The blond male gritted his teeth and tried to move his arms but the scissors impaling his wrists bound him firmly to the wall. Pain throbbed through his body, pulsing from where he had been stabbed. Not just his wrists but his ribs, the back of his neck and his feet. Custom made scissors had been left embedded in each wound.
Another, more feeble attempt to break free proved equally unsuccessful. Blood dripped, forming a puddle at his feet, staining his bedroom floor.
Presumably, the flooring was the same in every dorm at Hope’s Peak.
As his pherial vision turned red, it was ambiguous whether the colour was blood or just what everyone experienced if they died slowly and painfully.
Blood consumed him, as red as the eyes on the shadow standing in front of him.
The bright greeting contrasted greatly with Touko’s recollections of her previous night’s dream. It wrenched her soul from the soon-to-be corpse in her grim daydream and plunked her back in her actual body, on a chair at a table in Hope’s Peak’s library.
Which, also, had dim lighting like the location in last night’s dream. Whenever she went to the library later in the day, she resorted to using a desk lamp from the backroom so she could see what she wrote more clearly. One would think an elite academy like this could fix the general lighting here.
Perhaps that was how someone managed to sneak up on her and startle her like that. Touko jerked her head up, instinctively pulling her notebook closer to herself and shielding it with one crooked arm. Surprise soon gave way to annoyance, and she glared up at the culprit, who was Makoto Naegi, one of her classmates and their class president.
He raised his hands with an apologetic look on his face.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said. She huffed. His fingers curled in a bit and he retracted one hand to cup the back of his neck. “So, um, what are you up to?”
Touko pursed her lips.
“Milking a cow. What does it look like I’m doing?” she retorted. She squinted at him. “I should be the one asking you that, what with you creeping up on a young woman like that...”
Makoto tensed and took his hand off his neck.
“I didn’t really creep. You were preoccupied with whatever you’re writing and must have not realised until I spoke up,” he told her.
She eyed him. He peered past her arm at her notebook.
“You get really into your writing, don’t you?” he said in a light tone, like he was actually interested.
Touko dragged her arm toward her so it lay over her open notebook, rather than around it.
“We’ve been in the same class for half a year, and you’re just realising that about me?” she asked with a sneer.
What gave it away? Her title of ‘Super High School Literary Girl’?
He gave a vague shrug that barely shifted enough to constitute as one.
“Well, yeah, but we haven’t really spoken much before the past few weeks,” he said.
“And you think I don’t see that as suspicious? I’ve noticed that too. You must have a motive. Speak.” She clenched her teeth. “Or I’ll scream.”
Touko didn’t say that threat loudly, but it still caused Makoto to twitch like he touched a hot stove. He waved his hands frantically.
“I’m not scheming anything, honest! I just want to become better friends with you,” he promised.
Makoto may as well have poured icy water all over her. She jolted and threw back her head, staring. He blinked.
“You said it!” she said, wide-eyed. “The eff word! I don’t want to eff with you!”
Several people turned to face them. Most of them quirked their brows and most gave Makoto dirty looks.
“I said friends!” Makoto insisted, dispelling a few accustory glares. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t clear the grey cloud over Touko’s features. She scowled.
“I’m not an idiot,” she told him. “What initiation do I have to go through to be socially accepted as your ‘friend’? Steal? Run around nude?”
“None of those things,” he said quickly, breaking into a sweat. He scratched his cheek. “Um... how about we study together? Is that okay? We can even do it here, so... um... I can’t do anything bad without everyone seeing.”
“Everyone seeing wouldn’t undo anything bad you did,” Touko grumbled. She shuffled in her chair, scrunching her brow, and though her first thought was to dismiss him, she considered his offer.
While she didn’t need to study with him, and if she did require a study partner, an average guy like him wouldn’t rank high on her list of options, should he have been up to something then she would be more likely to figure it out with him in front of her rather than with him lurking in the background. He was the sort of simple person whose thoughts could be read on their face. Touko licked her lips, trying to show as little tongue as possible. Yes, that was how she would rationalise this.
“But... I suppose... I can let you share my table,” she conceded. She straightened and added, “Don’t distract me though, or try to flirt with me. I’ll know it’s a prank, and my heart belongs only to Byakuya-sama, so you’d just be wasting your time.”
Makoto nodded slowly, processing what she said, then sat down and placed his school bag on his lap. He got out a textbook, pencil case and notepad, tucked his school bag under the table and worked through their maths homework.
