“Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited for this?”
“Um,” Iruma replied, and dodged the question. If that counted as a question? It felt pretty rhetorical, since he totally knew and all. It was the anniversary of the last time they’d seen each other. “What have you— where’ve you been ? You look… bad.”
The demon looked like he was on the verge of a panic attack, which was a fun new word that Iruma had learned recently and had been using a lot in his journal. Because sometimes his thoughts got all jumbled up and it helped to try and write them down.
Kirio did not look like he had his thoughts in order. He took on a chagrined expression, which was not to be confused with any kind of smile. “Bad?”
Iruma leaned forward, trying to assess the damage. Major raccoon eyes. “Have you been sleeping okay? It’s important. You have to rest or you’ll never get any taller.”
“Why would I wanna be taller?”
Iruma shrugged. “ I wanna be taller. I’m like, the third shortest guy in my class, and one of them is an owl.”
Kirio seized on this important snippet of information. “Yes! I know— I know everything about you. I know your secret , Iruma-kun. That’s what I came here to tell you!”
“You know that I’ve been eating snacks in the broom closet?”
For a moment, there were no words. Kirio coughed. Iruma held back from touching him, not wanting to make things weird, and he eventually recovered. Wheezily. “No, that ain't right. Did Azu-kun tell you I came by?”
Maybe Azu hadn’t gotten around to mentioning it yet, it happens, Iruma was happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“It was right after the music festival.”
“That was months ago!” Iruma realized, outraged. He would get over it soon, but until then he would walk around all annoyed and scrunch up his nose at things.
“I didn’t even get to see you play the piano,” Kirio complained. “He said you looked super cool, too. Lilith’s Red Carpet! Is that even allowed?"
“You had a whole conversation and everything…”
“And then he tried to kill me! The nerve of that boy, hones’ly, you should be my friend instead, Iruma-kun.”
Iruma dismissed this transparent ploy to become his number one friend. Kirio was not exempt from his annoyance; Kirio was gone for a year, and would have to work a lot harder to make it back into Iruma's good graces— “ What?”
“Tried to stab me with fire, didn’t even know he could do that. I mean, it was pretty great, but I had to go do. Other stuff. Think the batra room was burning when I left.”
Iruma did remember finding some suspicious soot stains, but he’d assumed that it was just a normal fire accident. Azu had been happy to assure that it would be cleaned up soon. Clara muttered something about a chalk outline and he changed the topic by way of Vino. Except Vino hadn’t had a name yet, so he shouted, ‘Gorgon Snakeu!’ and cast her out of the room.
Maybe Iruma should have noticed that something was off. He crossed his arms, irritation dying down to a reasonable grumble. “Like I can’t get through one conversation on my own…”
“They don’t think that,” Kirio consoled, sidling into Iruma’s space in a move that was just not subtle at all. “After all, you’re—”
“Do you want to get lunch?”
“You’re, um. Drooling. On me, actually. Do you have a handkerchief? Azu-kun always lends me his, and I’m not very good at like, summoning things, so.” Iruma went rustling through his pockets, not sure he’d find anything, but happy to make the effort nonetheless. There were a few coins, he could swap those for something useful, surely, and— there! A lollipop: one of those big round ones, cotton candy flavor. Or what passed for cotton candy in the netherworld, which was without a doubt exactly the same thing. “Here, senpai!”
He smiled, caught up in the simple satisfaction of Being Helpful.
Kirio silently accepted the lollipop, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. That was a solution. “I don’t usually like sweet things…”
If Iruma were a cat, like Opera-san, his ears would have drooped. He was crestfallen. They hadn’t seen each other in so long, and here he was, already messing it up.
“...but this is nice.”
Kirio took his hand, squeezing their fingers together. He squeezed back. Maybe he shouldn’t have, but Kirio seemed to have recovered from his bout of megalomania.
Iruma was, since as long as he could remember, familiar with the sound of things going horribly wrong and sometimes pear shaped. It involved some crashing, some clattering, some words he wasn’t supposed to repeat, and at times, the patter of rapidly approaching footsteps. He heard all of those things now, accompanied by his own name.
