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The Awakening

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what is family?
they were the people who claimed you.
in good, in bad, in parts or in whole,
they were the ones who showed up,
who stayed in there, regardless.
it wasn't just about blood relations or shared chromosomes,
but something wider, bigger.

– sarah dessen, lock and key


 

 

 

“Ushijima Wakatoshi. Twenty-three years old and already you’ve killed or banished over two hundred demons since you obtained your witches license and chose the profession of Demon Hunter six years ago. With zero injury or loss of civilians, I might add.” The old man seated behind the large wooden desk peers over his spectacles. “You’re quite an impressive young man.”

Ushijima stands with his hands clasped behind his back, shoulders back, spine straight. “Yes,” he says in agreement with the man, the coven leader of The House of the White Swan. He knows his successes are impressive, but that doesn’t explain why he’s here, standing in front of the coven council. Someone could be summoning a demon at any moment. He’s doing his best to be patient, but he can’t help but feel his time would be better spent elsewhere.

The leader, Kijimuta Taro, closes the file in his hands, lacing his fingers together on top of it. “I’m sure you’re wondering why we asked you here.”

Ushijima nods. “I am.”

“There have been rumors that a demon has infiltrated Shiratorizawa Magic Academy. Considering the school is your alma mater, and taking into account your exemplary record, we think you’d be the best person to find out who the demon is and bring it to us.”

Ushijima blinks. “What proof do you have of demon activity?”

Kijimuta gestures to a fellow council member, who slides forward another file, this one much smaller than Ushijima’s. He picks it up, opening it to reveal a letter of complaint to the dean’s office from one of the students.

“There have been attacks on several students over the past few months, mostly happening at night. Every report describes multiple culprits, all of them small and difficult to see, but vicious in their attacks. So far nobody has been seriously injured, but the students attacked reported multiple bruises and lacerations on their persons.”

Ushijima closes the file, holding it between both hands. It’s troubling, he can’t deny that, but this could also simply be an immature student using a curse to either bully or fight back against bullies.

“It could simply be an immature student,” Ushijima voices, looking toward Kijimuta. “Using a curse.”

“We have considered that,” Kijimuta admits. “But just to be sure, we’d like you to investigate. Quietly. We don’t want word getting out that the illustrious Shiratorizawa may be harboring a demon.”

“They would not do so willingly,” Ushijima says, firmly believing that.

“I agree,” Kijimuta says with a nod. “We believe the demon has disguised itself as human and is passing as a student. You understand why we have to be discreet in our conduct.”

“I do.”

“Does this mean you’ll take the job?”

Ushijima nods. As much as he enjoys fighting demons on the streets, he still feels loyal to his school. Shiratorizawa Magic Academy was where he grew up, where he learned to harness and hone his skills. The teachers there helped him become the man he is today, and he’d be remiss if he didn’t in turn help them.

“You have our gratitude,” Kijimuta says with a smile. “We’ve already spoken to Dean Washijou. Your cover will be as a training mentor. You’ll run a class for one hour daily to mentor and guide students interested in becoming Hunters themselves through their various assignments. This will give you access to both the school and a majority of the students. Do you think you can handle that?”

It was a stupid question. Ushijima can handle anything. Still, he nods, bowing slightly.

“I can.”

“Good,” Kijimuta says with a smile. “Now, let’s go over your schedule.”

 

 

 ***

 

 

Shiratorizawa Magic Academy looks just the same as Ushijima remembers. A large campus that covers two city blocks, it houses several different class buildings as well as two dormitories for the students (a female one and a male one). The courtyard holds several impressive fountains, and there are multiple walkways flanked with flower gardens.

The auditorium where Dean Washijou asked Ushijima to appear for his introduction is located in the main building, which stands in the center of the campus. The building is the largest, as all the offices of the main campus staff are located there as well. All the buildings are modern and stylized, looking almost like spaceships crash-landed on Earth. Ushijima can’t help but be impressed by the architecture, and he’s standing staring at all the chrome and glass when he feels something dash between his legs.