Touko returned to her notebook and began writing again. In her novel, the protagonist clashed with her mysterious classmate in the library, both of them keen writers but of completely different genres. One, mystery, and the protagonist, romance.
His blue eyes pulled the protagonist in, and as Touko went on to compare the density of the tension between them to wet clay, she remembered that the classmate was supposed to have green eyes.
As the day drew toward its end, people filtered in and out of the library. By the time night had got comfortable, other than Touko, only one other student was still in the library. Closing her notebook, she slunk over to a bookcase and poked her head out from behind it.
Her heart sang. There he was, sat at that table in the library. Touko had calculated that the likelihood of Byakuya sitting there was three fifths, unless someone already claimed that table, in which case he situated himself at one over there, or that one, depending on which tables were occupied. He preferred to sit alone.
As for how he sat, he was prone to crossing one leg over the other and holding his book with one hand. His other could pick up his cup of coffee at his leisure, and -
“Oi. You,” he said, looking right at her. From where he sat, he could only have seen her head, the rest of her body obscured by the shelving unit that she had been peeking around.
“You’ve been loitering here for a while... and you stink.” Byakuya wrinkled his nose. “Go douse yourself in water. You’re making this whole place reek... Begone with you.”
Touko trembled, then gave a nod, bit her lip and trudged out. As soon as she left the library, she hugged herself... and giggled.
He told her that she stunk, and that she should bathe... so he must have truly cared about her!
She hugged harder.
Her study session with Makoto turned out to be the first of a series of study sessions. At the start, they barely talked, apart from a few attempts when Makoto either asked for her help or commented on a topic that her one-word replies would stomp into the ground.
“It looks like it might rain,” he remarked in early spring, in regards to the grey sky outside.
“Hmph,” she went.
Touko absolutely was not attracted to him, but if anything, she appreciated his honesty. Over the course of these study sessions, she came to suss out that what she saw really was what he was: a young man from an ordinary high school, who only attended this academy for students with high-class talents because he won a lottery, randomly selected out of every high school student in Japan. For this, he had been bestowed the title of ‘Super High School Level Good Luck’.
Everyone else in the academy had a talent that they were outstanding at. Hers, for example, was ‘Literary Girl’, and as a writer whose works frequently released to become rapid best sellers, and who had read as much as she did, this title could fit no one more than it did her. Then there were others, like gambler, swimmer, soldier and doujin artist, and for her classmate, Byakuya Togami, there was heir.
But that title was misleading. While he had been born into the family, he had to earn the right to be heir, the right to exist as the next head of the family. That was what he had confided to her some time ago and since then, she had gravitated toward him. She didn’t always speak to him, but he must have known whenever she was hanging about but allowed her to, as there were times when he would say nothing. When he wanted her gone, he always said. Take a bath. You’re being an eyesore. Your breathing is too noisy.
“Your writing must keep you busy,” Makoto remarked. “I mean, if people all over the world read your work, there must be a high demand.”
She glanced up.
“I’m serialised, so I’m kept busy, yes,” she stated, and she lowered her gaze back to her notebook. “When I’m not writing, I’m reading or studying. I’m not an idiot like you.”
Touko was about to write again when she realised what she said and brought a thumb to her mouth. She looked up. He was frowning. A knot formed in her stomach.
“Ah, I said that without thinking,” she said, cringing. “Now, you’re going to pour orange juice through my shoe locker or lead a mob into tying me against gym equipment...”
Makoto gave a sheepish smile.
“I’m not going to do any of those things. Don’t worry, compared to you, I probably am sort of an idiot,” he admitted. He clasped his hands together on the table. “So, um, what about socialising? How do you find time to do that?”
She glared. “I don’t.”
And he didn’t have to ask why.
“Sorry.” He squirmed under her intense gaze. “Um... you must have to come up with a lot of ideas. When you write, how much of it do you base on your life? Do you have to make up a lot of it?”
Touko snarled, and he cowered a little. She gritted her teeth.
“Are you serious? All my writing... is based on fantasy!” Touko hissed, and she clutched her head. The library seemed to cave in on her. “Argh, now I’m remembering... bad experiences...”
“Fukawa-san, I didn’t mean to,” he claimed, and peeking at him, she saw his mouth hanging open, his brow creased pitifully.
Her fingers dug into her hair. She breathed loudly and gulped.
“Don’t get the wrong idea though,” she said with her gaze averted, still feeling on edge. “You know, even I have had romantic experience. A guy in another class in junior high asked me out on a date, and I took the responsibility of choosing the venue. Movies are a good first date, right?”
