasa spoke up again. “It wasn’t us, by the way. And when we did find him he was all smiles but he was clearly crying at some point.”
“Shut up! I was not crying! But yes, the person that found me was a little girl about our age. She was lost too I think but didn’t say anything about it so we just played together. Eventually we got hungry so we went to get something to eat and I had some money on me so I took care of it and she got this big smile. She asked me why I didn’t get anything for myself and so I had to explain to her that I couldn’t eat anything shaped like a fish.”
Nene felt her heart leap into her throat. That was it. That was the memory. She and Kou had done something stupid that morning so they got in trouble and she snuck away from the group. Amane had been crying when she found him and that’s why she stayed.
It seemed so impossible! He was that boy. He remembered her and his voice was so dreamy when he talked about her! She couldn’t seem to wrap her head around it.
She knew where this story was going but her tongue seemed glued to the roof of her mouth. Her throat was thick as if she swallowed a mouthful of cinnamon and she wanted to say or do something but she was stuck.
With Amane leaning on her shoulder she could see his face but could practically hear his smile. “When she heard that she looked so confused but instead of calling me weird like everyone else our age she just started ripping her taiyaki into pieces and just said that it’s not shaped like a fish anymore so I shouldn’t get in trouble. It was just… Insane.” He laughed. His laugh was so bright it seemed to make him shine and lighten the area itself. “So yeah, we shared the taiyaki and it became my favorite treat and I kept harassing Father about it until Mom stepped in.”
“You should have seen him.” Tsukasa jabbed but with a soft fondness in his eyes. “He’s an idiot so he never got that girl’s name. He was too busy being an in love toddler to care.”
“I was not!” Amane practically squealed with his voice cracking again. “It never came up and it didn’t matter! I don’t think she knows my name either! I doubt she even remembers me.”
How wrong he was...
“He used to talk about her all the time. ‘I wonder if she likes stars.’ ‘I wonder if she likes this game.’ Blah, blah, blah. He used to call her Moon Princess because she was- and I quote- as pretty as the moon.”
“Tsu,” Amane hissed, kicking at Tsukasa’s leg, “shut up!”
Tsukasa only laughed more while Nene’s face burned. It had to be visible in the dim light or at the least the steam that she worried was curling out of her head.
Amane really thought of her like that? She watched him as he sprung to his feet and charged at Tsukasa who only rolled away, still laughing. She had already accepted that Amane was actually capable of emotion but did he possibly have a crush on her? Probably not, right? If he knew she was the girl he probably wouldn’t have told that story at all. Besides if he did like the girl it was just a memory he liked. She had changed so much since back then.
Nene’s attention was caught with a yelp and Tsukasa springing to his feet. “Hey, Amane kun,” she called and tried not to snicker when he stopped dead in his tracks and fell into the grass looking at her. They were pretty far away but she could clearly see a pink tint in his cheeks. The lantern must have been more powerful than she realized. “It seemed like you might have had a question before Tsukasa distracted us. You seemed like you almost asked something in class before too.”
“Oh,” she barely heard him as he pulled himself to his feet and brushed off his pants. “Ri-right! There's an asteroid that comes around every five years or so and I think I found it. It won't be visible until early in the morning but if we stay up late I can show you!”
“An asteroid,” she repeated looking at the stars. “Isn’t that what we were going to watch? Won't it pass too quickly for us to really see?”
“Not at all!” Amane flopped across from her and grabbed a mug that she was pretty sure Tsukasa was drinking from before. “Meteors are typically really small, normally like a pebble size, and they burn up in the atmosphere. That’s what makes the light. They normally come from pieces of asteroids or comets. Asteroids though, they’re smaller than a planet, but they orbit something. The one I wanted to show you orbits the sun and can be seen every 1,803 days- just under 5 years.”
“Wow,” she blinked at him. “That’s, uhm, a lot of detail.”
“Oh, I guess it is slightly weird to know all that. Isn’t it?”
“No!” She corrected quickly. “It’s impressive! I just didn’t realize you know so much about space!”
“Tsukasa calls me a space otaku. I just really like the stars and it kind of grew from there.”
She nodded and conversation dwindled from there. They ate their snacks and drank tea in a comfortable silence. Every now and then one of them would share a story or a joke. Amane would point out stars and constellations, here and there showing her through the telescope or pulling out a book to share the stories or history. It was so comfortable and easy.
