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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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?”
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~”
“Do you think plants have feelings?”
Semi’s never swung his pillow harder at someone in his life.
Ushijima isn’t sure what to think. An unreliable source has given him a suspect: Tendou Satori. But Ushijima knows demons. He knows their insidious auras, their harmful magic. They’re tricksters, always working an angle. Depending on which realm they’re from they can wield various weapons and curses against humans. If Tendou truly is a demon, then what is his angle? What does he stand to gain by being at this school and gathering a group of friends such as he has?
Is he trying to brainwash them? Pull them close in order to use them for a nefarious purpose? And what would that purpose be? To take over the school?
It’s all just speculation, but Ushijima hates being uncertain. He doesn’t like unpredictable situations.
So he researches Tendou Satori. He pulls up his student file in the Academy’s database, Dean Washijou having given him access. He finds nothing out of the ordinary. Tendou Satori has been at Shiratorizawa for ten years, enrolling at the age of thirteen, just like every student. He’s advanced through his subjects at a normal rate, though shows signs of immense potential in Defensive Magic.
His mother lives in Tokyo, he has no siblings, and while it’s suspicious that there is no father listed, he’s marked his career path as “Artist.” A rather innocuous position. Wouldn’t a demon choose something more illustrious? Something that would give him access to power? Businessman or something in politics, perhaps. A Demon Hunter.
Ushijima puzzles over the file for most of the night, until he’s forced to retire in order to get sufficient sleep for the next day.
His class takes place in the evening after the regular classes are complete and before supper. This gives him plenty of time to prepare and even take a stroll through the courtyard, observing the students in their brief periods between subjects. As he suspected, Tendou spends his time with the other students in his year, the ones from the cafeteria table. Goshiki and Kawanishi take a little longer to appear, as they come from different classrooms than the rest, but even in the few minutes they have together, they talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
Ushijima has to admit to himself that he’s tempted to join them. He finds them entertaining. Interesting.
But his mission does not involve them.
One hundred students show up for his class. It’s less than Ushijima expects, given the size of the school, but then he remembers what Dean Washijou told him when he first arrived on campus.
“I’m only allowing those in their tenth year to attend,” he said. “The others are not strong enough in their magic. It would be a waste of their time, and yours.”
Ushijima sees the wisdom in this, but in his experience, it’s not the year that determines strength, but the will and determination of the individual.
Which is why, when he sees Goshiki Tsutomu standing amongst the tenth years, trembling and looking straight ahead despite the snickers around him, he doesn’t immediately tell him to leave.
“This is a tenth year class,” he tells him.
“Yes, sir!” Goshiki exclaims.
“You are an eighth year.”
Goshiki startles, gaze jumping to meet Ushijima’s in his surprise. “I-I, um, explain why I’m an eighth year?”
The others around him laugh, and he flushes bright red, but then Tendou steps out from the crowd, looping his lanky arm around Goshiki’s shoulders and pointing the finger of his free hand in his face.
“He wants to know why you’re here when you’re not supposed to be~” he says in a lilting voice, glancing sidelong at Ushijima, even as Goshiki straightens once more.
“I want to be a Demon Hunter! I want to learn from the best!”
Ushijima appraises him. Technically, the boy is supposed to be in his fifth year. The fact that he’s three years ahead of his peers tells Ushijima that the boy can handle more rigorous training. However, is he advanced enough to learn at a tenth year level?
“In this class you will be tested. Your strength and abilities pushed to the limit. This is not a class for the weak. This is not a class for the faint at heart. If you fall behind, your classmates will not carry you.” Ushijima gives Tendou a look, to which the other simply smiles innocently. “If you cannot keep up, you will be dismissed. Do you understand?”
Goshiki nods vigorously. “Yes!”
Ushijima nods. He turns to the rest of the class. “Follow me.”
Turning, he exits the classroom. It’s not large enough for the test he has in mind. The group of students follows him, murmuring amongst themselves. Tendou appears at his side, his long legs keeping up easily with Ushijima’s brisk pace. He folds his hands behind his head, whistling off-key.
Ushijima finds himself curious as to why the young man is here. His career path has nothing to do with hunting demons. In fact, he technically doesn’t need magic at all to be an artist.
So what is he doing at Shiratorizawa in the first place?
Leading the class outside, Ushijima comes to a stop in the courtyard. He turns to face the class, who all stare back at him with varying levels of confusion and trepidation. He can pick out faces he recognizes. There are the three students who confronted him about Tendou yesterday, and everyone from Tendou’s group of friends is there as well, minus Kawanishi Taichi.
“You.” Ushijima points to a student, then points to a spot on his left.
The student glances around, before slowly making her way over to stand where Ushijima indicated. He continues this random selection, creating two separate groups. Once there are fifty on each side, he steps forward and turns to face them. With a wave of his hand and a murmured spell, he conjures badges that appear on the front of each individual’s school uniform jacket. One group has red badges, the other, blue.
“I have divided you into two teams. On my count, you will duel. I will observe and assess each of your talents and strengths as you do. Your badge acts as a spell counter. If you are hit a maximum of three times with any spell, whether harmful of benign, your badge will disappear and you will be eliminated from the duel. Do not cause anyone serious physical damage. Otherwise, any spell is acceptable.”
“Uh, what’s the point of all this?” a student asks, hand in the air.
Ushijima turns to her. “The duel will be timed. Anyone left with a badge at the end of the duel will be allowed to stay in this class. Anyone without a badge will be dismissed.”
Both groups erupt into murmurs and whispers. Ushijima turns away, moving to the fountain in the center of the courtyard. He steps up onto it, turning to observe the two teams from his vantage point.
“This is ridiculous!” one student calls out. “This is a university! Not a battle school!”
“What do you think we’ll be doing while hunting demons? Having tea parties with them?” another one answers.
“The license exam has a physical component. Consider this extra practice,” Semi Eita says, speaking loudly over his team’s grumbling.
“That’s right!” Tendou says, grinning widely. “Come on now.” He waves his fingers in the air like he’s conducting an invisible orchestra, as he begins to sing.
“The best team is blue!
The greatest team is blue!
And when we win, which we will do,
we’ll make the other teeeeam . . .”
He gestures to Semi to finish the song. Ushijima expects him to ignore Tendou, if his assessment of their relationship is correct. So he finds it interesting when Semi tilts his head, thinking, before offering,
Tendou cackles. “Nope! We’ll make the other team red . . . with anger.” He gives the red team a sidelong glance, his grin shifting to a devious smirk.
“Fat chance, freak,” the large student with the big eyebrows from yesterday shouts across to him. “I’m going after you first!”
Tendou gives the student a sweeping bow. “You’re welcome to try.”
Ushijima lifts his hand. The jesting has gone on long enough. He needs to observe all the students in battle, but especially Tendou. How will he fight? What methods will he use? How will his magic manifest?
“Three. Two. One.”
Ushijima drops his hand. At first there’s some hesitation. But then the large student who mocked Tendou charges forward. Tendou drops into a crouch, but before the student reaches him, Semi leaps in front of him, shoving both palms forward with a shouted spell.
Golden tendrils of magic spiral from Semi’s hands. They merge and transform into a giant spear. The large student scrambles to put up a ward, but he stammers over the spell. The spear passes through his weak shield and hits him in the chest, knocking him backwards. Semi straightens and returns Tendou’s high-five, even as the rest of the students move to attack.
Ushijima observes them all during the duel, but he plays close attention to those in Tendou’s group. From what he can ascertain, Semi’s talent appears to be magic manipulation. Using various spells, he can create various shapes and objects out of pure magic. One by one students fall at the mercy of his golden spears, arrows, swords, or simple spheres.
What Goshiki lacks in skill, he makes up for in brute force. His magic manifests in giant bursts of golden light, knocking down those it comes in contact with. His spatial awareness, however, is lacking. He nearly loses his advantage when students try to sneak up on him to attack from behind. However, Yamagata from the red team suddenly appears to absorb their attacks. Ushijima watches, fascinated, as he literally absorbs the magic flung at him, before dispelling it with a burst twice as powerful.
Despite having told Goshiki his classmates would not assist him, he doesn’t stop Yamagata from defending Goshiki’s vulnerable side. In fact, he says nothing at all to anyone. He simply watches, as Reon’s magic, pin-point accurate despite the blasts being small in size, creates a pocket in which Tendou creates barriers, throwing up wards against each attack, spinning this way and that in order to protect Semi and Shirabu in the center. These two stand back to back, and while Semi fires his weapons past Tendou’s wards, Shirabu concentrates on lifting Goshiki into the air. He hovers a few meters above the group, shouting gleefully each time his magic blasts away students below him, and Yamagata turns his efforts to assisting Tendou and Reon.
The tide of the duel turns, as members of the blue team push back against the red team with the help of Tendou’s group, despite Yamagata and Reon technically being members of the red team themselves. They’re a powerful unit, and Ushijima can’t help but be impressed by their teamwork.
Eventually, time runs out and Ushijima holds out his hand and utters another spell. Immediately the entire group freezes in place. Stepping down from the fountain, Ushijima steps forward, silently counting those still with badges. There are thirty left, including those in Tendou’s group.
He releases them with a nod. “Those of you without badges can go back to your dorms. The rest of you, remain here.”
The seventy without badges glance at each other, stunned. When Ushijima says nothing else, they slowly start to disperse. Among those leaving is the girl from the group Ushijima spoke to yesterday. She gives Tendou dirty looks as she goes, but he doesn’t seem to notice, too busy high-fiving his friends.
“Impressive,” Ushijima says with a nod. “It appears as though you have fought together before.”
“No way this was our first time!” Goshiki cries, bouncing on his feet. “But we were awesome, weren’t we? We were super awesome!”
“Super duper awesome!” Tendou laughs, grabbing him around the neck and ruffling his hair.
“I have observed your talents and your skills. In the coming weeks you will work on honing them individually.”
Goshiki raises his hand. “Ushijima-sensei, your talent is strength like me, right? We have the same talent!”
Ushijima nods. “It appears so.”
“When this class is over I’m going to beat you! I’m going to be the strongest!”
The twenty-nine other students exchange glances ranging from amusement to pity. Ushijima steps forward, observing the young man trembling in front of him. Goshiki holds his chin high, biting his lip and curling his hands into fists. He looks determined, and Ushijima can’t help but remember himself when he was younger, eager to prove himself to the council members.
He nods once more. “Do your best,” he says, turning away then.
“We will meet again tomorrow. Class is dismissed.”
Shiratorizawa Magic Academy is known for its intensive workload. Instead of its students simply working toward learning what they need to know to obtain their witch’s license, they also work toward improving their own individual talents in magic.
Almost everyone with the magical gene has a specific talent, like regular humans do. Some, like Semi Eita, can manipulate their magic to take various physical forms. Others, like Ushijima and Goshiki, have extremely dense magic, making any spell they use much stronger than the average witch.
Tendou’s talent appears to be his ability to block any attack, no matter the swiftness or complexity of the spell. Ushijima observed this during the duel. He was able to put up wards against everything thrown at him, and sometimes it appeared as though he could anticipate where the next attack was coming from, moving to defend against it before the student even completed his or her spell.
He writes down everything he observed that day at his desk in the room provided to him by the school, listing each student and their talents (from what he gathered. He’s still unsure as to what Shirabu’s talent is, and places a question mark beside his name).
A knock at the door causes him to lift his head. Standing, he crosses over to open it. He expects to see Dean Washijou, asking about the events of his first class. He doesn’t expect Tendou Satori himself, leaning his arm against the doorpost.
“Party at my place tonight. You game?” he asks, clicking his tongue and pointing his finger at Ushijima.
Ushijima blinks. “Parties are not allowed on campus,” he states.
“Okay, so maybe party is a bit of an exaggeration.” Tendou straightens. “Come on, it’ll be fun. Just our group hanging out before lights out. Taichi missed out on all the fun, so we’re gonna fill him in.”
Ushijima considers. On the one hand, he shouldn’t allow himself to be distracted from his work. On the other hand, observing Tendou is a part of his work. Perhaps it would not hurt to attend his “party” for a brief time.
“Your talent is your ability to anticipate attacks and defend against them,” he says, catching Tendou off-guard.
“Huh? Oh, you mean what I did down in the courtyard earlier? That wasn’t a talent. That was just some good ol’ fashioned guess work.” Tendou lifts his arms, stretching them behind his head. “I’ve been here a long time, Miracle Boy. You start to pick up on people’s habits after a while. You start to notice, ‘hey, that guy likes to use stinging spells.’ Or ‘hey, that chick’s fingers always twitch before she attacks.’ Once you know your opponent, you know how to defeat them. That’s why I rely on being unpredictable.” He gives Ushijima a wink.
“So! Are you going to take this limited time offer to hang? It expires in . . .” Tendou glances at his wrist, though there is no watch there. “Ten seconds.”
“I will join you.”
“Great! You’re not as stuffy as you appear. I was hoping you weren’t.” Tendou grins, and before Ushijima can ask what he means by that, Tendou has taken off at a lope down the hall.
Ushijima has no choice but to close the door and follow him.
Tendou shares his dorm with Semi, and it’s surprisingly clean considering it houses two young men. The rest of the group is already there, seated in a circle on the floor between the two beds. To Ushijima’s right is a small kitchenette, and to his left is what appears to be the toilet. He knows the showers and bathroom are communal and down the hall.
Goshiki nearly chokes on the soda he’s drinking, as Tendou and Ushijima step into the room.
“Ushijima-sensei!” he sputters, standing up quickly to bow rapidly.
“You can call me Ushijima,” Ushijima states, not thinking of himself as a sensei. He won’t be teaching them anything they don’t already know, simply mentoring them on becoming stronger.
“Shirabu, move,” Semi hisses to the younger student.
Shirabu scowls but scoots to the side, making room for Ushijima and Tendou to join the circle. Bags of snacks and bottles of different drinks lie scattered about, and there is a deck of cards splayed out in front of Yamagata. Kawanishi is the only one not in the circle, sprawled out on one of the beds instead, flipping absently through a manga.
“Your class was super cool today,” Yamagata says, once Ushijima has settled. “I can tell it’s going to be a lot of fun.” He grins.
“It is not intended to be fun,” Ushijima admits. “The training will only grow more challenging.”
“I like a challenge.” Yamagata says, glancing sidelong at Kawanishi.
“I’m ready for it!” Goshiki cries, lifting his soda in the air. “I’m going to be at the top of the class!”
Tendou cackles, grabbing the soda from him. “Careful you don’t drown in sugar and caffeine before then,” he says, downing the drink in a few swallows.
“I have observed your strengths in combat,” Ushijima says. “And I believe I know your talents. Yamagata, your talent is absorption.”
“Yep,” Yamagata says, leaning back on one hand. “Anything that hits me I can absorb and send back twice as powerful.”
“A useful skill.” Ushijima nods, turning to Reon. “You seem to be very accurate.”
Reon smiles sheepishly. “It’s not very flashy, and my magic isn’t as strong as the rest of these guys, but yeah I can pretty much hit whatever I aim for.”
“It’s too bad Taichi chickened out of the class,” Tendou says, leaning his head back to look at his friend upside-down. “He’s got an awesome talent.”
“He has elemental magic,” Yamagata says, sitting up straight. “Can manipulate air, earth, fire, and water.”
“He’s like the Avatar!” Goshiki cries.
Kawanishi scoffs. “That stupid kids’ show?”
“It happens to be rather emotionally mature and very well told,” Tendou says, holding up his finger. “I have all the seasons.”
“Of course you do,” Semi snorts. “You collect all that anime stuff.”
“Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it~” Tendou sings.
“You really should join the class, though, Taichi,” Reon says. “If you want to be a Demon Hunter, you could use the extra practice.”
“I’ll be learning all that shit in a couple years anyway,” Kawanishi says, shaking his head, as he turns back to the manga. “What’s the rush?”
“You get to learn from Ushijima Wakatoshi,” Goshiki says, his eyes wide.
“He’s not that impressive,” Kawanishi sneers, looking across at Ushijima, his eyes narrowing.
Ushijima stares back at him. “I have traveled to several demon realms. I have fought over two hundred demons. I do not claim to know everything there is to know about their kind or how to defeat them. But I do have experience you will benefit from.”
“Whatever,” Kawanishi says, but as he turns away his expression seems less hostile.
“I think what you’re doing out there is really awesome,” Yamagata says earnestly. “You’re doing what all of us here have only dreamed of doing.”
“Are you ever scared?” Shirabu speaks finally from beside Ushijima.
Ushijima looks down at him, considering the question. He remembers feelings of uncertainty, of apprehension, but he can’t remember ever being frightened. At least not to the extent where it caused him to hold back or rethink a decision.
“No,” he says finally.
Shirabu nods, eating a chip.
“I do not know your talent,” Ushijima adds, realizing now is as good a time as any to fill in the blanks of his notebook.
“Check it!” Tendou says, holding up the empty soda bottle. He throws it directly at Shirabu’s face.
It flips once in the air before coming to a stop in front of Shirabu’s unflinching face. He blinks, and the bottle drops to the floor, landing with a soft thud on the carpet.
“~Silent Magic~,” Tendou says, wiggling his fingers as his voice undulates.
“Totally unfair,” Semi gripes. “He doesn’t have a single magical gene in him. He failed the Magical Heritage Exam. Yet he can do Silent Magic.”
“Sucks to suck,” Shirabu mutters behind his hand, before filling his mouth with more chips.
“I can manage a little,” Semi adds. “But I’ve been practicing for years.” He narrows his eyes at Shirabu. “Sometimes I wonder if he’s made some sort of contract with a demon.”
“He wouldn’t do that!” Goshiki cries. “It’s illegal!”
“How else could he have gotten into this school?”
Shirabu’s face grows red, but before he can open his mouth, Reon holds up his hands.
“Alright, calm down,” he says. “Semi, you know Shirabu’s worked hard to get where he is now. You’ve seen how dedicated he is to his studies. Nobody deserves to be in Shiratorizawa as much as he does.”
Ushijima watches Tendou during this exchange. The young man leans over his knees, elbows on the floor, chin in his hands, as he glances back and forth between Semi and Shirabu, hooded eyes gleaming. When he catches Ushijima’s gaze, he smirks.
“We hit rough patches every now and then,” he says, straightening. “But that’s what makes life interesting!”
He unfolds himself, moving to stand. “Looks like we’re out of chips already. Ushijima, walk with me.”
He gestures to the man, as he makes his way to the door. Ushijima hesitates only briefly before standing himself and following. As soon as the door closes behind them, Tendou stops, turning to face him and leaning his shoulder against the wall.
“We have plenty of chips, they’re under my bed,” he says.
“You deceived me,” Ushijima gathers, though he doesn’t feel any sting of betrayal. Had he wanted to speak to Tendou alone?
“Only a little,” Tendou says, holding up his hand to pinch his forefinger and thumb together. “I completely forgot to ask you something, but what Semi said in there reminded me.”
Ushijima thinks back to the conversation he observed. “You think Shirabu Kenjirou has made a contract with a demon in order to perform Silent Magic.”
“Huh? No, not at all. Shirabu’s a little weird, but we’re all a little weird. I don’t think he’s in cahoots with any demon. But speaking of demons, I think I’ve figured out why you’re here.” He taps the side of his nose conspiratorially. “You’re here to catch a demon.”
Ushijima studies him. He doesn’t appear upset, so it’s possible Tendou still has no idea he’s the prime suspect.
“I thought to myself, ‘why would Miracle Boy Wakatoshi be here when he’d be better put to use out in the field?’” Tendou pushes off the wall, pacing back and forth in front of Ushijima, his steps exaggerated, as he taps his chin. “And then I realized”—here he lifts his finger in the air, his eyes widening—“The only reason why the council would send you here is if there’s a demon on the loose.”
He stops pacing, turning to face Ushijima with a grin. “I want to help you catch it.”
Ushijima frowns. “No.”
Tendou straightens, hands on his hips. “Now, I knew you would probably say that, but I think if you listen to my rather compelling argument—”
“I work alone.”
Ushijima turns back to the door. For some reason his resting heart rate has picked up speed. The thought of Tendou finding out that he is the one Ushijima is investigating . . . how would the other man take this knowledge? Would he grow angry with him? Would he stop speaking to him?
Ushijima knows that it’s possible Tendou could be the demon, but for some reason he doesn’t want to lose his company.
If he is the demon, however, would he be this willing to assist me? Or is he simply offering in order to throw me off his trail?
“Okay, okay, I can take a hint,” Tendou says, stepping forward to place his hand on the doorknob. He tilts his head to look up into Ushijima’s face. “But I’ve been told I’m annoyingly persistent. If there’s a demon here, I’m going to help you find it. You shouldn’t have to always work alone.”
“Do not impede my investigation,” Ushijima says, looking down at him sternly.
“Wouldn’t dream of it!” Tendou says, throwing up his hands. “I’m just saying . . . if I hear or see anything suspicious, I’ll let you know.”
He winks, and Ushijima supposes there’s no harm in that. He’ll just have to make sure to fact check everything, just in case Tendou is trying to throw him off.
Tendou grins, opening the door then. Ushijima pauses only briefly before following him back inside.
Goshiki winces, as he lands hard on his back. This is the third time he’s fallen, and he’s starting to get frustrated. Shirabu smirks down at him, not bothering to give him a hand up.
“If you can’t keep up, go back to your own classroom,” he sneers.
Goshiki pouts, scrambling to his feet. “That’s not fair! You can use magic without saying anything. How am I supposed to know what kind of attack you’re going to use, if I can’t hear the spell?”
Shirabu rolls his eyes. “That’s the whole point. Demons don’t use spells. You’re going to need to learn how to react to situations you can’t anticipate.”
He glances toward Ushijima for confirmation. The man nods slowly. He’s been watching the duel from the beginning, and Goshiki’s face burns at the thought of Ushijima watching him fail.
“Again!” he says, shaking out his hands before lowering into a stance, one hand outstretched, palm open, the other in a fist by his chest.
Shirabu sighs. “I’m bored. Knocking you down was fun at first, but you’re not a challenge.” He turns to Ushijima. “Put me with Semi or Tendou.”
Ushijima’s expression doesn’t change. “Goshiki was paired with you for his benefit as well as yours. He is to learn from you.”
“He’s not learning anything, except how to fall on his ass.”
“Hey!” Goshiki yelps. “I’ll show you!”
He shoves his hand forward with a cry, the spell rolling off his tongue easily. A bolt of magic fires from his palm, crackling through the air like lightning and hitting Shirabu directly in the chest. He flies across the room, tumbling into the group of students watching. They laugh, as Shirabu stands, fuming, and his shirt smoking.
“You little brat,” he hisses, storming forward.
Goshiki swallows hard, but resumes his stance. Shirabu lifts his hand, and Goshiki quickly tries to think of which spell his roommate will use. Will he retaliate with lightning, like Goshiki did? Will he form a beast? Will he simply throw him across the room?
A golden spear forms in the air, similar to Semi’s preferred weapon of choice. Only this one is much larger, and Goshiki knows if it hits him, he’ll most likely be knocked unconscious. He throws up his hands to form an ‘X’, shouting a blocking spell. It’s a simple one, a spell all students learn when they first arrive at Shiratorizawa, but he panicked.
It’s still effective. The spear crashes against his ward and dissipates. The strength of the hit, however, causes Goshiki to stumble backwards. He nearly falls again, but a hand at his back steadies him. When he looks over his shoulder, Tendou grins down at him.
“Not bad, kid,” he says, reaching up to ruffle Goshiki’s hair then.
“You totally just copied me,” Semi says to Shirabu, arms crossed over his chest.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” Shirabu says, cheeks growing pink.
“Ushijima-sensei,” a student asks, raising his hand. “It’s already past the hour. Can we go to supper now?”
“No,” Ushijima says. “Now you run.”
The students exchange looks.
“Maintaining a peak physical condition is key in having the stamina and the strength to fight demons. You will perform exercises of the body as well as the mind.” Ushijima glances at his watch. “Five laps around the courtyard.”
“What the hell? We’re here for magic not cardio!”
Various students call out complaints. Ushijima’s expression does not waver.
“You are free to leave the class if you do not wish to be at your best.”
Grumbling, the students file out, making their way to the courtyard. Goshiki’s already sore and tired from dueling Shirabu, but when the others start a brisk jog, he quickly joins them.
“He does this too,” Yamagata pants from somewhere behind him. “Every morning at dawn. I’ve seen him running laps before my first class.”
“Whoa! He’s so cool!” Goshiki can’t help but exclaim.
“Right? No wonder he looks so good,” Yamagata says with a breathless grin.
“I’m going to look that good too!” Goshiki cries, pushing forward. His legs and lungs burn, but he pulls ahead of the group. If he wants to be as strong as Ushijima, he’s going to need to work just as hard. He wonders if he’ll be allowed to run laps in the morning too.
Ushijima’s class has run for a week now, and every day is a challenge of endurance and mental fortitude. But Goshiki isn’t going to give up. He’ll run all the laps and practice all the spells until he can beat every single one of them in a duel. Until he can beat Ushijima in a duel.
I’m going to be the best Demon Hunter under twenty-five in all of Japan. Goshiki repeats this mantra over and over to himself until Ushijima calls for them to stop.
He wobbles, his legs feeling like jelly, but he manages to stay upright, clenching his hands into fists by his sides, as he holds his head up high, surrounded by collapsed students. Ushijima’s gaze moves over them all, taking in each gasping and coughing student, until his eyes meet Goshiki’s. Barely, just barely, he nods.
Goshiki’s heart’s racing in his chest, and his face already feels like it’s on fire, but he beams at the acknowledgment and keeps his shoulders back.
“Show-off,” Yamagata coughs into his hand from where he’s sprawled on the ground.
Shirabu kicks his leg, and Goshiki falls with a small cry to the sound of his friends laughing. He wants to be angry, but he’s too happy at Ushijima’s approval. So he just laughs with them.
It’s a sorry group of students that drags itself into the cafeteria, thirty minutes late to supper. They pile their trays full of food and then separate, going to their usual spots around the room. Ushijima doesn’t join them at their table. In fact, he seems to have disappeared.
“He’s probably reporting back to the dean,” Reon says when the subject is brought up. “I bet he’s taking notes on all of us. I wonder if he’ll recommend anyone for early graduation.”
“That’ll be Shirabu, I bet,” Yamagata says, waving his chopstick at the boy.
“It could be anyone,” Semi says irritably.
“It could be me!” Goshiki declares, poking his thumb into his chest.
“If early graduation is the prize, then I say we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Tendou grins.
Kawanishi rolls his eyes. “You all stink. Didn’t you shower before coming here?”
“You can always join us in the class, you know~” Tendou says, leaning across Semi to grin into Kawanishi’s face.
Semi wrinkles his nose, shoving Tendou back. “Ugh, he’s right. We do stink.”
“Last one to the showers gets the broken shower head!” Yamagata stands abruptly, taking off and leaving behind his phone, which he placed on the table earlier.
Shirabu slips it into his pocket, as the rest of the group scrambles to follow, not wanting the torture of being stuck with the showerhead that only spurts cold water. Kawanishi stays behind, shaking his head and returning to his meal.
The showers are already occupied once the group crashes into the locker room, stripping quickly and jostling each other in their haste to reach the best showerhead. Goshiki freezes, as some steam clears with the opening of the door and the two bullies from Ushijima’s class come into focus.
Hamacho and Mazawa. Both tenth years; both intimidating. Hamacho’s the larger one, almost as big as Ushijima himself, with brooding eyebrows to complete the look. Mazawa is slimmer and quieter, but the cruelty in his eyes speaks volumes.
The laughter within the group fades, as the two shower occupants turn to observe the newcomers.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the freak and his entourage,” Hamacho leers, stepping forward to stand in front of Tendou. “Go outside and wait your turn, freak. We don’t want your monster filth in here while we’re trying to get clean.”
Tendou smiles benignly. “You can scrub your bloated body all you like, Hamacho, but you’ll never rid yourself of that filthy personality.” He holds up a peace sign, and Goshiki inhales sharply, as Hamacho’s expression darkens.
“I said, get out.”
“Hey,” Semi steps forward, holding his hand out but not quite touching Hamacho’s chest. “This is a communal shower. You don’t get a say in who comes in here or not.”
Hamacho smacks Semi’s arm away, and Yamagata puts a restraining hand on Shirabu’s shoulder. Goshiki wonders if he should run and get Ushijima or one of the other teachers. He fidgets, glancing from Tendou to the bully to Semi to the others. Reon’s eyes are closed, and he appears to be counting silently.
“Look, we’re fine with the rest of you,” Hamacho says. “But we don’t want his kind here.”
“Mmm, and what’s ‘my kind’ exactly?” Tendou asks, tilting his head to the side.
“The half-demon kind,” Mazawa says softly.
Goshiki bites his lip. Semi stiffens, but Tendou simply shakes his head.
“You do have quite the imagination. I didn’t think it possible with a brain as underdeveloped as yours.”
“You heard about that guy that fucked a demon, right? It was all over Twitter,” Hamacho smirks, placing his hands on his meaty hips. “What’s to say the same thing didn’t happen with you, huh? Your mom probably summoned a demon just to fuck her since nobody else wanted her. You know, being from The House of the White Rose and all.”
“Fuck you!” Semi snaps, throwing a punch at Hamacho’s face.
Goshiki jumps, startled, as Mazawa shoves his hand forward, saying a spell so quickly Goshiki can’t understand it. It smacks Semi in the chest, sending him flying across the showers where he hits the wall with a sickening thud.
Several things happen at once.
While Tendou stands frozen, his eyes wide, Yamagata hurries to Semi’s side, kneeling beside him and checking his head. Shirabu lunges toward Hamacho, but Reon grabs him around the waist, lifting him off the floor, as Shirabu thrashes in his arms and calls Hamacho names Goshiki’s never even heard of before.
Goshiki doesn’t know what to do. He glances from Tendou to Semi to the door then back to Hamacho. Clenching his hands into fists, he strides forward, lifting his arms and starting a spell that will blast Hamacho and Mazawa both into the next building if he says it right, but Tendou suddenly flings his arm to the side, stopping Goshiki in his tracks.
A shiver runs through him, as the temperature in the room drops abruptly. The showers running turn off, leaving the room eerily silent. The florescent lights above them flicker, and shadows start to peel away from the wall, shifting into formless shapes of gray and black.
Hamacho and Mazawa step back, their smug expressions wavering.
Everyone freezes, as a new voice speaks from behind them. The lights stop flickering, the shadows disappear, and Goshiki whirls around, eyes widening, as he stares at Ushijima in the doorway. He has a towel around his neck and is wearing nothing else. Yet he’s still the most intimidating figure in the room.
Tendou tilts his head back, giving him a sardonic smile. “Miracle Boy Wakatoshi here to save the day.”
Ushijima doesn’t acknowledge this, but instead looks to where Semi is sitting against the wall, clutching his head.
“Does he need medical attention?”
Yamagata looks pale. “I’m not sure.”
Reon sets Shirabu down, now that he’s subdued. He jerks away from Reon, storming past everyone to choose a showerhead. He turns it on with a vicious twist of his wrist, and stands with his back to the rest. Reon sighs turning to Yamagata, who has helped Semi stand by now.
“I’ll take him to the infirmary to get his head checked out.”
Yamagata nods, handing him over.
“I’m fine,” Semi mutters, eyes on the floor. “I don’t need any help.”
“I know,” Reon says soothingly, even as he wraps his arm around Semi’s shoulder and leads him back into the locker room.
“They started it!” Goshiki cries, suddenly finding his voice, as he points to Hamacho and Mazawa.
Ushijima turns to look at him. “And I have finished it.”
He steps past them all then, finding his own showerhead. Goshiki frowns. He expected Ushijima to blow the bullies away with some powerful spell, but here they still stand, smirking.
“You’re not getting away with this,” Goshiki says, pointing his finger at them both.
“What are you going to do? Annoy us to death?” Hamacho sneers.
“I’m really powerful!” Goshiki warns.
Hamacho laughs. “You’re a child,” he says, shaking his head. He moves forward, knocking his shoulder into Tendou’s as he passes.
Goshiki turns, trying to think of something equally scathing to shout back, but Tendou suddenly yawns stretching his arms over his head.
“Well! That’s enough excitement for one day, I think. Goshiki, be a good kouhai and wash my back for me, will you?”
Goshiki feels his face burn. “Um!”
Tendou cackles. “I’m joking.” He reaches up to ruffle Goshiki’s hair, sauntering over to a showerhead then while whistling a jaunty tune.
Goshiki glances over at Yamagata, but he just shrugs helplessly, before moving to find a showerhead himself.
That leaves Goshiki stuck with the broken one, but he barely notices the cold water as his thoughts jump from worry about Semi to worry about Tendou to anger about Hamacho and Mazawa getting away with hurting Semi. He knows Semi threw the first punch, but they’d been mocking Tendou. He would’ve done the same thing if he hadn’t been such a coward.
Once showered and bathed, the group (minus Ushijima) makes their way back to their dorms. Silence lingers between them, which is strange, and even Kawanishi appears worried, as he glances between those present.
“Where’s Semi and Reon?” he asks.
“There was a slight altercation in the showers,” Tendou says dismissively. “Semi had to take a little trip to the infirmary, but he’ll be fine.”
Kawanishi’s eyes narrow. “What kind of altercation?”
“Hamacho and Mazawa were mocking Tendou again, saying stuff about how he’s a half-demon,” Yamagata says, grinding his teeth.
Kawanishi nods slowly in understanding. “Semi lost his temper.”
“He always makes such a big deal out of these things,” Tendou says lightly. “He really shouldn’t bother.”
“None of us likes people saying those things about you, Tendou,” Yamagata says, darkly.
“Assholes,” Shirabu mutters.
“Are we going to tell the dean?” Goshiki asks, glancing between the older students.