He didn’t say anything.
“Right?” Touko said, raising her voice.
“R-Right!” he agreed. “That makes perfect sense.”
She placed her hands onto the table and focused on them. Her nails had been bitten short.
“Movies give you something to talk about afterwards, and we couldn’t just see a kid’s movie. We needed something action packed,” she carried on, fiddling absentmindedly with her pen. “So we decided to check out a Seijun Suzuki triple feature. Tokyo Drifter, Fighting Elegy, and my personal favourite, Branded to Kill. Any guy would love to watch those, right?”
Touko’s eyes flitted up to him. Makoto looked blank. She ogled him.
“You don't know who Seijun Suzuki is?” she blurted. He tilted his head, his slack expression unchanged. That said it all. “He’s one of cinema's greatest innovators! Known for his eccentric vision and unique aesthetic. You seriously don’t know him?”
Makoto blinked, then stooped his head in embarrassment.
“Those might be a bit too obscure for people our age,” he said with a goofy smile. Touko pressed her lips together tightly.
“If you’re going to be smug, get it over with now because he disappeared right in the middle of the first movie,” she ground out. She clenched her fists so hard that the whole of her arms tensed, and kind of hurt. “Then again, he had just lost a bet... and had to ask me out as his punishment... so I doubt he was ever interested at all.”
He sat back in his chair with a start.
“You did all that... and he left?” said Makoto with disbelief.
“Yes!” Touko raked her fingers through her hair, dishevelling her already bedraggled braids. “I spent three consecutive nights concocting that idea. Even my childhood friend, after I wrote him a love confession, pinned it to a noticeboard for everyone to ridicule.”
Makoto stared. “That’s awful!”
Touko already knew that. He didn’t have to tell Touko. Her chest twinged. She embraced herself roughly.
All these years later, she could still revisit those scenes like watching them on video. Their laughter swirled around her as she drowned in their noise, ringing in her ears. They tossed her about to each other like she was a ragdoll, and once bored, threw her in the mud and left her all alone until someone trampled on her.
“It’s all coming back to me... Argh, this is your fault!” She screwed her eyes up and shook her head. “Are you recording this secretly? Are you planning on turning me into a meme?”
He extended a hand toward her. “No, I-”
“Just... stop talking,” she said, trembling, and he did.
For as long as Touko could remember, she hadn’t eaten a meal with anyone. Not at school, where she either ate alone at her desk or in a secluded part of the school, and certainly not at home with her father, her mother and her mother. Hope’s Peak boasted a large cafeteria, run by professional chefs and the Super High School Level Cook.
Entering the cafeteria, she intended to get herself something to eat and bring it back with her to her room, rather than prepare herself something. A day had passed since her last study session with Makoto, during which time she had barely eaten, and now the pangs in her stomach had grown too uncomfortable to ignore.
She lined up, retrieved her meal, and was halfway across the cafeteria when she caught sight of Byakuya. Now, while seeing him wasn’t anything unusual for her, what was unusual was that he wasn’t alone, and that the person with him was one of the last people that she would expect Byakuya to associate with.
“Here’s your coffee, Togami-kun,” said someone who was not Touko but should have been. The speaker was Makoto, the same person who instigated their study sessions. “I did everything that you asked me to.”
Makoto passed a cup and saucer to Byakuya, who received it without giving thanks. After a moment’s hesitation, Makoto sat opposite him, even though there were a lot of other tables and a lot of chairs in the cafeteria. He pulled his bag onto his lap and got out a can of soda called Hetap.
“I didn’t expect a cup of coffee to require so much work,” said Makoto with a faint grin. His can hissed as he tweaked the tab to open it.
Touko sat at a nearby table and balled her hands into fists, turning her knuckles white. If that had been Touko sat opposite Byakuya, she wouldn’t have complained. She would have happy to brew him coffee to his liking.
“Brewing it on a saucepan elicits the best taste above all other methods,” said Byakuya. He took a sip, then smirked. “Perhaps, next time, when you volunteer your services, you will realise that it requires more than an empty gesture to satisfy me.”
“Services,” Makoto mouthed. If he actually said it, Touko didn’t hear, because the hum of voices in the cafeteria blocked him out. She heard what he said next though. “I wasn’t offering you my services. I offered to get us drinks because that’s what friends do.”
The noise in the cafeteria didn’t subside, but when Byakuya’s features darkened, it was like the world stopped for a moment.