She had no idea how much time had passed before they saw the first streak of light. Nene had gasped and tried to stand but the pain came back with a vengeance. It shot like lightning through her legs and the ground shifted beneath her feet. She squeezed her eyes shut ready for a heavy fall when something solid came up on either side of her. An arm wrapped around her waist while another hand caught her shoulders and each of her hands were grabbed.
“Whoa,” Amane said softly. “Are you okay?”
“Did you not eat today?” Tsukasa asked.
She opened her eyes to see both boys holding her. They peered at her with the stripes of light putting their soft worried features in a sharp relief and she felt her heart give a single heard thump. She couldn’t imagine why but something about them rushing to her rescue made her feel like the protagonist in a manga. In any other context it would be romantic.
Amane’s hand on her waist tightened slightly but Tsukasa spoke over whatever thought he had. “We can cut the night short and walk you home.”
“Do you need a doctor?” Amane asked quietly.
“I’m okay.” Nene said. The disbelief played over their features in an amusing unison so she squeezed each of their hands and looked up at the falling stars. “I promise. This is too beautiful to miss.”
Looking up over each of their heads, Nene smiled. Something warm fluttered through her chest but she ignored it until the arm around her waist brought her closer to Amane’s chest. She glanced at him and he quickly looked away. He stared up at the shining stares and whispered something under his breath. When he was asked to repeat his face glowed red in the dim light.
“I was just asking if you wanted to sit or stay standing.”
She thought for just a moment and was so tempted to indulge. Maybe it was the fantasy that someone would love her since she was a child, or maybe it was the fact she was finally closer to Amane. And maybe he looked a little cute blushing like that.
“I want to stay standing. But it is kind of cold.”
“Do you want my jumper?” Both boys chimed then glared at each other.
She couldn’t hide her chuckle. They had both leaned closer to her, pressing their warmth into her arms. She mentioned this and the twins pressed closer to her. It allowed her to watch the stars without worry.
It didn’t take long however for Tsukasa to get bored and leave them in favor of snacks and tea. Amane was quick to adjust his grip to better support her even though she had her feet under her and she could stand on her own. Of course he didn’t know that and she couldn’t really find any reason to tell him.
“Are you still cold?” He asked softly. His voice was barely a whisper.
“A bit,” he admitted and he immediately eased her to sit on the grass. When he walked away her senses flooded with the earth. She felt the grass growing and wrapping around her fingers. The roots reach down through the cool dirt, energized to find better nutrition. If she tried she could even count every grain of silt under her finger tips. It was almost overwhelming but thankfully not nearly as bad as it was a few days ago.
It all went quiet when something wrapped around her shoulders and Amane sat next to her. He bumped his shoulder against her’s and smiled wide. “That should help.”
She looked down at the blanket and giggled. It was a thick fleece blanket that seemed well loved. When she looked at Amane to thank him her breath caught in her throat.
His eyes were locked on the sky. A slight smile lifted his features and the streaks of light and moon seemed to give him a beautiful soft blue glow. Despite him pulling his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms tight around his legs and the prickled skin on his arms he looked so relaxed.
Before she thought better of it she tossed half the blanket around his shoulders and leaned into his side. She felt him jump but she fixed her eyes on the falling stars. It took longer than she cared to think about for him to relax but when he did he fully leaned into her. One of her hands planted in the grass behind her and the open position allowed her to lean into his shoulder.
He was surprisingly comfortable. Nene wouldn’t describe him as soft but that made sense given the fact he was able to carry her without any issue and could apparently lift Kou just as easily. He was firm. Something solid to lean on but when he eventually leaned his cheek on the crown of her head she melted.
They sat there in a peaceful silence except for easy breathing from behind them even after the shower of lights faded. Amane pulled out his phone to check the time and whispered her name.
She hummed a response. “Are you tired?” he whispered and she shook her head. “We have a couple hours before that asteroid. Did you want to stay? I can take you home.”
“No I’ll stay,” she whispered back. “Was there anything you would want to talk about?”
He hummed and seemed to lean into her a little more. “Nothing comes to mind. I’m not really good at having friends.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“It’s true.” She could hear a smile in his voice. “In middle school people didn’t really talk to us so it was just me and Tsukasa. This is the first time we’ve actually been in different classes.”
“Wow.” She whispered. “But you didn’t even do any clubs or anything?”