“That’s up to Semi,” Tendou says, folding his hands behind his head. “Don’t risk retaliation on my account.”
“Doesn’t it make you upset? Them saying such mean things about you?” Goshiki asks, biting his lip.
Tendou wraps his arm around Goshiki’s shoulders, pulling him close as they walk. “If I let every single mean thing people have said to me for as long as I can remember get to me, I wouldn’t be the amazing senpai you know and love.” He winks. “Don’t worry about my feelings, kid.”
He releases Goshiki with a small shove. “I’m gonna go grab a snack before bed. You guys want anything?”
Everyone shakes their head, so Tendou wiggles his fingers in a wave and makes his way back the way they’d come.
“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m exhausted.” Yamagata says. “Let’s hit the sack, and we can check in on Semi in the morning.”
He and Kawanishi make their way to their room, leaving Shirabu and Goshiki alone in the hallway.
Goshiki wants to ask if Shirabu’s okay, knowing he’s probably upset over what happened to Semi, but he isn’t sure how. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, as they make their way to their dorm room, fingers fidgeting.
“Semi’s going to be okay,” he says finally, once they reach their door.
Shirabu pauses, his hand on the doorknob. He glances up at him, and Goshiki tries for a reassuring smile. How does Tendou do it? Being so supportive and upbeat all the time? My insides feel like soup.
“I know,” Shirabu says then flatly, opening the door to their room and stepping inside.
Their room has always very much resembled the living space of two very different people. While Goshiki’s side is almost always cluttered, with clothes and various school supplies scattered about the floor and his desk, Shirabu’s side is always meticulously clean. It almost looks like someone divided the room exactly in half. Neither side is allowed to touch the other.
Shirabu doesn’t even like Goshiki to venture into his side of the room, so Goshiki’s trained himself to stay in his own space, even when Shirabu has his nightmares.
Now he lingers at the edge of his space, watching as Shirabu flops down onto his bed with a sigh.
“Um. Can I—”
“No,” Shirabu says flatly, turning over to put his back to Goshiki.
Goshiki bites his lip. “I just want to help.”
“You’re not helping. You’re being annoying.”
“I haven’t even said anything yet!”
“Yeah, well, everything you say is annoying!”
“That’s hurtful!” Goshiki hugs himself tightly, frowning at Shirabu’s back. “I’m sorry I don’t know what to say to help you feel better.”
“I don’t want you to say anything. Leave me alone.”
“But friends help each other!”
“You’re not my friend!”
Goshiki recoils, taking a step back. His chest stings, and he can feel tears burning the corners of his eyes. Shirabu sits up, turning slightly to look toward the window on the far wall.
“I didn’t mean that,” he mutters.
Goshiki rubs at his eyes with the palm of his hand. “You’re really mean when you’re upset.”
Shirabu grimaces. “I know.” He looks down at his hands.
Goshiki waits for an apology, but Shirabu says nothing else. Goshiki sighs, glancing between his bed and Shirabu’s. “You can stay with me on my side if you want,” he offers hesitantly.
Shirabu glances sidelong at him. Goshiki feels a blush creeping up his neck.
“I don’t mean anything weird, I promise!” He rubs the back of his neck, looking away. “I just thought, I don’t know. It might help or something.”
Shirabu stares at him a moment before moving to stand. Goshiki feels something push against his chest, causing him to stumble backwards until he hits the edge of his bed. He sits down hard, blinking in surprise, as Shirabu crosses the invisible barrier between them.
“I don’t like to be touched,” he says firmly.
Goshiki nods quickly, holding up his hands. “No touching.”
His heart pounds rapidly in his chest, as Shirabu nods and then climbs up onto the bed, lying down with his back to Goshiki, curled up against the wall. Goshiki turns around, looking down at him. There’s not a terribly large height difference between them, but for some reason Shirabu seems really small in this moment. Goshiki has to resist patting his head or something.
He’s really cute . . . His mind betrays him with the thought.
Quickly banishing it from his mind, he moves to lie down on his back, staring up at the ceiling.
“One day, we’re going to be so powerful no bully will ever even think to mess with us,” he says confidently.
Shirabu doesn’t answer at first, and Goshiki wonders if he’s gone to sleep already.
Then he hears a quiet, “yeah.”
Goshiki beams before closing his eyes to sleep.
He leaves the light on for Shirabu’s benefit.
That’s what he tells himself.
Semi’s head hurts like hell. He’d been dizzy and disoriented when he hit the shower wall, had almost fallen over when Reon helped him get dressed before going to the infirmary. He has an herbal compress on his head now, infused with a potion charmed for quick healing. Still, his head hurts.
Reon stays with him until the nurse tells him to return to his dorm before curfew. Semi never thought he’d miss Tendou’s idle chatter before he drifts off to sleep, but the infirmary room is quiet, and the silence is oppressive.
“Next time you should just use magic. I mean, you’re a witch, aren’t you? Whatcha thinking using your fists?”
Speak of the devil.
Semi cracks open one eye, peering up at the odd face of Tendou Satori himself. He’s pulled up a chair beside his bed, and is leaning forward, peering down at him. How he managed to get so close so quietly, Semi doesn’t know, but he scowls in response to his teasing, even though the movement sparks a sharp pain through his skull.
“I wasn’t thinking, obviously,” he says, shaking his head slightly.
He reaches up to move the compress further up his forehead, squinting at Tendou as he comes more into focus. “What are you doing here? It’s past curfew.”
“I was lonely. The room doesn’t snark back at me when I’m alone.”
Semi smirks faintly.
“Funny thing, though, my pillow seems to have a lot to say. As soon as I put my head down it started insulting me.”
Semi can’t help but laugh at that. “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. Shirabu and I charmed it this morning.”
Tendou grins. “Was it your idea or his?”
“Mine,” Semi admits. “Shirabu wanted to turn you into a toad, saying the punishment should fit the crime, but Reon pointed out we’d have to take care of you if we did that.”
“A toad, huh? I’ll have you know, Eita-kun, that I have only ever turned you into cuddly, adorable animals.”
Semi rolls his eyes, then winces at the pain that flares. Tendou suddenly turns serious, leaning forward once more until he’s hovering over Semi.
“Does it hurt a lot?”
“It’ll pass,” Semi says, setting his hand against Tendou’s chest and pushing him back gently.
Tendou grabs his hand before he can pull away, and Semi starts, his heart fluttering pathetically in his chest.
“Don’t do it again, okay? I can fight my own battles.”
“Except you weren’t. You were just standing there and taking it,” Semi frowns, trying to ignore how warm Tendou’s hand feels around his.
Tendou shrugs, playing absently with Semi’s fingers. “It didn’t bother me that much. I’ve heard it all before. ‘Tendou the Monster.’ ‘Tendou the Half-Demon’. It’s all the same.”
“That doesn’t make it right,” Semi gripes, goosebumps traveling up his arms. He pulls his hand away from Tendou, curling his fingers into a fist on his stomach.
“Mmm.” Tendou stares down at the section of bed between them, tilting his head. “Do you ever wonder if they’re right? I mean, my own mom calls me a monster.”
Semi frowns. “Your mom isn’t well.”
Tendou waves his hand. “I know, I know. Still. You’ve never once believed any of them. Not even when that thing happened with Miyazaki—”
“That wasn’t your fault,” Semi says viciously.
Even as he says it, he remembers that day. Thirteen-year-old Tendou with his ugly bowl-cut hair and his large hooded eyes, gangly and awkward: a prime target for bullies. But when the largest of them all, a mean kid named Miyazaki, tried to hex him because he’d taken what he claimed was “his seat” in the classroom, Tendou threw up a ward so powerful Miyazaki fell back, his own hex backfiring and giving him a pig’s snout and ears.
Tendou had laughed then, a strange cackle that made everyone uneasy, including Semi. That’s when the rumors of him being a monster started. Semi thought it was unfair then, considering Tendou had only been defending himself, and he thinks it’s unfair now.
Tendou grins. “They said I couldn’t have known that he was trying to hex me; he hadn’t even gotten the first two words out.” He taps the side of his forehead. “But I knew.”
“You’re not a monster. You’re just smarter than them and they can’t handle it,” Semi says, shaking his head.
“You’re a pretty okay guy, Semi Eita,” Tendou says, patting his shoulder. “Try not to get yourself killed before graduation. I might shed a tear and that’d be embarrassing.”
Semi snorts. “Don’t worry.” He looks away then, staring at the clock on the wall. “Speaking of demons, though . . . did you talk to Ushijima?”
“I did,” Tendou says. “He didn’t confirm there being a demon in the school, but he didn’t deny it either. I said I’d keep a look out.”
Semi’s hesitates, not wanting to bring up the thing that’s been bothering him since earlier but not entirely sure if he should keep it to himself.
“This . . . might have been the concussion but . . . in the showers, after I hit the wall . . . I saw something.”
Tendou grows still beside him.
Semi looks over at him. “The lights flickered and there were these . . . shadows. But they didn’t look like shadows, exactly. They looked like . . . creatures. Tiny shadowy creatures, and they were heading for Hamacho and Mazawa.”
Tendou reaches up to pat the compress on his forehead. “I think you hit your head a liiiiiittle harder than you thought.” He smirks. “The nurse should check for brain damage.”
Semi scowls, swatting his hand away. “You’re saying you didn’t see anything?”
“Nope!” Tendou grins. “I mean, the lights flickered, but I didn’t see any shadowy creatures.” He hops to his feet then. “Well! I’ve done my friend-duty by visiting you. I’m going to go crash in your bed now. It was a long day!”
“Wait, in my bed?”
“Well, you’re not using it. And I don’t want to hear pillow-insults all night. Don’t worry, I’ll wash the sheets after!”
Semi wrinkles his nose at that implication. “Don’t you dare do anything gross in my bed, Tendou Satori!”
But Tendou’s already walking away, cackling his strange, obnoxious laugh.
Semi growls under his breath, but there’s nothing he can do about it now. He sighs, closing his eyes and trying to relax. Strangely enough, he does feel better after seeing Tendou. There’s just something about the guy that makes your chest feel lighter. He’s weird as hell, but Semi’s grateful for his friendship.
The next day, Semi’s head feels fine, and after the nurses check him over one last time, he’s allowed to leave. He manages to avoid his friends, knowing they mean well but not wanting to be fussed over. It’s difficult, considering how many of them there are, but he manages it. When he arrives at Ushijima’s class, however, Reon appears seemingly out of nowhere and stops him from entering the room.
“Hey, it’s good to see you on your feet.” He smiles, though it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Are you sure you’re okay to come back? You know how intense it gets here.”
“I’m fine, Reon,” Semi says, waving away his concern. “My head doesn’t even hurt anymore.”
Reon hesitates before stepping to the side, allowing Semi to enter the room.
“GUYS, GALS, AND NON-BINARY PALS, IT’S SEMIIIIIIII EIIIITAAAA!”
Tendou drops to his knees in front of him, arms outstretched as though he’s presenting Semi to the group inside the classroom. Yamagata claps and cheers, as does Goshiki. Semi’s face burns, as Reon chuckles beside him. Shirabu stands silently beside his cheering classmates, but the relief in his face is evident.
“I was only gone one night, Tendou, what the fuck?”
Tendou hops to his feet. “Don’t be grouchy, SemiSemi, you’re face will stick like that.”
Ushijima looks up from his clipboard. “If you start to feel dizzy or nauseous, you may leave without consequence,” he offers, which Semi thinks is rather sweet, considering how much of a hard-ass he’s been thus far.
“Thanks, but I promise I’m fine.”
He steps over to his group, taking the empty spot next to Shirabu. The boy looks up at him before turning his face away.
“Glad you’re not dead.”
Semi can’t help but grin. “Thanks.”
Goshiki bounces on his toes. “We went running this morning with Ushijima,” he says, eyes gleaming. “It was so cool! You should join us next time!”
Semi lifts an eyebrow. “Yamagata got up before dawn? On his own?”
“Someone put my phone under my pillow and set the alarm for five. It was on top volume too. I almost hit my head on the ceiling I jumped so high,” Yamagata says with a grin, rubbing the back of his head. “I thought Taichi was going to kill me.”
“But he ended up joining us too!” Goshiki says happily. “Ushijima-san seemed surprised we were there, but he didn’t stop us. He’s super fast though! He lapped us like, three times!”
Semi glances sidelong at Tendou. “Was this your idea?”
“Actually, it was the kid’s,” Tendou says with a grin. “But it’s a good one. If we’re going to be strongest in this class, we gotta do more than the rest.”
Semi nods. Ushijima calls for the students to gather together before frowning.
“We are missing two students,” he says, looking over the group.
Semi glances around but doesn’t immediately recognize who is missing. Then he realizes.
“Hamacho and Mazawa . . .”
Tendou stiffens beside him. It’s barely perceptible, but Semi senses it. He turns to look at him, but his face is passive, his expression mildly curious.
“Someone inform them that if they miss another class, they will not be allowed to return,” Ushijima says, before lifting his hand. “Begin warm-up stretches.”
As the students pair off to stretch, Semi grabs Tendou’s arm. “Did you do something?” he hisses.
Tendou looks at him in surprise. “Why are you asking me? You’re the more likely suspect. How do I know you didn’t do something, hmm?” He narrows his eyes into slits.
Semi has to admit that’s fair, but it still doesn’t explain Hamacho and Mazawa’s absence.
Shaking his head to clear it, Semi moves to sit, stretching his legs out in front of him. Tendou places his knee on his back, helping him lean forward over his legs. Around them, Semi can hear whispered speculations. More than a few glance over to Tendou.
“All around the mulberry bush,
the monkey chased the weasel.”
Semi grits his teeth at the pain of the stretch, his stomach squirming uneasily, as Tendou sings in English under his breath.
“The monkey thought it was all in fun . . .”
The door bursts open. Semi straightens, looking over as everyone else does the same. A breathless student leans in the doorway, her hair in disarray, her eyes wide.
“There’s been another attack!” she exclaims. “Hamacho-kun and Mazawa-kun . . . they’re in the infirmary!”
Semi glances up at Tendou, but he’s staring straight ahead. As he exhales slowly, Semi wonders if that’s a smirk he sees twitching at the corner of his mouth.
“Pop goes the weasel.”
Ushijima doesn’t get exasperated often. He doesn’t usually experience feelings of frustration or irritation. However, when he steps into the room shared by Hamacho Keito and Mazawa Rin and finds Tendou Satori on his hands and knees, peering under one of the beds, he feels a twinge of something in his skull right above his left eyebrow.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
Tendou doesn’t look up from where he’s crouched, posterior in the air. “Searching for clues,” he says.
“You are a student, not an investigator. I believe I expressly told you—”
“Not to get in your way, yeah yeah I know,” Tendou says, hopping to his feet. “But! Four eyes are better than two, right? So I thought I’d take a look around. You know, help you out.”
“You should be in class.”
“You should be less uptight.”
Ushijima pauses. He doesn’t believe he’s uptight, though he knows he’s always had trouble connecting with people. Mostly because he hasn’t really felt a need to do so, so he’s never tried. He’s always been told that relying on others will hold him back from his full potential. If he’s strong enough on his own, he doesn’t need anyone else.
He glances around the room. Nothing appears out of place, despite the fact that both beds are covered in blood. He knows from the nurses’ reports that both boys arrived at the infirmary with numerous cuts and bruises, as though they’d been in a fight. Neither of them remembers seeing anyone attack them, however. They only described the sudden pain and confusion. It lasted a mere five minutes or so, and then the assailants disappeared into thin air.
It smells like demonic activity to Ushijima, and he turns back to study Tendou.
“What is your interest in this case?”
“I can’t just be interested in helping out a friend?” Tendou asks with a grin.
“I do not believe I have claimed you as such.”
“It figures you don’t remember.”
Ushijima falls silent. He watches as Tendou walks across the room to peer at the window above a desk. He waits for Tendou to explain himself, but when he doesn’t, Ushijima realizes he’ll have to ask.
“What do I not remember?”
“Huh. Doesn’t look like anyone’s pried the window open.”
Ushijima continues to stand silently, as Tendou takes his time inspecting the toilet, the closet, and the kitchenette, whistling softly under his breath. When he steps toward the front door, though, Ushijima turns to him.
“Okay, okay. Geez, you really know how to wear a guy down.”
Tendou rubs the back of his head, his other hand on his hip, as he gives one last glance around the room before allowing his gaze to finally meet Ushijima’s.
“We knew each other, back in the day. Though I guess knew isn’t the right word. You were pretty tight-lipped back then too.” He reaches out to tap Ushijima’s chest with the back of his hand. “We were in the same class, man. Before you outgrew all us little people.”
Ushijima’s mind sparks with recognition suddenly. So this is why Tendou seemed familiar. They had met before. It makes sense. They are the same age, so they would have both entered the Academy at the same time. Still, Ushijima wouldn’t have called them friends. Their relationship was closer to that of acquaintances. Tendou sat beside him at lunch because nobody else seemed interested in spending time with either of them.
He remembers now, the chatty redheaded kid. He always had some new manga story to retell, and Ushijima listened out of politeness most of the time, though some of the stories were interesting.
But then Ushijima grew more powerful more quickly than anyone else in his class, and after six months he was moved to a different room with a new teacher and new classmates. He never spoke to Tendou again, after that.
“Ah,” he says with a slow nod.
“You remember?” Tendou asks, looking surprised.
“It was pretty rough after you left. But then SemiSemi decided I was a project worth his time, and he started sitting with me. Preeeeetty sure he regrets that now.” Tendou snickers to himself, as he walks past Ushijima, stepping outside the room before turning and lifting his hands to the side. “I have come to my conclusion! This was definitely demon activity.”
It takes a moment for Ushijima to realize they’ve changed topics yet again. “Explain.”
Tendou holds one finger. “Exhibit A.” He points into the room at the bed nearest the door. “Douche 1 and Douche 2 were both clearly targeted. Nothing else in the room has been disrupted, unlike the other times where the rooms were a complete disaster. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Couldn’t it be just a prank gone wrong? Or some dark voodoo shit? I’m glad you asked!”
Tendou steps back into the room. “You can’t see it, but a ward has been placed around this room. The assholes were probably expecting someone to try and get back at them for something they said, so one of them (probably Mazawa, he seems to have more of a brain than the other), put a pretty powerful ward up.”
Ushijima frowns. “I felt nothing.”
“You wouldn’t! Like I said, it’s a powerful one. I can sense it because wards are my speci-ality~. Wards done well are practically undetectable. Unless you know that they’re there. You didn’t, so I’ll give you a pass for not realizing.”
Ushijima nods. He’s not pleased with the fact that he missed something, but Tendou’s logic seems sound.
“So! Magic from a student most likely didn’t get through. Demon magic on the other hand. Well, you need to put up specific wards against demon magic. These guys had no idea they needed to be on the lookout for a demon, so they didn’t bother adjusting their spell.”
This Ushijima did know. Dealing with demons requires there be adjustments made to regular spells, charms, and potions. This is why there are Demon Hunting classes in all covens throughout Tokyo. Demon magic is more powerful, more potent than witch magic. It’s why it’s so alluring to people and why they continuously summon demons despite it generally being regarded as a terrible idea.
“You are right.”
Tendou beams. Striding forward, he pokes his finger against Ushijima’s chest. That’s the second time he’s touched him since Ushijima arrived in this room. He looks down at the finger, before looking back at Tendou.
“I told you you’d need my help.” He says with a triumphant smirk. “We make a good team.”
“Perhaps,” Ushijima concedes.
Tendou tilts his head. “Has anyone ever told you, you have beautiful eyes?”
Ushijima blinks, wondering how this is relevant. “No.”
Tendou grins. “You should go out more often.”
“I go out frequently. I am a Demon Hunter.”
Tendou laughs that strange, loud laugh, his head thrown back, as his hands return to his hips. “You’re a funny guy, Miracle Boy.”
It wasn’t Ushijima’s intention to be funny, but even so an old, nearly forgotten warmth trickles into his chest.
Washijou Tanji frowns, as he reads over Ushijima’s report. Ushijima sits across from him, hands on his knees, back straight, waiting patiently for the man to finish. When he does, he closes the notebook, sitting back and crossing his arms over his chest, as he regards Ushijima.
“And you believe Tendou Satori is correct about the demon activity?”
“His theory appears to be sound.”
“You realize what this means. Somehow a demon has gotten past our wards. That’s impossible to do from the outside, which means it’s residing here on campus.” He taps his chin thoughtfully. “It must have gotten through after last years graduation ceremony, when we reinforced the wards. They’re weakened during the ritual. But that means these attacks were premeditated. Someone is targeting our school.”
“You don’t believe a demon could be working on its own?”
Washijou holds up his hand, palm toward the ceiling. “For what reason would a demon attack a school full of powerful witches? It would have to be suicidal. No, this is most likely a demon working under the command of someone who wants to hurt us. To undermine us.”
Ushijima’s mind turns to Tendou. The more time he spends with the young man, the less inclined Ushijima is to believe the gossip surrounding him. But it’s a fact that the students attacked were the same students with whom Tendou had a confrontation in the showers just a few hours before. And when he questioned Tendou’s fellow classmates, he discovered that Tendou went missing just before curfew and wasn’t seen again until thirty minutes after curfew. He also knows quite a lot about wards.
Washijou is still frowning in contemplation when Ushijima speaks again.
“What do you know about Tendou Satori?”
Washijou lifts his gaze, his eyebrows rising slightly. “Why do you ask?”
Ushijima pauses, considering his response. He doesn’t want to raise any suspicions just yet. “Curiosity.”
“Is this related to the matter at hand?”
Washijou crosses his arms again. “Tendou Satori is a promising student. While not as powerful as some of the others in his class, he does have immense untapped potential and a proclivity for Defensive Magic.”
Ushijima shakes his head. This he knows already. “Where is he from? His father is not listed in his file.”
“Ah, yes. We do not know who his father is. He and his mother joined our coven when the boy was thirteen, specifically so he could attend Shiratorizawa. Originally, they were from The House of the White Rose.”
“I was not aware you could defect from your coven.”
“You can’t, technically. At least, it is very rarely done and not without consequence. They’ve been keeping a low profile, Tendou joining us with the career path of ‘Artist,’ of all things. A waste.” Washijou shakes his head in disgust. “That boy could be one of our most powerful witches, but I understand his caution. If the council from the White Rose discovers that he’s here, they would demand his immediate return. His and his mother’s.”
“I’m sure you’re aware of the terrible training regime they have for their witches in that coven.”
Ushijima nods. Although he knows you can only truly understand what it takes to hunt demons once you’ve done it and gained the experience, The House of the White Rose is known for sending its teenagers into actual Hell dimensions, often alone. The witches that make it back alive are allowed to continue forward in their training to earn their license. However, not all of the witches that return are mentally or emotionally stable.
“Tendou’s mother has been hospitalized for quite some time. Obviously, she cannot return to them.”
Ushijima feels a strange sensation in his gut. It feels weighted, heavy. It’s uncomfortable, and he shifts slightly in his seat.
Washijou studies him. “Do you believe Tendou has something to do with the attacks?”
“I do not know,” Ushijima admits.
Before his class starts, Ushijima makes his way to the room to prepare for his lesson. He’s surprised when he arrives to find the room already occupied by Shirabu Kenjirou and Oohira Reon.
He stands in the doorway, watching as Shirabu battles a dummy set up in the center of the room. Throwing punches and kicks, he dances around the dummy, attacking it from all sides. Ushijima notices that his hands and feet never actually come in contact with the dummy, but instead tiny explosions of magic burst in the minute space between Shirabu and the rubber, leaving small blackened marks in their wake.
Reon has charmed clay plates to fly about the room. They’re fast, almost faster than Ushijima can keep track, but Reon spins and fires his magic in small, compact darts and more often than not he hits his target, and the clay explodes into dust that dissipates seconds later.
Reon notices Ushijima first. He straightens and waves his arm, the clay plates returning to their position stacked against the wall. He smiles sheepishly, bowing slightly.
“I apologize. Shirabu wanted to start training early, and I thought I’d join him.”
Ushijima looks to Shirabu, who continues attacking the dummy, frowning slightly in concentration. In three strides, Ushijima plants himself in front of the dummy, catching Shirabu’s next kick on his lifted arm. He conjures a ward around his body, creating a thick layer of magic just above his skin. The second Shirabu’s magic comes in contact with it, it explodes back onto Shirabu, and he falls to the floor.
“Again,” Ushijima commands.
Shirabu’s initial surprise melts, and he jumps to his feet. He throws a punch, which Ushijima easily deflects, same as before. The magic that scorched the dummy is ineffective against Ushijima’s wards. They ricochet instead, stinging Shirabu’s hands and feet as he attacks, leaving reddened skin behind. Even so, Shirabu grits his teeth and continues to fight, his face flushed, sweat sticking the strands of his hair against his face.
His eyes flash with frustration, as Ushijima continues to repel him, unharmed. In fact, he barely moves from his position, the strength of Shirabu’s magic not enough to force him to waver.
Finally, with a yell, Shirabu slams both hands into Ushijima’s stomach, beneath his lifted arms. He puts a great burst of magic behind the push. The force of it sends Shirabu flying backwards, while Ushijima rocks back slightly, steadying himself with one foot behind the other.
He lowers his arms, staring across the room to where Shirabu landed. He’s breathing hard, propped up on his elbows, glowering at Ushijima. Ushijima walks forward, holding his hand out in an offer of assistance.
“Impressive,” he states. Shirabu’s magic, while not strong enough to pierce through Ushijima’s wards, has potential. His determination and ability to concentrate his magic to strengthen his blows are nothing to belittle.
“I lost,” Shirabu mutters, eyes on the floor even as he takes Ushijima’s hand and pulls himself to his feet.
“My magic is much stronger than yours,” Ushijima reminds him. “Yet with that last push, you knocked me off-balance. You let your frustration control you, but the strength is there. You simply need to tap into it without losing control.”
A smattering of applause from the doorway causes Ushijima to turn his head. Reon stands where he was before, but now Tendou, Yamagata, and Goshiki have joined him. They all clap enthusiastically, wide grins on their faces.
Shirabu flushes a darker red, but he seems pleased by the attention.
“That was so cool!” Goshiki exclaims. “Me next! Me next!” He lifts his hand, waving it in the air.
Shirabu rolls his eyes, stepping over to take a hand towel from Reon to wipe the sweat from his face. “If I couldn’t beat him, you definitely can’t.”
Goshiki pouts. “You don’t know that.”
“Don’t worry, my precious kouhai,” Tendou says, patting Goshiki none-too-gently on the back. “You’ll get your moment against the great Ushijima. When you’re ready.”
“When will I be ready?” Goshiki asks.
“When you can go up against Shirabu without getting your ass handed to you,” Yamagata snickers.
Goshiki turns to Shirabu. “Let’s go! Right now!”
Shirabu glares. “No.”
“Where is Semi Eita?” Ushijima notices the young man’s absence, as he looks over Tendou’s group.
“Oh, right,” Tendou says with a sheepish smile. “About that . . .”
Yamagata snickers. “He turned him into a kitten.”
“I was trying to give him the heightened senses of a feline!”
“Like you were trying to give him the leg strength of a rabbit?” Reon asks, raising an eyebrow.
“And the skull strength of a goat?” Yamagata says in with a grin.
“Wings like a bird!” Goshiki exclaims, throwing his arms to the side and nearly smacking Shirabu in the face.
Ushijima blinks. “You do not seem to have much control over your spells,” he says to Tendou. “Perhaps you should not practice on Semi Eita.”
“I don’t understand why he lets you,” Reon says, shaking his head.
“You know why,” Yamagata says, nudging Reon and giving him a significant look that Ushijima doesn’t understand.
“Where is he now?” he asks, turning back to Tendou.
“Kawanishi’s babysitting. Don’t worry, he’s more caring than he appears.”
“I am not worried. However, he does need to be in class if he expects to advance.” Ushijima studies Tendou, wondering why he is here if his career path is to be an artist. While Ushijima believes the skills he’s mentoring are important for all witches to know, it doesn’t appear as though Tendou is taking them very seriously.
“I request you no longer conduct your experiments before my class,” he says. “Is he aware of his surroundings when he is an animal?”
Tendou shrugs. “Who knows? He never says.”
“He should still be here. Fetch him.”
Tendou smirks. “Aye, aye, captain.” He gives Ushijima a cheeky salute before spinning on his heel and exiting the room.
As Ushijima waits for him to return, and for the other students to arrive, those already gathered begin to stretch and talk amongst themselves.
“Don’t you think it’s weird how Tendou can do so well on every spell but completely suck at the ones involving animals?” Yamagata asks with smirk, pulling one arm across his torso.
Reon shrugs, pulling his leg up behind him. “People have different strengths.”
“I think he’s doing it on purpose.”
Goshiki’s eyes widen, arms lifted above his head. “Why would he turn Semi-san into animals on purpose?”
“Because he likes pranking people?” Shirabu offers from the floor where he’s reaching for his toes, rolling his eyes.
Yamagata grins. “Don’t you ever wonder what an attractive person would look like as an adorable animal?”
Reon looks thoughtful, as he begins stretching his arms. “I suppose there’s a certain appeal to attributing animal-like qualities to attractive people.”
“Like giving someone cat ears and a tail!” Goshiki pipes up.
Yamagata snickers. “Tendou would be a furry.”
Shirabu wrinkles his nose. “That would imply Semi-san is attractive.”
Goshiki turns to him with wide-eyes. “You don’t think he’s attractive?”
Shirabu’s face glows red. “You guys are all furries, and I hate you,” he states, standing and stalking over to his bag by the door to retrieve a water bottle.
Other students begin to trickle in, while Ushijima continues to wait by the door. About half of his students have begun stretching around the room when Tendou reappears with scratches on his arms and face and a disgruntled kitten cradled against his chest. It’s gray with black tips on its ears, similar to the rabbit. Tendou grins triumphantly when he sees Ushijima, despite his wounds.
“One kitten SemiSemi, as you requested,” Tendou says, reaching out as though to hand the kitten to Ushijima.
Ushijima blinks. “What are you doing?”
“Well, I can’t practice if I’m holding him.” Tendou bounces Semi gently in his palms. “Come on, he won’t hurt you.”
Ushijima regards Tendou’s injuries skeptically, but he carefully takes the kitten from him. It’s tiny in his large hands, and he suddenly realizes how fragile it is. He stands very still, cradling Semi in his palms. The kitten mews softly, looking up at him and blinking slowly, before walking across his forearm to grab a hold of his shirtsleeve. Pulling himself up, Semi climbs onto Ushijima’s shoulder, settling down to watch everything.
Once he’s sure the kitten won’t fall, Ushijima turns to his class, as the last of his students trickle in. A few giggle behind their hands at the sight of their mentor with a kitten on his shoulder, but it doesn’t bother Ushijima.
“Today you will be dueling in hand-to-hand combat,” he says. He gestures to the dummy in the center of the room. Using it as a base, Ushijima utters a cloning spell, creating multiple dummies throughout the room. “You will work in pairs against a single dummy, taking turns attacking it. You will focus on your form and the power of your hits. The dummy will sustain damage based on your hits. The exercise is complete when you have eradicated the dummy.”
A student raises his hand. “What does hand-to-hand combat have to do with demon hunting? Couldn’t we just blast the demon away?”
“Not all demons can be defeated with simple spells,” Ushijima says. “It is a useful skill to learn. Form your pairs.”
Goshiki grabs Shirabu’s sleeve, despite the latter’s scowl, and Yamagata and Reon automatically turn to the nearest dummy, as though they had already assumed they would end up together. Everyone does the same, leaving Tendou standing alone. He smirks faintly, sauntering over to the last dummy available.
“You would have a partner if you had not chosen to experiment on Semi,” Ushijima states, reaching up to make sure the kitten is still on his shoulder. It’s so light it’s difficult to tell. His fingers brush against the fluffy fur, and he finds himself absently scratching the top of Semi’s head with one finger briefly.
Tendou grins, leaning his elbow against the dummy. He holds up his hands, creating a frame with his forefinger and thumbs. He peers through it. “After looking at this picture, I have no regrets,” he says.
Ushijima lowers his hand. “It will take you twice as long as the others to complete the task. I suggest you begin.”
Tendou grins oddly, lowering his hands. “Sounds like you don’t have much faith in my abilities to completely destroy this thing.”
Ushijima studies him. “Your talent lies in defensive magic, not offensive.”
“Is that a challenge? That sounds like a challenge,” Tendou says, grinning.
Ushijima simply waits. Tendou folds his fingers together and stretches his arms out in front of him. He rolls his head from one side to the other before spinning it all the way around, shrugging his shoulders. He lets his arms drop to the side then, flopping his hands up and down as though shaking them out.
“All right, you ready to get your socks blown off?” he asks, smirking.
When Ushijima gives no response, he faces the dummy once more. Swinging his arms in a wild circle on either side, he brings his hands together suddenly and then shoots his palms forward with a short spell. A small ball of magic the size of Semi the kitten emits from his hands. It hits the dummy with an explosion so weak it leaves no marking behind.
Tendou turns to look at Ushijima, his hooded eyes wide with expectation.
Ushijima blinks. “That is your true offensive power?” he asks, thinking he has a lot of work to do if that’s the case.
Tendou straightens and places his hands on his hips, throwing his head back with laughter. “You’re so gullible,” he says, seeming pleased with this fact.
With a slight hop, Tendou jumps straight up, spinning in the air and kicking out with his foot. It makes contact with the dummy’s head, along with a blast of magic that scorches a crater a few centimeters deep into the dummy’s face. It’s not enough to demolish it, but it’s more damage than any other student has created so far, which a short glance around the room confirms. Shirabu and Goshiki’s dummy has a few impressive marks, but none as deep as this one.
Tendou throws his hands up in the air as he lands perfectly on two feet. “And he sticks the landing!”
Ushijima feels a muscle twitch at the corner of his mouth. “Impressive.”