He looks down, watching bemusedly as a gray rabbit with black tipped ears darts into a nearby bush.

“Hey! Hey, you! Giant boy!”

Ushijima turns, as a tall, lanky young man with wild red hair comes to a stop in front of him.

“Did you see a rabbit run past here?”

Ushijima points to the bush. It rustles, and the young man gives a cry of triumph, as he pounces, lifting the rabbit into the air. It kicks its hind legs at the young man’s face, but he keeps it well away from him, grinning widely.

“Gotchu,” he says. “What’dya think you’re doing, running off like that? We gotta get to the auditorium for the lecture thingy.”

Ushijima watches, as the rabbit stops kicking, but it still appears unhappy, dangling in the boy’s hands. Once he’s sure the rabbit won’t struggle, the young man brings it to his chest, stroking its head and back gently. The rabbit still looks disgruntled, however.

“Is this your pet?” Ushijima asks, wondering if the Academy changed its rules about animals in the dormitories.

“Something like that,” the young man says with a grin. He sticks out his hand then. “Hi, by the way, I’m Tendou. Tendou Satori. Thanks for helping me out.”

Ushijima shakes his hand firmly, wondering why that name sounds so familiar. In fact, now that he’s looking at Tendou directly, he can’t help but notice his eyes. He’s seen those hooded eyes before, though he can’t recall where at the moment.

“Ushijima Wakatoshi.”

“No shit.” Tendou’s eyes widen. “The Ushijima Wakatoshi? Miracle Boy Wakatoshi?!”

Ushijima stares. “You know me.”

“Of course I know you! You’re, like, the best thing to come out of this place! Everyone here knows you! You’re that kid that graduated with his witch's license when he was only seventeen and went on to fucking destroy demons like a badass. You’re amazing!”

“Yes,” Ushijima says, blinking at Tendou’s exuberance. He glances at the rabbit, which seems to be watching him with intelligent brown eyes. He suddenly gets the feeling that it’s no ordinary rabbit.

Tendou laughs. “Gotta love a guy with self-confidence.” He grins so widely his eyes disappear momentarily. “So what are you doing back here? Don’t you have demons to catch?”

Ushijima nearly finds himself admitting his true purpose, but he catches himself just in time. There’s something about Tendou that makes him want to be honest, but he knows the school’s reputation is at stake.

“I was asked to mentor some students who are interested in Hunting,” he explains.

“Wow! What an honor! Kind of makes me wish I’d gone for Hunting.” Tendou shifts the rabbit into his other arm. “So you’re the special surprise Washijou’s got for us, huh? Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.” He puts his finger to his lips with a wink. “My surprised look is foolproof too.” He suddenly freezes, his eyes widening as his mouth drops open. It is rather convincing.

“That is rather convincing,” Ushijima compliments.

“Told yah,” Tendou smirks. “This little guy won’t say anything either.” He jostles the rabbit in his arm, earning him a glare from the animal.

Ushijima blinks. “Rabbits cannot speak,” he says.

Tendou laughs again, loud and obnoxious and yet Ushijima can’t help but find the sound pleasant. “I like you,” he declares. “You know what, I think I’m going to drop by that mentorship class after all. You never know what words of wisdom the Great Ushijima Wakatoshi may impart.”

“I know many things about demon hunting that will be beneficial to the students at this school.”

“Of course, of course,” Tendou says, giving him a small salute. “Well, I gotta run! Gotta make sure I get a good seat up front.” He grins. “Catcha later Ushijima Wakatoshi!”

With that, he runs off, long limbs flailing. It’s the most ridiculous run Ushijima’s ever seen, but he’s fast, disappearing into the building within a few minutes. He’s somewhat disoriented, the peaceful tranquility of the courtyard suddenly feeling too quiet. Shaking his head to clear it, Ushijima makes his way toward the main building, following the path Tendou took.