“I played soccer for a little while. I was quite good at it too but after a season the team kicked me out and Father only agreed to let me play the one season anyway.”
“That’s so sad…”
“In a way I guess… Father is… very strict. He keeps threatening to have us homeschooled but Mom won’t allow it.”
She thought for a moment, the faces they made when people approached and the distance that she could feel even now with them being so close. This might be the most vulnerable she’s seen Amane but still she pitied them. How lonely must they be? How lonely did they make themselves?
“Well that’s changing.” She said firmly. “You two have friends now so even if you were home schooled you would still have people that cared about you and that you could talk to.”
The air around them changed and the area seemed lighter. She looked up to see a cloud moving away from the moon and heard Amane.
“That’s very sweet of you.” He whispered.
They fell into silence again and Nene must have drifted to sleep when Amane whispered to himself. “Maybe another night then.” She had barely heard it and almost thought it was a dream except his hand on her shoulder. It moved down behind her again leaving her arm cold even under the warm blanket.
“What?” She murmured groggily.
“The asteroid is almost visible. That’s all. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s fine…” she sat up and stretched, arching her back and rolling the pain from her neck. “I want to see it.”
She was suddenly very aware that she didn’t hurt. The plants weren’t too loud. Maybe her suffering was finally over and she finally adjusted to the magic flowing through her.
She stood on her own and almost cried with joy. She finally felt normal again.
Unaware, Amane led her to the telescope and adjusted it before gesturing her forward. When she did look she saw a small lumpy, not quite oval rock.
“Oh.” Was all she could say.
Her disinterest must have been clear.
“It’s called 1092 Lilium, named after a true lily. I thought that it might be a good start and since the orbit was so close and I heard your favorite flower was- You know what, it was stupid but here.”
She looked up when she heard the rustling of fabric and from his pocket he pulled out a small blue cardboard box tied with a light silver ribbon. She was admittedly hesitant to open it but when she did she couldn’t restrain the gasp.
Nestled in a bed of black velvet was a hair comb with a cluster of pink and pale yellow lilies. They looked like stargazers with the speckling and exaggerated curling of the petals but she couldn’t be sure in the dark. When she shifted the box, even slightly, the petals glimmered with a metallic shine and she noticed the small leaves behind the blooms and at the center of each of the flowers, barely visible in the dim light-
“Are those pearls,” she asked breathlessly.
“Yeah, at the centers.” He looked away, leaning back on his heels and shoved his hands in his pocket. “Pearls are prized in my family. They are hard to get without injuring the wildlife which is something we don’t really do. Modern technology and all. But they are a sign of wisdom and calming. The elders also say they bring abundance and prosperity so you know…”
“It’s beautiful…” she whispered, taking the ornament out of the box with careful fingers. She looked at the flowers closer with the light of the lantern even if it was faint. They were definitely stargazers. The very flower that somehow reminded her of Amane from day one. The color choice however…
Pink again for abundance and prosperity. Then yellow, the youngest addition to the stargazer family, for thankfulness and a desire for enjoyment. It was likely a simple strain of luck but the comb felt almost like a charm. Something pleasant and comforting sat in the molded blossoms and metal prongs that promised exactly what it stood for. And more, it felt like him. The same protective aura from when she was injured radiated from the accessory and it warmed her.
“I love it.” She finally said and tried not to giggle when Amane let out a burst of a sigh.
“Good, good. I’m glad. I hope it’s not weird. I saw it and thought you would like something like that so you know. And I guess you could see it as a delayed get well gift. I’m not very good at origami and cranes are kind of cliche anyway.”
She did laugh this time. Letting whatever flutter run through her stomach and up her chest. “It’s not weird at all! I promise I love it.”
He fully smiled then. A bright crooked smile that lit up his features and stuck with her well after the night ended. Even after she got home, the smile played through her dreams. Along with the shine in his eyes when he told her about the stars or the lightness of the air when he seemed so happy.
She also dreamed of the little boy that she now knew was Amane waiting for her in a beautiful clearing, a familiar seed in his cupped hands. He stood in a yukata next to a pond, clear as glass despite the surrounding trees and wildlife. The moon pressed down, only overgrown branches keeping it at bay. It was the circle carved under his feet in the dirt that chilled her. A familiar spell that she had almost completely forgotten.
“Why didn’t you want me?” The young Amane asked with the grown Amane’s voice. “You called for me but I wasn’t enough?”