“I know, right?” Tendou says, beaming. “And you totally believed I couldn’t do it. That’s my thing, remember? Unpredictability.”
“I see. Your plan is to appear weak in front of your enemies so they underestimate you.” Ushijima studies Tendou after this statement. Is this further proof that he is a suspect?
“Weeeeeelllll, I wouldn’t say weak,” Tendou says. “But it’s good to keep people on their toes.”
“Is this method one you learned while under the tutelage of the House of the White Rose?”
Tendou’s smirk disappears. The kitten on Ushijima’s shoulder hisses, its claws digging through his shirt. Ushijima doesn’t flinch, but he does reach up to pull the kitten away. He hands it to Tendou, who takes it slowly, cradling the kitten to his chest, where it looks up at him worriedly.
“You talked to Dean Washijou about me,” he says lightly, seemingly unaffected, though Ushijima can see that the light in his eyes has faded. This fact forms a new weight in Ushijima’s stomach.
“Yes,” he says, seeing no point in lying.
“That’s somewhat of a personal question to ask someone that’s not me, don’tcha think?” Tendou tilts his head.
Ushijima wonders if he’s angry with him. “I am conducting an investigation. I must ask questions about all the students.”
“You could have asked me directly,” Tendou says.
“Would you have told me the truth?”
Tendou laughs, short and mirthless. “You know, it’s strange. Sometimes I look at you and I think things are just like they were when we were kids. But they’re not, huh? I don’t really know you anymore. Not that I ever did, come to think of it . . . but still. If you remembered me at all you’d know that I would never lie to you.”
“Is that so?”
“I don’t lie to my friends.”
Ushijima studies him a moment longer. “You are offended.”
“Hell yeah, I’m offended! You went behind my back when we could’ve just gotten some drinks and played Twenty Question or Two Truths and a Lie and had a good time getting to know each other better.”
Ushijima blinks. His stomach churns with regret, an emotion he’s not accustomed to experiencing. “I do not understand.”
Tendou shakes his head, grinning faintly. “Of course you don’t.” He points to Ushijima’s face. “Next weekend after practice. You and me. Pancakes.”
Ushijima frowns in confusion. “Pancakes.”
Tendou nods solemnly. “Dozens of them. With beer.” He looks down at the kitten in his arms. “Sorry, SemiSemi, cool kids only.”
It appears as though the kitten rolls its eyes, though Ushijima knows that’s unlikely. Tendou sets Semi on his shoulder then, turning back to the dummy.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, Miracle Boy, I have an enemy to demolish.”
Ushijima takes a step back, watching as Tendou attacks the dummy with a ferocity he did not display before. His jabs are quick, like a snake striking, and the scorches his magic leaves are dark and smoke ominously. Ushijima knows he should attend to the other students, check on their work and give pointers if needed, but he can’t tear his eyes from the young man in front of him, striking the dummy as though it were responsible for all the misfortune in his life.
Ushijima has come to expect such conduct from Shirabu, even Semi at times, so it’s somewhat of a surprise to watch Tendou throw what appears to be a very controlled tantrum.
“Ushijima-sensei!” another student calls, waving her hand. “Are we doing this right? Nothing’s happening.”
Tendou glances sidelong at Ushijima, flashing him a tiny grin, as the kitten clings to his shoulder to remain balanced. “Your students await,” he says.
Ushijima hesitates a few seconds further, for some reason wanting to ask Tendou if there’s something wrong. Ushijima knows he’s not the best at picking up on subtle emotions, but he can sense that Tendou is still upset. That’s evident in his magic. But he also knows that now is not the time, so he turns to inspect the work of the others.
Shirabu and Goshiki’s dummy dissipates first, followed by Tendou’s. Yamagata and Reon’s is the tenth to disappear, and Tendou teases them, saying their hearts aren’t in it. As the students file out to being their daily run around the courtyard, the five are bantering as usual, but Ushijima can’t shake the feeling that he still needs to make amends somehow. He doesn’t know what to do, but maybe the pancakes and beer will help.
He finds himself looking forward to it.
“This assignment is stupid,” Shirabu declares.
“So you’ve said. Ten times.” Semi’s holding onto his patience with a weak grasp. Wandering through the city in the hot sun with Shirabu Kenjirou is not how he would describe his perfect day, or even a good day, but Professor Saitou tasked them with locating and capturing an imp as part of their training. Everyone from the tenth year class has been given a similar “find-and-retrieve” assignment, and unfortunately the professor himself divided the pairs instead of simply allowing his students to choose for themselves.
It’s not that Semi doesn’t mind Shirabu. He’s rather fond of him, actually. But he can be incredibly frustrating.
“I just don’t get the point of all this. We’re supposed to be learning how to hunt demons. Imps are harmless.”
“We’re still students. They want to make sure we’re safe.”
“They’re underestimating us.”
Semi purses his lips. He knows Shirabu has a point, but he also sees the wisdom in starting small when it comes to inexperienced students. They don’t have their licenses yet. They have a drone following them, recording everything for the professor to grade. He hopes it’s just recording video and not sound as well.
“I bet we could take on a demon if we had to,” Shirabu says. “I’m pretty powerful and you . . .” He glances sidelong at Semi. “You’re not so bad.”
Semi laughs. “And you’re a little punk.”
Shirabu smirks. “You know I’m right.”
Semi shrugs. “Even so, this is the task we were given, so let’s complete it and get back already. If we finish before the others maybe we’ll have time to grab a snack before heading to Ushijima’s class.”
Shirabu nods. They’ve been walking through downtown, eyes scanning the area for any signs of the imp. They’re mischievous creatures from a Hell dimension the Coven Council of Tokyo declared a Class 8, which meant the demons from there are mostly benign. The type to cause inconvenience more than harm. They’re annoying and crude and damn ugly, but they’ve never been known to kill or seriously maim anyone.
Shirabu is right. Professor Saitou is underestimating them, but Semi has to admit he’s relieved he’s not up against a dangerous demon with only Shirabu at his side. The boy is powerful but lacks discipline, and he loses his temper much too easily. (Semi knows he’s somewhat of a hypocrite for thinking so, but it’s still true.)
“There!” Shirabu grabs Semi’s arm, pointing ahead.
Semi squints, peering past the people making their way pasts shops and restaurants to the grotesque, hunched figure of an imp loping across the street on its knuckles. Nobody seems affected by the sight of it, but then again it’s invisible. Semi lifts his hands to the magic surrounding his eyes. He enhances it, causing his vision to sharpen and focus on the imp, as it ducks into an alleyway.
“We should cut it off,” he says. “I’ll take the back—”
He turns to Shirabu beside him, only to discover the boy has gone.
Quickly turning forward, Semi retracts the magic vision to see Shirabu racing toward the alley.
“Dumbass kid,” Semi mutters, hurrying after him.
He catches up just in front of the alley, and snatches the back of Shirabu’s shirt before he can duck into the dark space between the buildings.
“What the fuck are you doing? Are you crazy?”
Shirabu squirms in his grasp. “It’s getting away!”
“We gotta come up with a plan first!”
“The plan is to capture it, duh.”
“It’s not that simple!”
Shirabu wrenches away finally, straightening his shirt and glaring at Semi. “It’s just an imp. We don’t need any complicated plans. We just need to grab it.”
“Imps can be tricky. They’re not dumb creatures. They have some intelligence.”
“Yeah, but they’re not as intelligent as us. We can do this!”
Semi sighs. “Well, now it’s gotten away so we’ll need to find it again.”
“Yeah, thanks to you.”
Semi decides to be the bigger man and ignore that. “Look, I don’t doubt your abilities, okay? But we need to play this smart. They’re grading us on this, remember? We can just run recklessly into a fight.”
Shirabu huffs, glancing up to where the drone hovers above their heads. He lifts his hand, about to give it the finger, but Semi slaps it down before he can. He pouts some more, as he turns away, reaching up toward his own eyes where Semi knows a charm like his own surrounds them.
“It’s not in the alley anymore,” he concludes.
“We better get going, then,” Semi says, heading further down to the street beyond.
Shirabu follows, keeping pace with him as they leave the nicer part of the city and head toward the poorer districts. They walk for nearly thirty minutes in sullen silence, before Shirabu comes to an abrupt stop.
“There,” he says flatly, pointing across the street to an abandoned two-story building. “It went inside.”
“Okay, that’s good,” Semi says, thinking quickly. “If it’s inside we can find a way to corner it. You remember the spell for the trap, right?”
Shirabu gives him a flat look.
Semi rolls his eyes. “I’ll take that as a yes.” Shaking his head, he jogs across the street.
When he gets to the door he notices it’s boarded up. The imp must have gone through a window . . .
The front windows are also boarded, but when he goes around to the side of the building, he sees a broken one near the back. He heads toward it, clearing away the leftover glass carefully before grabbing the sill and hopping inside. He realizes then that Shirabu hasn’t followed him. Sticking his head outside, he looks across to where Shirabu’s standing, looking up at a window on the second floor.
“Hey, psst. You just going to stand there all day?” Semi hisses, beckoning to the kid.
Shirabu starts, lowering his head. He steps forward, and Semi moves out of the way, as he climbs through the window as well. Without bothering to look around the room (which appears to be a kitchen), Shirabu heads for the stairs. Frowning, Semi follows.
When they reach the top of the steps, Shirabu moves down the hall to the third door on the left. Semi watches him, wondering why it feels as though Shirabu knows this place. That feeling is further cemented when he steps into the room and finds Shirabu rifling through an old dresser. Its paint is cracked and peeling, and the five futons lined on the floor are dusty. The wallpaper is stained yellow with age and is missing patches. There are pins in the wall here and there, lonely without anything to hold in place.
Semi shivers, goosebumps prickling his arms. He holds himself gently. There’s a . . . weight in the room, somehow. Something heavy in the air. It’s more than just the dust swirling in the thin beams of light shining through the cracks in the wood over the windows.
Stepping over to one of the futons, Semi runs his fingers lightly against the wall above it, over a drawing of a farm with horses scribbled in crayon.
“What is this place?” he asks, his voice hushed. Even his volume feels oppressed.
Shirabu shuts the drawer he was looking through and opens another. “An orphanage.”
Semi glances over at him sharply. Shirabu’s shoulders are hunched over the drawer, and he’s rifling through what appears to be children’s clothing.
“Used to be, at least,” Shirabu amends after a moment.
He pulls something out from under the clothes. Semi’s curiosity gets the best of him, and he steps forward to look down at it over Shirabu’s shoulder. It’s a photograph, its edges frayed, creased in the middle from where it’d been folded and unfolded many times. It shows a small group of children, ranging in age from around six to ten years, with two caretakers. The children are smiling and appear well fed and well kept. One of the younger children stands apart from the rest. He has the same sandy-colored hair as Shirabu and is wearing a familiar frown.
“I didn’t know you were an orphan,” Semi says quietly.
Shirabu snaps the photo shut, stuffing it into his back pocket. “I don’t exactly go around talking about myself,” he reminds Semi, pushing the dresser drawer closed with his hip.
Semi chews on the inside of his lip, wondering if he should leave it alone. But looking around the place, he can’t help but want to know more.
“What happened? Why is this place so empty?”
Shirabu shrugs. “Ran out of funding, I guess. It wasn’t exactly doing well when I left.”
“Is that why you came to Shiratorizawa? To get away from this place?”
Shirabu glances sidelong at him. “I’ve always known about covens and witches and demons. The caretakers used to tell us that if we were bad, demons would snatch us in our sleep. But I found out about Shiratorizawa on my own, and I knew it was my ticket out of here.”
Semi remembers the photo, how Shirabu set himself apart from others even as a child. “You know you’ve got a family with us, right?” he asks slowly. “Tendou, Yamagata, Reon . . . hell, even Kawanishi. We care about you.”
Shirabu takes a step back. “Why are you being all mushy?”
Semi feels his face grow warm. “I’m not. I’m just saying!”
“Yeah, well, stop saying. You’re being weird.”
Semi rolls his eyes. “You just don’t know how to handle affection.” He glances around the room. “Now I see why, I guess.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Shirabu asks, nostrils flaring.
Semi sighs. “You’re such a brat. Can’t you let someone be nice to you for once?”
“Nobody’s ever nice just to be nice. There’s always a catch.”
Semi frowns. “Not always.”
Shirabu’s lips tighten. “You all just want me to be a part of your group because I’m powerful. That’s why Tendou approached me, because he knew what I could do. He was impressed by me.”
Semi huffs in annoyance. “Ugh.” He steps forward, setting his hands on Shirabu’s shoulders. Shirabu stiffens, but he doesn’t try to pull away, so Semi curls his fingers against the younger man’s shirt to hold him firmly. “Look. All that might be true, but even if it was you have to know that’s not all there is to it. Tendou saw something in you, yeah, but he didn’t just see your power. He saw someone worth caring about.”
Shirabu stares at him, face flushed, and Semi wonders why he feels the sudden urge to cup the kid’s cheek and kiss his forehead or something. Just the thought of Shirabu always keeping his walls up his entire life, staying guarded against those that want to care, makes Semi both sad and frustrated.
He has to see there’s more to life than just being the most powerful witch in Tokyo.
Shirabu’s eyes flit to the side, and his eyes widen slightly. Semi doesn’t turn around.
“It’s right behind me, isn’t it?” he asks under his breath.
Shirabu nods slightly.
“Has it spotted us yet?”
Shirabu answers with the tiniest shake of his head. Semi nods, clenching his jaw. He straightens slowly, allowing his hands to fall from Shirabu’s shoulders. He murmurs a spell, feeling the pull of magic deep inside him, heating his veins, thrumming like a second heartbeat beneath his skin. In his hands forms a coiled rope made of magic, glowing bright in the dim light of the room.
He lifts his gaze to meet Shirabu’s. “When I lasso it, you spring the trap. Got it?”
Shirabu nods, his expression hardening into one of determination.
Semi turns toward the door. He can see the imp in the room across the hall, going through the dresser much like Shirabu had. Creeping forward, Semi slowly unfurls the length of rope. He’s never tried lassoing something before, and as he ties a knot into the rope to form a loop, he wishes he had Reon’s gift of accuracy.
He approaches the door, holding his breath. He realizes belatedly that it would’ve been a smart idea to turn himself invisible, but he can’t mutter a spell now; it’ll hear him.
He crosses the threshold into the room. A board creaks underneath his foot. He freezes, but it’s too late. The imp lifts its head, turning bulbous eyes onto Semi. It opens its mouth, full of sharp teeth, and screeches, launching itself at him. Semi quickly leaps back, snapping the lasso at the imp. It flicks harmlessly off its chest, as it continues barreling toward him. Semi stumbles backwards, bringing the lasso up again and twirling it in the air before flinging it forward once more. This time it lands around its neck, but the imp jumps forward before Semi can pull the rope taut.
It lands on his chest, knocking him to the ground and leaving him winded. It laughs in his face, breath hot and smelling of rotting flesh. Semi gags, bringing his arms up to shield his face, as he tries to catch his breath in order to say another spell. The imp grins, its large, meaty hands with long, crooked fingers grabbing Semi’s arms to wrench them away from his face, pinning them to the floor beside him.
“Tasty,” it leers, its long, black tongue licking its lipless mouth. It hangs out then, dripping black saliva, as it leans down toward Semi’s face.
Suddenly it flies backwards, its chest smoking from a blast of magic. Semi tilts his head back, watching as Shirabu strides forward, his face a red mask of anger. He sends another blast at the imp, as Semi scrambles to his feet.
“The trap, Shirabu!”
Shirabu tsks his tongue in irritation but drops to one knee, flinging his hand out against the floor. A sphere the size of a marble rolls across the wood, coming to a stop beneath the imp, as it struggles to stand. The marble explodes, tendrils of magic forming a cage around the creature. The imp screams in rage, struggling, but the magic tightens around it, searing its skin, and it stops wiggling with a whimper.
“We should kill it,” Shirabu says darkly.
“That’s not the assignment,” Semi says, wiping at his face to make sure none of that disgusting saliva dripped onto it.
Shirabu turns to him, his expression twisted strangely. He appears to be struggling to say or ask something, and Semi gives him a faint grin. “I’m fine,” he assures him.
Shirabu nods, relief relaxing his features.
Semi feels that urge again, to touch Shirabu’s face. It’s sweet that the kid was worried. Semi knows he isn’t the best at showing those types of emotions. In fact, Semi can’t recall ever seeing anything on his face aside from annoyance, anger, or impassivity.
“Come on,” he says, reaching out to skim his fingers against the back of Shirabu’s hand. “Let’s deliver this thing to Professor Saitou.”
Shirabu looks toward the trapped imp, and the cage rises into the air, the imp still inside it. “I thought this was supposed to be a Class 8 imp,” he says. “They don’t eat people, do they?”
“Not that I know of,” Semi says, thinking that is strange. “Maybe Professor Saitou wanted us to underestimate it? Teach us a lesson?”
Shirabu frowns, not appearing to agree. He doesn’t argue, however, simply heads down the stairs, the floating cage following him. Semi glances once more into the room he and Shirabu left, wondering what kind of life Shirabu led here. Were his parents still alive? Or did something happen to them? How long had he lived at the orphanage before joining the academy?
He wants to ask, but considering it’s Shirabu he knows he’d probably be better off letting his curiosity remain unsatisfied.
Goshiki’s standing on top of a mountain, looking down at the city of Tokyo, which appears rather small from this distance. Beside him stands Ushijima. He’s tall and imposing, the lines of his face strong and handsome, his shirt stretched thin across his broad chest. He stares down at the city below.
“This is your kingdom now,” he says to Goshiki. “You are Tokyo’s Guardian. You protect the citizens from the evil forces that threaten to destroy them.”
“Yes!” Goshiki says breathlessly, his heart swelling in his chest.
Shirabu appears in front of him, kneeling before him with his head bowed humbly. “You are more powerful than me,” he says gravely. “Please teach me how to be as awesome as you are.”
Goshiki beams. “Of course, Kenjirou,” he says graciously, holding his hand out to him.
Shirabu takes it, and Goshiki’s arm tingles at the contact. He holds Shirabu’s hand tightly, as the other stands. His heart pounding in his ears, his arm feeling numb, he pulls Shirabu closer, looking deep into those beautiful, dark gray eyes.
“Will you teach me things too?” he asks, biting his lip.
Shirabu’s gaze falls to his mouth, as he leans closer. “Whatever you want,” he murmurs.
Goshiki trembles, heat flooding through him, he tries to lift his arm to touch Shirabu’s face, but it won’t move. It feels dead against his side; he can’t even feel Shirabu’s hand anymore. Panicking, Goshiki leans back, flapping his arm in front of him and inadvertently whacking himself in the forehead.
“Ow!” he exclaims, jolting upright.
The group around him snickers, and Goshiki realizes suddenly he’d fallen asleep in class. His arm prickles with pins and needles as it comes back to life, his head having trapped it against the desk. His face flushes hotly, as he realizes his pants feel tight, and he turns his gaze to the teacher in front of him, who’s frowning down at him in disapproval.
“Goshiki-kun, am I boring you?”
“N-No!” he exclaims, wiping drool from his chin. “I’m sorry, Nakamura-sensei! It won’t happen again!”
Nakamura frowns, her eyes roving over Goshiki’s features. “You’re in Ushijima-sensei’s class, aren’t you? That class is extra-curricular. You’re an excellent student, Goshiki-kun, but you shouldn’t stretch yourself too thin. If you cannot keep up, you will have to leave Ushijima-sensei’s class.”
Goshiki deflates into his seat, nodding with his eyes on his desk. The thought of having to leave Ushijima’s class makes his chest tighten, but he doesn’t want to do poorly in his regular classes either. Getting up an hour before breakfast to run with Ushijima and his friends, going to class all day, and then having the extra practice before supper is taxing, but also extremely rewarding. Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks, he can tell he’s getting stronger.
“Hey,” a soft whisper behind him causes Goshiki to turn around in his seat slightly to glance over his shoulder, as Nakamura makes her way back toward the front of the classroom. Kawanishi looks back at him with hooded eyes.
“You should drop out if you’re going to be like this. You’re going to fall behind.”
Goshiki feels his face grow hot. “I’m not dropping out,” he says, much too loudly.
“Goshiki-kun!” Nakamura snaps from her place by the blackboard.
Goshiki startles, turning back around and ignoring Kawanishi’s snickers behind him.
He can’t stop thinking about it, though, and it bothers him the rest of the day. When he gets to Ushijima’s class, he’s in a poor mood and not even Tendou’s antics can make him feel better.
Afterwards, his legs feeling like jelly as per usual, he makes his way to the showers with his friends. Tendou grabs him around the neck on the way, pulling him close despite the sweat soaking through their clothes.
“What’s going on with my favorite kouhai, huh? You’ve had a sad puppy face all day. It’s breaking my heart.” He reaches up to grab Goshiki’s face, squishing his cheeks together with one hand.
Goshiki bites his lip. “I fell asleep in class today. My teacher thinks I should stop training with Ushijima.”
Tendou laughs. “Oh, is that all?”
Goshiki frowns, his chest tightening once more, as tears prickle the corners of his eyes. “Don’t laugh at me! This is serious!”
Tendou stops laughing. He stops just outside the locker room, as the others file inside. He takes Goshiki by the shoulders, turning him to face him.
“You’re really upset,” he observes.
Goshiki nods, the tears slipping out down his cheeks.
“Aw, now, don’t cry,” Tendou says, wiping at the tears with his thumb. “Look, if you’re really that tired during class you can always slow down a little. Nobody will blame you if you take things easy.”
“I won’t be the best if I take things easy!” Goshiki exclaims. “I have to be the best! I’m going to beat Ushijima, and I can’t do that if I slack off!”
“Okay, okay,” Tendou says, holding up his hands in surrender. “No need to bark at me.” He grins. “So, no slacking off.” He tilts his head, studying Goshiki as he sniffles and wipes at his eyes. “Are you sleeping okay during the night?”
Goshiki shrugs. “Okay. Shirabu-san has nightmares. That wakes me up sometimes.”
Tendou lifts an eyebrow. “Ah, he’s still having those, huh?”
Tendou taps his chin in thought. “Another roommate perhaps?”
Goshiki hesitates. “I don’t want to leave Shirabu-san . . .”
Tendou grins. “Don’t worry. I can put him with someone sympathetic to his issues. Reon wouldn’t mind, I don’t think. He has a soft spot for Shirabu.”
Irrationally, Goshiki’s chest tightens further. “No! I mean, I-I don’t . . . Um.” He fidgets, not entirely sure how to explain himself since he has no idea why he burst out with that, but he feels something akin to panic welling inside him.
Tendou squints. “Oh, I see,” he says, smirking slowly. “Okay, so no leaving Shirabu. But you have to make sure you’re sleeping.” He snaps his fingers, lifting one into the air as an idea strikes him. “A potion!”
Goshiki startles at the sudden exclamation, his heart racing. “A potion?” he repeats blankly.
“Yes, I’ll find a potion for you. One that will help you sleep. You’ll be all nice and rested and ready to go come dawn.”
Goshiki grins hesitantly, his heartbeat gradually returning to its normal pace. “You’d do that for me?”
“Of course! What are amazing and dedicated senpai for?” Tendou grins, slinging his arm across Goshiki’s shoulders once more. “Don’t worry your pretty little face, now. The wonderful Tendou Satori will take care of everything.”
Goshiki’s grin widens. He’s about to thank said wonderful senpai, when Professor Saitou and two security guards approach from the main building.
“Tendou Satori,” Saitou says grimly. “We need you to come with us to the dean’s office.”
Tendou keeps his arm around Goshiki’s shoulder, so Goshiki can feel how he stiffens, though his face remains relaxed in a taunting half-smile.
“May I ask why?”
“Mazawa is awake. He claims you are the one who attacked him and his roommate last week.”
“Well, clearly the poor boy is delusional. Did the doctors check his head for brain damage?”
The security guards step forward. “Tendou, please do not make this harder than it needs to be. We only want to ask you a few questions.”
“Well, I only want to take a shower and return to my room. If you don’t have any proof, I don’t see why I have to go anywhere.”
Goshiki bites his lip. Tendou’s hand is gripping his shoulder tightly, and despite knowing that his senpai can take care of himself, he feels an overwhelming urge to step between him and the guards that are approaching.
“Tendou, please. I will not ask again.”
With an exaggerated sigh, Tendou releases Goshiki. He gives him a look. “If I’m not back in one hour, avenge me.”
Goshiki nods quickly. His stomach clenches, as he watches the guards and Saitou lead Tendou away. He races into the locker room then, bursting into the showers without taking his clothes off.
“They’re taking away Tendou!” he exclaims.
Most of the students there don’t turn around, but his friends do, varying looks of confusion on their faces.
“Who’s taking away Tendou?” Reon asks, being at the showerhead closest to Goshiki.
“Professor Saitou and two security guards. They said Mazawa woke up and said Tendou was the one that attacked him and Hamacho.” Goshiki bit his lip.
“That’s ridiculous,” Semi says flatly from his showerhead.
“I know, but they took him to the dean’s office to question him.” Goshiki flaps his hands anxiously. “We have to do something.”
His friends exchange glances.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Semi says tightly, though his hand reaches for the knob on the wall in front of him.
“We can still show our support,” Reon decides, turning off his water and grabbing a towel.
Goshiki steps back, as his friends file out of the showers, getting dressed quickly. He follows, not even thinking about the drying sweat on his body, anxiety tensing every muscle.
Kawanishi is standing outside the dean’s office when they arrive. He’s leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. He pushes off it when he notices the group, jerking his head over his shoulder at the closed door.
“They took him in there about ten minutes ago. I haven’t heard anything and nobody’s come out.”
“Is Ushijima in there?” Semi asks.
Kawanishi shrugs. “I think so.”
“That’s good!” Goshiki exclaims. “He’ll set everything straight!”
He’s reassured now, but the rest of the group doesn’t appear convinced. They plant themselves in various positions in the hall in front of the large double doors. Reon sits cross-legged on the floor, closing his eyes in some sort of meditation. Yamagata paces, too worked up to sit still. Kawanishi resumes his position against the wall, and Shirabu joins him, both looking more bored than worried.
Semi remains beside Goshiki, staring at the doors so intensely Goshiki wonders if he’s trying to see through them.
The minutes tick by slowly. It’s agonizing. While Goshiki’s positive that Ushijima will clear Tendou of any charges, he can’t help but be affected by the others’ anxiety. He chews on his lip until it feels raw, feeling something like a scream building up inside his chest. But of course he can’t scream here, so he bottles it up, pressing it down until he feels like he’s going to explode.
Finally, the doors open. Tendou steps out, perfectly unharmed, and his eyes widen when he sees the group of them there. He grins, and Goshiki can’t help but cry out, “TENDOU!”
The others hurry forward, propelled by the shout.
“What’s going on?”
“Are they accusing you of anything?”
“Are they taking you to jail?!”
“Are they suspending you?”
Tendou cackles. “It’s so heartwarming seeing how worried you guys all were.”
“I wasn’t worried,” Shirabu says quickly.
Tendou’s smirks. “Of course not.”
“Satori, what’s going on?” Semi asks seriously, laying his hand on Tendou’s arm.
Tendou glances over at him, his smirk wavering. When he shrugs, it disappears completely, and he simply looks tired.
“Same old, same old. With rumors going around that I’m some kind of monster, they had to follow up on Mazawa’s claim that I’m the one that attacked him and Hamacho. They don’t have any proof, though, so after I told them about a gazillion times that I didn’t do it, they let me go.”
“You were with me that night, did you tell them?” Semi asks, his fingers digging into Tendou’s sleeve.
“Yeah, yeah,” Tendou says, waving dismissively. “But I went for a walk before that, remember? And I was alone then. So I don’t have an alibi for that time.”
“Ushijima-san doesn’t think you did anything, does he?” Goshiki can’t help but ask, biting his lip.
“Ask him yourself,” Tendou says, tilting his head back, as Ushijima appears behind him.
The group falls silent, turning toward the man. Ushijima looks back at them all, and Goshiki finds himself holding his breath.
“There is no evidence to suggest Tendou did anything to those young men,” Ushijima states finally, and Goshiki breathes a sigh of relief. “However, there is no evidence to suggest he did not, either.”
Tendou barks a sardonic laugh. “Story of my life,” he says with a grin. “But they can’t suspend me or anything for something they have no proof for so! All’s well that end’s well, I guess. I’m gonna take a shower.”
He slips out of Semi’s grasp, waving at the group before heading down the hall, whistling jauntily. Goshiki swallows hard, turning back to Ushijima, wondering why he can’t just say Tendou is innocent when they all know he is.
“Tendou is the best of us all,” Reon says grimly. “He’s the one who sought us all out, brought us all together. He sees the best in us, even when we can only see the worst. He builds us up and holds us up. He would never, ever do something like this.”
Ushijima nods. “Thank you,” he says, which Goshiki doesn’t understand. But that seems to satisfy Reon, because he nods in return and turns to leave.
The others follow, but Goshiki hangs back, looking up at Ushijima. The man turns to him expectantly, but Goshiki isn’t sure what to say.
“Don’t let Dean Washijou take him away,” he says finally.
Ushijima turns to watch the retreating backs of his friends. “I do not believe he could,” he admits.
Lying in bed that night, Goshiki stares up at the ceiling. He finally had a chance to take his shower, but Tendou must have forgotten about the potion because he didn’t give anything to Goshiki before going back to his dorm room. Or maybe he just didn’t have time to get it before curfew. Either way, Goshiki remains tense, exhausted but not able to sleep.
The small light beside his bed glows dimly in the dark of the room, reminding Goshiki that he needs to find new batteries for it. He turns onto his side, staring across at where Shirabu lies facing him, one hand pillowed beneath his face, making his cheek squish up slightly. Goshiki can’t help but smile faintly at the sight.
Shirabu frowns suddenly, his lips twisting into a grimace. He turns onto his back, his head moving back and forth against the pillow, as his breathing grows uneven. Goshiki sits up slowly, knowing better than to cross the line between their sides of the room, but feeling sick to his stomach, as he watches the nightmare ravage Shirabu’s body. He arches his back slightly, his fingers curling into the sheets under him. His lips part in a silent cry, and Goshiki’s chest aches.
“Shirabu?” he calls softly, not sure if his voice will make it through whatever horror Shirabu is experiencing.
“Shirabu?” he tries again, louder, as Shirabu kicks his feet, gasping for breath.
A whimper escapes, the most pitiful sound Goshiki’s ever heard, and he can’t help himself. He stands, moving to that line that separates them, standing at the very edge of it. He clenches his hands into fists a couple times, gathering courage, before stepping over and approaching Shirabu’s bed.
His face is covered with a light sheen of sweat, and his knuckles are pale against the dark purple of his blanket. Tentatively, Goshiki reaches out to touch the back of Shirabu’s hand.
Goshiki cries out sharply in pain, as Shirabu grabs his wrist and twists his arm, forcing him onto his knees. Shirabu sits up, breathing heavily, his other hand poised in a fist, ready to strike.
“It’s just me! It’s just me!” Goshiki yelps, lifting his free arm to shield his face.
“Goshiki,” Shirabu spits, releasing him with a shove, before falling back against the bed, still gasping.
Goshiki cradles his throbbing wrist from his seat on the floor, staring up at the bed.
“You were having a nightmare,” he says in a small voice.
“I told you not to touch me,” Shirabu hisses angrily.
Goshiki bites his lip, quickly releasing it as it stings. “It seemed bad.”
Shirabu falls silent. A few seconds pass, and Goshiki wonders if he should just go back to bed. But he remains on the floor, watching Shirabu’s profile. Finally, Shirabu sighs, lifting his hands to cover his face.
“Stop staring at me.”
“I want to help.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do.”
“How? You’ve never let anyone try.”
Shirabu falls silent, and Goshiki feels bad. He moves to stand, hovering by the bed. Shirabu’s face remains covered, and Goshiki hates how helpless he feels. The truth is, he doesn’t know how to help Shirabu with his nightmares, or even where to start trying. He scrambles to think of something, anything, to say that might comfort him.
“Tendou mentioned a potion that can help you sleep . . .”
“I’ve tried potions. All that does is keep me stuck in the nightmare.”
“But maybe there’s a different potion. One you haven’t tried yet.”
Shirabu sighs, his hands dropping from his face. He frowns up at Goshiki. “I’ve tried all of them.”
“You can’t have tried all the potions in the whole entire world.”
Shirabu rolls his eyes.
“Just . . . don’t give up, okay?” Goshiki says, wanting to pat Shirabu’s shoulder or something but hesitant to reach out after what just happened.
Shirabu doesn’t answer.
“Okay?” Goshiki repeats, needing to hear Shirabu say it, to hear him promise to not give up.
“Okay.” Shirabu turns onto his side, his back to Goshiki this time. “Go to sleep.”
“I’m going to wait until you do.”
Shirabu glares at him over his shoulder. Goshiki blinks back at him, determined to be a good friend. Finally, Shirabu huffs and turns back to face the wall. “Fine. Whatever.”
Goshiki remains standing at Shirabu’s bedside, watching him as he closes his eyes and his body starts to relax once more. He doesn’t return to his own bed until he’s sure Shirabu has fallen back to sleep and is sleeping peacefully.
Before he goes, however, he watches Shirabu for a few minutes longer, again overcome with an urge to kiss his forehead or at least hug him. He wonders if Shirabu will ever let him do that. With a sigh, he turns back to his side of the room, collapsing face-first into his pillow. It still takes him another hour or so to fall asleep, and when morning dawns it feels much too early.
Even so, he pulls himself from his bed and gets dressed, pulling on his running shoes. A quick glance at Shirabu’s bed reveals it to be empty, perfectly made, as though it’d never been slept in. Frowning, Goshiki stands and stretches, before making his way out of his room and the dorm.
The others are already gathered, and he jogs up with a grin, relieved to find Shirabu already among them.