 

 

***

 

 

Some would be nervous, standing in front of an auditorium full of students ranging in age from thirteen to twenty-three, but Ushijima is not. As Dean Washijou introduces him, explaining his purpose and describing a few of his impressive missions, Ushijima searches the crowd for Tendou. It takes a moment, the lights shining on the stage mostly blinding him, but finally he spots him, sitting near the front in the center of the row. He’s seated between a dark skinned young man who’s smiling and a shorter young man who’s scowling. On his lap sits the rabbit, chewing on the edge of Tendou’s uniform jacket.

Ushijima doesn’t believe Tendou notices his stare, but then they suddenly make eye contact. Tendou sticks out his tongue for a reason Ushijima doesn’t understand, but the acknowledgement brings with it a warm feeling that spreads across his chest.

He never made friends while he studied here. He was too intent on advancing, on becoming the youngest student to ever get his full witch’s license, the first teenager to become a Demon Hunter. He surpassed everyone in his class by the time he was fourteen, and was moved from classroom to classroom as his magic continued to grow stronger. The older students looked down on him because he was young, but that was fine with Ushijima because he gained their respect with his power, if not their friendship. He didn’t have access to students his own age, except in the dormitories, but he rarely spent his free time there.

The audience applauds when Washijou finishes his introduction, and Ushijima bows solemnly.

Next period is lunch, so everyone files out to make his or her way to the cafeteria or off-campus to eat. Tendou is lost in the sea of white and purple uniforms, and before Ushijima can make his way to the cafeteria building, a trio of students stops him: two males and a female, looking to be in their late teens.

“Dean Washijou-san might say you’re here to mentor us, but we know why you’re really here,” the leader of the three says. He’s an imposing young man, with large eyebrows and a massive build, though he’s not as tall as Ushijima is himself. He plants his feet apart, hands on his hips.

“Saitou-sensei is a good teacher,” he says. “Why would they ask you to mentor us if we’re already the top magic school for hunters?”

“You’re here to sniff out a demon, and we know who it is.” It’s the girl that speaks now, her dark hair highlighted with blue. She pops gum in her mouth, something Ushijima knows she’s not supposed to have on campus.

“Tendou Satori.” The other boy speaks sullenly. He has dark brown hair and even darker eyes. He narrows them at Ushijima, as the other two nod slowly.

“That guy is a freak,” the girl says in a low voice.

Immediately, Ushijima wants to protest. There is no evidence to suggest Tendou is the demon, but even as he rationalizes this, he recognizes the fact that there’s no evidence to suggest he isn’t, and this unsettles him.

“I will take that under advisement, but I am only here to mentor, so your claims would be better put to the dean’s office.” Ushijima looks over their heads toward the cafeteria. The courtyard has mostly cleared out now, only a few stragglers left, talking amongst themselves. Tendou isn’t one of them.

The boy with the eyebrows rolls his eyes. “We’ve already told him. Look, the kids that were attacked, they knew, okay? They knew he was a freak. Said it to his face. Next thing we know—”

“Their rooms are all torn up and they look like they’ve gone through a wood-chipper,” the girl finishes.

“Suspicious,” the last boy says, narrowing his eyes.

Ushijima blinks. He’ll have to investigate this further, but he doesn’t like the sinking feeling that’s already entered his stomach. Could it be that his first possible friend is the demon he needs to apprehend?

I am not a being ruled by emotion. I am a rational thinker.

He puts the thought of friendship out of his mind. He is here to do a job. Making friends isn’t on the agenda. Demons are tricksters, manipulative and cunning. If he falls prey to a trap, he can no longer be called the best Demon Hunter under the age of twenty-five. He must be on his guard.

He thanks the trio for their information before pushing past them and making his way once more to the cafeteria.

He may not be allowed to make friends, but he is here to investigate. And although the students’ speculation about Tendou is still only a theory, it is a theory he must pursue in order to find the truth.

Which means he must discover who, or what, Tendou Satori is.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Goshiki Tsutomu is vibrating. He can’t help it.

Ushijima Wakatoshi.

Ushijima Wakatoshi.

The man. The myth. The legend. Right here in Shiratorizawa Magic Academy. Right here in this cafeteria. Right here in front of him.