He changed, growing to his teenage self. The yakata grew with him, as did the seed into a young water lily that glowed in his palms.
“We told you.” Tetsuo san's voice came from him now. “This was forbidden. I hope you’re ready this time.”
She woke up with a scream.
She was okay. Nene was in her own bed in her home. She wasn’t in pain and despite the dread seeping into her still, the dream that woke her was already slipping away. She took a deep breath and counted back from ten. Each number she marked something new for her senses.
10. Her granny’s singing.
9. The muffled clatter of cooking.
8. Nene’s hamster running on his wheel.
7 . The plush softness of her bed.
She continued counting until finally her heart rate steadied. But she still counted. She had to finish the count. Then she noticed.
1. A gentle glow in the dark room shining through her eyelids.
Her water lily had bloomed just a little more. No longer a bud, the pink petals had just started to pull away to form a full bloom. It was only a few- maybe 5 petals at the most- but after years of nurturing it was finally starting to bloom. Just as she had forgotten how she got the damn thing in the first place. She couldn’t say that it was normal for flowers to glow but it was just probably a trick of the light sneaking past her curtains and under her door.
Today was going to be a good day if only for the fact that her favorite baby was starting to bloom.
Next time: Petunia
Chapter 7: Petunia
The day after his wonderful night with Nene, Amane’s day was uneventful. His meditations and prayers were distracted but neither his Father or the Masters that tutored him said anything. Their exercises with their affinity had been fine until the memory of her sleeping against his shoulder, each snore a soft purr of noise almost broke his concentration. The image of Nene smiling in the starlight looking like a goddess and something painfully soft in her eyes as she said his given name broke him. Even when the tower of water crashed down around him, soaking everything in the area, his father still said nothing.
Tsukasa had been whispering about Amane being lucky he had a bad day on one of their father’s good days during a break when suddenly a shadow towered over them.
“Boys,” their father’s voice called, low and apathetic. “You both seem distracted today, especially you Amane. Did something happen at school?”
Suddenly the courtyard and the late spring air seemed icey. “No Father.” Amane said quickly. “I just must not have slept well.”
Their father watched him for a long moment. His pitch black eyes bore into him and his arms folded into the sleeves of his hakamashita. Even as their father’s expression quickly lifted in a smile that left blood roaring in Amane’s ears. “I see,” their father said, “In that case we shall practice until I’m certain you’ll both sleep well tonight.”
“Yes, Father,” they droned.
When he walked away to arrange the next exercise with the masters, Tsukasa turned to him with a glare.
“I knew sneaking out was a bad idea!” He hissed, “I told you Father would know! I told you he would know we lied!”
“We took all the precautions. There’s no way he knows.”
“Idiot!” Tsukasa punched his arm. Another bruise to add to his array of his nasty and vivid anthology. “Someone is always watching! An elder or one of the other families living in the damn estate probably told him!”
Amane tried to brush it off but the following morning when they crawled in the car to go to school, everything in Amane’s body protesting all the while, the passenger door opened. Even the driver looked startled, his head snapping around to stare with his mouth agape as the head of the Yugi family slid into the seat.
“Nothing changes,” he said calmly. “You can continue on the usual route.”
After several minutes of silence their father finally spoke.
“You disrespect me. You disrespect our family, the elders, and everything I’ve tried to teach you.” His voice was still calm but with that frigid chill his anger always carried. “All for some frivolous evening jaunt, then you lie to me.”
Yes, Amane concluded with a seething look from Tsukasa, this was going to be a long drive.
Nene didn’t really think much about her classmates’ family or home life. As a general rule she tended to prefer to keep her’s separated so when she saw the Yugi brothers being dropped off one morning from a fancy car instead of their usual walk to school and a man stepping out to stop them she tried not to think anything of it.
When she heard Amane call him Father however, in that tone that seemed to have the air freezing around them even in the sticky late spring morning and warn everyone away she took a second look. He was a mature man with his salt and pepper hair pushed back over one ear in a graceful shiny sweep. His smile was so much like his sons’, small and cat-like with something scary radiating in his eyes. The man was even resting a hand on each of their shoulders as he whispered something that had Tsukasa pulling away and Amane staring wide eyed.