“ Oh shit ,” Kirio swore, his eyes as wide as dessert plates. “I, uh— seeya!”
He gestured with the lollipop, sticking it in his mouth before shoving the window open and frantically tripping outside. Iruma rushed over in time to see him fall into the branches of a demolive tree.
“Are you okay?!"
“Fine!” Kirio replied, in great pain. The lollipop was nowhere to be seen. It would be mourned. He untangled himself from the tree, probably still swearing, and took off with all the grace of a drunken bat. He flew off into the afternoon. Iruma watched with a perplexed… he was perplexed.
Clara crashed through the door. It lost its hinges. “Iruma-chi! You’re alive!”
Iruma was also surprised by this sometimes, since people kept tackling him into the ground. His ‘evade’ instinct failed to kick in; he wasn't scared of Clara, and he liked hugs. “Yeah. How was, um, cleaning blackboards?”
He would never find the answer to this most imperative inquiry. Azu staggered in as well, soaked through and dripping hopefully-just-water onto the carpet. “ Valac, you fiend — Iruma-sama! You’re safe! Thank all the dukes of hell, I worried I would never find you— and with that criminal on the loose! I’ll never leave your side again!”
“That’s okay,” Iruma said. “You didn’t tell me senpai came back.”
“I only just found out myself. Valac tripped me and ended up setting off the sprinklers, for which I offer my deepest apologies.”
He shivered. The sprinklers might have something more to do with Azu’s habit of either setting things on or just being on fire. Why weren’t they always going off? Because there wasn’t any smoke? Iruma was distracted. “No, after the music festival! You talked to him!”
Azu blanched as pale as his uniform. As white as the sky in winter. As white as sun bleached bone. Or an egg. “Ah, that is. I can explain, Iruma-sama.”
“Yeah,” Clara nodded. “Explain yourself, Azu-Azu!”
“You also knew ,” Azu snapped. “He… yes, I saw the bastard.”
Iruma wasn’t sure what he expected out of being angry and accusatory. Was it supposed to feel good? He just felt guilty and uncertain. “So why didn’t you tell me?”
“He’s dangerous,” Azu pleaded. Iruma never told him that, either. They said that it was fine not to talk about it, and he didn’t want to talk about it, so they didn’t, and a year later it wasn’t any better. “And he implied that… there are things you aren’t telling me.”
Clara had her hand clasped over her mouth, like she was trying very, very hard to be quiet. It was comforting. Either the silliness or the obvious attempt to help them get their feelings out.
Fear was manageable, most of the time. It wasn’t like humans and demons could never get along. They were his friends. They’d do anything for him. He’d do anything for them, too. How hard could it be to just spit it out, after keeping it under his tongue for so long? He wanted to. He wanted to tell them everything.
“I don’t mind that.” Azu kept his back stubbornly straight. “You’re under no obligation, and… you always put others before yourself. I didn’t want to force you to tell me.”
“Aww, Azu-azu,” Clara replied. She quit clinging on to Iruma’s arm and went over to give Azu a hug. He was still all wet and bedraggled. Demons were good at friendship; they didn’t care about getting their clothes dirty. “You’re a dum-dum.”
“And you are an inconsiderate buffoon,” Azu replied. He did a terrible job of looking offended; he hugged back. “I’m sick to death of it.”
“You really don’t mind?” Iruma asked.
Clara rolled her eyes at him. “Iruma-chi is Iruma-chi. You’re my best friend, forever ever ever, no matter what.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“I’ll tell you.” Iruma definitely heard those words after they left his mouth. His heart might also leave his mouth, very soon, but this was a good kind of nervous. The kind of nervous that came from running towards something and not away from it. “But… I don’t know how yet, so… wait for me, please?”
Azu smiled a wiggly, blushy, overwhelmed sort of smile, and Clara grinned so that every fang was on display. She pulled him into the hug. It was damp. He was forgetting something. “I did talk to Kirio-senpai. It was, um. Fine, I guess.”