“Goshiki, you’re shaking the table.” Beside him, Oohira Reon touches his shoulder, causing him to nearly jump out of his seat.

“YES! Sorry!” He stops bouncing his leg, gripping the top of his knees with his hands to keep them still. He has to bite his lip then, to keep from shouting anything else. He’s already been scolded twice today for being too loud.

“Anyway,” Tendou continues, “I ran into Ushijima earlier on my way to the auditorium. Lucky me, huh?” He smirks.

Goshiki nods rapidly, ignoring the rabbit that’s now eating the seaweed of his onigiri. He can’t take his eyes off the intimidating form of Ushijima, who’s been standing silently beside Tendou since his senpai stood to greet him.

“Well? Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Reon asks, smiling as he moves to stand. He holds out his hand. “I’m Oohira Reon. You can call me Reon. Everyone does.”

“Ushijima Wakatoshi,” Ushijima says in response, shaking his hand.

“That’s Kawanishi Taichi, he doesn’t talk much. I don’t think he has much going on up there, if you know what I mean,” Tendou says conspiratorially, to which Kawanishi simply lifts his middle finger, his bored expression never changing.

Ushijima nods to him politely, even so.

Me, me, introduce me next.

“And this is Yamagata Hayato, he’s small but fierce,” Tendou says. “Can never seem to keep a hold of his textbooks, though.”

“Yo!” Yamagata says with a two finger wave.

Ushijima nods back. “Hello.”

Me next. Me next. Come oooon. Goshiki bounces his knee again, discreetly, as to not shake the table.

“This is Shirabu Kenjirou, no brawn but a lot of brain. I’m pretty sure he knows how to get away with murder.”

Ushijima considers Shirabu, who’s staring back at Ushijima as though analyzing him. They stand there silently for a moment, before Shirabu bows deeply.

“Your hunting record is impressive,” Shirabu offers, as he straightens. “It will be an honor to train under you.”

“And over you too, I bet,” Yamagata snickers.

Shirabu’s face turns bright red, and he sits back down quickly. Tendou cackles.

“Keep an eye on your things, Hayato,” he cautions. “You might find them missing later.”

“I always find them missing,” Yamagata responds cheerfully.

Goshiki doesn’t understand what just happened, but he does realize that he’s has to be the one introduced next. Tendou turns toward him, and Goshiki hastens to stand, jostling the table as he does. The rabbit scampers away from his tray, and Tendou scoops it up, holding it aloft.

“I’M—”

“And this is Semisemi,” Tendou says, showing Ushijima the rabbit.

“I—” Goshiki clenches his hands into fists, his lower lip poking out, as Tendou makes the rabbit’s paw wave at Ushijima.

“He’s not always a rabbit,” Tendou explains. “Sometimes he’s a poorly dressed young man named Semi Eita.”

“A shapeshifter?” Ushijima asks, frowning slightly.

“Nope!” Tendou says, grinning. “Just a spell gone bad. It’ll wear off in a few hours.”

“Tendou’s a dead man walking,” Reon says, shaking his head.

“Poor Tendou, we knew you when,” Yamagata laments, as Kawanishi snickers.

“I’M GOSHIKI TSUTOMU IT’S VERY NICE TO MEET YOU!” Goshiki can’t keep quiet any longer. He bows quickly and deeply. Too deeply.

His forehead smacks against the tabletop, and when he straightens the world tilts sideways. The others are laughing, but Ushijima takes his shoulder to steady him, as he wobbles.

“Ushijima Wakatoshi,” he says, pulling his hand away.

Goshiki feels warm all over, and he can’t help but touch his shoulder reverently. He’s never going to wash it. Ever. He’ll keep this school jacket and put it in a glass case, never to be worn again

Tendou chuckles, stepping up to lean his elbow on Goshiki’s shoulder. “This is our precious kouhai,” he says, ruffling Goshiki’s hair. “Eighteen yet only two years behind us tenth years. I’ve taught him everything he knows.”