He was a very attractive man. If his children grew even a fraction like him they would be perfect. She could almost see the potential when their father stepped into the passenger seat of that fancy car. Amane moved with the same thoughtless grace and efficiency. Not a single movement wasted with him even closing the door in the same move he entered the car with.
It was truly mesmerizing. Even to the point that she missed Tsukasa whispering soothing words to his brother as they walked through the gate.
What Nene did notice was the way Amane wasn’t quite himself through the entirety of their first classes. He was so quiet. Even his very presence seemed restrained and somehow smaller. All of his usual confidence or humor was gone. Even Lemon couldn’t pull much out of him during their breaks. She did barely hear him murmur something about his father being upset with him.
Was it really possible that something like getting scolded by a parent was enough to set him back? Nene thought back. Even though she's only really known Amane for a few months it felt like she’s known him for a lifetime. He had such a shining presence, a glow like the same stars he loved.
Her hand ghosted up to the comb holding her hair from her face. He hadn’t even noticed she was wearing his gift… She didn’t know what reaction she had expected but something would have been nice.
His apathy lasted into lunch too. Kou had shown up and dragged them all to the cafeteria to be surrounded by people. He had been saying something about the lively atmosphere being enough to cheer anyone up. Tsukasa had refused from the start to even put up with Kou and maybe that was why Amane seemed anxious but that didn’t matter. Nothing had seemed to change until after Kou gathered some of their other classmates and they had taken a seat at the far edge of the room something changed.
Kou had steered the conversation to parents. He had reminisced about his mother and grandfather. Nene had joined, sharing stories of her mother and Granny. Lemon shared of his grandfather. Aoi of her mother. Akane even put in a brief complaint of some of his family. Then Kou mentioned the first time he met Amane’s mother.
“She was so beautiful,” he sighed. “I never would have guessed that Amane was her child until I saw him clinging to her legs.”
For the first time that day Amane reacted. He looked up at Kou but said nothing. Kou took this as a sign to continue.
“You should have seen him, Nene.” He leaned towards her over the table, grinning widely and she couldn’t help but smile back. “He has always been tiny and when he was little the twins looked so much like their mom! Look-“
Pulling out his phone, Kou pulled up a picture of her and she was breathtaking. Long silky black hair pulled away from her face with intricate braids and held with a black dahlia hair ornament that seemed to shine purple with dripping petals. Her face was serene and peaceful with her large eyes focused only on her sons and her slender figure seeming to be bowing to them to comfort. Each of her children clung to the hem of her beautiful silver kimono and the love seemed to radiate from the screen warming her from the inside out. Imagining those loving eyes on her made her feel safe like standing in a park on a clear summer day.
“Why do you have a picture of my mom on your phone?” Amane asked quietly.
“Because your mom looks like a goddess!”
Amane’s face twisted as if tasting something fowl but he only looked away from Kou’s laughter and focused on his bento. Kou apparently didn’t notice or didn’t care as he continued to show off pictures of parents and families. Amane seemed content to ignore him, nibbling on a star shaped carrot and scrolling through his phone until Kou called his name.
“I can’t believe how much like your dad you’re becoming!”
Amane stilled beside her. When Nene peaked at him from the corner of her eye her heart lodged in her throat.
His eyes had blown wide and pupils constricted to single pins of darkness in his too bright eyes. His hand was trembling, the chopsticks barely avoiding clicking together before he set them down with a single deliberate movement that led his hands to clench the fabric of his slacks. His face turned down more. The choppy line of his bangs shadowed his eyes, with only her closeness to him allowing her to see the distance in his gaze.
“I mean look at him!” Kou stupidly cheered. He had leaned into Lemon, trapping him against the wall as he brandished what must have been a picture of Amane’s father. “Yugi kun has his smile and they stand the same! They even have the same attitude and I bet he’ll grow up to be just like him!”
Amane suddenly stood, Nene jumping as his hands slammed to the table.
“Yugi-kun,” Aoi questioned softly.
His chin pressed to his chest. Nene knew only she could see the rendered look in the clenched jaw and shining panic in his eyes. His arms trembled but stilled. All at once his shoulders lowered from his ears, eyes turned desolate, jaw relaxed. Then he looked up. He looked right at Kou, then at her, then stepped away.
Each mechanical step took him out of the lunch room and the only sound that made it passed the roaring in Nene’s ears was Kou’s soft “I think I messed up”. Nene could only agree with him before fumbling out of her seat and running.