“Good morning!” he chirps, not about to let lack of sleep dampen his enthusiasm.
“Ugh, do you have to be so loud in the morning?” a familiar, yet unfamiliar to the setting, voice grumbles.
“Taichi!” Yamagata exclaims, practically tackling his roommate in a hug. “You finally made it!”
“It’s good to stay in shape, right? So, it’s . . . whatever,” Kawanishi mumbles, still appearing half-asleep.
“We’ll make a Demon Hunter of you yet,” Tendou says proudly, clapping Kawanishi on the back and earning him a dead-eyed stare.
“Where’s Ushijima?” Goshiki asks, realizing that there’s someone rather important missing from the group.
“Weird, he’s usually the first one here,” Yamagata says, finally peeling himself off Kawanishi to look around.
Goshiki gasps, hands flying to his cheeks. “Do you think the demon of the school got to him?!”
“Are you stupid? He’s Ushijima,” Shirabu says, rolling his eyes and looking a lot more rested than Goshiki thinks he should.
“Oh! Yeah!” he exclaims, realizing that, despite the rudeness, Shirabu is right. Ushijima can destroy any demon without breaking a sweat. That still doesn’t explain his absence, however . . .
“Wait! There he is!” Goshiki points to the main building, at the lone figure that emerges from it and makes its way toward them.
“Something’s not right,” Semi murmurs.
It’s not Ushijima that materializes from the cold blue fog of the early morning, but one of the security guards from the previous night, expression grim.
“Go wake your fellow students,” he tells them. “There’s an emergency assembly in the auditorium in thirty minutes.”
“What’s going on?” Reon asks.
The guard turns to him, but his eyes seek out Tendou and fixate on him. “Professor Saitou was attacked last night. Shiratorizawa is going on immediate lock down.”
Chapter 4: Revelations
warnings for this chapter: brief discussion about child abuse
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tendou doesn’t make it to the auditorium. As students begin to file into the room, he’s whisked away by the security guards and taken to Dean Washijou’s office, where they place him in an impenetrable bubble of magic. Ushijima can’t help but think this is overkill, especially since they have no proof that Tendou has ever hurt anyone. But while Dean Washijou speaks to the student body about the attack and the new security measures that will start immediately, Professor Saitou stands in front of Tendou, frowning at him through the golden, shimmering wall of the sphere.
“Last night as I was sleeping, demons somehow found their way into my room and attacked me. They appeared to be shadows, intangible and yet their claws and teeth felt very corporal.” He pushes up his sleeve to show Tendou his forearm, which is bandaged. “They managed to injure me, but I was able to dispel them.”
“And this has something do with me . . . how?” Tendou asks. He doesn’t appear anxious from what Ushijima can observe from his place just inside the door, but his shoulders are tense. He stands with his hands on his hips, cocking his head to the side, as he looks back at the professor.
“We know your mother gave birth to you soon after her time in Hinokoku, a Class 3 Hell dimension. We know from the help of that . . . embarrassing incident in The House of the Eastern Star that demons can have intercourse with humans. And every student that has been attacked at Shiratorizawa is a person you had a confrontation with. And then there’s myself, who was attacked just hours after I brought you to the dean for questioning.”
“Circumstantial,” Tendou says, waving his hand dismissively. “You still don’t have any hard evidence that I’ve hurt anyone or done anything. You think I’m half-demon? Test your theory. Do the ritual.”
Ushijima blinks. “What ritual?”
“The ritual they’re too scared to perform,” Tendou says, lifting his eyes to Ushijima. “If they wanna know if I’m a demon, they gotta test my blood against the blood of a witch who isn’t one. But nobody’s willing to volunteer their blood for the spell, are they?”
He looks pointedly at Professor Saitou.
Saitou frowns. “It has never been done before. There are complications that may arise . . . Mixing the two bloods can be dangerous.”
“So you’d rather prosecute an innocent man than risk getting a little burnt by magic?” Tendou throws back his head and laughs. “Amazing!”
“I will volunteer,” Ushijima says, stepping forward.
Tendou stops laughing abruptly, lowering his head and turning a keen gaze onto Ushijima. He doesn’t say anything, as Ushijima turns to Saitou. The man stares back at him, disbelief written over his features.
“Retrieve whatever you need to perform the ritual. I will stay with Tendou.”
Saitou hesitates before bowing slightly. “As you wish.” He leaves the room, but the security guard stays, hands clasped behind his back, watching.
“Are you doing this because you know I’m innocent or because you want to know if they’re right about me?” Tendou asks, crossing his arms over his chest.
Ushijima isn’t entirely sure of the answer himself.
“Who is your father?” he asks.
“Oh! So we’re playing Twenty Questions now, are we? How’s this: I’ll answer anything you ask, but you gotta answer questions too.” Tendou grins, moving to sit cross-legged on the floor.
Ushijima hesitates. He’s not used to being open with people; if people know you, they can defeat you. And if Tendou turns out to be a demon, he could use the information Ushijima provides against him. Either way, though, he’ll learn more about Tendou in the process, which could turn out to be valuable . . . in some way.
“Very well,” he says, moving to sit as well.
Tendou grins, his features somewhat obscured by the shimmer of the bubble around him.
“I shall go first,” Ushijima says. “Who is your father?”
“I don’t know,” Tendou says. “He isn’t a member of The House of the White Rose, that’s for sure, but my mom never talked about him. It really did feel like he’s never existed.”
“So, theoretically, you could be half-demon,” Ushijima states.
Tendou purses his lips, though they quirk in a small smirk. “Theoretically. But now it’s my turn to ask a question.” He leans forward, elbows on his knees, pressing his palms together and resting his chin on his fingertips. “Now, I don’t usually let things like this get to me but . . . you were pretty much my only friend when I got here and I’ve kind of wondered throughout the years why you never stuck around when you got promoted.”
Ushijima blinks, having expected to be asked something about his own parents.
“I did not come here to form attachments. I came to become a Demon Hunter,” he says plainly.
Tendou smirks faintly. “Sounds pretty lonely.”
“I am one of the best Demon Hunters in Tokyo.”
“And you’re alone.”
“I do not mind being alone.”
Tendou stares at him until Ushijima begins to feel uncomfortable.
“I admit, there is a certain . . . poignancy to my lifestyle,” he says finally. “But I have always done well alone.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t do even better with a good sidekick by your side.” Tendou straightens. “I nominate myself, of course.”
Ushijima’s chest twinges, and he wonders why. “You wish to be my sidekick?”
“I think we can learn a lot from each other,” Tendou says vaguely.
“If you are a demon, you will no longer be allowed to use magic or live the life you have so far,” Ushijima warns him, and he can’t help but think that’d be a shame.
“It’s a good thing you’re about to prove my innocence then, huh?”
Ushijima glances over his shoulder to the doors that have just opened. Dean Washijou steps into the room alongside Professor Saitou, who is holding a large book, its pages yellowed with age. Ushijima stands, though Tendou remains seated, and turns to bow to the dean in greeting.
“Has he told you anything?” Washijou asks, looking past Ushijima to the young man inside the bubble.
“’Sup, Dean?” Tendou says, saluting with two fingers. “Nice day for an exorcism.”
“Nothing of relevance. How does this ritual work?” Ushijima asks Saitou.
“It’s an old spell, one few know about. We don’t teach it here because we’ve never encountered a half-demon before. Demons tend to reveal themselves, one way or another, but half-demons . . . we don’t know how their minds work.”
“If he is a half-demon, is it possible he could still mean us no harm?” Ushijima asks. “He could simply wish to live as human.”
“Half-demon, full demon, they’re all from Hell,” Washijou says flatly. “And nothing that comes from Hell has good intentions.”
“Rather narrow view on things. Do you even know any half-demons? You’re working completely on assumption here,” Tendou says from his spot on the floor.
“How this works is we will draw blood from you and from Tendou. The spell combines the two, and if Tendou has demon DNA it will dissolve into black smoke. If he is fully human, it will dissolve into white smoke.”
“That whole ‘black is evil and white is good’ thing is such a stereotype,” Tendou comments idly.
Washijou doesn’t appear amused. “Stand and hold out your arm.”
Tendou stands obediently and extends one arm to the side. Saitou places the book on Washijou’s desk, his expression grim. Removing a vial from his pocket, he turns to the sphere. He sets his hand against the wall of it, muttering a spell under his breath. He presses forward then, and the bubble bows inward, allowing his hand to pass through it. He takes hold of Tendou’s arm and utters another spell. Tendou winces, as a shallow cut appears on his forearm.
Ushijima’s stomach clenches slightly, as he watches Tendou watch the blood drip from his arm into the vial Saitou holds beneath it. Tendou must sense his gaze, because he lifts his eyes to meet Ushijima’s. He smirks carelessly, but that doesn’t exactly set Ushijima at ease.
Saitou withdraws his hand and the vial, and Tendou brings his arm to his chest, pressing his hand against the wound to stop the bleeding.
Washijou turns to Ushijima then. “Now you.”
Holding out his arm dutifully, Ushijima feels the sharp sting of the spell as it splits his skin, but he does not flinch. He’s suffered worse injuries in the field. Tendou watches the procedure with a sharp gaze, eyes flickering from the vial to Ushijima’s face and back again. Washijou hands Saitou the vial once it’s full, and says another spell to close the wound. Ushijima frowns. They did not do the same for Tendou.
Saitou takes both vials over to the desk where the book lies. He opens it, flipping through the thin pages delicately until he comes across the correct spell. As he begins chanting, he releases the vials into the air, they hover in front of him, and Ushijima takes a step closer to watch. Tendou presses his hands and the side of his face against the wall, as though squishing against the sphere will allow him to see the results better.
The vials tilt, spilling both liquids into the air, where they begin to coil around each other.
“Kinky,” Tendou says, his voice muffled against the wall of the sphere.
Ushijima clears his throat, as his face grows warm. It’s not easy to embarrass him, Ushijima’s not generally bothered by other people’s words or thoughts, yet with that single word Tendou has the blood rushing to Ushijima’s head. Perhaps it’s because he realizes the implications of it. Their blood merging before their eyes does seem like an intimate thing, despite the setting.
With a soft poof the blood disappears, white smoke billowing in its place. As it wisps into the air, dissipating as it goes, Saitou snatches the vials out of the air in front of him, turning to frown at Tendou.
“It appears you are not half-demon,” he says, and he sounds disappointed.
“Told you so~” Tendou sings.
Ushijima turns to Washijou. “I will escort him back to his dorm,” he says, knowing that students are no longer allowed to roam the premises alone.
“Not so fast,” Washijou says, holding up his hand. “Just because he is not half-demon that doesn’t mean he is not still responsible. He has motive and the means. He could have summoned a demon to do the work for him. He could be a spy for The House of the White Rose attempting to undermine us.”
Tendou laughs abruptly, his unnatural cackle drawing the gaze of all present.
“You just need a scapegoat, don’t you? You have no idea what to do about this mess so you want to blame me for everything.” He grins, setting his hands on his hips. “I guess it’s true what they say that covens are only loyal to their own.”
“And if you are wrong? If there is another attack?” Ushijima asks, frowning.
“Then we will know we are wrong,” Washijou says. “But for now, Tendou stays.”
“I can keep an eye on him.”
“It is better that he stays here. He cannot conduct any magic inside that bubble. Until our investigation is complete, this is the best place for him.”
“Guess we’ll have to put a rain check on that date,” Tendou says, giving Ushijima a crooked smile.
A new stone forms beside the other in Ushijima’s stomach, as he looks back at Tendou and experiences a feeling he recognizes but that’s unfamiliar to him.
“Hey, you! You can’t go in there!”
A shout from outside causes Ushijima to turn. Semi Eita bursts through the doors, followed by one of the security guards that had been stationed outside.
“I’m sorry, he just blasted through me,” the guard says, bending over as he gasps for breath.
“Release him, immediately,” Semi says, his eyes blazing with golden magic, as two swords form in each hand at his side. He glowers at Ushijima, lifting one sword to point at him. “You! All he’s ever done is offer you friendship and this is how you repay him? By siding with them?”
“Ah, Eita, let’s calm down now,” Tendou says lightly, holding up his hands as though he can pacify his friend from inside the sphere.
“Shut up,” Semi snaps, turning his scowl onto Tendou. “You shouldn’t have let them take you away in the first place.”
“Semi-san, Tendou is simply being held for questioning,” Saitou says, stepping forward. “He has motive and the means to have conducted these attacks, so we’re just taking precautions.”
“He’s not what you think he is,” Semi says flatly, trembling with rage.
Ushijima looks at the sword pointed at his chest. It’s made of extremely dense magic. He’s sure if it touches him he will feel the sting of the blade as though it were real. So he stands very still, as he addresses the furious young witch.
“We know he is not half-demon,” he says. “However, the dean and professor believe it is best for him to stay here while we continue our investigation.”
“Why? He’s innocent. You know he is,” Semi says, turning his gaze back to Ushijima.
Ushijima wants to agree, his gut is telling him to agree. But should he rely on instinct when there are hundreds of young men and women who can get hurt if he’s wrong?
“Semi, you are out of line. Return to your dorm,” Washijou says firmly.
Semi releases one of the swords, pulling the magic into the one in his dominant hand, forming a large broadsword. He holds this in both hands, lowering into a fighting stance.
“I’m not leaving unless he’s going with me.”
“Where are the rest of your friends?” Ushijima asks, finding it strange that Semi stands here alone.
Semi doesn’t take his eyes off the dean. “In the cafeteria. I managed to slip away when the guards herded us in there.”
“My patience is growing thin.” Washijou steps forward. Encasing his hand in magic, he grabs the blade of Semi’s sword, uttering a spell that supercharges it, causing the sword to explode in Semi’s hands. He’s flung across the room, crashing into a bookcase.
Tendou leaps forward, hands pressed against the sphere. His normally jocular expression is serious, as he stares at Semi’s slumped figure.
“Eita?” he calls.
Ushijima steps over to Semi, extending his hand. The young man seems dazed, but he’s not unconscious. He stares up at Ushijima for a moment, frowning.
“I will not let them hurt him,” he says, wondering if that will reassure Semi at all.
Semi hesitates a few seconds longer before grabbing Ushijima’s hand and allowing him to help pull him to his feet. “This isn’t his fault,” he insists.
“I know,” Ushijima says, before he can think better of it.
Semi studies his face, and he must believe he’s telling the truth because after a moment he nods. Pulling his hand away, he walks stiffly past the others, pausing at the door to look back at Tendou.
“Tell the others I’m okay,” Tendou says.
Semi nods, turning to leave. Ushijima steps up to the sphere, watching Semi go.
“He cares a lot for you,” he says quietly, as Washijou and Saitou speak to the security guards.
“After you moved up a class, Eita came to me. He just . . . sat next to me and introduced himself. Nobody else had ever dared to speak to me after a certain . . . incident with another student. He wasn’t afraid of me though. He never has been.”
Tendou sounds almost wistful. Struck by a random curious thought, Ushijima glances over at him.
“Why do you continue to experiment on him with animal spells when you know you’re not proficient? Is that not dangerous for him?”
Tendou smirks suddenly, glancing up at Ushijima. “What makes you think I’m not proficient?”
Ushijima blinks. “You turn him into animals intentionally?”
Tendou chuckles under his breath. “Obviously. How else am I supposed to hold him?”
Ushijima stares, thinking he understands and yet still at a loss as to what Tendou’s insinuating. Washijou and Saitou finish giving their commands to the guards and turn once more to the hunter and witch.
“You will be served your meals and escorted to the bathroom should you need to relieve yourself. However, you will have no visitors, and the room will be warded against anyone attempting to rescue you. You have twenty-four hours to reveal your true purpose here, otherwise we will take you before the House of the White Swan’s coven council.”
Washijou turns to Ushijima. “Return to the students. Classes will resume as scheduled, under guard.”
Ushijima nods but glances toward Tendou. “May I be allowed to continue questioning him?”
“Return after the twenty-four hours are up. You will interrogate him then, if you think you have the stomach for what it may take.”
Ushijima frowns at the implication. Do they intend to torture Tendou? Ushijima has been unwaveringly loyal to his coven ever since he was a child. But if the council sanctions this . . .
“I will be here,” he says, determined to protect Tendou against an unethical interrogation.
“Hey, Miracle Boy,” Tendou calls after him, as he turns to leave. Ushijima pauses in the doorway, looking back. Tendou points his finger at him. “Can I count on you?”
It’s a loaded question. Ushijima can feel it. He doesn’t hesitate, however. He doesn’t glance at Saitou or Washijou, but instead focuses his gaze and intensity onto Tendou, and only Tendou.
Semi isn’t sure how anyone is supposed to concentrate on classes when Tendou is locked up and there’s a very real threat to the school still on the loose. He can’t believe the dean and Professor Saitou are being so narrow-minded as to get stuck on Tendou for the culprit, when all they have is motive and the fact that he knows a lot about wards. There’s no hard evidence that links him to any of the attacks.
Of course, there’s no hard evidence that he wasn’t responsible in some way either, but Semi’s choosing to ignore that fact on the grounds that he knows Tendou is innocent.
“You know him better than we do,” Yamagata says, arms folded over the back of his chair, chin resting on them. “Is he capable of doing something like this?”
Class is supposed to be in session, but with everyone antsy about the news that there’s a demon on campus, nobody has been able to focus and so their professor has allowed them to talk amongst themselves.
Semi frowns at him. “I can’t believe you’re even asking me that,” he says irritably.
Yamagata shrugs. “I’m just saying. Everyone who was attacked was someone who bothered Tendou in some way. Maybe he just sees it as a joke. Like, a prank. I mean, nobody has died.”
“You really want to stop talking now,” Semi seethes.
“Hey, now, calm down,” Reon says, placing his hand on Semi’s shoulder. “We’re not accusing him of being a demon.”
“Look, I know Tendou likes to pull stupid shit and it makes sense that he’d get back at his tormenters, but I swear he wouldn’t do it like that. He might be a little shit, but he doesn’t enjoy hurting people.” Semi shakes his head emphatically.
“What does the kid think?” Yamagata says, glancing sidelong at Shirabu, who’s seated by the window and nose-deep in a textbook. When he doesn’t immediately look up, Yamagata throws his pencil at him. It bounces off Shirabu’s head, and he looks up with a frown.
“Do you think Tendou is guilty or innocent?”
Shirabu glances between the three. “Does it matter? The dean is probably going to expel him anyway.”
Semi frowns. “Not if we can prove his innocence first.”
That catches Shirabu’s attention. He sets down his book. “I’m listening.”
Semi leans forward, gesturing for Yamagata and Reon to get into the huddle as well. “We should sneak out, get Goshiki and Kawanishi, and look for this demon ourselves. It has to be hiding out somewhere on campus, because the wards are demon-proof.”
“What if it’s a half-demon and looks like just a normal student?” Yamagata asks pointedly.
“We’ll search the dorms too,” Semi says quickly, his heart pumping wildly in his chest as he catches more momentum for the idea. “We’ll look for anything out of the ordinary. A half-demon has to know its origins, so there might be a clue somewhere. And if it was a demon that was summoned here, there has to be summoning spell ingredients. Like, chalk and a ton of candles. A book on demons.”
“Isn’t that what Ushijima-san was supposed to be doing?” Shirabu asks. “If he couldn’t find anything, what makes you think we can?”
“Because there’s six of us, and Tendou will be expelled if we don’t find something,” Semi says grimly.
“It’s going to be difficult getting around without the guards seeing us. They’re everywhere,” Reon says, keeping his voice low.
“We all know invisibility spells, don’t we?” Semi asks, raising an eyebrow.
“Wow, Semi, I never thought you’d be one to break the rules like this,” Yamagata says with a grin. “I like this side of you. It’s hot.”
Reon snickers behind his hand, as Shirabu scowls, and Semi unsuccessfully fights the blush that’s turning his ears red.
“Uh, thanks? I think.”
The bell signaling the end of the class rings, and the four jump guiltily. Semi glances toward the professor, as she gathers her things and tells the students to wait in the room for their next instructor.
“We’ll have about five minutes before our next class starts,” he says, turning to the others.
“I’ll get Goshiki and Kawanishi,” Yamagata volunteers.
Semi nods. “We’ll meet in my dorm room, but first I’m going to let Tendou know what the plan is.”
“What if you run into Ushijima?” Reon asks.
Semi purses his lips, remembering what Ushijima said to him in the dean’s office. “He won’t stop me.”
“He thinks Tendou-san is innocent?” Shirabu asks.
Semi nods. “I believe so.”
“You should get him to help us,” Reon says. “If you can.”
“We better get going,” Yamagata says, glancing at the clock on the wall as he had, yet again, misplaced his phone. “Kando-san will be here any minute.”
Shirabu disappears in an instant. Reon and Yamagata mutter the spell and follow suit. Semi does so last before standing and carefully making his way to the front of the classroom, careful not to jostle anything.
Once he reaches the outdoors, he sprints as fast as he can toward the main building, suddenly grateful for that week of daily running Ushijima made his class do. When he reaches the doors, he opens one as carefully as possible, sliding through the gap and hoping nobody noticed. He creeps up the stairs to Dean Washijou’s office, then, making his way down the hall to the correct set of double doors.
Two guards are stationed outside it, and when Semi places his hand on the door handle, he finds resistance. It’s not locked, but there’s a ward, a powerful one, barring him from entering. Semi frowns. He’s already inside that bubble. How dangerous do they think he is?
He stares at the door, trying to think of a solution. It’s unlikely any spell will make it through. However, if it’s keeping anyone from entering, that would mean the guards will have to lower the ward in order to enter themselves. Clinging to that logic, Semi slams his shoulder into the doors, making a loud thud as the wood shudders.
Instantly, the guards are on alert.
“Did he get out?” one of them asks.
“Impossible,” the other says, though the limp mustache above his lip quivers.
Semi slams into the door again, pain shooting through his shoulder. He holds it with a grimace, as the guards startle at the second sound.
“I’m gonna check on him,” Limp Mustache says, waving his hand across the door with a muttered spell.
“Careful,” his companion warns, glancing up and down the hallway. “He might come charging out here.”
Limp Mustache nods, steeling himself, before opening the door and holding out his hand, magic swirling in his palm. Semi ducks beneath his arm, scurrying into the room, as the guard straightens, confusion written over his features, as he looks at Tendou sitting peacefully in the center of the sphere.
“Did you bang on the door?” the guard asks.
“Yes! That was me! I totally banged on the door from inside my bubble prison! Beware! Ooooh!” Tendou waves his arms above his head before dissolving into laughter. The guard looks disturbed and quickly closes the door.
Annoyed, Semi drops his invisibility before taking an extra ten seconds to make sure the coast is clear.
“You’re not helping your case by acting like a crazy person,” he hisses.
Tendou doesn’t even seem surprised by his appearance, the bastard.
“Are you here to rescue me, SemiSemi? My hero~”
“Good, because your last attempt was rather abysmal.” Tendou unfolds himself, hopping to his feet. “Well! Why are you here then?”
Semi approaches the bubble, looking over it briefly. He knows that as flimsy as it appears, it’s probably just as strong as the ward on the door.
“The team and I are taking the investigation in our own hands. We’re going to prove you’re innocent.”
Tendou gives him a funny little smile. “I don’t think they’re going to care, Eita. I’m not one of you. The way they’re reacting like this, jumping so quick to believe I’m a spy or some shit, kiiiiiinda makes me think they were just waiting for something like this to happen.”
Semi frowns. “I’m not going to let them send you back there.”
Tendou laughs, but there’s no mirth in his voice, or his eyes. It leaves Semi feeling hollow. “I don’t think you’ll have much say in the matter, Eita-kun.”
Semi steps closer, slamming his hands against the wall of the sphere. It wobbles, but doesn’t break. The magic is warm beneath his palms, and he can feel the power of it moving, breathing.
“Don’t give up on yourself,” he hisses, annoyed at Tendou for being so bleak about the situation. “We’re going to find out who, or what, is really responsible for the attacks. Have a little faith in us, will you?”
“I have all the faith in you,” Tendou says, suddenly serious. He steps closer as well, staring back at Semi from behind the golden wall. “I just want you to be prepared in case this doesn’t go the way you hope it will.”
Semi notices then the cut on his arm, the dried blood that has crusted there. “What the hell did they do to you?” he asks, all his righteous anger flooding back.
“Relax, Eita,” Tendou laughs. “It was just a little spell they did to confirm I’m not half-demon.”
Semi scowls. “They could have at least healed you afterwards,” he mutters, dropping his hands from the sphere. He reaches out toward Tendou’s arm, though, pressing his fingers against the bubble across from the cut, as if he can reach through and heal it himself. He wishes he could.
“Hey, Eita,” Tendou says, lifting his hand to set his fingers lightly against the sphere where Semi’s are, twitching slightly.
Semi stares at their hands. Their fingers would be touching if it weren’t for the magic between them. His stomach flutters pathetically, as his heart skips a beat. He drags his gaze up to meet Tendou’s, inhaling sharply as Tendou’s right up against the bubble now, inches from Semi.
“Thanks for believing in me,” he says, grinning crookedly. “You always have for some reason, and . . . it means a lot.”
“Since when are you a sap?” Semi asks, feeling heat rise up his neck to his ears.
“I’ve always been a sap, Eita-kun, you’ve just never had the pleasure of seeing me so weak and vulnerable,” Tendou says with a chuckle.
“You’re not weak,” Semi says sharply, pressing his fingers firmer against the wall.
“I try not to be,” Tendou says absently. He sighs, closing his eyes and setting his forehead against the wall. “But I’m tired.”
Semi moves his other hand, setting his fingers against the bubble as though he were touching the side of Tendou’s face. “Satori, you’re the strongest person I know,” he says, swallowing hard past the lump that’s growing in his throat.
Tendou grins. “Fooled ya,” he says, his tone a pale version of his taunting one.
Semi flicks his forehead through the sphere. “We’re going to find out who really did this. Dean Washijou has to let you go if they confess to everything. He won’t have a choice.”
Tendou nods, leaning back. “Right. Good plan. Does Ushijima know about it?”
Semi hesitates. “Do you think he’ll help if I tell him?”
Tendou smirks. “He likes me. He’ll definitely help.”
Straightening his shoulders, Semi takes a step back. “Anything you want me to report back to the team?”
Pressing his fingers more firmly into the sphere, Tendou expression grows serious once more. “I’m counting on you.”
Semi presses back, thinking that maybe he can feel the warmth of Tendou’s skin through the sphere. Though it’s probably just wishful thinking.
“We won’t let you down.”
The group is waiting in his dorm room. Goshiki’s bouncing on his toes, and Kawanishi looks pissed off (but then he almost always does so it’s difficult to tell if he’s pissed at Goshiki’s lack of ability to stand still or the entire situation). Yamagata stands from his seat on Tendou’s bed as soon as Semi walks through the door, and Reon looks up from where he and Shirabu sit, a large sheet of paper spread over their laps.
“Apparently they ran some sort of test on Tendou that proves he isn’t half-demon, but they’re still holding him.” Semi shakes his head, disgusted. He looks down at the paper across Reon and Shirabu’s knees. “What’s that?”
“Blueprints,” Shirabu says, eyes still on the paper.
“It was Shirabu’s idea,” Reon says. “We have maps of the campus and the sewers underground. I suggest we take the sewers as a group, but for the campus we’ve sectioned off areas with different colored markers. Goshiki and Shirabu are taking the dorms on the first through third floor, Yamagata and Kawanishi are taking floors four through six, and you and I can take the last three.”
Semi nods. “Then we’ll meet outside at the fountain to regroup and compare notes.”
“Right. And if any of us get caught by the guards, we’re to say that one of us forgot a textbook and are using the buddy system like they told us to.”
“Can we go now???” Goshiki asks, practically vibrating out of his skin.
“Tell me again why I’m stuck with him?” Shirabu asks, looking over at Reon.
Reon grins. “You’re good with him. He listens to you.”
Shirabu gives a long-suffering sigh, as he stands. “Next time, I want Semi-san.”
Semi can’t help but feel amused. “Because we work so well together?” He remembers their last assignment, how they bickered nearly the entire time.
Shirabu opens his mouth, but his face grows red, and he shuts it once more. Turning, he heads for the door, grabbing Goshiki’s uniform tie on the way and pulling him with him.
“Ack! You’re choking me!” Goshiki complains, as he follows.
“I guess we’re next!” Yamagata says, grinning at Kawanishi. “Hunting demons can be pretty scary, so I won’t judge you if you need to hold my hand.”
Kawanishi gives Yamagata a withering look, as he passes him to step outside.
“I’m wearing him down,” Yamagata informs Reon, who simply smiles indulgently without comment.
Semi is curious as to what that is all about, but he doesn’t have time to ask. Reon stands, rolling up the blueprint and sticking it into his back pocket. Semi grabs his arm before he can leave the room.
“What do you think about asking Ushijima to join us?”
Reon raises his eyebrows. “Seems kind of risky. He could tell on us.”
“I know, but Tendou seems to think we can trust him.”
Reon hesitates, looking thoughtful. “Ushijima seems like a decent guy. And if Tendou trusts him, then I guess we can too.”
Semi nods. “Let’s go track him down. I think he should be oof—“
He turns to leave the room and runs directly into a broad, solid chest. He steps back, tilting his head to look up at Ushijima, as he looms in the doorway.
“Your instructors reported that you were not in class. And the guards outside Dean Washijou’s office informed me that they heard something trying to get in. Was that you?”
Semi crosses his arms over his chest. “Maybe. Are you going to tell the dean?”
Ushijima shakes his head. “I came to assist you. I do not wish to see Tendou punished for a crime he may not have committed.”
“We’re searching the dorms first,” Reon says. “Anything that points to a possible demon or summoning. We’d appreciate the help.”
Semi squints up at him. “Tendou sees something in you,” he says. “I don’t know what, but I’m willing to give you a chance.”
Ushijima looks back at him passively, and as always it’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking. Then, incredibly, a small smile tilts the corner of his lips. “I appreciate it.”
Semi catches himself staring, wondering if this is the Ushijima Wakatoshi Tendou saw all those years ago.
“Welcome to the team, then,” he says, holding out his hand.
Ushijima shakes it briefly. “Thank you.”
“Let’s get started.”
Goshiki isn’t exactly sure what they’re supposed to be looking for, but he scours the dorm rooms anyway, checking under beds and inside drawers and in closets. He finds a few dirty magazines, a lot of socks, condoms of multiple sizes, and a couple strange looking things that kind of resemble his mom’s electric hair curler that Shirabu snatches from him and immediately shoves back into place. He refuses to answer him when Goshiki asks what they are, but he’s pretty sure they’re not used for summoning demons.
In fact nothing they’ve found so far resembles any demon summoning ingredients, as the herbs and crystals they do find are easily explained away by the fact that the students need them for class.
But Goshiki refuses to give up. Tendou is counting on him! (On them, really, but it helps to think Tendou is counting on him specifically.)
“I don’t think anyone would be so stupid as to hide the stuff we’re looking for in their own dorm room,” Shirabu says, as he stands in the middle of their thirty-fourth room. (Goshiki’s been counting.)
Goshiki hesitates, elbows deep in a guy’s shirt drawer. “Where do you think they’d hide it?”
“Someplace so crazy nobody would think to look there. That’s what I’d do at least.” Shirabu shrugs.
Goshiki pulls his hands out and shuts the drawer. “Like . . . in the fountains?”
“I was thinking more the office building.”
“WHAT?!” Goshiki squawks. “Why would someone put dangerous magic ingredients right under the dean’s nose?!”
Shirabu gives him a look like he thinks Goshiki is stupid, which hurts. “Exactly because it’s right under the dean’s nose. It’s the last place they’d expect.”
Goshiki bites his lip, anxiety twisting his stomach into knots. “So we’re going to go searching in the office building?”
“Yes,” Shirabu says, leaving the room.
Goshiki scrambles to keep up. “What do you think they’ll do with whoever summoned it?”
“Expel them, probably.”
“And the demon?”
“Probably destroy it.”
Goshiki nods, guessing that makes sense. Demons are terrible creatures from Hell dimensions. He’s always been taught that demons are only out to trick you and to eat your heart. Or something. They do terrible things, in any case.
“Do you think a half-demon would be all evil or only half-evil?”
“What kind of stupid question is that?” Shirabu asks irritably.
Goshiki shrugs. “Well, they’d have one human parent, right? So they could still be raised to be good.”
Shirabu shakes his head. “Demons are pure evil. If any of them had a kid, the kid has to be tainted.”
Goshiki hesitates, reaching out to touch Shirabu’s arm. “But . . . if Tendou-san had been one . . . would you think he’s tainted?”
“He’s not one.” Shirabu shakes off his hand.
“But if he was.”
“He’s not, so stop asking stupid questions!”
Shirabu storms ahead, and Goshiki follows, chewing on his lip once more. He can’t shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen if they go into the main campus building and start searching the offices. They’re going to get caught and expelled, or something.
He reminds himself, though, that Ushijima wouldn’t be afraid. And Shirabu obviously isn’t either. He can’t lose to them. Squaring his shoulders and puffing out his chest, Goshiki follows Shirabu across the courtyard.
The sun is already inching toward the horizon, casting long shadows on the school grounds. Goshiki can’t help but wonder how the others are doing, if they’ve found anything, or if they’ll come to the same conclusion as Shirabu and meet them in the offices.
With all the professors currently in class, the building is almost eerily empty. There’s a receptionist at the front desk, but Shirabu grabs Goshiki’s sleeve, making them invisible to sneak past her. Goshiki still thinks it’s so cool that Shirabu can do Silent Magic; he can’t help but be somewhat starry-eyed when Shirabu releases him in the hallway and becomes visible once more.
“We’ll start on the first floor and make our way up,” he says, pausing when he glances at Goshiki. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
Goshiki flushes. “You’re just . . . really cool, Shirabu-senpai!” he exclaims.