Goshiki nods, biting his lip again to stop himself from grinning too widely. Ushijima regards him for another moment, before his gaze goes to Tendou. Goshiki tries not to be disappointed.

“Do you know the school well, Tendou Satori?” Ushijima asks.

“Like the back of my hand,” Tendou says, holding it up for display. “Been here since I was thirteen.”

Ushijima nods. “I would like you to direct me to room 15 in Hall B. I will also need access to the Hunting Department’s supply room.”

“Sure, I can show you all that,” Tendou says, his arm sliding off Goshiki’s shoulder.

He hands Semi off to Shirabu, who freezes, sitting stiffly with his senpai in his palms, before walking toward the doors, gesturing for Ushijima to follow. Goshiki finds himself holding is breath, watching the broad back of the man before he disappears.

He sits back down then with a sigh. Reon takes Semi from Shirabu, holding him properly.

Yamagata raises his hand. “Who here thinks Ushijima is fine as hell?”

Goshiki’s hand shoots straight up, but Shirabu reaches across the table to grab his arm and slam it back down on the table.

“Ow!” he says with a frown, rubbing his throbbing elbow.

“Do you have to be so gay at the table? I’m eating,” Kawanishi complains, frowning at Yamagata.

Reon glances sidelong at him, stroking Semi’s long ears.

“I can’t believe he’s really here!” Goshiki exclaims. “The real live Ushijima Wakatoshi!”

“As opposed to the fake one?” Shirabu asks, rolling his eyes.

Goshiki’s not going to let his roommate’s sarcasm get to him, though. Ushijima Wakatoshi is here in his school. He’s going to mentor them in demon hunting! Goshiki’s going to get even stronger with his magic. He has to if he’s going to impress a legend.

“I’m going to fight him,” he declares, staring off into the distance. He can see it now. Ushijima on his knees, worn out but proud, giving him a smile and saying,

“Goshiki Tsutomu, you are the best Demon Hunter I have ever taught. You have surpassed me. You are the number one Demon Hunter under twenty-five in Japan.”

“Uh-oh, Goshi-chan’s getting that look again,” Yamagata grins, throwing an onigiri wrapper at his face.

Reon places his hand on his shoulder (thankfully not the one Ushijima touched). “Don’t rush into this, okay? You have talent, but you’re still learning. Wait until you’re truly ready before you duel him.”

Goshiki nods quickly in agreement, but he’s already envisioned himself at the top, ever since he came to Shiratorizawa five years ago. He grew up reading about Ushijima’s missions and successes. He knows what he wants.

He’s going to get what he wants.

 

 

***

 

 

Unfortunately, Ushijima’s class doesn’t start until the next day, so Goshiki doesn’t see Ushijima again until suppertime. Once more in the cafeteria, Goshiki can’t help but stare at the man seated across from him. He eats carefully, putting each type of food in sections and eating them one by one in a circular rotation. Goshiki’s fascinated by this. He didn’t know people had different methods of eating.

“You look like a fish with your mouth open like that,” Shirabu whispers beside him.

Goshiki shuts his mouth quickly. He glances sidelong at his roommate then, noticing the way he’s moving his food around his plate, only taking a small bite every fifth motion. Goshiki frowns, wondering if he should say anything. He’ll probably get told off but . . .

“Aren't you hungry?”

Shirabu glances down at his food before looking over at Goshiki. He narrows his eyes. “Are you asking for my food?” he asks, pulling the tray closer.

“No!” Goshiki says, offended that Shirabu would think such a thing. Except, well, he supposes he has asked his friends for their leftovers before. But he’s a growing boy! He needs the extra portions!

Shirabu analyzes him for a moment, before turning his attention back to Tendou and Semi, who are bickering . . . again.

“Come on, Semisemi.”

“I said no. And stop calling me that.”

“But you were so cuuuuute.”

“Go find an actual rabbit if you want to dress it up and post pics. I should’ve bitten you for that.”

Tendou grins, turning to Ushijima to show him a photo on his phone. “I put him in a little blue suit. Isn’t he adorable?”