He had lost sight of him when he turned out the door and was about to run to the roof when movement from the window to the gardens caught her eye. He was there! Each move still seemed automated, like he wasn’t quite there in his own body but he was there. He wasn’t on the roof and at risk of something stupid.
Taking another breath she turned on her heel and ran for the garden club. Her lungs burned and legs throbbed with every step. She wasn’t fully healed but it was enough. He had to get to Amane quickly.
She didn’t know why. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know but something in her bones screamed at her. Something was deeply wrong and she had to make sure he would be okay! She had to know he was safe even if the danger was his own mind.
When she reached the gardens, seeing only the vibrant blooms and creeping vines that countered the growing panic in her stomach she cursed. Nene swallowed a scream and shoved away the urge to throw a tantrum. Losing her head would help no one. She took another breath, wincing at the burn in her chest and the pain in her side, and steadied herself.
She brushed a hand over the leaves of a blueberry plant she had last seen him by and the branch curled away from her. She was horrified at the new reaction, cold dread making her wonder if she could ever garden again, until the branch shivered as the point of the leaf strained in the direction it had curled.
She looked up and saw a green house door ajar.
“Thank god,” she whispered and thanked the bush before jogging over to the door. She considered knocking but decided against it. She simply pushed the previously locked door open and softly called out for her friend.
The entire house was still. No noise. No breath. Nothing.
She remembered the bush that pointed her to the greenhouse in the first place and closed the door behind her. Who knew what kind of tricks Amane would pull to hide and now would be as good a time as any to try. She had seen Teru and Kou train plenty of times. She should know how to draw on her affinity by now even if she’s never trained herself. Closing her eyes she tried to remember Tetsuo san’s coaching. How different was lightning from earth anyway?
“Feel the elements around you. The humidity of the incoming rain and smell the ozone from the storm. Taste the metal in the air from its charge.”
It wasn’t supposed to rain tonight. Still she could feel the streaming sunlight, smell the fertilizer and fresh soil. The freshness of the sprouts and new buds that were ready to be planted. Did that count?
“When you find your place in the sky, pull it all towards you. Mark a clear path for it to strike and feel the hairs on your arms lift and listen for the buzzing energy around you.”
Nene felt none of that. She could only hear the still room and maybe feel the potential growth? The potential growth. She focused again. Brows furrowed until the twisting vines returned painfully under her skin. She remembered Amane’s arm around her and the feeling of his chest under her. She remembered the feeling of his tumultuous energy before he ran from the cafeteria and imagined it mingling with all the unutilized life around them.
“Remember you are not the master of lightning. You force it and it will strike you out of spite. You are only guiding the natural process so it can aid you.”
When she opened her eyes one of the trays of green sprouts had grown into a lively layer of oranges and yellows. Marigolds, she realized. The irony of someone who masked their emotions with a weak optimism hiding beneath them was not lost on her. It wasn’t until she was reaching for the layers of protective plastic and burlap that she remembered the lesser appreciated meaning. Grief and despair. Mourning and jealousy.
Her stomach flipped only to twist into a gordian knot when she finally saw him.
It was like a bubble bursting when she laid eyes on him under the table. The air shimmering and something popped in her ears the moment she focused on the way he was curled in on himself, head barely tucked between his knees and his hands clenched over his ears until his nails were digging into his scalp. Tears brimmed in his eyes that snapped wide the moment he heard the shift and his demeanor changed.
Before her eyes his back straightened. He swallowed his ragged breaths, the tears stopped as his arms draped casually over his knees. “Yashiro, what are you doing here?”
No amount of pretending could erase the tear tracks under his eyes or the confusion and fear that shone under the surface. Why did he try to be so casual when tears still clung to his lashes and his hands trembled? Nene just knew that he wanted her to go away. Instead, maybe out of selfish spite or probably out of concern, she slipped under the table with him. “Just pretend I’m not here.”
“I-'' he visibly curled in on himself again so she pulled him close. Now wasn’t the time to hesitate, she told herself. After a series of awkward shifting she had Amane settled with his forehead pressed into her shoulder and him kneeling on her skirt between her legs. With the remaining space between his head and one of the table's support bars, she stroked her fingers through his hair and ignored the way his breath caught in his throat. Last thing she was going to do was question or judge.
“It’s okay,” she whispered, “you can let it out. I’m not going to view you any differently.”