“SHHH!” Shirabu lunges toward him, slapping his hand over Goshiki’s mouth. Goshiki stiffens, his eyes widening. This is the first time Shirabu’s actually touched him, skin to skin. His hand is dry and warm, and Goshiki has to resist the urge to lick it, for some unfathomable reason.
“You can’t be loud here,” he hisses. “There are guards upstairs.”
At this close proximity, though, Goshiki can see the flush that’s coloring Shirabu’s cheeks. He can’t help but grin. I did that! he thinks giddily. I made him blush!
“You’re an idiot,” Shirabu mutters, lowering his hand. “Just be quiet, okay? Come on.”
Goshiki follows dutifully, as they enter the office of the registrar. Shirabu starts looking through all the drawers in the desk, while Goshiki steps over to the filing cabinet. He wonders if maybe looking through the students’ records they can find something suspicious about the background of someone. He pulls open the cabinet drawer that houses files for students with last names that start with R-T. He looks for Tendou’s file, but he can’t find it. He does, however, come across Shirabu’s file. Without really thinking, he pulls it out and flips it open.
He can’t help but grin slightly at the photo stapled to the top. The photo all of the students have to take when entering the academy at thirteen. He’s so little and round-faced in the photo. Completely adorable. He isn’t smiling though, and there are dark circles under his eyes, much like he has now. When Goshiki glances at the notes for the application, he sees why.
“Applicant comes from an orphanage. Parental information is unavailable. Owner of establishment stated that applicant was dropped off on the front doorstep as an infant. Owner also stated that applicant suffers from frequent night terrors. Applicant spoke of seeing demons around the orphanage, however owner insists applicant simply has an overactive imagination spurned by frequent horror stories told by the older children. We are advised to use caution when dealing with applicant. He avoids physical contact. Suspect applicant was abused by older children inside orphanage.”
“Applicant has shown great promise in his potential. Owner says applicant has been studying magic since he was young. Applicant can already perform small spells despite having no training. The House of the White Swan can benefit—”
“What are you doing?”
Goshiki jumps, shutting the file quickly, before turning to look at Shirabu guiltily. “Um. I just thought . . . maybe something in these files could show us who we should suspect to be the half-demon . . .” He bites his lip, looking at Shirabu and feeling his chest tighten with sympathy. No wonder he’s so prickly and mean. Has anyone ever hugged him? Did any of the kids try to help him when he had his nightmares? Or did they just yell at him to be quiet? Did they hit him so he’d shut up? Is that why Shirabu grabbed him so harshly that night?
Shirabu’s eyes widen. He glances at the cabinet behind Goshiki, at the label taped to the front of the open drawer. He steps forward quickly. Goshiki turns to grab the file and stuff it back into the drawer, but Shirabu snatches it from his hand. He grows still then, staring down at the file. His file.
“I-I’m sorry,” Goshiki says softly, shame making bile rise up the back of his throat. “You just . . . you never talk about yourself, so I thought . . . maybe I could learn more about you this way.”
Shirabu opens the file to the first page, the same page Goshiki was just reading. His face pales, and he quickly shuts the file once more.
“Don’t. you ever. go through my personal things. ever again.”
Each word is dark and spoken through gritted teeth, punctuated by barely concealed rage.
Goshiki quickly steps behind the drawer, putting it between them. “I’m sorry!” he cries. “I just . . . I want to know how I can help you. So I can be a good friend!”
“This isn’t being a good friend!” Shirabu exclaims, shoving the file back into the drawer and slamming it shut with a loud clang. Goshiki winces, backing up quickly, as Shirabu descends on him swiftly.
“I don’t need your help. I’m fine!” Shirabu grabs his tie, yanking him to a stop.
Goshiki trembles. “But the-the nightmares . . .”
Shirabu stares up at him, anger still burning in his dark grey eyes. But there’s something else there too. Pain. His eyes are glassy, like he’s holding back tears. Goshiki wants to wrap his arms around him. To tell him that it’s okay. That he’s safe now. That he doesn’t have to keep that line between them if he’s afraid of getting hurt again. Goshiki would never, ever hurt him.
Well, except for just now, but that was an accident!
“I’m really sorry,” he says hoarsely, swallowing down the lump of acid in his throat. “You know what they did was wrong, right? They shouldn’t have been mean to you or hurt you. You were just a kid. You were scared.”
Shirabu stares at him for a long moment before releasing his tie. “I was weak. But I’m not anymore. I’m going to be as strong as Ushijima-san. Maybe even stronger.”
Goshiki nods quickly. “Right, yeah! I know you can! But . . . it’s okay to let friends help, too. We care about you, Shirabu-san. We want to help you if you’re feeling scared.”
“I’m not scared,” Shirabu says, turning away. “Your idea about looking through the files actually isn’t that stupid,” he says. “But they probably have all the students they suspect in the dean’s office already.”
Goshiki blinks, his mind whirling a bit at the abrupt change of topic. “Um, so we have to go to the dean’s office?”
“Yes.” Shirabu pushes past him toward the door.
“But-but there are guards outside! You said!”
“I’ll just put them to sleep.” Shirabu flexes his fingers, wiggling them slightly.
Goshiki’s eyes widen, but he hastens to follow.
They trek silently down the hall to the staircase that will lead them to the second floor. Goshiki’s nerves are pretty shot at this point, and he keeps glancing sidelong at Shirabu, wondering if he hates him now.
“I didn’t mean to do anything bad,” he says forlornly. “I just want you to feel better. And I don’t know how to make you feel better.”
“You shouldn’t care so much. It’s not like any of us are going to stay in touch after we graduate anyway.” Shirabu stares straight ahead as he speaks.
“You don’t know that!” Goshiki exclaims, forgetting to be quiet out in the hall. “We’re a family. We look out for each other. We’re going to hunt demons together!”
“Ushijima’s the best Demon Hunter under twenty-five in Tokyo, and he doesn’t need a team.”
Goshiki frowns. “That sounds really lonely though. Don’t you think he’s lonely?”
“I think he’s strong. Powerful,” Shirabu says, climbing the steps of the stairs swiftly.
“So why are you even our friend if you think like that?” Goshiki asks, taking the steps two at a time.
“. . . Tendou wanted me to join his group. You guys are nice to me. It’s . . . not terrible.”
“So you like that we’re nice to you, but you don’t want to stay with us when we graduate,” Goshiki pouts.
“Look,” Shirabu says, stopping at the top of the stairs and turning to look down at Goshiki. “I appreciate everything you all have done for me, but I’ve been on my own my whole life, and it’s made me stronger. I don’t need you all holding me back.”
Goshiki blinks back the tears that are starting to prickle the corners of his eyes. “So we really mean nothing to you? Even Semi-san?”
Shirabu turns his face away but doesn’t answer. Goshiki inhales deeply, the hurt turning to anger in a giant mess of emotions that he isn’t entirely sure how to articulate.
“Fine, then! We don’t need you either!”
He storms up the rest of the stairs, passing Shirabu without looking at him. His chest aches. He can’t believe Shirabu would say something so cruel. Doesn’t he get that they all care for him? That Goshiki . . .
He stops abruptly outside the dean’s office. He forgot about the security guards. They turn to look at him with startled expressions.
“Hey, aren’t you supposed to be in class?” one of them asks, advancing forward.
Before he reaches Goshiki, though, he freezes suddenly. His eye roll to the back of his head, and he slumps to the floor. The guard behind him does as well. Goshiki’s heart pounds in his throat, as Shirabu steps up beside him.
“Come on,” he says, his voice subdued. “We don’t have much time.”
Goshiki frowns. “Why are you even helping us if you don’t care about us? If you don’t care about what happens to Tendou?”
“I never said I didn’t care about you,” Shirabu says hotly. “I just said I didn’t need you.”
“Same difference,” Goshiki mutters, stepping over the fallen guards to approach the doors. He slows once he reaches them, cocking his head as he hears voices coming from inside. Shirabu pauses beside him, also listening.
“What do you mean you want us to stop looking?” It’s Semi’s voice, hot and angry.
“I mean what I said.” Tendou, sounding . . . odd.
“Explain.” Ushijima’s deep baritone comes next.
Tendou sighs. “Look, I figured it out, okay? Sitting in this bubble all day has given me a lot of time to think. I went over everyone who could possibly have a motive. And yeah, sure, the House of the White Rose could be retaliating against the school for whatever stupid fucking reason they can come up with, but if that’s the case, why go after the students? Why not go directly for the administration? Doesn’t it feel like these attacks are more personal?”
“Yeah, which is why they suspect you did something,” Semi says flatly. “Because you had motive to hurt those jerks that hurt you.”
“Exactly. But think about it. Who else has motive to hurt those guys? They all threatened me, sure, but they also hurt others. And the latest victims . . . they hurt you, SemiSemi.”
Semi scoffs. “What? You’re saying I’m a suspect now?”
“I saw how Hamacho and Mazawa injured Semi-san,” Ushijima says slowly, trying to follow Tendou’s rapid reasoning. “But Professor Saitou has done nothing inappropriate, to my knowledge.”
“I’m not saying Semi did it,” Tendou says, sounding strained. “The person who did these things . . . I don’t think he knew he was doing them. I don’t think . . . I don’t think he knows what he is.”
“How do you know?” Semi asks, exasperated.
“Because it makes sense.”
“You’re not making sense!”
“Semi,” Reon’s voice now, quiet, calm, but worried.
Goshiki chews on his lip. What are they talking about? There’s another suspect but Tendou doesn’t want them to find it? Why not? They have to catch whoever’s terrorizing the school so the dean doesn’t expel Tendou! He inches closer to the door, pressing his ear against the wood to try and catch Tendou’s next words, as he speaks softer.
“If this kid gets expelled, the demons are going to take him completely. He won’t see any other option. I can’t let that happen.”
“Since when do you care about a stranger’s skin more than your own?” Semi snaps.
“Oh, shit,” Semi says after a moment, horrified. “It’s not a stranger, is it?”
Tendou doesn’t answer.
“Tendou, who is it?”
Tendou sighs. “Who do you think it is, Eita?” he asks tiredly. “Who else was hurt by Nagata Riko? Who saw you get hurt by those dumbasses in the shower? Who saw you get nearly eaten by an imp that Professor Saitou told you was safe to hunt? Who do we know nothing about aside from the fact that he doesn’t have any magical blood yet can somehow do Silent Magic like it’s second nature to him?”
Goshiki’s mind reels, as he slowly puts the pieces together, just like the others in the room. But . . . it can’t be true, can it?
“Fuck,” Semi says, sounding strangled.
“We need to find him, immediately,” Reon says.
“He is with Goshiki,” Ushijima says, low, ominous.
“You don’t think he’ll hurt him, do you?” Reon asks, worriedly.
“So far he’s only hurt people that have hurt him or the one he cares about most,” Tendou says, quickly. “As much as he claims Goshiki irritates him, I know he has a soft spot for him.”
“Still, we need to find him before Dean Washijou comes to the same conclusion you did,” Reon says, his voice growing louder as he nears the door. He opens it, blinking in surprise at Goshiki, who’s frozen in shock, staring back at him.
“Goshiki! What are you doing here?”
“I-I . . . we-we . . .” Goshiki can’t seem to find words. His world is turning upside down. The one who hurt all those people, who might be a half-demon, or even a full demon, is . . .
“Shirabu?” Semi hurries to the doorway before stopping abruptly. His eyes are wide in his pale face, as he turns to look at Goshiki. “Where is he?”
“H-he . . .”
Ushijima looms before him, looking down at him seriously. He reaches out and places his hand on Goshiki’s shoulder, steadying him. He nods, and Goshiki draws strength from his presence, his mind clearing. He can’t let Ushijima down. He has to be strong.
“He’s right . . .” He turns around, finger already pointing. But he points to an empty hallway. The guards are on the floor where he and Shirabu left them, but there’s no sign of his roommate. “ . . . here.”
The lights flicker once, twice, before going out. Goshiki stumbles into Ushijima, as the ground begins to shake beneath his feet. From inside his bubble, Tendou laughs, trembling with a nervous cackle.
“Well, I tried,” he says, holding his arms out to the side. “Looks like we’re in for the showdown of the century, folks.”
Semi shoots him an annoyed glare.
“I can subdue him,” Ushijima says, releasing Goshiki’s shoulder and stepping into the hall. The tilting carpet doesn’t seem to faze him, as he walks towards the stairs with a determined gait.
“We need to find him before Ushijima does or else this could get real ugly, real fast,” Reon says grimly.
Goshiki grasps the doorpost, as the floor continues to rock, flinching as plaster from the ceiling falls around them. The shadows have grown darker, peeling off the walls and reaching toward him with long, spindly fingers. Yelping, he jumps backwards. His foot breaks through the floor, as it opens beneath him.
“Goshiki!” Semi lunges forward, hand outstretched.
Goshiki reaches for him, panic chilling every bone in his body. He doesn’t stretch far enough. His fingers slip through Semi’s grasp.
He screams, as he falls and the shadows consume him.
Chapter 5: Nightmares
warning: this chapter contains violence and horror-esque elements
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He wakes up with a jolt at his desk. Sitting up, his back rim-rod straight, he stares around the room with wide eyes. Nakamura-sensei is droning on at the front of the class, explaining something about the history of magic and where it started. Goshiki blinks rapidly. Did he fall asleep again?
Some students beside him are whispering behind their hands, glancing sidelong at him. His ears burn, and he quickly looks down at his textbook, flipping through the pages. He pauses, then, because the words on the page are in Japanese yet he can’t read them. The characters seem to slide across the page, turning into squiggles that begin to wiggle across the paper, slipping off the book and onto his desk.
Goshiki pushes his chair back quickly, as the black squiggles become maggots, writhing in front of him.
“BUGS!” he cries, standing abruptly. The classroom grows silent. Everyone turns to look at him, faces blank.
“C-can’t you see them?” he asks the room, his voice too loud in the stillness of the room.
“Why are you so loud?” a girl beside him asks.
“Yeah, you’re so annoying,” another one says.
“Annoying,” the boy behind her repeats.
Goshiki trembles, as the voices grow louder, surrounding him. He presses his hands to his ears, but he can still hear them. He squeezes his eyes shut.
“Stop it. STOP IT!” he cries, but they keep chanting, pointing their fingers, laughing at him.
“Did you honestly think I’d fall for someone like you?” a new voice cuts through the noise.
Goshiki opens his eyes, his hands falling away. He’s no longer in the classroom. He’s standing in complete darkness, except for a spot in front of him where Shirabu stands, a spotlight on him from somewhere above. Goshiki stares, trembling. He doesn’t know what’s going on. Is this a nightmare?
Shirabu grins, and his features flicker. Goshiki jumps back with a cry, as the black face of a demon leers at him, skin scaly, horns curling from the top of its head, teeth razor sharp in its lipless mouth. A split second later, Shirabu’s face returns.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, tilting his head to the side. “Are you scared?”
“Wh-what’s going on?” Goshiki asks desperately, clasping his hands together against his chest over his racing heart.
“He doesn’t like you, you know. I don’t like you,” Shirabu says, stepping closer.
Goshiki takes another step back. The darkness around him seems to press in further; it brushes against his skin with tendrils of shadow. He can feel the weight of it resting on his chest, as he struggles to breathe evenly and not panic.
“How could he? You’re a pathetic child. A loud, annoying brat. Everyone thinks so. Tendou, Semi, Kawanishi . . . all of them. Even Ushijima.”
Goshiki shakes his head, continuing to back away, even as this thing wearing Shirabu’s face follows him. “Stop,” he says softly, lowering his hands to his sides, as his fingers curl into fists.
“You’re never going to be strong enough to beat Ushijima. You’re like an ant next to him. You’re weak. You’re nothing.”
“That’s not true! Stop it!”
Shirabu-who’s-not-Shirabu laughs, a cruel cackle that sends goosebumps up Goshiki’s arms. This is a dream. It has to be a dream. How do you fight a dream? Can you fight a dream?
He reaches for his magic. He can feel it simmering beneath his skin, hot, ready.
“Come on, Goshiki!” Shirabu shouts, throwing his hands to the side. “You know it’s true! You’re just an annoying kid who thinks he’s strong, but deep down you know you’ll never be as great as Ushijima. You’ll never even come close! It’s better if you just give up!”
“SHUT UP!” Goshiki throws his hands forward, the magic bursting forth like a dam breaking. It explodes in front of him, filling the space with blinding light.
“Goshiki!” It’s a new voice, but Goshiki can’t focus on it. The creature that’s not Shirabu laughs from somewhere behind the wall of golden magic. Goshiki can’t tell if he’s killing it or not, so he concentrates harder, warm tears spilling down his cheeks, as he yells as loud as he can to drown out the cackling voice of the monster.
Two hands appear out of the light, grabbing either side of his face. They grip him firmly, and Goshiki cries out, trying to twist away from the grip. A sharp pain stings his cheek.
“Goshiki, wake up!”
With a gasp, he opens his eyes and meets the worried gaze of Semi above him. He’s straddling Goshiki’s hips, hands gripping his shoulders so tightly, he can feel Semi’s nails digging through his jacket. His own jacket is smoking lightly, and the tips of his hair are glowing, golden magic fading from his eyes.
“Semi-san?” Goshiki’s voice is hoarse, and his head pounds with an ache stemming from the back of his skull.
Semi relaxes his grip with a sigh, the tension slipping from his form. “Good, you’re okay,” he says.
Goshiki blinks rapidly, looking over Semi’s shoulder. He’s lying in rubble on the first floor of the office building. It’s dark, the only light illuminating them issuing from Tendou’s bubble on the second floor, shining through the hole Goshiki fell through.
“What’s going on?” Tendou shouts. “Is the kid okay?!”
Semi sits back on his heels, twisting slightly to yell over his shoulder. “He hit his head, but I think he’ll be fine.”
He moves off Goshiki, offering his hand. Goshiki grabs it, pulling himself to his feet with a grimace. The pain spreads throughout his head, but he manages to stay upright. He startles, his heart racing, as Reon clambers over some debris, sliding down a section of drywall, nearly tripping over the edge as he hurries over.
“That was quite a fall!” he exclaims, his dark skin looking ashy in the light from Tendou’s bubble. “Are you okay?”
Goshiki bites his lip but nods. “Shirabu . . .”
“We’re going to find him,” Semi says, grabbing his shoulder and giving it a squeeze.
“I’ll just wait here!” Tendou calls.
Semi hesitates. “Do you think if we . . . combined our magic we’d be able to break him out?”
Goshiki’s eyes widen. Reon looks thoughtful.
“Maybe?” he ventures. “We don’t have the spell but . . . if the three of us work together we might be strong enough with a different spell.”
Semi’s jaw sets in determination. He nods before heading for the pile of rubble Reon just climbed over. As he begins his ascent, Goshiki grabs Reon’s arm before he can follow.
“While I was out, I-I saw something. Shirabu . . . but it wasn’t Shirabu. I think . . . I think it was a demon.”
Reon pats his shoulder sympathetically. “It was just a nightmare, kid. Don’t worry about it.”
Goshiki bites his lip, swallowing hard. But what if it wasn’t? he wants to ask, but Reon is already turning away to follow Semi. All Goshiki can do is do the same, but he can’t shake the feeling that what he saw was more than just a bad dream brought on from a nasty fall and a bump to his head. It felt so . . . real.
Is that what Shirabu really thinks of me?
His heart feels heavy, but he tries to shake it off. He’s really going to be useless if he lets his emotions control him.
Tendou takes a step back in his bubble when the three of them appear in the doorway, carefully making their way around the hole in the floor.
“Can I help you?” he asks with a crooked, bemused smile.
“We’re getting you out,” Semi says in a voice that allowed no argument.
Tendou doesn’t bat an eye. “Okay, but if I explode, I’m coming back to haunt your flawless ass.”
Semi starts, his eyes widening. “My what?”
“What?” Tendou parrots back blankly.
“As fascinating as this plot-twist is, we should really start working on this if we’re going to catch up to Ushijima in time to stop him from possibly killing Shirabu,” Reon says, rubbing his hands together. Sparks of golden magic emit from his fingertips.
Semi shakes his head, as though to clear it. “Right. Goshiki, go stand behind the bubble. Yeah, right there. Reon and I will stand . . . here and here. Good.”
“Oh, like a triangle!” Goshiki exclaims, recognizing the shape they’re forming.
Semi nods. In the light from the sphere, Goshiki can see how pale Semi looks. He tries not to think of what might happen if they fail.
“Okay, we’re going to use a destruction spell. Goshiki, you and I are going to boost Reon’s magic with our own. Reon, form your magic into daggers and set them . . . here, here, here, here . . .” Semi continues, pressing his finger against the bubble at multiple spots. Reon places the point of each magical dagger where Semi indicates, until the bubble is completely surrounded.
Semi steps back into his original position, then, inhaling shakily. Tendou stares out at him, but since Goshiki is standing behind him, he can’t see what expression he’s making. His skin feels shivery, his heart pounding in his throat. His headache feels worse, but he holds out his arms anyway.
“Cover your head,” Semi says to Tendou.
Tendou drops to the floor, covering his head with his hand, as Semi shouts.
Goshiki shoves his magic forward, channeling it toward both Reon and Semi. Semi does the same, and Goshiki can feel the energy of it pulsating through him and out toward Reon. Reon’s eyes glow bright gold, and when he says the spell, his words are forceful. Goshiki watches, as the daggers begin to press into the bubble. The magic walls bow inward at the pressure but don’t break.
Reon speaks louder, stepping closer to the sphere, pulling Goshiki and Semi a step closer as well. Goshiki trembles at the power he feels. He’s connected to Semi and Reon. He can hear their heartbeats thrumming through the magic, the push and pull of the magic that’s drawing them all together. At the same time, he’s acutely aware of his surroundings. He can feel the wood beneath his feet, the air seeping through all the tiny cracks of the building. He can hear the murmur of voices throughout campus, students huddling in fear. Fear of . . . something. Something dark. Oppressive. It’s settling over the academy, a shroud of blackness that’s snuffing out the stars.
Goshiki can feel it. Can feel the insidious power. It feels like he’s back in that place with the Shirabu-who’s-not-Shirabu. The pressure has returned on his chest, weighing down on him, suffocating him.
He tries to shove it off him. He pushes his magic outward as hard as he can with a yell. Pain splits across the back of his head. He hears a scream, and it sounds far away, but at the same time it’s in his ears, as though coming from directly behind him.
“Taichi! No, no, please . . . TAICHI!”
The bubble bursts with an outward explosion that throws all three of them across the room. Goshiki manages not to hit his head this time, but his shoulders get the brunt of the fall, and he grimaces at the pain that shoots through them. Reon goes tumbling over the desk, and Semi flies into the bookcase.
Goshiki sits up slowly with a groan, grabbing his left shoulder and rotating his arm. Sparks of magic still linger in the air, gradually blinking out as the spell fades. Tendou crouches in the center of a circle of ash, unharmed. Goshiki’s about to run forward and grab him in a hug, but Semi beats him to it. He practically tackles Tendou, arms around his neck, holding him tightly.
Tendou appears startled, and he sits back heavily before his arms slowly come up to encircle Semi. Goshiki shifts uncomfortably, not sure if he’s supposed to look away or not. Reon stands from behind the desk, clutching his head. He shakes it quickly, staring at the two in the middle of the room.
“Um, guys? Is now really the best time?”
Semi pulls away quickly, punching Tendou in the shoulder then, hard.
“Ow!” Tendou rubs at the spot. “You know, I’m not surprised you like it like that, but give a guy a little warning next time.”
Semi’s expression is hard to read in the dimming light, but his voice sounds tight as he replies, “That was for letting them lock you up in the first place, dumbass.”
“Absolutely, because running away would’ve completely proven my innocence.”
“It would’ve given you a chance!”
“Guys!” Goshiki breaks in, suddenly remembering what he heard before the explosion. “I heard something right before the magic exploded. I think Kawanishi-san is hurt!”
Semi and Tendou exchange a glance before they’re scrambling to their feet. Reon and Goshiki follow, as the four of them hurry out of the room and down what’s left of the stairs. The receptionist is gone, and when they step out of the office building, they come to an abrupt stop.
A giant shadow hovers above them, stretching out in all directions like a massive blanket. Upon closer look, however, Goshiki notices that it’s not just one shadow; it’s a multitude of them squirming and writhing together like the maggots on his textbook. He shudders, bringing his arms up to hold himself tightly. He can’t explain it, but it feels like the shadows are alive.
“Over there!” Reon shouts, pointing.
All the lights on campus are out, but Goshiki can dimly see, by the light of the moon and stars filtering through the shadows, two figures at the fountain in the center of the courtyard. They rush over, and soon Kawanishi and Yamagata come into view. Yamagata is seated on the fountain, his head in his hands. Kawanishi is standing close beside him, hands in his pockets. His posture is casual, but when he lifts his head, Goshiki can see worry in his eyes.
“He just started screaming my name like I was hurt or something,” he says. “But I’m fine. He was next to me the whole time.”
Goshiki presses his knuckles against his mouth, as Semi crouches in front of Yamagata, reaching out to grasp his shoulder.
“Hayato,” he says, gentler than Goshiki’s ever heard him speak. “Look at me.”
It takes a moment, but slowly Yamagata lowers his hands. “He was dying,” he says, his voice hoarse. “One of the shadows grabbed him and slit his throat. I just stood there like an idiot.”
“Hayato, listen to me. It wasn’t real. Look. Taichi’s right here. Look.” Semi grabs Kawanishi’s wrist, tugging him closer. Kawanishi stumbles, but he doesn’t pull away, as Semi replaces his hand with Kawanishi’s on Yamagata’s shoulder.
“Talk to him,” Semi says sharply, as he stands. “You can’t pretend you don’t care right now.”
Kawanishi hesitates before nodding. His grip tightens on Yamagata’s shoulder, as he takes Semi’s place in front of his roommate, crouching to meet his gaze.
“Yama . . . Hayato,” he says, his voice gruff but not unkind. “I’m right here. Nothing happened to me. I’m fine.”
Yamagata’s lower lip trembles, and he bites down on it. “It happened so fast. I couldn’t stop it.”
“It wasn’t real,” Kawanishi says firmly. “This magic . . . it’s messing with your head.”
Goshiki suddenly remembers his nightmare, and a shiver runs down his spine.
“You can’t let it get to you. You’re stronger than this. So, come on. Stand up.” He straightens, allowing his hand to fall from Yamagata’s shoulder and holding it out in front of the young man’s face.
Yamagata stares at it for a moment before reaching to take it. Kawanishi pulls him to his feet, and Goshiki notices how he gives the hand a firm squeeze before letting it go. He turns, then, to Semi. “What’s going on?” he asks. “Why is this shit happening?”
“We know who the half-demon is,” Semi says, quietly.
Kawanishi looks over the group gathered, taking in everyone present. His eyes widen slightly, as realization dawns on him. “Shirabu.”
Yamagata stiffens. “What? Shirabu is the demon?”
Goshiki wants to protest, to defend his friend, but he knows there’d be no point to it.
“I don’t think he knows,” Tendou says with a weary sigh. “I’m pretty sure we would’ve known too, if he had. That kid is too prideful to not want to show off his power.”
“Is that what he’s doing now?” Yamagata seethes. “Showing off?”
This, Goshiki can protest.
“He’s scared!” he blurts out. “I read his file. He got really mad at me for it but . . . I read what happened to him before he came here. He was in an orphanage, and he had really bad nightmares, and he said he saw demons, but nobody believed him. They . . . they beat him up for it, I think. He might not’ve known he was a half-demon but . . . I think he knew he was different. And he didn’t want us to know.”
“Kids these days. Always thinking they can handle things on their own,” Tendou says despairingly.
“Did he think we would beat him up for it?!” Yamagata asks incredulously.
“He might’ve thought we wouldn’t accept him,” Reon says quietly.
“Well, what the fuck does he think we’re going to do after all this shit?” Yamagata asks, throwing his hands in the air.
“He probably isn’t doing it on purpose,” Semi says quickly.
“So you’re saying he didn’t know he was attacking those students and Professor Saitou either,” Kawanishi states skeptically.
“Nobody knew what he was, he didn’t even know what he was, so how was he to learn how to correctly use his powers?” Tendou asks, holding his hands out to the side. “He’s untrained in demon magic, and he’s reacting out of a lot of repressed teenage angst. I highly doubt he consciously wants to hurt anyone.”
“But will Ushijima know that?” Reon asks, and Goshiki feels his stomach drop.
“We have to find him,” he says, his voice rising in his panic. “If Ushijima thinks he’s evil, he might try to kill him!”
“Would that really be a bad thing?” Kawanishi asks, and Goshiki feels sick at the silence that follows the question.
“Of course it would be!” he cries. “I don’t care what he is. He’s Shirabu.”
“Goshiki’s right,” Semi says, softly. “We’ve lived with him for the past eight years. No matter what he is, he’s family. We have to at least give him a chance to explain himself.”
Kawanishi studies him for a moment before nodding in concession.
“Not to mention that showdown would probably destroy the entire campus and everyone in it,” Tendou points out helpfully.
“Okay, so we’ll go searching for him,” Reon says. “But this time we’re sticking together. If anyone sees anything creepy, just . . . let us know and the rest of us will snap you out of it.”
“What if you think we’re not real?” Goshiki asks, raising his hand.
“Let’s come up with a code word,” Yamagata suggests. “Something we can say when we need help and the others will know it’s real.”
“’Otaku for life,’” Tendou says.
“Absolutely not,” Semi nearly interrupts him after the first word.
“Fine, then ‘Naruto’.”
“Nothing anime related!”
“You’re so lame, SemiSemi.”
“Says the guy who wants our code word to be Naruto!”
“Guys!” Reon shouts, speaking louder than Goshiki’s ever heard him. “We don’t have time for this! The code word will be ‘pineapple.’ Got it?”
Tendou and Semi nod, Semi looking rather sheepish. Reon sighs. “I know our nerves are kinda shot right now, but we have to focus. Does anyone know where Shirabu might go? Or where Ushijima might go to look for him?”
Goshiki raises his hand. “We can check our room?”
“No, no Shirabu is too smart. He’d know that’d be the first place we’d look for him,” Semi says, tapping his chin thoughtfully.
Goshiki slowly raises his hand again, this time higher than before. “I could . . . look for him? With my magic, I mean. When we were in the office getting Tendou out of the bubble, I . . . it felt like I could sense where everything was. I heard Yamagata-san scream when he thought Kawanishi-san was dead.”
Yamagata flinches, and Kawanishi touches his hand briefly in reassurance.
“Maybe I can sorta . . . sense where Shirabu-san is too. If I concentrate . . .”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” Tendou says, sounding impressed. “That’s a pretty awesome ability!”
Goshiki flushes with pride, squaring his shoulders. “I don’t know if I’ll be very good, but I can try!”
“Are you sure you have enough energy?” Reon asks, touching his shoulder lightly with a worried frown. “You spent a lot of your magic up in the dean’s office. I’m still feeling weak from it.”
Goshiki nods rapidly. “I’m fine!” he exclaims, and he’s telling the truth. He doesn’t feel any weakness or fatigue at all. He feels like he could still run a marathon or something!
He steps away from the others, closing his eyes and inhaling deeply. Gathering his magic, he lets it rise to the surface of his skin, allowing it to hover there, thrumming against him like a second heartbeat. He tries to remember how it happened last time. He wasn’t really thinking about it then.
At first he tries to enhance his hearing by pulling his magic up around his ears. But all he hears is his own heartbeat, the rushing of his blood through his veins. Then he tries to bring the magic to his eyes, opening them and squinting hard, wondering if he can make himself see across long distances.
But the more he tries the more he realizes that it wasn’t exactly a physical sense, before. He doesn’t think he actually heard Yamagata cry out for Kawanishi. It was more like he felt him scream.
So he concentrates on his feelings. How he feels when Shirabu’s in the room. When he looks at him. The rare times he’s smiled at him. Warmth fills his chest that brings with it the familiar ache of longing he’s come to associate with Shirabu.
I just want you to be happy . . .
He senses something. The darkness. The same one from before. He can feel it stronger now, and he knows that the weight is coming from the shadows above him. He can sense the fear that’s coming from all directions. The majority of the fear is coming from the classrooms, where the students are most likely being held under lockdown until the dean declares it safe for them to leave.
But there’s something else, out there. A denser ball of shadows that’s swirling with pain and rage and fear. It tears his heart in two, and he can feel tears prickling the corners of his eyes at the weight of the horrible emotions condensed so tightly. His headache throbs, as he turns toward it, lifting his hand to point before opening his eyes.
“There,” he says softly. “He’s in there.”
The others turn, their eyes following his pointing finger to Hall B. The shadows swirl in a slow rotation over it, close to the rooftop of the building. The longer Goshiki watches it, the heavier the darkness feels. He isn’t sure how he missed it before. It’s obvious now where Shirabu must be.
And if it’s now obvious to him, there’s little doubt in his mind that it’ll soon be obvious to Ushijima as well, if he hasn’t already figured it out himself.
“We better hurry,” Reon says grimly.
The six of them start to run.
Ushijima has nearly left the office building when he hears Goshiki’s scream. He turns in time to see the boy land in the mess of debris from the second story. Despite his instincts telling him he needs to find the half-demon as quickly as possible, he makes his way over, as the earthquake begins to settle and things stop moving. Crouching beside the boy, Ushijima sets his fingers against Goshiki’s pulse. It’s weak but present. He moves his hand then to the back of Goshiki’s head. His fingertips come away slick with blood.
Frowning, he mutters a spell, as he waves his hand over Goshiki’s pale face. Magic trails from his palm, curling around Goshiki’s head like a circlet of gold. It’s only when Ushijima sees some color return to his cheeks that he pulls away, moving to stand. Satisfied that he’s helped sufficiently, he turns back to the door and makes his way outside.