Ushijima looks at the photo, even as Semi sputters and tries to take the phone from Tendou. But Tendou lifts his elbow to keep Semi away, laughing.

“You make a very attractive lagomorph,” Ushijima offers to Semi, before turning back to his food.

Semi sits back with a huff, a soft pink glow coloring his cheeks.

“I want to see,” Shirabu says, leaning forward.

Semi glares, but Yamagata speaks up before he can protest. “Send it to us!” he says, waving his phone. “I found my phone,” he explains at the surprised looks he receives.

“You’ll lose it again if you’re not careful,” Semi growls under his breath, but just then Goshiki feels his phone vibrate in his pocket.

He pulls it out, grinning at the photo Tendou took of Semi as a rabbit sitting in the middle of Tendou’s bed, dressed in a shiny blue suit. Tendou’s also in the photo, holding up a peace sign and sticking out his tongue.

“Awwww,” Goshiki can’t help but coo. “You do look cute, Semi-san!”

Shirabu studies the photo, zooming in until just rabbit!Semi is in the screen and then taking a screenshot. Goshiki wonders if he’d do the same if any of them had been turned into a rabbit wearing a dress suit.

“I apologize for them,” Reon says to Ushijima. “You’ve come across a rather unconventional group.”

Ushijima lifts his head again. “I do not mind,” he says.

“Of course he doesn’t!” Tendou says, pocketing his phone. “We’re his buddies now.”

Goshiki trembles. Buddies??? with Ushijima???

“Cool, we’ll be like celebrities around here,” Yamagata says with a grin. “We can impress the fellas by saying we’re friends with the one and only Ushijima Wakatoshi.” He nudges Kawanishi. “Or the chicks,” he adds with a wink.

Kawanishi raises an eyebrow. “You say that as though I don’t already impress women,” he says.

“Ohoho?” Tendou leans across the table, nearly sending Semi’s food into his lap before he snatches his tray off the table with a look of disgust. “Who’s the lucky girl?” he asks.

Kawanishi stares back at him flatly. “That’s for me to know and for you to find out never.”

“Girls are stupid,” Shirabu mutters, pushing his food around.

“You just say that cuz the girl you like rejected you,” Goshiki says pointedly.

“Shut up,” Shirabu hisses, pinching his arm.

Goshiki yelps, rubbing the spot. He’s always felt kind of bad about that incident. Because as upset as Shirabu was about the girl, he’d been glad for it. She wasn’t good enough for Shirabu anyway, and she always used to say mean things about Tendou, which Goshiki didn’t like. He knows she was probably just joking, but still.

Now she’s in the hospital recovering from one of the attacks, though, so he feels even guiltier for bringing it up.

“Ah, yes, poor Riko,” Tendou says, leaning back. “As much as I detested her, really, Shirabu, you have shit taste in women, I do feel bad about what happened.”

“Are you speaking of Nagata Riko?” Ushijima asks, suddenly looking up from his food again.

Tendou nods. “Yeah, she was one of the ones that got attacked last month. She always used to run her mouth, spread rumors, that sort of thing. She was pretty, I guess, but a nasty personality.” He grins. “Then again, she sounds perfect for you, Shirabu; you should ask her out again.”

Fuck you,” Shirabu snaps, before immediately flushing and ducking his head. “I apologize.”

Tendou waves him off. “No biggie.”

Goshiki’s never heard Shirabu curse at an upperclassman before. He watches, wide-eyed as Shirabu excuses himself from the table and leaves the cafeteria. The group exchanges looks, but before anyone can offer to draw straws, Semi stands.

“I’ll go,” he says.

Ushijima appears bemused.

“Shirabu’s a problem child,” Tendou explains. “Rough home life, you know. We took him under our wing a couple years ago because he seemed lonely and like he could use some positive role models.” He grins.

“He’s still a brat, though,” Kawanishi says casually.

“We all have bad days,” Tendou says absently.

Goshiki chews on his lip, feeling bad for making Shirabu uncomfortable in the first place. He wonders if he should’ve volunteered to go after him, but Semi is probably better than him at this sort of thing.