A hard tremble shook through him and he buried his face in the stupid shoulder puff of her uniform. “You must think I’m pathetic.”
Nene hummed with a faux deliberation. “Let’s see… something was said that clearly upset you but you kept quiet. Then when that button continued to be pressed until you couldn’t take it anymore so you removed yourself from the situation. I don’t think that's pathetic. Do you?”
Amane hesitated. The silence was deafening until finally he shook his head.
“Good. I thought it was really cool and mature. No matter what’s going on in that head of yours I’m your friend. Friends are supposed to support each other even if they’re embarrassed and crying. I’m sure there will be plenty of times you see me do something embarrassing or cry too. So it's okay to cry in front of me even though I can’t really see you right now. You can rely on me. You’re safe here.”
She heard his sharp breath and the arms that had been braced on either side of her hips wrapped around her waist. He was the one to pull her close this time. They seemed to mold together the best they could manage in their awkward position but it was enough. It was enough that she felt his shoulders tremble and the silent tears that seeped into her sleeves but it was okay. He would be okay.
After a long moment of his silent grief and uneven breaths being the only sound alongside the distant school chatter of students returning to their classes before lunch officially ended he hiccuped her name. “I think I’m broken.”
Her heart wretched in two. Maybe it was whatever the comparison to his father brought forward or the defences that had him facing every day with a measured politeness or even whatever made him so incapable of opening showing his panic or grief that made him think so. Reason didn’t matter. He was not broken!
She was ready to tell him so when his grip shifted to under her thighs and he lifted her. Her head barely brushed the underside of the table and he held her as he shifted beneath her so he could unfold and stretch out his legs. When he was comfortable, he lowered her so she sat in a small space between his legs with hers framing his hips. They now sat at eye level with his red puffy eyes staring into her burning face with a look she couldn’t find the name for. The position was something intimate that she had only seen in comics she hid from her family under her mattress.
The entire thing made her stomach do flips. Not to mention the fact that she knew Amane was athletic but she didn’t know he was so strong! He just lifted her without her hitting the table and kept her relatively steady until he was comfortable. It was- was something !
He leaned his head on her shoulder again and his arms wound around her, one resting between her shoulder blades and the other on her lower back. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, “but my legs were falling asleep. Is it okay if we stay like this for a bit? I’ll be okay again soon.”
There was still that tremble to his voice so of course she agreed but her heart was slamming against her rib cage. It was impossible that he couldn’t hear it but it was likely he would put it to being lifted. Though not for the reasons he probably assumed.
Instead of focusing on his enveloping warmth she focused on evening her breathing until she felt him syncing his breaths to hers. She let him take his time doing so and decided instead to tug a thread of déjà vu that tickled the back of her mind. Normally she would ignore the feeling entirely but at that point a distraction was a distraction. So she grasped it and tugged.
A dream from the day before her first day of school with a boy reaching for the moon and him not hearing her no matter how loud she screamed. She could recall him not wanting to recall his name and an ice wall crumbling to show-
Her grip tightened around Amane. She tried to rationalize. That was impossible. Before they even met? Or before she knew him as anything but a little kid!
Her granny used to talk about how her mother used to tell her stories about destined partners. She would say they always met before they met but Nene had always just disregarded that part or the romantic story as something lost to time. It still seemed that way given her luck with men. Maybe she would have to ask Tetsuo San about it. It was possibly something that could be related to her gift reawakening so he would have the answers. Right?
Before she could spiral further, Nene heard the spring attached to the door stretching and snapping closed.
“Nene chan,” Aoi’s soft voice called. “Are you here?”
She looked down at Amane and saw his shoulders hunched up by his ears. He took a long, trembling breath then pulled away. As his arms retracted something deep in her throat clamped shut. Her tongue felt like sandpaper even as she watched Amane look at her and smile. Somehow that subtle grin made everything seem worse. That stupid mask he insisted on wearing and the fact she knew he would never open up again. Amane would probably just shove the entire panic and turmoil into a bottle and bury it as deep as he could.
“Yeah,” she called as Amane leaned back and watched her with something else under the smile. It was something she couldn’t quite put a name to but he gestured her to go after Aoi. “I’ll be there in a minute. I’ll meet you in class.”
“Okay,” she heard Aoi’s whisper. Nene could feel the impending questions even as the door rattled shut after her.