Immediately he feels the oppressive weight of the demon magic. A dark mass of shadows hovers low over the campus, trapped beneath the wards Dean Washijou and the other professors place around Shiratorizawa every year. They coil around each other, contorting in a disjointed dance.
Ushijima’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out and answers without looking at the screen.
“Ushijima,” Dean Washijou hisses into the phone. “What is happening? Did Tendou do this?”
“This is not Tendou Satori’s doing. He informed me of the true culprit. I am tracking it now.”
“I’m calling reinforcements. Alumni who are still in the city. If you cannot contain the situation, I will tell them to step in and eliminate the threat.”
“In the meantime, I will remain with my students. I’ve told the other professors to do the same. Take care of this, Ushijima. I will not allow my school to be overrun by demons.”
Ushijima shuts the phone, staring down at it for a moment before slipping it back into his pocket. Lifting his head, he walks further into the courtyard, deciding his best course of action is to start at the dorms. It’s plausible that the half-demon will retreat to a place where it feels safe.
The courtyard is silent. Ushijima can hear the crunch of the gravel beneath his shoes, as he makes his way down the path to the dormitories. He attempts to formulate a plan of action for when he encounters the half-demon, but if he’s honest with himself he isn’t sure what he’s going to do. Despite knowing that demons of any shape or form are evil and only cause harm, he never detected an insidious nature in Shirabu. It’s at odds with what he knows about demons, what he’s always been taught.
Although it’s true that if Shirabu grew up in an orphanage, it’s unlikely he had contact with his demon parent. He was raised by humans; according to Tendou’s speculations, he probably thought he was human.
At least, until now.
The dormitories are unlit, darker inside without the help of the moon and stars filtering through the shadows. Ushijima utters a spell that causes a ball of magic to appear in his hand, glowing softly. He releases it, allowing it to bob forward down the hallway in front of him, lighting the way.
When he comes to Goshiki and Shirabu’s door, something makes him hesitate. It’s a feeling he’s experienced before when dealing with demons. That sick feeling in your stomach when you’re faced with magic dark and odious. Brushing the sensation aside, he opens the door and steps into the room.
It’s like stepping into a void. He’s surrounded by complete blackness. The magic ball he sent ahead of him has disappeared. It’s cold and damp, and his skin prickles with goosebumps involuntarily.
“Hello,” he says, and his voice falls flat, indicating he’s still in a small space.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Miracle Boy!”
A disembodied voice greets him, echoing around him. Despite knowing it cannot be Tendou, the intonation of the voice and its words bring his mind to the young man without conscious effort.
“What are you?” he asks, knowing there’d be no use trying to attack something he can’t see.
“I’m whatever you want me to be~”
A form materializes in front of Ushijima, a silhouetted outline of a man illuminated from an unknown light source. It steps closer, and the light moves with it, until Ushijima finds himself looking into his own face.
“I can be you. I can be dear old dad.” The figure dissipates into black smoke before reforming itself into the visage of Ushijima’s father. Ushijima’s chest aches, but before he can regain his composure, the figure changes again, this time into Tendou.
“I can be him,” it says, holding its arms out to the side. “This is who you really want, right? Too bad he’ll never trust you again after what you let the dean do to him.”
Ushijima blinks. “He knows I only did my duty.”
“Duty!” The Tendou-that-is-not-Tendou places its hands on its hips and throws back its head to laugh that unnerving cackle of which Ushijima’s grown fond. It cuts like a knife into Ushijima’s heart, and he rocks back on his heels involuntarily.
“You are not him,” he states. “You do not have the right to sound like him.”
“I’m only feeding on your own desires, Wakatoshi-kun~” the creature says. “But even you know that he won’t stay. He’s not yours to keep. He’ll leave you like you left him, never looking back! And you will deserve it, won’t you? You heartless bastard, you.” It grins, its face stretching unnaturally to reveal rows of sharp teeth.
Ushijima frowns. “I am not . . . heartless,” he says, though he wonders why he’s attempting to argue with a parasite.
“You will leave now,” he states, turning around.
But the creature appears there too, holding up its finger and shaking it in Ushijima’s face.
“Ah, ah, ah,” it says. “Not so fast. I’m a manifestation of your deepest fears! You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
“You are demonic energy latching onto my insecurities in an attempt to cause me harm. However, I will not let you. I have a job to do.”
He starts walking, directly toward the creature. He steps through it, and it dissolves around him. As he walks, he can hear it call after him.
“Even if you can defeat the boy, what then? Do you think Tendou will forgive you for killing his friend?”
It’s something that has crossed Ushijima’s mind, but he can see no other option. He can try to reason with Shirabu, but if the boy can’t control his magic . . . he’ll have to snuff it out before it grows more dangerous.
It soon becomes clear that Shirabu isn’t in the dorms. Though, thankfully Ushijima doesn’t encounter any more strange creatures during his search. As he steps back outside, he pauses to take in the shadows above. Although they’re stretched across the entire campus, there’s one section that hovers lower over one of the buildings. In fact, it seems to swirl down toward it, like it’s being pulled in . . . or perhaps being pushed outward by someone inside.
Ushijima walks toward it, recognizing it as Hall B. He realizes that there is only one room inside Hall B in which Shirabu would feel comfortable.
Ushijima’s own classroom.
He strides toward the building, but the closer he gets the heavier the darkness weighs on him. His steps begin to slow, as he leans forward, struggling to set one foot in front of the other. It’s like he’s walking against a current, one that’s fighting with all its might to keep anything and everything away.
The shadows seem to whisper, growing louder with each painstaking step.
LEAVE. LEAVE. LEAVE. LEAVE.
Even so, Ushijima presses forward. He grabs the handle of the door, the metal icy beneath his touch. He grunts, as he pulls, fighting against the magic that’s trying to keep it closed. Gathering his own magic, he mutters a spell that coats his arms in magic, bolstering his strength. His muscles ache, the wood of the door groans, but inch by inch he opens it wide enough to slip inside. It slams shut behind him.
The hallway is filled with shadows. They’re crawling up the walls, hovering just below the ceiling, swirling against the floor. As Ushijima steps forward, they retreat from him, hissing as though his touch burns them. Surprisingly, they do not fight him or create any opposition, as he makes his way down to Classroom 15.
A wall of shadow does bar his path when he comes to the door, but as soon as Ushijima reaches to slide open the door it allows him to pass through, though it reforms behind him.
The room is dark. Ushijima conjures his lantern of magic once more, tossing it toward the ceiling where it hovers, casting a soft glow throughout the room. The shadows shy away from it, but they continue to surround a figure huddled in the corner. It’s difficult to see Shirabu from beneath the shadows swirling around him, forming a cocoon-like shield. The boy has his legs drawn to his chest, and his arms wrapped around them. His forehead is pressed against his knees, and he appears smaller than Ushijima’s ever seen him.
He doesn’t wait for Ushijima to speak first.
“Are you going to kill me?” His voice is steady despite the agitation Ushijima feels emanating from the shadows.
Ushijima takes a moment to consider his response. “If you give me cause.”
Shirabu’s head lifts. From behind the writhing wall of shadows, his eyes gleam with a reddish tint.
“I didn’t hurt anyone on purpose,” he says flatly. “I didn’t know it was me.”
“Yet you feel no remorse,” Ushijima surmises.
Shirabu looks away. “They were mean to Tendou-san. They hurt Semi-san. They deserved it.”
Ushijima finds he can’t exactly disagree. Still, he came here for a purpose. If he doesn’t contain the situation, dispose of the demon, his reputation could be at stake.
However, killing a person is different than killing a demon. Demons have no souls. The majority of them simply return to their Hell dimensions when vanquished. It is unlikely Shirabu will do the same, if killed. It is more probable that he will actually die, his life snuffed out forever.
Shirabu is dangerous. That much is obvious. But does he have evil intentions? Does he mean the majority of the student population harm? If Ushijima spares his life, will he go on to hurt others outside of the school? Will his demon parent contact him and turn him against humankind?
These are all things Ushijima has to consider.
“Are you controlling the shadows?” he asks.
Shirabu shakes his head. “They just appeared. Upstairs outside the office I got upset and I . . . there was an earthquake . . . and then they were there.”
“They are saturated with demonic energy. Energy that you have unconsciously suppressed since you were born, most likely your human genes fighting against your demon ones and emerging stronger. However, as you grew older and became more proficient in magic, that energy has been unlocked and has been seeping through, controlled by your unconscious will. You desired for those that hurt Tendou and Semi to receive punishment, and so they were punished.”
Shirabu stares at him. “I don’t know how to stop that,” he says helplessly. “I didn’t even know I had demonic energy!”
As Shirabu’s voice rises, the shadows grow darker and more agitated. They tangle together, moving faster throughout the room. Ushijima can feel the press of their energy, but he remains where he is in the center of the room, gaze focused on Shirabu.
“If you are not able to gain control, I will be forced to subdue you.”
“They all know now, don’t they?” Shirabu continues, as though he did not hear Ushijima. “They all know what I am now. Fuck, they’re going to hate me. They’re not going to want anything to do with me.” He grips his hair with both hands, the shadows peeling off the wall, forming a denser shield around Shirabu, as they swirl around him quickly.
“The dean wants me dead! He locked up Tendou . . . he’ll do worse to me. If you don’t kill me, he will! You can’t turn me over to him!”
Ushijima stares at him. “I cannot allow you to leave campus while you are in this state.”
“I CAN’T CONTROL IT!” Shirabu yells, jumping to his feet. The shadows move with him, moving tighter around him until it clings to him like a second skin. “I didn’t ask to be a demon! I don’t want to be this!”
He steps forward, the shadows moving with him, now covering him from head to toe, creating a thick black armor that clings to his body like a second skin. Ushijima can no longer see his face; only his eyes shine through slit in the armor, dark-gray with that reddish tint still glowing within the irises.
“I advise you not to fight me,” Ushijima cautions, gathering his magic to form a sword.
Shirabu lifts his arm to the side, an identical sword forming in his own hand. “Then let me go,” he says. No longer hysterical, his tone grows cold, his words clipped and precise. “Let me off campus. I’ll never come back again, I swear.”
“Without control of your demonic energy, you will only cause havoc and destruction to Tokyo. I cannot allow that.”
Ushijima can’t read Shirabu’s expression behind the shadow armor, but his eyes narrow to slits. He drops into a defensive stance just as Shirabu flies toward him with a yell, the blade of his sword clashing against Ushijima’s. The shadows that aren’t clinging to Shirabu suddenly condense around them, obscuring Shirabu from Ushijima’s vision. He can still see the sword, though, shining golden light from its blade.
Demon magic isn’t gold, like the magic of witches. Although different witches can manifest their magic in different colors if they so wish (it’s more difficult to do so, so most stick with the default gold color), demons can only manifest magic made of dark shadows or red lightning.
If Shirabu were fully demon, he would not be able to manifest this type of magic.
Uncertainty tickles the corners of Ushijima’s mind, as he forces Shirabu back and swings down at him with a broad stroke of his sword. Shirabu tucks into a ball, tumbling beneath the swing and jumping to his feet to throw his arm back, nearly catching Ushijima’s shoulder with the tip of his blade. Ushijima ducks under the blow at the last minute, scolding himself internally for getting distracted.
He has a job to do.
Semi has a bad feeling about this. He can tell the others are anxious, as well. As they make their way toward Hall B, he reminds himself that despite all of this chaos and dark energy, Shirabu is still their friend. Shirabu is still his friend.
Although, he only discovered recently the truth about Shirabu’s past, he knew from the start that there was something keeping the kid distant from the rest of them. Semi could tell from his posture, the way he dislikes people touching him, how being powerful always mattered so much to him.
Perhaps Tendou saw it too. Maybe that’s why he was drawn to Shirabu in the first place, all those years ago. Semi remembers his own skepticism, when Tendou first brought the matter to the group.
“I bring a new motion to the table!” he’d declared dramatically, his hair still in that unflattering bowl cut at the age of fifteen. He slapped his hands down onto the cafeteria table, grinning widely at all present. “I motion that we bring Shirabu Kenjirou into the group.”
The others had glanced at each other, doubt evident on their faces. Even Semi felt a twist of anxiety, glancing across the room to where small, thirteen-year-old Shirabu sat by himself at a corner table, munching solemnly on his onigiri.
“Are you sure you want him?” Yamagata asked. “Isn’t he a little . . . weird?”
Tendou had raised his eyebrows so high they disappeared into his hair. “What’s wrong with weird?”
That shut everyone up, but even after Shirabu started sitting with them things felt awkward. He never laughed at any of their jokes or participated in them. He flinched whenever anyone got too close. He threw himself into his studies with more vigor than seemed necessary, preferring to study rather than go off campus to a movie or play ball at the nearby park. It really seemed as though Shirabu didn’t want to be a part of their group.
Then they found out about the nightmares. Semi woke up thirsty one night and left his room to find a vending machine. He passed by Shirabu’s dorm room (that he lived in alone at the time, before Goshiki arrived) and heard his screams. Afraid Shirabu was being attacked by something, Semi burst into the room only to find Shirabu thrashing on his bed, his covers on the floor.
Semi grabbed Shirabu’s shoulder to shake him awake, and nearly got his wrist broken from how quickly Shirabu grabbed him and twisted his hand away. He stared up at Semi, breathing heavily, eyes wide in his sweaty face. He looked terrified; Semi had never seen him look so vulnerable. In that instant, he knew that no matter how frustrating Shirabu might be, Semi had to protect him.
They sat together for the rest of the night, passing Semi’s tea back and forth, and although they only spoke of mild, nonintrusive things, Shirabu acclimated better into the group after that. Semi figured it was because he knew he was safe with them.
Now, Semi can only hope that Shirabu will still feel that same safety in their presence. He doesn’t want to think of what might happen if all this goes sideways.
“Don’t worry,” Tendou says beside him. “I won’t let anything happen to him.”
Semi blinks over at him in surprise. “You’d fight Ushijima?”
Tendou laughs. “Oh, hell no,” he says, shaking his head. “I may be foolish, but I’m not a fool. I’m not even going to try to dance with that bull.”
Semi frowns. “Then what do you—”
“I’ll figure it out,” Tendou says with a dismissive wave.
“You fill me with such confidence,” Semi mutters.
Ahead of them, Goshiki suddenly freezes in place, a good ten paces from the front door of Hall B. Semi’s about to ask why he stopped when he feels it.
A suffocating weight of dark energy spills from the building. Goshiki lifts his hands, pressing against the air in front of him. It appears to be a struggle for him to even move them forward a few inches. Yamagata tries next, ducking his head and digging his toes into the gravel of the footpath, as he sets one foot in front of the other. He only makes it a few steps before he stops, hands on his knees, panting. Kawanishi grabs his elbow and pulls him back.
Semi can feel the magic pushing against his chest, making it difficult to breathe. Beside him, Tendou looks grim.
“Is Shirabu doing this?” Reon asks quietly. “Like, on purpose? To keep us out?”
“More likely it’s a defense mechanism,” Tendou says, poking at the air with a single finger.
“Do you think his defenses will be as strong around the back of the building?” Semi asks, not liking the uneasiness that’s squirming in his stomach.
Tendou snaps his fingers. “Excellent idea, SemiSemi! Your contribution is greatly appreciated. Please remember to fill out the customer survey when we’re done.”
Yamagata’s already taken off down the perimeter of the ward, Goshiki on his heels. Semi doesn’t wait for the others but hurries after him. The weight of the energy lessens, as they round the corner of the building, but the knot in Semi’s stomach doesn’t alleviate.
Yamagata tucks his chin to his chest and bulldozes his way through the lingering barrier, grabbing hold of the back door and leaning back almost horizontally in his effort to open it. Goshiki grabs the sliver of the door that slides ajar and tugs as well. Semi reaches them just in time to see the door open. He doesn’t wait for them but races past, into the Hall. There’s an urgency thrumming through his veins, making his heart race.
He has no idea what he’s going to find when he reaches Shirabu, but he knows he has to get there as soon as possible.
There’s no doubt in his mind that Shirabu is in Classroom 15. Why else would he come here? It’s the room where he fought against Ushijima, where he’s been cultivating his skills, where he’s worked together with his friends to grow stronger. He was happy in that room, reveling in use of his abilities.
In that room, he wasn’t a victim.
In that room, he was powerful.
Semi rounds a corner and skids to a stop. Somehow, Tendou is standing in front of him. It’s dark in the building, but Semi’s eyes have adjusted somewhat and there’s no mistaking the tower of crazy hair sticking from his head.
“How did you get here so fast?” he pants, hand against his diaphragm.
Tendou doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even turn around. Frowning, Semi slowly circles around him. Something flickers; he briefly sees a face, flat with bulbous eyes and a lipless mouth stretched tightly against a row of sharp fangs. The next instant, Shirabu stands before him holding a golden sword. It’s embedded in Tendou’s chest. Both their eyes are wide, as though neither of them expected this turn of events.
Semi’s hands fly to his mouth, and he stifles a strangled yelp. Shirabu leaps backwards, the sword disappearing, as he grabs at his hair.
“I didn’t mean to! I didn’t mean to!”
Tendou slumps forward. Semi leaps to catch him, and his weight is warm and solid in his arms. Clutching Tendou close, Semi sinks to his knees, his trembling legs unable to hold them both.
Blood spreads across Tendou’s chest, as Semi places him on the floor, cradling his head in his lap.
“No, no,” he murmurs, a sharp ache blooming through his chest. He feels as though he has been stabbed. He turns wet eyes onto Shirabu, who stands before him, pale and shaking like a leaf. “What did you do?” he cries, unable to help it. It’s like something out of his worst nightmare. His two favorite people causing him pain . . .
“I didn’t mean to,” Shirabu says desperately. “Don’t hate me, please!”
“What the hell am I supposed to do?!” Semi demands, feeling the splinters of his heart piercing through his lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
“Eita,” Tendou gasps from his lap.
Semi grips the sides of his face, stroking his thumbs across Tendou’s cheeks, his skin cold to the touch.
“It’s your fault!” Shirabu yells. “You tried to kill me! You all tried to kill me!”
“We aren’t trying to kill you!” Semi yells back. “We’re trying to save you!”
“You can’t save me! I’m already one of them!”
Semi stares, his blood running cold in his veins, as Shirabu’s body contorts unnaturally, his shoulders cracking, as he hunches forward, twisting at the waist. Two black wings emerge from his shoulder blades, bursting through the back of his shirt. Horns protrude from the top of his head, and his fingers become disjointed, the tips sharpening into claws. When he lifts his head, his nose is gone, replaced by slits, and when he opens his mouth, rows of sharp teeth glisten, and a long forked tongue slithers out between them.
Semi can’t tear his eyes away from the gruesome spectacle.
This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening.
Hands grab him under the arms, pulling him away from Tendou. Snapping back to himself, he starts to struggle.
“Eita, I’m right here! Eita!”
Another pair of hands grabs his face. Semi opens his eyes that he hadn’t even realized he’d closed. Tendou stares back at him, alive and well, if a little ashen. Semi quickly looks over his shoulder, but there’s no demon, only Goshiki, Yamagata, and Kawanishi staring back at him with concern. Semi realizes that it’s Reon holding him, and Tendou is kneeling in front of him.
“I-I saw . . . I saw—”
“It wasn’t real,” Tendou says firmly, allowing no arguments.
Semi swallows hard, his mouth dry. He nods, forcing himself to relax.
“This place has some real bad mojo going on,” Yamagata says, hugging himself around the waist, as he gives the hallway a furtive glance.
“You forgot the code word, SemiSemi,” Tendou admonishes, letting go of Semi’s face in order to flick his forehead gently.
“It felt so real,” Semi admits, hoarsely.
Goshiki nods, biting his raw lip. “Mine felt like that too,” he says, hands clenched at his sides.
“Can you stand?” Reon asks, his voice and breath warm in Semi’s ear.
Semi closes his eyes, inhaling shakily and taking comfort in Reon’s embrace, in Tendou’s proximity. He nods, and Reon stands, pulling Semi up with him. He steps away, straightening his shirt. Embarrassment at his display heats his face briefly, but then he remembers what he saw and why they’re here.
Tendou nods. He moves forward, and Semi follows close behind, not about to let him out of his sight, this time. Reon sticks beside him, and the other three crowd against their heels, but nobody snaps at anyone to move back or give some space. All their nerves are on edge.
There no longer seem to be any shadows inside the building, though as they draw closer to Classroom 15, Semi can feel the density of the dark energy return. Still feeling fragile from the encounter with . . . whatever that was, Semi reaches for Tendou’s hand almost involuntarily. When Tendou gives him a quizzical glance, Semi merely shakes his head.
Don’t say a word.
Tendou smirks, but he laces his fingers through Semi’s and holds on firmly.
Flashes of golden light greet them when they arrive at Classroom 15. Semi has to squint against the sudden brightness, but when his eyes adjust he finds himself looking into a room swirling with shadows and golden magic. A sphere of magic hovering near the ceiling illuminates the room, but it’s still difficult to keep track of what’s happening.
A figure completely encased in swarming shadows moves throughout the room almost too quickly to follow with the naked eye. It bounces off the walls, tumbles across the floor, and leaps through the air, all while swinging a golden sword, slashing over and over at the man who remains in the center of the room. Ushijima twists and turns, his arms a blur of movement as he counters each attack with grace and finesse. It doesn’t appear as though a single blow from the shadow figure has landed.
Yamagata whistles softly under his breath. “Is that Shirabu?” he whispers, almost in awe.
Semi’s chest aches, and he rubs at it absently, turning his gaze onto Tendou. He’s staring at the fight with a gleam in his eyes that’s familiar to Semi. It’s the look he always gets when he’s watching something fascinating. It’s rare that something other than anime or manga captures Tendou’s attention like this. He’s completely engrossed in the battle playing out before him, and Semi suddenly doubts that Tendou will make any move to try and stop it.
“Magnificent,” he breathes. “Look at him! He’s incredible . . .”
Semi follows Tendou’s gaze, locking onto Ushijima. He has to admit that he is impressive. Despite how quickly the shadow is moving, Ushijima still manages to fire off a couple spells now and then in an attempt to make the shadow stumble. The trouble is, the shadow is throwing up wards and knocking away the spells with seemingly little effort.
It’s a fairly evenly matched battle; one Semi predicts may last for hours. But just then Goshiki pushes through the crowd in the doorway and steps into the room.
“Goshiki!” Semi yelps, releasing Tendou’s hand to reach out and grab the back of Goshiki’s shirt. This is a delicate situation. They need to form a plan! His fingers just miss him, brushing against the material, before Goshiki’s out of reach, striding toward the figure that’s currently perched on the wall.
Its hand is wrapped around a cord made of shadow that’s attached to the ceiling, and from the narrow opening in its mask, its eyes watch Goshiki approach. The golden sword in its hand shifts, lengthening and thinning into a whip.
“Goshiki,” Ushijima says, barely sounding winded. “Do not interfere.”
Goshiki bows rapidly to Ushijima. “Yes! I’m sorry! But I want to help!” He turns to the shadow, throwing his arms to the side. “Shirabu! Please stop! We’ve come to help you! Look! We all came!” He gestures to the doorway, where the others linger.
“Come on,” Goshiki urges in a loud whisper, beckoning.
“Like hell I’m going in there,” Yamagata mutters.
Tendou squares his shoulders, stepping into the room with a confidence that Semi wonders is real. He hesitates only briefly before following, Reon stepping in after him. After a moment Yamagata sighs, walking forward as well with Kawanishi at his side.
“Look, see?” Goshiki says, turning back to the shadow on the wall. “We all came to find you. To make sure you were okay.”
The shadow says nothing, its eyes flickering over all those gathered. Semi fights the involuntary shiver that runs down his spine as the eyes fixate on him.
“Tendou, I do not advise this,” Ushijima says. “You are putting yourselves in danger.”
“Comes with the job description, Miracle Boy,” Tendou says, tapping Ushijima on the chest casually. “And as amazing and beautiful as you are, we can’t allow you to kill our friend.”
“I do not believe he is still your friend,” Ushijima says, and he sounds almost . . . apologetic.
Semi tears his gaze away from the figure on the wall, frowning over at the man.
“What do you mean?”
“His demonic energy seems to have taken complete control, as a method of defense. It is protecting itself, and in doing so it has consumed your friend.”
“No!” Goshiki cries, shaking his head. “Shirabu’s too strong for that!” He turns back to the shadow. “Shirabu! I know you’re in there! It’s me! Goshiki! I’m your friend, remember? We’re your friends!”
Semi’s heart sinks into his stomach, as this declaration elicits no response from the shadow.
“Okay, Shirabu, enough with the drama,” Tendou says, clapping his hands together loudly. “I want you down off the wall by the time I count to three or you’ll be grounded for a week.”
Semi shoots Tendou an incredulous look at his lighthearted tone. But then he sees the tension around Tendou’s eyes, the tightness of his jaw.
The shadow flicks its whip, magic crackling in the air in its wake like electricity.
This isn’t the right way, Semi thinks, his mind whirring to come up with a better plan.
The shadows coil tighter around Shirabu’s body, tensing.
“Tendou,” Semi says in warning, stepping closer.
The shadow leaps at Tendou, whip flying back in preparation to strike. Despite knowing that Tendou can most certainly take care of himself in the face of an attack, Semi moves on instinct, tackling Tendou to the ground before the whip can touch him. They both land hard, Tendou getting the wind knocked out of him. The shadow lands in a crouch, hissing.
“Shirabu, no!” Goshiki cries, flinging his arms around the shadow from behind.
“Goshiki!” Yamagata yelps, as the shadow twists in Goshiki’s grasp, throwing the boy onto the ground and kneeling on his throat.
Goshiki chokes, gasping for breath, as his hands scramble for a hold on the shadow’s form. But the armor shifts beneath his fingers, and they only pass through at shallow intervals.
A blast of magic hits the shadow’s back, and it twists around to hiss at Reon, who threw the magic dart. Semi scrambles to his feet.
“No! Don’t attack him!” he cries, even as Yamagata fires off another ball of magic that explodes against the shadow’s armored chest.
With a cry, it straightens, pulling all the shadows left in the room to it. It grows taller and wider, passing Ushijima in height. Tendrils of shadow snake out from its body. One wraps around Yamagata, pinning his arms to his sides, as it begins to spread over his body, drawing him into a cocoon of shadow. It does the same with Reon and then Kawanishi, as the latter brings forth a gust of wind from outside that breaks through the windows with a CRASH. The wind blows in circles around the figure, pulling at the shadows, attempting to tear apart their cohesion.
But that only makes it angrier. It engulfs Kawanishi faster than the other two, cutting off his magic. The wind stops abruptly. Tendou stands shakily, only to be grabbed next. It all happens so quickly. Semi only has time to grab Goshiki and shove him out of the room before he’s taken.
“There’s a photograph of Shirabu as a kid somewhere in his room,” he says quickly to the boy. “Find it.”
Goshiki appears terrified, but he nods and takes off running.
When Semi turns back, he sees Ushijima once more fighting the shadow, this time his sword is fending off the tendril that’s trying to grab him. Semi can see the others trapped in shadow pods hovering in the air behind the monstrous blob of writhing darkness. He inhales deeply. He can do this.
He knows Shirabu. He saw the vulnerability in him, the longing to be accepted despite his fear of rejection. He just needs to find a way to draw that part of Shirabu out, again. The part of him that wants to be human, that wants to live and be a part of this family. The part that wants to be a Demon Hunter powerful enough to rival the great Ushijima himself.
The part that saved Semi from the imp in the orphanage. The part that allowed him to touch his hand. That trusted him enough to allow him to do so.
“Kenjirou,” he says, but his voice wavers. Inhaling, he tries again. “Kenjirou!”
At the name, the mass of shadows shudders. He can’t tell if it’s looking at him or not, no longer able to see its eyes, but Semi steps forward anyway, holding up his hand to Ushijima.
“Let me talk to him,” he says.
Ushijima regards him. “I have not yet pulled forth my full reserves. If this does not work, I will have to eliminate him.”
“But no pressure, right?” Semi says with a weak smile.
Ushijima only stares back at him. “I am counting on you, Semi Eita.”
“Yeah, I know.” Everyone is.
Squaring his shoulders, Semi steps between Ushijima and the shadow. To its credit, it doesn’t immediately attack him. Semi wonders if that means there’s still some piece of Shirabu still active in there. Hope flutters in his chest, but he reminds himself not to rush things.
“I know you’re scared,” he starts cautiously, holding out his open palm as though trying to calm an angry dog. “But you don’t have to be. We didn’t come here to take you to Dean Washijou or turn you over to the coven council. We came because we want to help you.”
The mass doesn’t move aside from the shifting shadows still swirling and swirling, around and around. Semi tries not to let them distract him. He closes his eyes briefly, taking even breaths to calm his racing heart. When he opens his eyes again, he takes a step closer.
“I know you didn’t mean for any of this to happen. We know that. This . . .” He gestures to the shadows. “This isn’t you. This isn’t who you are. I know you’ve probably grown up your whole life believing demons are complete evil and that’s fair, but you . . . you’re not a demon. So what if you have a little demon DNA? You also have human DNA, and if you’ve been able to hold back your demon magic all this time, you’re a damn strong human too.”
“Semi-san!” Goshiki cries, sprinting into the room, waving something over his head. “I got it!”
The shadow rears back at the sudden entrance, rising back up to fill the room with its frame. Semi grimaces, taking the photo and gesturing for Goshiki to get back.
“Stay with Ushijima and don’t talk,” he hisses softly.
Goshiki nods, shrinking to stand beside Ushijima, chewing on his lip.
Semi turns back to the shadow, glad it didn’t decide to attack while he was distracted. He holds up the photo. “You see this?” he asks. “That’s you as a kid, right? You were miserable at this place. But you kept this photo. Why? Because they were your family? Well, guess what? We’re your family now. So this? You don’t need this. You don’t need these memories.”
He tears up the photo, letting the pieces fall from his hands. He sets his palm against his chest, tapping it. “I am your family. They are your family.” He gestures to Goshiki and Ushijima, to his friends that the shadow still has encapsulated.
“You’ve made new memories with us, and those are the ones you should remember.”
He stares at the shadow expectantly, but nothing happens. It doesn’t release the others, and Shirabu doesn’t appear. Semi sighs, running his hands over his face.
“I’m going to go inside,” he says, realizing that this isn’t going to work unless Shirabu sees him make the effort. Words are just words.
“What?!” Goshiki squeaks. “Inside that?”
Semi nods, turning to face Ushijima. “Do not let anyone attack him while I’m in there,” he says sternly.
Ushijima nods. “Good luck,” he says then, sincerely.
Goshiki twists his fingers together. “Come back, okay?”
“I’ll be back,” Semi says, with a confidence he doesn’t feel.
“And when I get back, I’ll have Shirabu with me.”
He takes a step forward and then another. The shadow doesn’t move, but he can feel the weight of the energy once more. It’s warning him to stay away. It’s dangerous; he can sense that. One wrong move, and it’s likely he won’t come out of this alive. But he has to try. He has to try for Shirabu.
“Okay, kid,” he says, as he comes to a stop directly in front of the twisting wall of shadows. “You gotta trust me, okay? I’m not going to hurt you.”
Lifting one hand, he sets it against the shadows. For a moment they feel solid beneath his skin, smooth, icy. But then, slowly, the resistance fades, and Semi’s hand slips forward into the black haze.
He doesn’t give himself a chance to second-guess this idea. Lowering his hand, he lifts his chin, straightens his back, and steps directly into the wall, allowing the darkness to consume him.
It's very late, so although I read through this, I might not have caught every error. Please let me know if you find any super obvious ones, and I'll correct them asap!
Chapter 6: Family
well, here we are at the end of yet another story. I'm sorry it took so long! I really wanted it to be perfect. Even now I feel as though it may not be good enough, you all deserve so much, but I hope you enjoy this last chapter.
Thank you so much for all your support! This story was really fun to write. I'm glad I went through with it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
i don't care about whose DNA has recombined with whose.
when everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching—
they are your family.
― jim butcher, proven guilty
The first thing Semi feels when he steps into the shadow is cold. The shadows feel like ice as they curl around him, sliding across his skin with tendrils like fingers. They grasp at him, passing through him with a chill that sends shivers down his spine. Whispers surround him as well. Distant chatter that begin just as the last one ends, so it seems like one continuous stream of hushed voices. He can’t make out what they’re saying, but the words seep into his mind like insidious shadows themselves.
Every instinct in him screams at him to turn and run away. Anxiety presses against his chest, squeezing around his lungs, as his heart beats rapidly against his ribs.
Steeling himself, he steps further into the swirling darkness. As he ventures deeper, he starts to feel other things, emotions he knows are not his own, yet they penetrate through him as keenly as though they were. He feels despair, anguish, rage, and fear.
The fear is the loudest. He staggers under the weight of it. It’s a struggle to lift one foot in front of the other. He wants to turn back. He wants to give up.
Idiot! he berates himself. You’re stronger than this.
He calls forth his magic, feels it rise swiftly to the surface of his skin. He musters up the most powerful shield spell he knows. It’s one Tendou taught him, secretly, before their instructors assigned it to them. With a great shout he releases the magic, and a massive shield twice his sizes forms in front of him. He pushes it forward, and it cuts through the shadows, allowing a clear path to reveal itself.
He walks quickly, ignoring the whispers, until the shadows fall away, as he comes to the center of the mass. It’s like being in the eye of a tornado. All around him the shadows swirl in clockwise and counter-clockwise rotations. He can no longer hear the whispers, which is a relief, and he allows the shield to dissipate.
As it does, it reveals Shirabu, suspended in the wall of shadows ahead of him.
He’s almost completely encased in the moving darkness, only his face visible. The shadows move over him slowly, flowing like water over his still form. His eyes are closed, his face pale, stark against the blacks and grays around him. He appears lifeless, and Semi’s chest clenches momentarily in fear that he may be too late. But he approaches anyway.