“We look after our own,” Reon says seriously, turning his gaze onto Ushijima. “I’m sure we don’t have to tell you how tough it is out there. Once we get our licenses, we become targets. Whether for good or evil, people who want power are going to want our help.”

Yamagata looks grim, an expression he only wears while dueling. “Together, we’re stronger.”

Ushijima studies them. “Demon magic is stronger than normal magic. It is good that you have decided to join forces. I commend your commitment to the cause.”

“Yeah, well, that’s not the only reason why we hang out,” Tendou says, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. “We also like each other. Except for Kawanishi. He’s a prick.”

“Back at you,” Kawanishi says.

“Point is, we’re family,” Tendou says. “If a demon messes with one of us, it’s gotta go up against all of us.”

“Yeah!” Goshiki exclaims, brightening. “We’ll crush it!”

“I see,” Ushijima says, though he’s frowning slightly, appearing almost confused.

Tendou pats his shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’ll see what we’re talking about in time. You’re part of the family too, now, you see.”

“I do not need a family. I am strong enough on my own,” Ushijima says.

Tendou grins, setting his chair back on the floor. “Ushijima, my friend, you have a lot to learn.”

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Semi finds him in the courtyard, throwing rocks into the fountain outside the boys’ dormitory. He’s scowling, his throws short and vicious, and each plop into the water causes the koi to dart away.

“Don’t take it out on the fish just because you’re upset with Tendou. Just punch him in the face; it’s a lot more satisfying.” He smirks, hands in his pockets, as he watches Shirabu stiffen.

The boy doesn’t turn around, however, simply continues frowning into the water.

“I don’t even like Nagata-san anymore. Not since she said those things about Tendou. I don’t know why you guys keep teasing me about her.”

“’Cause we’re assholes,” Semi says with a shrug. “Tendou is, at least. Yamagata and Kawanishi too . . . and Goshiki just doesn’t know any better. You know he has no filter.”

Shirabu huffs, sitting down on the edge of the fountain, staring down at his feet. Semi remains standing, looking down at him. It’s hard to believe sometimes that the boy is two years younger. He’s been in the other tenth year’s class for as long as Semi can remember, rising through the lower classes quickly. He’s every teacher’s favorite student, because he works hard and gets good results, despite the fact he has no biological magical gene. Completely human, yet one of the best witches-in-training Semi knows.

It’s frustrating, and Semi’s spent more time than he likes to admit resenting the boy, but despite his competitive nature, he was glad when Tendou suggested they introduce him into their group. Shirabu did seem lonely back then, and he’s much happier now . . . despite the attitude. At least, he seems to be.

“Look,” Semi says, moving to sit next to him. “If you really want Tendou and the rest to stop, just tell them. They know they’re annoying little shits, and they honestly don’t want to cross any lines with you.”

“I know,” Shirabu mutters.

“But don’t think you can get away with disrespecting them. They’re your senpai.”

“Kawanishi isn’t,” Shirabu says, frowning sidelong at him.

“Fine, disrespect him all you want, but be prepared for the consequences.” Semi can’t help but feel amused.

“He should be prepared to deal with my consequences.”

“Sure, kid,” Semi laughs.

Shirabu smiles, it’s faint but there, and Semi feels better for seeing it. He nudges him gently. “Hey, want to help me get back at Tendou for turning me into a rabbit?”

Shirabu straightens. “Yes,” he says immediately. “But I want to be in charge.”

“Watch it,” Semi says. “We might be in the same class, but I’m still older than you.”

“We’ll each come up with a plan and whichever one is better we’ll go with.”

Semi narrows his eyes. “Fine, but we’re having a non-partial third party decide which.”

“Fine. Yamagata.”

“He’s biased toward you, and you know it. Kawanishi.”

“He hates my guts.”

The two frown at each other. They both know Goshiki is out, so that only leaves one person.

“He’s going to tell us not to do it,” Semi cautions.

“Yeah, but he’s not going to stop us either,” Shirabu counters with a smirk.