When she climbed out of Amane’s lap she tried not to shiver from the sudden chill but pretended it was nothing as she crawled out from under the table and he followed her out.
“Are you okay,” Nene asked, unable to look him in the eyes.
He groan, stubbing a hand over his face. “Yeah, I’ll be okay. Are you?”
“Yeah…” she brushed the soil from her skirt and tried not to notice the way his sleeves were taunt over his biseps when he stretched or the familiarity she felt from remembered dream. “We should probably get to class.”
After he agreed the rest of the day was a blur. Her notes were empty except sketches of a vaguely male figure reaching towards the sky and flowers of confusion and conflict. She thinks she avoided telling Aoi anything about why Amane left but knew Kou and Teru were confused about her insistence to go home with them.
As soon as she entered the cozy Minamoto home and removed her shoes she ran to find their father.
He was in his study, pouring over some fleshy blob she didn’t care to think about when she slammed the door.
“Tetsuo San!” She practically yelled, making him jump and spin in his seat, pulling a cloth over the blob in a single motion. “I need to talk to you!”
“Is everything alright?” He said, immediately striding towards her to comfort. “Did something happen? Are you still in pain?”
“No nothing like that. I’m sore but nothing serious. What does it mean when you dream about a boy you met in school?”
“Oh- oh! ” She watched as his face flushed red and he looked away at the ceiling while he debated this words. The red made his light brown hair look like straw and the blue of his eyes seem so much brighter than they typically were. His sons really looked a lot like him. “I understand that you see me as a father figure but I really think this is a conversation you should have with your mother. Or if it would be more comfortable, perhaps your granny?”
“What? No! This has to be an exorcist thing!”
“No sweetie, it’s not. You’re getting to that age when boys are far more interesting and you may start to think of them in more ways than just romantic and it would be inappropriate if I-“
“No!” Mortified, she cut him off and covered her ears “No no no! Not like that! Ew! No, Tetsuo San, I dreamed of him before I met him! I remember very clearly that I woke up confused because I had never met him before- we I have but I didn’t know at the time! And when he did meet we were kids! I never should have known what he would look like at this age! I think I’m going crazy! And why am I remembering that dream now? I can feel myself forgetting about it and I can’t remember details anymore but like- I know it was about him! It doesn’t make any sense!”
“Hey,” Tetsuo placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and crouched so he had to look up into her eyes. “It’s okay. You were right, this is an exorcist thing. I’m sorry for not believing you.”
She felt the lack of air in her rambling catching up to her as she hiccuped into a sob. “It doesn’t make sense. What does it mean? Why did I dream about my classmate?”
“Because he’s your balance.”
The urge to bawl like a child vanished. She stared at his easy smile as she tried to puzzle through his words. “My balance?”
“Yes, surely your Grandmother told you about them. Soulmate? Partner? Bonded? Destined?”
“Yeah but those are just stories… and he’s not my type. It’s impossible that we’re soulmates.”
“There’s more than one one type of bond. You should know many people have Destined that are only meant to be platonic.” At her blank stare he laughed. “Look at it this way- On your own you are very powerful. Your affinity is potent and that shows how painful your awakening was. Most exorcist and gifted children grow with their elements but you suppressed yours. Your soulmate is meant only to be the counter to the scale. They allow you to fully understand your gifts and self without pushing too far. They keep the god-like power we possess from tipping us to madness. They keep us grounded and act as both an amplifier and a dampener. That doesn’t mean they are meant to be a romantic partner.”
“So… we soothe each other?”
“In a way, you wouldn’t be able to do something with your Destined that you couldn’t do alone but they eliminate a lot of the more dangerous risks. With Chaisa and I she did tend to calm me when I couldn’t find my footing by myself. The bonds aren’t fully understood but we do know that the trust is innate. You two are equally gifted and no matter what your relationship will be, you two are better together than apart.”
She nodded slowly. The answer left her with only more questions before the dream from the night after their hang out came back to her. Was she ready for a soulmate? She had to be. But it was also just confirmed that it didn't mean that Amane was destined to be her boyfriend. They could just be best friends.
Finally looking at Tetsuo, he smiled. “Did you find your answer?”
“I did… will you guys start training me? I want to control my spirit power and learn to fight.”
“Of course.” He smiled wider. “A sound mind dwells in a sound body. You would have to train both anyway.”
She nodded firmly. She was ready for the next chapter of her story. It would be okay.