Reaching up with both hands, he grabs hold of Shirabu’s face. Immediately the shadows disappear, and he finds himself back in that room in the orphanage. Except instead of an empty, silent room collecting dust, it’s full of children. Most are playing in the center of the room, but there’s one, Shirabu, who sits apart from the rest. He’s seated on his pallet on the floor, an open book in his lap. He can’t be older than eight years old.
“Shirabu?” he calls hesitantly, unsure if he’ll be able to hear him. Is he in a memory? Or has Shirabu recreated this?
Shirabu looks up, but not at Semi. Three larger boys stride across the room, planting themselves in front of Shirabu.
“Hey freak,” one of them sneers. “You still seeing demons?”
Shirabu blinks. “Yes,” he says plainly.
“You’re such a liar!” another boy shouts. “We have wards around this place! Demons can’t get in. You’re just trying to scare us, but you won’t. We’re not stupid!”
“That’s debatable,” Shirabu says, and Semi almost laughs at how unimpressed he appears.
But then the tallest of the three boys steps forward, snatching the book from Shirabu’s lap. “What are you doing with this? Are you using it to try and summon demons? Are you trying to kill us?”
“Hey! Give it back!” Shirabu’s composure breaks, as he leaps to his feet.
“What are you going to do? Hex me?” the boy taunts, as he starts ripping the pages out of the book.
Anger rushes through Semi. He wants to grab the boy and shake him, order him to give the book back. But then Shirabu’s throws out his hand, shouts a spell, and the three boys go flying across the room. All activity in the room ceases, as one by one the children gathered turn to look at Shirabu with wide, startled eyes.
Shirabu’s breathing hard, his face red. He picks up the book from where it fell from the bully’s hand, smoothing his hand over the crinkled paper.
Suddenly, the scene changes, and Semi now stands in an office. Shirabu’s kneeling on the floor facing a low table, and a stern looking woman sits behind it.
“You are restricted from using magic against your friends, do you understand?”
“They’re not my friends,” Shirabu mutters.
Semi slowly crosses the room, wanting to see Shirabu’s face. He inhales sharply at the state of it. He has a swollen lip and a black eye, and his wrists are dark with bruises, as though he’d been pinned down.
“Even so, you cannot use magic against them.”
“It was self-defense!” Shirabu exclaims hotly.
“You could have killed them! It is unacceptable. They are acting out of fear. If you want them to leave you alone, stop spreading stories about seeing demons!”
“But I do see—”
“You see nothing!” The woman rises to her feet, her dark eyes blazing. “If I hear one more word about these demons, I will punish you myself. Lying is unacceptable!”
Righteous anger burns through Semi, hotter than before. Who does this woman think she is? Yelling at a child like this? It’s not Shirabu’s fault!
But if this was how Shirabu’s “family” reacted to him merely seeing demons . . . how does he think Semi and Tendou and the rest will react to knowledge that he is a demon? Or at least, half of one.
“This isn’t right,” Semi says aloud, despite the scene still playing out before him. “They shouldn’t have treated you like this. You know that, right? Shirabu? Shirabu, come out here. Talk to me.”
His surroundings dissolve, everything falling away until he’s standing in complete darkness. He can’t see or hear anything. He wonders if he’s still in the center of that shadow storm, holding onto Shirabu’s face. He flexes his fingers, but he can’t feel anything either.
“Shirabu?” he calls, his voice echoing into the void.
The voice sounds like Shirabu, but it’s coming from all directions. Semi spins around, but he can still see nothing but blackness.
“Not until you talk to me!” Semi shouts back. “Stop being a baby! Do you honestly think throwing a temper tantrum is going to solve anything?”
Semi growls, curling his hands into fists. “Why do you have to be so damn frustrating? I’m trying to help you!”
“DAMNIT, SHIRABU, LET ME HELP YOU!”
Semi feels something shove him hard against his chest. He flies backwards, and when he hits the ground, he’s back inside the eye of the shadow storm. He glowers up at Shirabu’s still face from the floor.
“Oh, hell no,” he growls, hopping to his feet and striding forward once more. “I’m not letting you damn yourself!”
He grabs Shirabu’s face once more, and this time he uses his magic to bolster his entrance into Shirabu’s mind. He comes to the same dark place as before, but this time Shirabu is there. He materializes out of the shadows with a red face and glowering expression.
“Get out before you get hurt!” he shouts.
He places both hands on Semi’s chest, pushing him hard. But this time Semi only stumbles back a step before he grabs both of Shirabu’s wrists, pulling his hands away from him.
“I’m not going to get hurt,” Semi says flatly.
“I can’t control them,” Shirabu says, scowling back at him, making no move to pull his hands away.
“Since when can you not do something?” Semi asks, raising his eyebrows. “You’re one of the most advanced witches I’ve ever seen. You could do spells when you were eight, for fuck’s sake. You can do Silent Magic!”
Shirabu’s shaking his head, but Semi releases his wrists, grabbing his face instead.
“Listen to me,” he says firmly, holding Shirabu’s head still. He curls his fingers around the back of his neck, forcing his head back slightly in order to look him in the eye. “You are stronger than this. Shit, you know you are. Somehow you let fear convince you otherwise. Once you get over yourself, you’ll get these shadows under control.”
Shirabu frowns. “You can’t just tell me to get over it. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know how I feel!”
Semi bites the inside of his cheek, as he watches the tears gather in Shirabu’s eyes. The sight hits him harder than he thought it would, and he watches helplessly, as the tears make their way down Shirabu’s face.
“Everyone here . . . they all hate demons. They want to fight them. Destroy them. If I’m one of them . . .”
“Shut up,” Semi growls softly, perhaps harsher than he means to. With a gentleness that belies his tone, he brushes the tears off Shirabu’s cheeks with his thumbs. “You’re not one of them. You’re a witch, not a demon. I don’t care who the fuck your parents are. You’re one of us, and we’re not going to abandon you.”
Shirabu blinks at him, brows still furrowed. “The others . . .”
“We all came here to help you, dumbass. Not to fight you. We want you to be safe.” Semi sighs, wondering if he really has to say it. “Dammit, Kenjirou. We love you.”
Shirabu starts, his eyes widening.
Semi rolls his own eyes. “Don’t look so surprised,” he says, moving his hands from Shirabu’s face down to hold him steady where his neck meets his shoulders. Leaning forward, he presses his lips against Shirabu’s forehead. His skin is cool to the touch, and Semi finds himself lingering a second longer than he means to, closing his eyes briefly. He just wants to reassure Shirabu that he’s not alone. Semi is here. They all are here.
When he leans back, Shirabu’s watching him in shock, lips parted slightly. Semi gives him a grim smile. “You were treated like shit back at that orphanage, but things are different here. We’re your family now. And we’re not going to let anything happen to you.”
Taking a step back, he holds Shirabu at arms length, giving him a slight shake. “So, come on. Make these shadows obey you. You’re strong enough, and you know it. I’ll be here to back you up.”
Shirabu stares at him a moment, but then determination enters his eyes, gleaming. Semi releases him and watches, as Shirabu closes his eyes and inhales deeply. Bringing his arms up, he holds his hands against his chest, palms facing his feet. He exhales slowly, pushing his hands down as he does, centering himself.
When he opens his eyes, they blaze gold with magic. Semi smirks, taking another step back. He can feel magic building up around him, the pressure of it, only this time it doesn’t feel oppressive. This isn’t the dark energy he’s felt ever since they started looking for Shirabu. This is a different energy. It brings with it buoyancy, a sense of hope, of life.
Shirabu flings his arms outward, and golden magic flies from his fingertips. It whips around them both, swirling in an invisible wind, eating up all the darkness until there’s nothing but light so bright it turns white. It’s blinding, and Semi has to shield his eyes from it, from Shirabu, who’s glowing in the center of it.
Semi sees now that his help isn’t needed. Shirabu’s is strong enough on his own. He radiates power. It’s enough to make Semi tremble, though he holds himself upright and doesn’t fall to his knees. (How embarrassing would that be?)
He does step back again, however. As Shirabu burns brighter, Semi feels his hold on him weakening. It stretches thin, until it finally snaps and Semi is thrown from Shirabu’s mind. He lands hard on the floor of the classroom, blinking as spots dance before his eyes. He rubs at them, as he sits up, and when he opens them again he sees that the shadows have disappeared.
A quick glance around the room reveals Ushijima standing beside the broken window. There’s a group of people outside, dressed in tactical gear, weapons in their hands. Goshiki stands beside Ushijima, and when he looks over his shoulder into the room, he gasps and grabs Ushijima’s arm, tugging at it insistently.
“Look! They’re back!”
Ushijima turns. Around the room, Tendou, Yamagata, Kawanishi, and Reon slowly sit up from where they’d fallen as well, groaning and holding their heads. Semi turns back to Shirabu and finds him lying on the floor, eyes still closed.
He crawls across the floor, sitting beside Shirabu and rolling him over onto his back.
“Shirabu?” he tries, patting the boy’s cheek lightly. “Hey . . .”
Shirabu’s features flinch, before he slowly opens his eyes. He blinks up at Semi a few times, before his face flushes pink.
Semi can’t help but grin in his relief. “You’re welcome,” he says, sparing Shirabu from saying it.
Shirabu’s blush doesn’t fade, but he nods in gratitude. Semi reaches down then, wrapping his arm around Shirabu’s shoulders to help him sit up. Before either of them can move further, however, Goshiki pounces.
“Shirabu-san!” he cries, wrapping his arms around him.
Shirabu stiffens in the embrace, but after a moment he relaxes, slowly moving one hand to set it against Goshiki’s back.
“You’re back! You’re okay!” Goshiki babbles, as he continues to cling to him. “We were so worried! Don’t ever do that again, okay? You can’t run off anymore! You gotta let us help you!”
“Okay,” Shirabu says softly.
“Well, well, looks like Semi got you to behave,” Tendou drawls, as he collapses beside the group. He smirks, but he looks tired. Reaching up, he ruffles Goshiki’s hair, before placing his hand on the top of Shirabu’s head. “The kid’s right, you know. We’re here for you. Otherwise, what’s the point of this little group?”
“To annoy people with impunity?” Semi asks, smirking.
Tendou grins. “That too.”
“Ugh,” Yamagata complains, as he lowers himself beside the group. “Today was the worst, but I’m glad you’re okay.” He pats Shirabu’s shoulder, as Goshiki finally leans back.
Reon doesn’t say anything, but he does wrap his arms around Semi and Tendou’s shoulders, as he sits between them.
“Come on, Taichi~” Tendou calls to the final member of the group. “Don’t act like you’re better than us. Join the party!”
Kawanishi rolls his eyes, but he walks over to sit between Yamagata and Semi, completing the circle around Goshiki and Shirabu.
“GROUP HUG!” Goshiki cries, and Shirabu quickly places his hand against Goshiki’s face, as he tries to lean forward again.
“Absolutely not,” he says.
Tendou throws back his head and laughs, the rest of the group chiming in, as relief and release of adrenaline washes over them. Semi can’t help but remember the hunters outside, though, and he turns his head to find Ushijima staring at them.
“It’s okay,” he assures him. “He’s okay.”
Ushijima nods before turning to the hunters. “You can go,” he says.
“Washijou called us in,” the leader says, frowning slightly. “We need to secure the demon before it hurts someone.”
Ushijima doesn’t repeat himself. He simply moves to stand in front of the huddled group, staring the hunter down, until the man snorts and turns away, gesturing for his team to do the same.
“Washijou will not be pleased,” he says before leaving.
Goshiki bites his lip. “Are they going to take Shirabu away?” he asks.
Tendou shakes his head, placing his hand carefully on Shirabu’s shoulder. When he allows it to stay, Tendou gives a squeeze. “We won’t let them.”
Despite knowing that they might not have a say in it, Semi nods.
“No way in hell.”
They all wind up in Tendou and Semi’s room. There’s a feeling of dread hovering over them, as they all know that eventually Shirabu will be brought before the coven council to be evaluated. Yamagata silently hands out snacks and drinks, and they even allow Goshiki a beer, though he doesn’t appear as interested in drinking it as he might have on another day. Yamagata, Kawanishi, and Reon sit against Semi’s bed, facing Goshiki, Tendou, and Semi, who are sitting against Tendou’s. Shirabu lies on the floor beside Semi, his head in Semi’s lap. He started out simply sitting against Semi, but as his head drooped, Semi pushed him down across his thighs, and he’s been snoring there softly ever since.
Semi gently strokes his fingers through Shirabu’s hair, trying not to think of what might happen to him.
“The dean will understand it wasn’t his fault, right?” Goshiki breaks the silence to ask.
“I don’t think it’ll matter whether it was his fault or not,” Kawanishi says, no inflection in his voice. Semi can’t help but notice the way his eyes continue to drift toward Shirabu, a faint frown wrinkling his forehead.
“He’s really powerful,” Yamagata says, eating chips one by one out of the bag next to him. “The coven might think he’s a threat no matter what.”
“If they kick him out, then I’m going to leave too!” Goshiki cries.
“Ah, ah, ah, not so hasty,” Tendou says, holding up his finger and shaking it back and forth. “Obviously if they kick him out, I’m going to be the one to look after him.”
Semi shoots him a glare. “Why obviously?” he asks.
Tendou grins. “Ohoho! Did you want to sacrifice your future for the little demonling?”
Semi opens his mouth before shutting it again quickly, frustrated at not being able to come up with a quick answer. The truth is, he’s wanted to be a Demon Hunter his entire life. He’s worked extremely hard to get to where he is now. The thought of throwing it all away in order to live on the lam with Shirabu . . . it brings up complicated feelings. He doesn’t want to abandon Shirabu. But he doesn’t want to give up his future, either. Would that even be healthy? He might come to resent Shirabu, if he chose that path. Semi doesn’t want that to happen, either.
But all that is true for Tendou too, isn’t it?
“What about your future?” he asks, then, lowering his voice even though he knows it’s pointless when everyone can still hear them.
Tendou shrugs. “I never had a real future here, SemiSemi,” he says with a grin, even as his voice grows wistful. “Nobody in this coven is going to hire a Demon Hunter like me.”
“The fuck they won’t,” Yamagata growls under his breath.
Tendou holds up two fingers in a peace sign. “Once a monster, always a monster~” he sings.
Semi grabs his hand, forcing it down. “If you go, once we graduate we’ll go after you. We’ll still form our team. You and Shirabu belong with us.”
The others nod solemnly, and Tendou grins, even as he lifts his hand wipe away an imaginary tear. “You guys. So sweet. I could tongue-kiss you all.”
“Gross,” Kawanishi mutters.
Tendou cackles, but Semi doesn’t miss the tear caught on his other hand, glistening on his finger.
They all look up, as there’s a knock at the door. Reon stands, stepping over to open it. Ushijima walks into the room, looking at all those gathered. Tendou reaches forward to grab a beer, tossing it up toward the man. He catches it with ease, looking down at it blankly
“It’s an invitation,” Tendou explains.
“I do not understand. I fought your friend.”
“You also defended our friend,” Reon reminds him, as he sits once more.
“Per Semi’s request,” Ushijima states.
Semi shrugs. “You didn’t have to, though. So, it means a lot.”
Ushijima looks down at the boy curled up on the floor. “I do not believe he meant anyone harm.”
“He didn’t,” Semi says firmly.
Ushijima nods. After a moment, he moves to sit cross-legged on the floor. Opening the beer, he holds it in both hands, not taking a sip.
“I spoke with Dean Washijou,” he says, and the room tenses. “He believes it can benefit Shiratorizawa to have such a powerful witch on our side. Provided Shirabu can learn to control his abilities and no longer causes harm to others. However, this is not his decision to make. The matter has to be taken before the coven council. There will be a hearing tomorrow. Shirabu is required to be there.”
“What about us?” Goshiki asks, leaning forward. “We can be there too, right?”
Ushijima nods. “Washijou requests your presence as character witnesses.”
“What about Tendou?” Semi asks.
Ushijima blinks at him.
“The dean is going to apologize for how he treated him, right?”
Tendou waves his hand in the air. “Ah, don’t mind, SemiSemi. It’s all over and done with.”
“I do mind,” Semi snaps, turning to frown at his friend. “You’re taking this too lightly. You deserve an apology.”
“Our dear Dean Washijou isn’t going to apologize for something he believes was the right thing to do to protect his academy,” Tendou says. “And honestly, I don’t want him to. It was ridiculous, considering I had nothing to do with any of it, but I understand why he did it, and I don’t resent him for it.” He shakes his head.
“I didn’t realize you were such a pushover,” Semi mutters.
“The hearing will take place after classes tomorrow,” Ushijima states.
“What about your class?” Yamagata asks.
“Oh! Yeah! Are we still going to have classes with you?” Goshiki asks.
Ushijima shakes his head. “My assignment is complete. I will return to the streets after tomorrow.”
“But you can’t!” Goshiki cries, and Semi can’t help but agree. “We still have so much to learn! I haven’t beaten you yet!”
Ushijima turns to him. “My instruction was merely a bonus. You can learn everything you need to know in your regular classes.”
“It’s not the same,” Goshiki pouts, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Yeah, I mean, none of our instructors are nearly as fit and handsome as you,” Yamagata says with a smirk.
“Hey-o!” Tendou exclaims, reaching over to high-five Yamagata.
Ushijima tilts his head. “An instructor’s appearance has no bearing on his or her ability to teach well.”
Tendou cackles, loudly, jostling Semi, who in turn accidentally wakes Shirabu with his movement. He sits up slowly, yawning while rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“What’s going on?” he asks sleepily. He freezes when he sees Ushijima, but the man simply nods to him.
“You have a hearing tomorrow before the coven council to determine whether or not you can stay. It will take place at 1600 hours.”
“Oh,” Shirabu says, his expression blank.
“We’ll be there with you,” Semi assures him.
“Yeah! Character witnesses!” Goshiki exclaims. “We’ll tell them how cool you are!”
Shirabu rolls his eyes. “Being cool doesn’t mean anything if they want to expel me,” he says flatly.
“Maybe not,” Semi says, frowning slightly. “But having friends will help your case. So don’t be a little shit.”
Shirabu purses his lips before standing. “I’m going to bed.” He bows to the room, to Ushijima, before turning toward the door. He pauses before he opens it, though, turning to look back expectantly at Goshiki.
“OH!” the boy cries after a moment, jumping to his feet. He scurries over to join Shirabu in the doorway, turning, then, to bow to all present.
“Goodnight,” they chorus back at him with varying levels of amusement.
Once they’re gone, Yamagata stretches his arms above his head with a yawn. “Today was exhausting. I think I’ll hit the hay too. Nothing to be done about anything right now.” He pats his pockets. “Hey, has anyone seen my cell phone?”
Kawanishi picks it up from where it was lying beside the bag of chips. Yamagata grins. “What would I do without you?” he asks.
Kawanishi rolls his eyes, moving to stand and shoving his hands inside his pockets. Yamagata high-fives Reon, Tendou, and Semi, coming to a stop in front of Ushijima.
“Seriously, though, it’d be cool if you stuck around. At least finish the class with us. Think about it.”
Kawanishi waves, as the two leave the room. Reon makes no move to stand, however, so the four of them continue to sit, silence falling once more.
Semi can feel the exhaustion starting to overtake him as well, but he’s too tired to get off the floor. Reon takes a sip of his drink, and Ushijima stares off into space, looking pensive.
Tendou turns his hand over in Semi’s, and he suddenly remembers he’s still holding it. He feels his face warm, as Tendou laces their fingers together.
“You should stay, Miracle Boy,” he says, as Semi decides to give up the fight and rests his head on Tendou’s shoulder, closing his eyes. “You’re learning, but you’re not quite there yet.”
By the time Ushijima responds, Semi’s nearly drifted off to sleep.
Goshiki finds he can’t sleep. He stares up at the ceiling, trying not to be intimidated by the shadows there. He knows they’ll go away if he turns off the light, but the thought of lying in complete darkness only causes his chest to feel tighter. He can’t hear anything from Shirabu’s side of the room, which makes him wonder if his roommate is even sleeping.
“Shirabu?” he calls tentatively.
He hears a soft grunt followed by a “what?”
Goshiki bites his lip. “Are you awake?”
“How could I be talking to you if I wasn’t awake?”
“You could be sleep talking.”
He turns onto his side, looking across at the bed opposite his, as Shirabu sighs and turns over himself, frowning at him.
“Go to sleep.”
“You’re going to regret that tomorrow.”
“I’m worried about you.”
Shirabu purses his lips, his gaze lowering. “You don’t have to be.”
“But what if Dean Washijou has to turn you over to the coven council? What if they experiment on you? What if they take you away and keep you locked up in a prison cell somewhere feeding you nothing but stale bread and stinky water and we’ll have to break you out somehow and we could get caught and go to jail and then we’d all be in jail and nobody will be able to help you and—”
At some point during Goshiki’s ramble, Shirabu gets out of bed and crosses over to stand in front of him. Goshiki cuts himself off, swallowing hard, as Shirabu shakes his head and crawls over him to lie down between him and the wall, like he had that one night that feels like months ago.
“Stop worrying so much. The worst they can do is expel me,” Shirabu says, lying down on his back and staring up at the ceiling.
Goshiki follows suit slowly, being careful not to touch Shirabu. He allowed him to hug him earlier, but he has no idea if it’s still okay to touch or not. He keeps his head turned toward Shirabu, though, staring at his profile in the dim light.
“Tendou-san says he’ll go with you if you’re expelled, so you won’t be alone,” Goshiki informs him quietly.
Shirabu doesn’t respond.
“I don’t want to lose you guys,” Goshiki admits, his voice falling even softer.
Shirabu sighs. “You’ll graduate soon enough. Then we’re all going to be a Demon Hunter team, aren’t we?”
Goshiki blinks. “You want to?”
Shirabu shrugs. “I’m the most powerful one of all of us. You’ll need me on your team.” He smirks.
Goshiki shakes his head. “Ushijima is the most powerful!” he exclaims. “And I’m going to beat him. Which will make me the most powerful!”
Shirabu laughs. It’s mean, him laughing at Goshiki’s proud statement, but Goshiki is too shocked at the sound to protest. He sits up on his elbow, looking down at Shirabu with wide eyes. Shirabu abruptly stops laughing, his expression growing wary.
“What?” he asks tightly.
Goshiki shakes his head. “You look really cute when you laugh,” he says, despite knowing that such honesty could get him smacked, or worse.
To his surprise, Shirabu flushes red and looks away, scowling faintly. “Shut up and go to sleep,” he says, turning toward the wall.
Goshiki lies back down, staring at the back of Shirabu’s head. “Hey, Shirabu? I’m glad you want to stay with us.”
“I said, go to sleep.”
Satisfied that he’s given his sentiments effectively, Goshiki closes his eyes and eventually relaxes into sleep.
Somehow word gets out that Shirabu is the one responsible for the darkness that permeated Shiratorizawa. Goshiki can hear the students whispering his name in hushed conversations throughout campus. The first time he hears something, he puffs out his chest in indignation and starts to give the students a piece of his mind, but Kawanishi grabs his arm and pulls him back.
“Don’t you hear what they’re saying? They’re calling him a monster!” Goshiki cries, as Kawanishi drags him back to his seat.
“Starting a fight won’t change their mind,” Kawanishi says flatly. “It’ll only get you in trouble.”
Goshiki pouts, folding his arms on his desk and resting his head on it. He doesn’t like the thought of people thinking of Shirabu as some kind of dangerous demon. He’s not! He’s a witch, just like Goshiki, just like the rest of them. Well, witch-in-training. But still.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Goshiki mutters.
“Tell that to the council,” Kawanishi says, his voice betraying nothing.
Goshiki wonders if he even cares, but when he glances up at his classmate, he notices the tightness of his jawline, as he stares at the students in question.
His nerves only grow more on edge, as the day goes on. He’s relieved when it’s time for lunch, and he practically sprints toward the cafeteria. He piles his plate full of food that he isn’t sure he can even eat considering is stomach is tied up in knots, before finding the group’s regular table and sitting down across from Tendou, Shirabu, and Semi.
They’re flanking him, almost like bodyguards, and Goshiki wonders if Shirabu knows what the other students are saying about him. Yamagata and Kawanishi sit down next to him, forcing him to scoot further down the table. Reon appears a few seconds later, sitting beside Tendou.
“Is Ushijima not joining us?” he asks, opening the straw for his milk box.
“He’s preparing for the hearing,” Semi says, glancing down the table at him.
“He seemed distracted during the run this morning,” Yamagata says absently.
Goshiki bites his lip. He’d noticed that too. “Does he think we’ll lose?” he asks.
“We won’t lose,” Semi says fiercely.
Shirabu still hasn’t spoken, his eyes on his food, as he eats calmly. He doesn’t appear anxious at all, but Goshiki can’t help but wonder what he’s really thinking.
Lunch ends sooner than Goshiki’s expecting, and afterwards he finds himself unable to concentrate on anything. He bounces his knee at his desk, glancing frequently at the clock, his instructor’s voice buzzing in his ears like a swarm of bees. He doesn’t want to think of what Shiratorizawa would be like without Tendou and Shirabu.
Tendou, who has always believed in him and encouraged him to do his best. Shirabu, the only roommate Goshiki’s ever had, and subsequently his best friend. Whether purposefully or not, Shirabu’s helped stave away the loneliness and anxiety that sometimes creeps along the edges of Goshiki’s mind, and Tendou’s always been there for him, ever since the beginning. When Goshiki burst into his classroom and declared that he would be the best Demon Hunter to graduate from that school, the entire room had laughed in his face. But Tendou sought him out afterwards, said he’d heard about his dramatic entrance and thought he’d make a good addition to his team.
Tendou’s always made sure every one of them feels included and cared for. And although Shirabu can be mean sometimes, he challenges Goshiki to be better.
He doesn’t want to let either of them go.
Finally, class ends for the day. Because of the hearing, Ushijima cancels his class, and the group meets at the fountain.
“The shuttle will be here soon to take us to The House of the White Swan’s headquarters,” Semi says, reaching out to fix Shirabu’s tie and smooth down his hair. “Couldn’t you have worn something nicer?”
“This is my uniform,” Shirabu says, narrowing his eyes.
“Tuck in your shirt, at least,” Semi says, shaking his head.
Tendou grins. “SemiSemi lecturing someone about wearing nice clothes? Isn’t that a little hypocritical?”
Semi scowls. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I think our uniforms are fine,” Reon says, smoothing down the front of his suit jacket with his palms. “We look unified. Like a real team.”
“Ushijima-san’s wearing his too!” Goshiki exclaims, pointing as the man approaches.
He is wearing the Shiratorizawa uniform, and when he comes to a stop beside the rest, Tendou whistles softly.
“Looking good, Miracle Boy,” he says, nudging him gently. “What made you decide to dress like this?”
Ushijima blinks. “I did not have time to purchase another suit,” he says.
“Careful,” Tendou teases. “They might think you’re with us.”
Ushijima looks him directly in the eyes. “I am with you.”
Goshiki wonders if that’s a blush that’s rising on Tendou’s cheeks, but before he can take a closer look, their shuttle arrives. Tendou immediately takes the seat next to Ushijima, and Semi and Shirabu sit behind them. Yamagata grabs Kawanishi and they sit together on the third row, leaving Goshiki with Reon at the back.
He tries to not let his disappointment show, but as he slumps in his seat with a sigh, Reon gives him a small smile.
“Is sitting with me that bad?” he teases.
Goshiki jolts upright, guilt making him squirm. “Yes! Not at all!” he exclaims, before heat rises to his face, as he realizes that makes no sense.
Reon laughs good-naturedly. “It’s okay. I get it. I know I’m sort of the seventh wheel around here. I don’t mind. You should tell him how you feel, though.”
Goshiki’s eyes widen. “Who?” he asks, his heart threatening to beat right out of his chest.
Reon nods toward the front of the bus. “Shirabu.”
Goshiki finds himself sputtering again. “I-I don’t! I mean, I’m not! We’re not! He’s not!”
Reon sets his hand on Goshiki’s shoulder. “Breathe.”
Goshiki inhales sharply on command, holding his breath until Reon taps his shoulder. “I said, breathe.”
Goshiki lets the air out with a woosh, his fingers feeling jittery. “I can’t,” he says, shaking his head quickly. “He likes Semi-san.”
“And Semi likes Tendou, and Tendou likes Ushijima,” Reon shrugs. “But I don’t think anyone can say Tendou doesn’t like Semi and Semi doesn’t like Shirabu, so maybe Shirabu likes you too.”
Goshiki feels dizzy, trying to keep up with what Reon’s implying. “Can it work like that?” he asks, awed.
Reon grins. “It’s not conventional, but since when are we conventional?” He leans back in his seat, glancing out the window at the buildings passing by. “I think you should tell him. If anything, think it’d mean a lot to him to hear.”
Goshiki chews on his lip, releasing it after a moment since it still stings from chewing it raw the day before. He tilts his chin up, looking down to where he can hear Tendou talking loudly over the noise of the engine. It sounds like he’s explaining the plot of a manga to Ushijima. Every once in a while, Semi will lean forward and ask a question. Goshiki can only see the top of Shirabu’s, as he leans against the window, but Reon’s words spin around and around in his mind.
The House of the White Swan’s headquarters is a giant building near the center of Tokyo. Although Shiratorizawa resides in Miyagi, most if not all headquarters for the covens were built in Tokyo in order to maintain close relations with each other. It stands tall and imposing, twenty stories high and covered in windows that start out rectangular and then slant, tapering off in a point like large, abstract feathers. A fountain in the front courtyard holds a statue in the shape of a swan.
Goshiki can’t help but stare in awe, as he and the others exit the shuttle. He’s never been here before. He feels important just standing in front of the place. He can tell the others are a little wonderstruck as well, though Tendou cracks up as soon as he sees the swan statue.
“They’re so extra,” he hoots between cackles.
Ushijima doesn’t seem as impressed, as he walks toward the front doors, but Goshiki figures he’s be here dozens of times and is simply used to it. He hastens to catch up, as the rest of the group follows their unofficial leader into the building. Goshiki sneaks glances at Shirabu, as Ushijima informs the receptionist that they have a meeting with the council. He wonders if he’s truly not nervous or just really good at hiding it.
“Are you okay?” he asks, stepping closer and peering down into Shirabu’s face.
Shirabu leans away from him. “Fine,” he says shortly.
Goshiki frowns, glancing further down. “Your hands are shaking,” he says, reaching to touch the back of one lightly.
Shirabu flinches, and Goshiki quickly pulls away. After a moment, though, Shirabu reaches out and takes his hand. Goshiki starts in surprise, but Shirabu doesn’t look at him, simply stares straight ahead. Goshiki feels giddy, as he laces his fingers through Shirabu’s and gives his hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Don’t look so grim!” Yamagata says, wrapping his arm around Goshiki’s shoulders and leaning forward to look into Shirabu’s face. “Everything will be fine.”
Shirabu gives him a skeptical look.
The receptionist tells them they can go up to the council chambers, so the group enters the elevator to ride to the top floor. As the numbers tick slowly upward, Goshiki feels Shirabu’s grip on his hand tighten incrementally, until he feels as though the other young man will break his fingers.
“Um, Shirabu-san?” he says, wiggling his fingers slightly.
“What? Oh.” Shirabu glances down at their hands, quickly letting him go. Goshiki massages his aching joints.
Semi glances over at them. “Relax,” he prompts.
“Easy for you to say,” Shirabu mutters.
Semi raises an eyebrow. “Is it?”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Tendou says, throwing his arms out and nearly smacking Kawanishi in the face. “So much gloom and doom! How about a song to cheer us all up! I know the entire OP from Neon Genesis Evangelion.” He opens his mouth wide, but before he can start singing, Semi turns and slaps his hand over Tendou’s mouth.
“Absolutely not,” he says.
Tendou grins, his eyes squinting over Semi’s hand. Goshiki actually finds himself wondering what the OP would sound like in Tendou’s voice, but just then the doors open and the group steps out into a hallway that holds only a single pair of wooden doors.
Ushijima steps forward. “Shirabu and I will go in first. They will call on you one by one to give your statements.”
“We can’t go in there with him?” Semi asks, frowning.
Ushijima shakes his head.
Semi sighs in frustration before turning and taking Shirabu by the shoulders. “Just be honest with them,” he says. “You weren’t trying to hurt anyone. You didn’t even know you had those abilities.”
“I know, I know,” Shirabu says, rolling his eyes, though he doesn’t try to pull away.
“SemiSemi is such a mother hen,” Tendou says with a grin. “So cute.”
Semi gives Tendou the finger without looking at him, his cheeks growing pink even so. Goshiki watches, his heart leaping to his throat momentarily, as Semi moves to cup Shirabu’s cheek then, kissing his forehead tenderly.
“We’ll be right here,” he assures him.
Shirabu nods, reaching up to take Semi’s wrist, pulling his hand off his shoulder. Ushijima gestures for him to step forward, but before he does, Shirabu suddenly turns and grabs Goshiki’s tie, yanking him down and planting a surprisingly soft kiss on his lips. Goshiki’s too stunned to do anything at all, and the next moment Shirabu’s releasing him and turning away.
“Ready now,” he says, walking confidently toward the door.
It’s only when Ushijima and Shirabu have both disappeared into the council chambers that Goshiki finishes processing what just happened.
“I accept!” he exclaims, his heart pounding in his ears, as his face burns.
Tendou’s fallen across Semi’s shoulders, cackling. Semi’s chuckling too, arms crossed over his chest. Yamagata’s howling and clutching Kawanishi for support, and Reon smiles indulgently.
“Your face!” Yamagata gasps. “Classic!”
Kawanishi rolls his eyes.