Semi holds out his hand; Shirabu takes it with a firm shake.

“You ready to come back inside?” Semi asks, releasing Shirabu’s hand to stand.

Shirabu nods, standing as well. He doesn’t thank Semi for coming outside after him, but Semi doesn’t expect him to. He’s a little shit, just like the rest of them (aside from Reon, probably), but that’s probably why he fit in so neatly. He just has to work on his attitude some more, but Semi thinks he’s found a good place with them.

 

 

***

 

 

“Eita. Pssst. Hey, Eita-kun.”

Semi squints over at the bed opposite his. He tilts his head back to look at his alarm clock, groaning and flinging the covers up over his head when he sees the time.

“Tendou, it’s two o’clock in the fucking morning. We have to be up in four hours.”

“I was just thinking . . .”

“If you’re about to ask me again if pigeons have feelings I swear to God—

“What? No, I just ended up googling that. Did you know crows can hold grudges? Hey, they must be related to you!”

Semi can only manage a disgruntled sound, muffled beneath his covers. At the beginning of the year he tried to get a different roommate, already knowing that Tendou would be the most irritating roommate in existence, but his request had been denied. Apparently “he annoys the fuck out of me” isn’t a valid reason for a room change.

“But, anyway, listen. I’ve been thinking about it. Why would The House of the White Swan ask their best Demon Hunter, the best Demon Hunter in all of Japan, to return to Shiratorizawa to mentor a class? Shouldn’t he be out saving the world? Doing his Miracle Boy thing?”

“Maybe they wanted us to learn from the best,” Semi mumbles, not seeing how any of this is relevant or important enough to keep him awake at such an ungodly hour.

“Eita, what if there’s a demon here?”

Semi freezes. Slowly, he lowers his blanket, peering into the dark across the room to where he can make out the shape of Tendou sitting up on his elbow. His hooded eyes glow strangely in the moonlight from the window. Propping himself up as well, Semi holds out his hand, muttering a spell. A golden sphere appears between the beds, illuminating Tendou’s face with its soft glow. He looks disturbingly serious.

“Do you seriously think Dean Washijou would let a demon get past his wards? This place is like a fortress of magic, Tendou. A demon being here is ridiculous.”

“Explain the attack on Riko then. Explain why Ushijima’s here when he’d obviously be better put to use out fighting the good fight?” Tendou’s eyes are wide now, and he looks eerie in the shadows cast by the light.

Semi’s stomach rolls uneasily. He pulls his blanket closer to his chest instinctively, glancing toward the window.

“There’s the other attacks too. On Suzuki and Kato.”

“Both dickheads. They deserved it.”

“Absolutely, but their rooms were trashed too and they ended up with mysterious bruises and cuts too.”

“Okay, but why would you go straight to demon? I’d say it was just a vigilante student trying to scare them.” Semi says this with a confidence he doesn’t feel. The whole conversation has goosebumps crawling up his arms.

“Sure, but what’s more exciting? A vengeful student? Or a demon?”

“You want there to be a demon? Are you insane?”

“Not certifiably.”

Semi huffs, lying back down, irritated that Tendou would wake him up just to put these troubling thoughts in his head. “I’m going to sleep. If you don’t want to fall behind in your subjects tomorrow, I suggest you do too.”

“What good is studying to be a demon hunter, when we could hunt a fucking demon for real? Let’s ask Ushijima about it. I bet he’d let us help!”

“I bet he won’t.”

“We won’t know unless we try!”

“I’m not asking him, Tendou.”

“Fine, fun-sucker.” Tendou sticks his tongue out at him. “I’ll do it myself then.”

“Ugh. Whatever. I’m going to sleep.” Semi reaches for the sphere, pulling the magic back into his palm. He rolls over onto his other side, closing his eyes and trying to ignore the feeling of trepidation that’s come over him.

Silence falls over the room and Semi’s just about to fall back asleep when he hears another, “Hey Eita~”

What?”

“Do you think plants have feelings?”

Semi’s never swung his pillow harder at someone in his life.