Goshiki doesn’t care. It’s embarrassing, sure, but he doesn’t care. Shirabu kissed him! Shirabu kissed him! He could practically vibrate out of his shoes, he’s so happy.
“It’s not like it’ll go anywhere,” Kawanishi says. “Since they’re probably going to expel him.”
Goshiki’s high spirits crash to the floor. He had forgotten about that. He stops bouncing, his chest aching.
“Come on, Taichi, don’t be mean,” Tendou says, stepping forward to wrap his arm around Goshiki’s shoulders. “Let the boy get excited over his first kiss.” He gives Goshiki a squeeze. “Don’t worry. I’ll make Shirabu call every day. He’ll probably be doing that anyway to talk to his precious Semi-san.” He smirks over at Semi, who simply shakes his head at Tendou. “I know I won’t be able to resist hearing the melodious sound of your voice every day~”
“Shut up,” Semi says, his face flushing.
“You’re all a bunch of weirdos,” Kawanishi complains.
Goshiki doesn’t care if they’re weirdos or not. He doesn’t mind sharing Shirabu if it means Shirabu is happy. That’s all he’s ever wanted for him anyway. He’s just glad that he seems to make Shirabu happy too.
His happiness is short-lived, however, as time goes on and nobody steps outside to call them in to speak to the council. He can tell the others are starting to get antsy, pacing back and forth, slouching against the wall, tapping feet impatiently. Goshiki tries not to let his mind go to terrible places. He doesn’t want to think about the council banishing Shirabu without letting them speak. He hopes Ushijima won’t let that happen.
Finally, the door opens and a woman wearing glasses with her hair pulled back calls for Tendou. He jumps to his feet from where he’d be doing push-ups on the floor. Semi stops pacing to step forward, but the woman shakes her head.
“One at a time, please,” she says.
“Don’t worry, babe,” Tendou says to Semi with a grin. “I’ve got this.”
Semi huffs. “Don’t call me that.”
Tendou blows him a kiss before disappearing into the room.
They take Semi next, then Reon. Yamagata and Kawanishi go after, until finally it’s Goshiki’s turn. He does his best to appear confident and composed, as he steps through the door following the woman with the glasses. When he asked the others how it went, none of them could say for sure if they helped or not. Goshiki is determined to be helpful.
The coven council members sit before him behind a long table. Shirabu sits across from them at a much shorter table, Ushijima standing beside him. Adjacent to them, are Dean Washijou and Professor Saitou. Goshiki swallows hard, as the woman gestures for him to take the spot at the center of the room, where there is a raised dais and a lectern with a microphone. Goshiki tries to catch Shirabu’s gaze, as he approaches it, but Shirabu’s facing forward, his expression completely passive. It’s his most difficult face to read.
“State your name and relation to the defendant,” one of the council members says.
“M-My name is Goshiki Tsutomu,” Goshiki declares directly into the microphone. His voice booms out, and he leans back, startled.
“It’s fine, continue,” the council member says.
“Um. Oh! My name is Goshiki Tsutomu, and I’m Shirabu-san’s boyf—” he falters, realizing that they haven’t exactly made that official. Did Shirabu even want to make it official? Would he prefer Semi to be his boyfriend and for Goshiki to be . . . what? It’s so confusing. “Friend!” he finishes. “Best friend! Roommate!”
Goshiki hears a soft thud and turns to see Shirabu’s head has fallen forward onto the table in front of him. When he lifts back up, he glares at Goshiki. Goshiki guesses he failed that first question. Sorry! he mouths back at Shirabu, as expressively as he can to make sure Shirabu knows what he’s saying.
“Goshiki-san,” the council member speaks again.
“YES! SORRY!” Goshiki turns back, gripping the lectern with both hands to keep himself from shaking. “We’re roommates, your honor. Your Grace?” He tilts his head, not sure how to address the man. “Your Highness?”
“Fucking hell,” Shirabu mutters.
“Goshiki,” Ushijima says firmly.
Goshiki bites his lip, looking over at him apologetically.
“Your anxiety is unwarranted. You are capable of this task.”
Goshiki’s chest swells. Ushijima believes in him! He turns back around, confidence filling him once more. “Yes!”
The council member appears amused. “How long were you roommates with Shirabu Kenjirou?”
Goshiki pauses to do some quick math in his head. “Five years, sir!”
“At any time during those years did you suspect he was something other than human?”
“There have been mentions of nightmares.”
“Everyone has nightmares, sir!”
Again the man looks amused, his lips twitching slightly. “Indeed.”
Another council member leans forward, a woman with gray streaks in her hair. “There is no need to shout, Goshiki-san,” she tells him. “There is a microphone.”
“Yes!” Goshiki nods, not sure if he can help being loud, however. That’s just how he is.
The first council member looks down at a file in his hands. “Did you at any time suspect Shirabu Kenjirou as the perpetrator of the attacks at your school?”
“No, sir!” Goshiki shakes his head rigorously. “Shirabu-san can be mean sometimes, but he’s not a bad person! He would never hurt anyone on purpose!” He pauses, rethinking that statement. “Well, unless they attacked him first, I guess. Or if they attacked Semi-san. Or Tendou-san.”
“I see. And did these attacks not happen after both Semi Eita and Tendou Satori were either hurt or humiliated?”
“Oh. Um, yes? But no! Those were accidents. Shirabu-san was with me every night, so he couldn’t have hurt those kids and Saitou-sensei on purpose. He wasn’t controlling the shadows. They just did it.”
“Because he didn’t have control.”
“What makes you think he has control now?”
Goshiki glances over at Shirabu, studying him. His eyes are on his folded hands on the table in front of him. “Well, he was this big shadow monster, and now he’s not anymore so . . .”
“Yes, Semi Eita described the situation to us. How do we know that Semi-san didn’t just use a spell of some kind to subdue Shirabu-san? How do we know that Shirabu-san won’t lose control again?”
“Semi-san is really powerful,” Goshiki says with a nod. “But he’s not as powerful as Shirabu.”
“Do you believe Shirabu is more powerful than Ushijima-san? Or even this entire council?”
“I don’t know,” Goshiki says honestly, shrugging. “He could be. But I don’t think anyone is as strong as Ushijima.”
“In your opinion,” the woman with the gray streaked hair leans forward once more. “Do you believe Shirabu Kenjirou should stay on at Shiratorizawa and be given a witch’s license to use his magic unsupervised?”
Goshiki blinks. “Couldn’t he just use his magic anyway even if you didn’t give him his license?”
“They want to put a block on my magic,” Shirabu mutters, glaring up from under his eyelashes at the council. “That’s the only way they’ll let me go if they decide I’m dangerous.”
“The spell would block both his access to magic and his access to the demon energy,” Professor Saitou explains. “So whether conscious or not, he will not be able to use it.”
Goshiki glances between the two. “That’s not fair, though! He’s supposed to be on our team! We’re all going to hunt demons together!”
“Would you not be concerned about whether or not he might turn on you?” the first council member asks, raising his eyebrows.
“Not at all!” Goshiki declares, confidently. “He loves us!”
“Demons are incapable of love,” a third council member scoffs from further down the table.
“You don’t know that!” Goshiki says, hotly. “And besides, he’s not a full demon. He’s half-human too. And that’s the part that matters. That’s the part that we all see. He’s not a demon to us, he’s just Shirabu. He’s our friend!”
“Thank you, Goshiki,” the gray-haired woman says gently. “You may step down.”
“Did I help?” Goshiki asks, as he steps off the dais.
“We’ll see,” she says with a smile. “But you’ve made a very compelling argument.”
Goshiki beams with pride. He had to have helped. He turns to Shirabu with a grin. “You’re going to be okay,” he tells him.
Shirabu looks back at him, and a tiny smile lifts the corner of his lips. Goshiki wants to bend down and kiss him right then and there, but he forces himself to keep his head up high and leave the room with sure strides.
“How did it go?” Semi asks, immediately after the door closes behind him.
“They said I made a compelling argument!” Goshiki declares.
“What does that mean?” Yamagata asks. “Are they letting him go?”
“Oh. I don’t know,” Goshiki realizes. “They didn’t say. But I’m sure it’s fine! I made a compelling argument!”
“That doesn’t mean shit if they decide to ignore it,” Kawanishi mutters.
Before Goshiki can deflate, however, Tendou is at his side, wrapping his arm around his shoulders. “I’m sure you did an excellent job, kid,” he says with a grin. “Well done!”
Goshiki returns the grin, feeling his high spirits return.
“I guess now all we can do is wait,” Semi says, staring at the doors behind them.
Ushijima stands silently beside Shirabu, as the council deliberates. After hearing all of the testimonies defending Shirabu, Ushijima can’t help but wonder what Shirabu’s done to earn such loyalty. Did he have to do anything specific? Or was it just time and proximity that made the bond between them so strong?
If he had stayed in his original class with Tendou, would he have a bond like that with them?
Shirabu shifts in his seat, picking at the edges of his fingernails. Ushijima hasn’t felt any press of demon energy from him this entire time, despite his agitated state. Could it be he’s already mastered his ability to contain it? Is he that quick of a learner?
“Shirabu-san,” the lead council member, a bald man named Gima Akito, folds his hands in front of him. “Your friends do you a great credit with their words, however there is still some consternation as to whether or not you are capable of keeping your demon magic contained. If you were to slip, even once, you could hurt a lot of people.”
“I won’t slip,” Shirabu says, shaking his head.
“There’s just no way to know.”
“I do. I know.”
The woman with the graying hair, Hirota Makoto, gives Shirabu an indulgent smile. “I’m sure you believe that,” she says. “But we need to make every precaution.”
“Hirota-san,” Dean Washijou stands, bowing respectfully. “Would it ease your mind if I told you I can assign a student to partner with Shirabu, use the Infinite Bond to join their auras, so if he slips he will have someone who can keep him from hurting anyone.”
Ushijima frowns. He’s heard of this Infinite Bond, though he’s never known anyone to actually use the spell. It’s a commitment most witches aren’t willing to make. Those that use the spell are bonded together for life, never able to separate more than few miles of each other, otherwise debilitating nausea will befall the two. Nobody wants to be stuck with a single person forever, and the spells to create and break the bond are complicated.
Hirota raises her eyebrows. “An unorthodox request,” she says.
“I understand,” Dean Washijou states. “But this boy is powerful. It would be a waste to subdue his magic. He could be a great asset to us, to the Demon Hunters as a whole. And with someone to hold him accountable, it’s unlikely he’ll lose control again.”
“What say you, Shirabu-san?” Gima asks, nodding to the boy.
Shirabu sits stiffly in his chair. “It’s the only way I can keep my magic?”
“We are not inclined to let you go without some form of restraint,” Gima admits.
Shirabu looks over at Washijou. “I want to choose my partner.”
Washijou purses his lips. “I’ll allow it, but I must approve of whoever it is.”
Shirabu doesn’t hesitate. “Semi Eita.”
Ushijima blinks. Considering the display outside the council chambers, he guessed Shirabu would choose Goshiki. However, once he thinks about it, he realizes that Semi is the smarter choice, especially when the young man already has experience with keeping Shirabu in check.
Gima consults the folder in front of him. “According to his testimony and the others, Semi-san was the only one able to subdue Shirabu after his demon energy nearly consumed him. I believe that is a wise choice.”
Washijou nods. “I agree. Semi-san has demonstrated excellent promise in his magic, and he is a mature, well-respected young man.”
Shirabu snorts softly at the word “mature,” but he doesn’t make any protests. Hirota nods at the secretary by the door.
“Please send in Semi Eita.”
Ushijima turns toward the door, as the secretary ushers the young man inside. He approaches the council members warily, stepping onto the podium before them.
“Semi Eita,” Gima says solemnly, folding his hands in front of him once more. “Dean Washijou has proposed a way to keep Shirabu at Shiratorizawa, with full access to his magic.”
Semi’s eyes widen. “You’re letting him come back?”
“Indeed. On one condition: he is to be held accountable by another student. With the use of the Infinite Bond, we hope that his chosen partner will keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t cause harm to himself or others, whether on purpose or accidentally.”
Semi stares. “And . . . you chose me?”
“Shirabu chose you,” Washijou says, nodding to the boy gripping his fingers tightly beside Ushijima.
“This is completely voluntary,” Gima assures him. “But considering your success yesterday, we do believe you are a prime candidate.”
Semi smiles briefly and bows slightly. “Excuse me.”
Turning toward Shirabu, Semi stalks over to the table, losing his smile. He grabs the back of Shirabu’s chair, bending down to put his face close enough to whisper.
“What the fuck are you doing, Shirabu?” he hisses.
Shirabu blinks, his face flushing. “They’ll take away my magic.”
“So you want me to bond myself to you for the rest of my life?”
“We’re going to be a team anyways, aren’t we?”
Ushijima wonders if he should step aside, as it seems like a private conversation. But neither of them has asked him to leave, so he remains where he stands.
“You can have Tendou-san too, I don’t care,” Shirabu says, heatedly, his voice a barely contained whisper. “I just . . . I need you.”
He grabs the lapel of Semi’s uniform jacket, curling his fingers into the material tightly. Semi freezes, glancing down at the hand. He sighs, releasing the back of Shirabu’s chair in order to place his hand over the one clutching him.
“Shirabu . . .”
“I’m not trying to take you away from him, I promise,” Shirabu says, his voice less hostile now, as he stares dolefully at Semi’s hand covering his. “You just . . . you’ve seen me. I . . . trust you.”
“What about Goshiki?” Semi asks, softening his tone as well.
Shirabu shakes his head. “He’s not strong enough.”
Semi smirks. “Don’t let him hear you say that.”
“I don’t mean magically. He’s just . . . he’s not ready to see me.”
“He wants to.”
“What are you going to tell him about this?”
Shirabu sighs. “I don’t know.”
“He thinks you like him.”
“. . . But?”
Shirabu looks at their hands once more, frowning. “It’s complicated.”
“Gentlemen, is there a problem?” Hirota asks pointedly.
Semi glances toward the council. “No ma’am,” he says, as he straightens, taking Shirabu’s hand from his jacket. He holds it, as he turns to catch Ushijima’s gaze. “What do you think?” he asks. “Should I do it?”
Ushijima blinks, surprised by the question. “It is not my decision to make.”
Semi smirks. “I’d like your opinion anyway.”
Ushijima takes a moment to think. He can’t truly begin to understand the bond shared between the seven. It’s something he’s never experienced. But he can see the affection between them, the loyalty. And though he’s certainly not an expert on relationships, he’s observed how much Tendou cares for Semi, how much Semi cares for both Tendou and Shirabu, and how much Shirabu cares for both Semi and Goshiki.
“I do not believe a bond between two people necessarily cancels out any other bonds,” he says slowly. “I have observed your group for a few weeks now, and I do not think this spell will ruin anything between any of you.” He looks down at Shirabu’s hand in Semi’s. “Shirabu is a powerful witch. With you by his side, he will be capable of great things.”
Semi glances between them briefly before turning to the council.
“I’ll do it.”
Gima beckons to them. “Please approach the table.”
Shirabu stands, and the two of them step forward. Ushijima looks to their joined hands, watching with a strange twinge in his chest, as Semi laces his fingers through Shirabu’s. He slowly flexes his own hand, as Gima leaves his place at the council table to stand before the two young witches.
“You understand the responsibilities we are placing on you,” he says to Semi.
Semi glances at Shirabu. “I was already practically babysitting him, so I doubt it’ll make much of a difference.”
“I don’t need babysitting,” Shirabu retorts. “This is just in case I lose control again. But I won’t, so don’t worry.”
“Oh, really? I distinctly remember you saying how much you needed me.”
“Shut up,” Shirabu flushes red.
Gima purses his lips. “We can assign you a different partner.”
“Don’t bother. I wouldn’t wish this kid on my worst enemy,” Semi says, shaking his head.
“You’re so annoying,” Shirabu complains.
“You asked for me, remember?”
“Gentleman, if you’re ready,” Gima says, impatience slipping into his tone.
The two young men fall silent, and Semi shifts closer to Shirabu, as Gima raises his hands. He begins to speak, and tendrils of golden magic begin to curl around Semi and Shirabu, weaving together to make a cocoon. Ushijima’s never bonded with anyone, so he can’t imagine how it feels to have your aura stitched together with someone else’s. He wonders if it’s painful or if there’s a sense of completion.
The magic fades, as Gima completes the spell. The two step apart, observing each other and themselves.
“I don’t really feel any differently,” Semi admits.
“Me neither,” Shirabu says, frowning. He glances over at Gima. “Did you do it right?”
Gima frowns. “I’m not known for my ineptitude.”
“I could take a trip out of town. See if it makes you sick,” Semi offers with a faint smirk.
Shirabu scowls at him. “Don’t be a dick.”
“Don’t be a brat.”
Washijou stands. “If that is all, Gima-san, I have a school to return to.”
“Yes, take your students and go,” Gima says, waving him off. “But if we hear of another incident like before, we will not hesitate to put a stop to it, permanently.” He gives Semi and Shirabu a pointed look.
“It won’t happen again,” Semi says, nudging Shirabu beside him. “Right?”
Shirabu shakes his head. “No, sir.”
Semi and Shirabu turn to leave, but before Ushijima can follow, Washijou takes his elbow.
“I want you to stick around for a few days,” he tells him in a low voice. “Keep an eye on those two.”
Ushijima blinks. “You advocated for Semi Eita. Do you not believe he is proficient enough to subdue Shirabu if he losing control again?”
“I just want to make sure all is well before I send off my best graduate,” Washijou says, patting his shoulder. “You don’t have any urgent assignments to complete, do you?”
Ushijima shakes his head. “No, sir.”
“I look forward to hearing your final report.”
Ushijima makes his way toward the door, not entirely sure what to think. He thought perhaps a clean break would be best. Separating himself from this group before leaving them becomes more difficult seems like the best course of action. With nothing to investigate, what is there left to do? Spend more time with Tendou?
Not that that thought doesn’t appeal to him, but what happens when he has to leave again? He won’t be able to take Tendou with him. And he can’t give up his life as a Hunter to be a teacher. That’s not his passion. Hunting is in his blood. He’ll grow impatient if he can’t do what he feels he was born to do.
But will Tendou understand that?
He’s never had this dilemma before. His path has always been clear: advance to the next class, become the best Hunter he can be. He’s never taken the time to develop relationships, to perhaps see what more there is to life besides Hunting. It’s not until he came back here, saw what he could have, if he wants it badly enough, that he’s started longing for something more.
He sees the way Semi and Shirabu continue to hold hands as they leave the room. And when he finally steps back out into the hall, he sees the group excitedly exclaiming over Shirabu, congratulating him on his return to Shiratorizawa. None of them seem concerned over the fact that he and Semi are under an Infinite Bond spell. But that makes sense, to Ushijima. It’s like he said before, they all already have that bond.
“So, like, how does this bonding thing work?” Yamagata asks, as they make their way out of the building. “Can you read each other’s minds or something?”
“No,” Shirabu says, sharply, though he glances sidelong at Semi, as though to check.
Semi shakes his head. “I’m not entirely sure of how it works, but I think I’ll just be more aware of his presence and be able to sense if he’s losing control, so I can be there to talk him down.”
“Congratulations on your new fatherhood, SemiSemi,” Tendou drawls, draping his arm across Semi’s shoulders.
“You’re hilarious,” Semi says, rolling his eyes.
“I know I am,” Tendou grins. “If you need any parenting tips, you know where to find me.”
“Oh, yeah? Who’s your child?”
“Why, Goshiki, of course!” Tendou says, reaching out to ruffle Goshiki’s hair. “Isn’t that right, son?”
“Yes!” Goshiki exclaims, though he appears confused. “Um, son?”
Tendou cackles, as Reon shakes his head. Ushijima tags along behind the group, as the conversation shifts to what might be for dinner when they get back. Before they reach the shuttle, Tendou separates from the group, falling back to walk beside Ushijima.
“So, what’s next for the Great Ushijima Wakatoshi?” he asks with a grin.
Ushijima looks over at him. “Dean Washijou has requested I stay a few more days to make sure Shirabu is truly subdued.”
Tendou’s face brightens and he gasps, hands flying to clasp his cheeks. “Does this mean we can finally have our coffee date?”
Ushijima looks forward, watching as Semi climbs into the shuttle with Shirabu at his side. The knot in his stomach twists tighter. “My time here is limited. Would it not be in your best interest to pursue a more realistic goal?”
Tendou follows his gaze. “You mean SemiSemi? I’ve already got that one in the bag, Miracle Boy. That has nothing to do with us.”
Ushijima nods. “I see,” he replies, though he doesn’t really.
Tendou laughs. “I’ll explain it to you later. At the party tonight!”
Ushijima blinks. “Party?”
“An intimate get together. My place. After dinner. We need to celebrate Shirabu’s victory.”
Ushijima hesitates. His instincts tell him this is a bad idea. He should leave before he gets any more involved with Tendou Satori.
He knows now that the young man has the ability to break his heart. Ushijima has let his guard down around him too many times already. To open himself up more would be folly.
And yet . . .
“Very well. I will attend.”
“Awesome,” Tendou beams.
Ushijima walks into a scene similar to the one he saw the first time he attended one of Tendou’s “parties”. The group sits in a circle, passing drinks and snacks back and forth. Music plays from a phone left among the snacks in the center of the circle. They look up when Ushijima steps through the door. Tendou grins and waves for him to take a seat next to him in the space they left. On his other side sits Semi, with Shirabu beside him, Goshiki beside him, and Yamagata and Kawanishi after that. Reon sits on the other side of the open space, and when Ushijima settles between him and Tendou, the young man gives him a smile.
“Welcome to the party,” he says, handing him a beer.
Ushijima takes it with a grateful nod.
“We were just talking about our plans for graduation,” Reon continues, looking around the circle. “Unfortunately, we have to wait until Goshiki and Kawanishi graduate before we can fully form our team, but we’re discussing how to network among the witches already in the field. Start getting the word out that there’s a new squad about to hit the streets.”
“Semi suggested putting up posters, like a nerd,” Yamagata laughs.
Semi huffs. “It’s a good idea.”
“Ever heard of Twitter and Facebook?” Shirabu asks, smirking.
Ushijima blinks. He’s never thought of using Twitter and Facebook to network. Before everyone knew his name, he simply handed out business cards. He takes a sip of beer, willfully ignoring the way Tendou keeps glancing at him.
“I have a Twitter!” Goshiki exclaims. “I follow a bunch of Hunters. I can ask them how they started out and if they can give us tips!”
Shirabu rolls his eyes. “You’ll just annoy them to death.”
“That’s a great idea, Goshi-chan,” Tendou assures him with a grin. “You can be our intrepid reporter gathering all the info on how to make it big in the Hunting World.”
“How are people going to get in contact with all of us?” Kawanishi asks, frowning. “I’m not going to give out my private number to everyone in Miyagi and Tokyo.”
“We should get a single number which one of us will carry to take calls and then use it to contact the others,” Reon says with a nod.
“Cool, cool,” Tendou says with a nod. “I nominate Reon to be captain.”
“Shouldn’t Ushijima-san be captain?” Goshiki asks, raising his hand.
Everyone turns to look at Ushijima. He stares back at them, wondering what just happened.
“You wish for me to be on your team?” he asks, thinking he must have missed something.
“Well, duh,” Tendou says with a grin. “Why do you think we keep inviting you to our group sessions? To admire your chiseled features?”
“That’s definitely a bonus,” Yamagata chimes in.
“Gross,” Kawanishi complains.
“Don’t worry, Taichi-kun. I think you’re prettier.” Yamagata bats his eyelashes at his roommate.
Kawanishi rolls his eyes.
Ushijima looks down at the beer bottle in his hand. What they’re offering him . . . he’s never had anything like it before. He’s always been fine on his own. He’s always worked best alone. Then again, how does he truly know he won’t do even better with this group of talented, loyal, and powerful individuals?
His parents raised him to be independent. They wanted him to be a powerful hunter, like his father. He learned at an early age to not rely on anyone. He hasn’t needed anyone.
But he wants this. This feeling of camaraderie, of trust and affection. He’s never had this before, and here they are offering it to him. Despite the fact that he fought against Shirabu. Despite the fact that he allowed Tendou to be locked away in that bubble. Despite the fact that he abandoned Tendou back when they were children, never looking back as he rose through the ranks.
He turns to Tendou beside him. “I wish to speak to you privately.”
Tendou grins crookedly. “Sure thing, Miracle Boy.”
Setting down his beer, Ushijima stands, and Tendou does as well. Together, they exit the room and make their way down the hall. Ushijima doesn’t stop in the hallway but continues toward the stairs. Tendou follows, uncharacteristically quiet. Ushijima wonders if the stress from the day has gotten to him.
He leads Tendou outside. The stars are visible once more; the dark sky covered with them. A cool breeze ripples through the courtyard, and Ushijima buttons his jacket slowly. He steps toward the fountain, standing beside it. Tendou hops on top of it, walking along the wide concrete wall.
“Whatcha want to talk about?” he asks.
Ushijima watches him. “None of you seem to mind the fact that Shirabu is half-demon.”
Tendou grins at him over his shoulder. “That surprises you?”
Ushijima pauses in thought. He supposes it doesn’t. “You are all very close.”
“True that,” Tendou says. He spins around, holding up his hands and creating a frame with his fingers. He peers through it at the stars, closing one eye as though to see more clearly. “I foresee a great orgy in our future.” He cracks up, then, laughing at his own joke.
Ushijima waits. Considering their closeness, he wouldn’t be surprised if something of that nature happened. That strange ache enters his chest again.
“Okay, but seriously,” Tendou says, wiping away tears of mirth and starting to walk the wall of the fountain once more. “We know Shirabu. We’ve lived with him for eight years, ever since the kid came to Shiratorizawa. He’s one of us. So what if he’s a little bit demon? Nobody’s perfect.” He shrugs.
“Yet you do not know me,” Ushijima remarks, getting to his point.
Tendou pauses, turning once more to look at him. “Is that what this is about?”
Ushijima blinks. “I left you behind. You found this group without me. Why do you wish for me to join it now?”
“Why do you think?” Tendou asks, hopping off the fountain.
Ushijima looks at him. “I would not ask if I knew.”
Tendou grins. “I want to know you, Miracle Boy. I’ve missed you. You were my first friend. You never told me to leave you alone even though I talked your ear off about things you probably didn’t even care about.” He steps closer, looking Ushijima in the eye.
Ushijima stares back at him, meeting his gaze and feeling that unfamiliar warmth build slowly inside him. Tendou tilts his head.
“I was a weird kid, but you didn’t mind. I liked you. I was really upset when you left. Then Semi came along and things got better, but . . . I honestly never stopped thinking about you. Probably should’ve tried seeking you out or calling you or something but . . . I figured you’d forgotten all about me.” Tendou shrugs nonchalantly, but his eyes drift to the side.
“That is true,” Ushijima admits, though he’s not proud to say it. “I did forget. But when I saw you again, I remembered. I remembered how you became my friend, even though none of the other children bothered to try. I did not mind being alone, but your company was still welcome. I enjoyed it. I still do.”
Tendou peers back at him. “So you’re going to join our team?” he asks, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.
Ushijima nods. “I do not wish to leave you behind again.”
Tendou smirk shifts to a grin. Before he can say anything, however, Ushijima cuts him off with a lifted hand.
“However, I will need to leave once my three days are up. I am a Hunter, not a teacher.”
Tendou nods. “I can respect that.” He lifts his arms, folding his arms behind his head. “Don’t think I’m not going to call you, though, this time. I’m not about to let you slip through my talented fingers again.”
Ushijima nods. “I will not answer calls during my assignments. But I will enjoy speaking to you more regularly.” He tilts his head. “Perhaps you can continue that story you told me in the shuttle. About the superhero academy.”
Tendou beams. “Absolutely! I’ll talk your ear off, Miracle Boy, don’t worry.”
“I look forward to it.” It’s the truth. He feels a great sense of relief knowing that he won’t be losing touch with Tendou, despite the time they will be spending apart. He’s glad there are only a few months of schooling left until exams start. After that, they’ll receive their licenses and graduate from the academy.
“Let’s go tell the others the good news! Goshiki’s going to lose his shit,” Tendou says with a cackle. “He’s totally convinced he’s going to best you one day.”
Ushijima nods. “So he’s said.”
He turns toward the building they just left, but a hand on his arm stalls him. He turns to look back at Tendou, waiting.
“Just so you’re aware, my interest in you isn’t entirely platonic,” Tendou says with a sheepish half-smile. “Is that cool?”
Ushijima studies him. “Yet your interest in Semi Eita is . . .”
“Oh, I’m totally interested in him too,” Tendou says, his smile widening to a grin. “Giant orgy, remember?”
Ushijima blinks. He hadn’t realized Tendou had been including him in that analogy. “So you wish to have us both.”
“Now you’re getting it.” Tendou holds up his hands, forming a heart. He pats it against his chest. “The heart wants what the heart wants. I can’t hurt its feelings by denying it the two best people in my life.”
“And Semi is all right with this arrangement?”
Tendou nods. “He totally knows how I feel about you. I don’t think he cares. Besides, he’s got a thing for Shirabu himself. Giant orgy, Ushijima. Please keep up.”
Tendou’s grin slips. “What?”
Ushijima touches the side of Tendou’s face, cradling it lightly in his palm. “Call me Wakatoshi.”
“Ah geez,” Tendou says, his face growing warm beneath Ushijima’s hand. “Now you got me feeling all mushy inside.”
Ushijima lets his hand fall away. “We should return. I have a few suggestions on how you can start your team once you graduate.”
Tendou’s eyes light up. “Oh really? Awesome. We totally don’t know what we’re doing.”
Ushijima nods, walking back toward the dormitories. Tendou follows, whistling brightly, hands folded behind his head once more.
“Where will you live once you graduate?” Ushijima asks, once they reach the dorm room. “Your mother is institutionalized. You do not have a home.”
Tendou waves him off. “That’s all settled. I’m going to stay with SemiSemi.”
He says this as he opens the door, and Semi looks up from his spot on the floor. “You’re going to what?”
“I was just telling Wakatoshi-kun how we’re going to be roommates after we graduate,” Tendou says, flopping next to him.
“I’ve never agreed to that,” Semi says, shaking his head.
“Awww, come on SemiSemi,” Tendou says, draping himself across Semi’s shoulders. “You don’t want to leave your best friend-slash-boyfriend homeless. Even you aren’t that heartless.”
Semi flushes. “I’m not heartless at all, you bastard,” he says, trying to elbow Tendou off him. He doesn’t protest the boyfriend label, however.
“Yay! I’ll submit my change of address forms!”
“Wakatoshi?” Reon repeats questioningly, as Ushijima resumes his position beside him.
“Yes,” he replies simply.
“What about Shirabu-san? He doesn’t have a home either,” Goshiki says.
Shirabu nudges him. “Shut up. I’ll be fine.”
Yamagata snickers. “I think he’s going to need to move in with Semi too. Considering he can’t exactly live too far from him.”
Semi throws up his hands. “Ugh. Why doesn’t everyone come live with me, then?”
“Cool, thanks Semi!” Yamagata says.
Semi shoots him a glare.
“It actually would be a good idea to get a place together,” Reon muses.
“You mean I have to live with you guys for the rest of my life?” Kawanishi asks, wrinkling his nose.
“Don’t act like you don’t love us,” Tendou says, shaking his finger at Kawanishi.
“I was going to suggest you all stay at my house,” Ushijima admits.
Everyone turns to look at him.
“No, shit, really?” Yamagata’s eyes are wide.
Ushijima nods. “My house is empty. My parents travel throughout Japan as Hunters. I travel often as well. I believe it is large enough to accommodate everyone.”
“Awesome! We’ll have our own headquarters!” Yamagata pumps the air with his fist.
“I’ll create our theme song,” Tendou says gleefully.
“I want to make our logo!” Goshiki exclaims.
“What are we, a league of superheroes?” Kawanishi asks, rolling his eyes.
“I believe that label is appropriate,” Ushijima says.
“Fine, then I get to pick the codenames,” Semi says.
“No way, you’ll come up with something totally lame!” Tendou counters.
“Well, you’re not choosing them. You’ll name us after anime characters!”
As the group dissolves into playful bickering and scheming, Ushijima picks up his beer. For the first time it doesn’t feel as though he’s sitting on the outside looking in. He’s a part of this now. He looks over at Tendou, waving his hands in Semi and Shirabu’s faces, as he tries to convince them he can come up with “totally wicked codenames.” He can’t help the smile that curves his lips, as that warmth starts to settle in his chest.
It doesn’t feel as unfamiliar, now. They’ve put it there. This team. This family.
Tendou and his team do move into Ushijima's house, and when Goshiki and Kawanishi graduate they join them. The group becomes famous throughout Japan as the only Demon Hunter squad comprised of more than four members. They grow stronger, together, and it becomes common for the larger, more dangerous hunting assignments to be passed to them. Their record continues to be spotless.
Despite the council's fears, Shirabu remains loyal to his group, and even as he grows stronger in his magic and in controlling his demon energy, he's always deferred to their captain, Ushijima.
Goshiki and Ushijima hold frequent duels at their estate, and though Goshiki has yet to overthrow Ushijima, everyone can see the young man has the makings of a true ace in his field.
Ushijima, Tendou, Semi, Shirabu, and Goshiki never declare themselves an "official" poly-unit, but it is clear to everyone they encounter that they have something unique and special between them. Yamagata and Kawanishi never get together, but they do remain close friends.
And Reon . . . Reon becomes the unofficial documentary writer of the group, recording every fight, every victory, every award. He and Tendou have plans to create a manga series based off their own missions. He is happily single but says he won't rebuff interested suitors.
They just have to meet his family first.
And so, they all live happily ever after.
Until next time~
(I commissioned the amazing Lissa (ichigomaniac on tumblr, 15_mnc on twitter) to draw a SemiShira from this chapter. It turned out beautifully!)