“Friends? We’re not friends,” he scoffed. “As if I would be friends with someone like you, an ordinary, boring person who only attends this school because he won a lottery. Your only reason to exist is to act as comparison point to everyone else here.”
Makoto winced. “That’s... That’s not very nice.”
“I’m not trying to be nice. Listen closely. I don’t need friends,” said Byakuya. He set down his coffee. The contents sloshed, but didn’t spill out. “You’re wasting air that could be breathed by more worthwhile people, so stop talking. Or even stop breathing.”
Touko’s skin tingled.
“That’s... That’s unnecessarily harsh, Togami-kun!” Makoto cried out.
Byakuya pushed up his glasses, unmoved.
“I’m not here to make friends. As you can’t seem to shut up, then get lost,” said Byakuya, and he only glanced up once after Makoto had risen and heaved himself away.
The only other person Touko knew with a level of honesty like Makoto was their classmate, Byakuya. But it wasn’t the same. With Makoto, he came with a simplicity, an inability to deceive, or maybe a heart incapable of doing so. A rare thing. However, Byakuya, in Touko’s eyes, was far more multifaceted, with many layers to him. Like... Like an onion. And if one was to peel him back, they would discover more. If one was to take off his layers, like his shoes, tie, shirt, pants...s-socks... underwear-!
“Fukawa-san, you’re drooling,” said Makoto, a week after the scene in the cafeteria.
Touko stirred as the images of Byakuya in various states of undress dissolved and her plain-looking classmate appeared in front of her. Her wistful expression melted off her face as Byakuya’s blond hair crumbled away like sand.
She fluttered her lashes and looked down. A spot of drool stained an open page in her notebook, and Touko pulled up her jacket sleeve to cover most of her palm so she could dab at the damp patch.
Makoto rested his cheek in his palm, elbow on the table like a mannerless barbarian, and watched her with a small, restrained smile.
“You must have got to a riveting part of your story, huh?” he teased, and she flinched.
“W-Where did this burst of confidence come from?” she asked, shooting him a wary look.
He folded his arms against the table.
“Well, it’s natural. We’ve become closer as friends, right?” he said.
Touko inhaled sharply. The eff word again! It still caught her off-guard every time. She slouched and bit her lip, contorting the shape of her grimace.
“If you must know, I’ve been struggling to write lately,” she said. Her shoulders curled forward. “And... And it’s your fault.”
Makoto pointed at himself. “Me? How? What did I do?”
Touko straightened and wagged her finger at him.
“Ever since you reminded me... of those old wounds...!” she said, trailing off, but the fire in her eyes flickered on.
“You mean when that boy pinned your confession to a noticeboard?” said Makoto. “And when you were asked out on a dare?”
She wheezed and flailed her arms in front of her.
“Why are you saying it out loud?” she shrieked. A few people glanced, but by this point, most of them had grown used to it and seemed more annoyed that startled. “I told you in confidence, but yes! That! And.... it’s not just you. It’s everyone. Ever since that... school trip... you’ve all been on my mind. Now I can’t get into the right frame of mind... not when I’m happy.”
Makoto furrowed his brow. “So you’re upset about being happy?”
“Yes!” She clutched her cheeks, close to wailing. “I can’t write anymore... and besides, whenever I try to write a love interest, all I can think of is one person.”
And that person was Byakuya-sama. To think there had been a time when he just annoyed her, with his uppity attitude and good looks. After all, she had assumed, his handsome appearance must have been balanced out by a rotten personality. Some people would have agreed that they balanced after meeting him, but in her eyes, he had proven himself as incredible as he made himself out to be. When he had accused her of poisoning a dessert she offered him, it sparked something in her, and it had been like she glimpsed her reflection. Whatever he went through, exactly, that he hadn’t elaborated on to her, that meant he couldn’t trust anyone, that he could be nothing less than he was forced to be in order to survive, that must have taken great strength. Intelligence. Ability.
Byakuya had her hooked, well and truly, but he saw her as nothing more than a worm like how he saw the others in their class. He scorned romance, and other than conversations about books when he was in a neutral mood, she hadn’t shown him her potential, what she was capable of. All he could see was the outer layer of her onion self.
Touko whimpered and buried her head under her arms.
“All my works in progress... doomed!” she lamented. “I’ll have to retire. Become a hermit. And maybe one day, a boy with a monkey tail will visit me...”
“Don’t retire, Fukawa-san!” Makoto said from outside of her fortress of depression. “Your novels are amazing. Why don’t you think about what got you writing in the first place?”
She hesitated. Loneliness. Anger. Love. Despair. Hate.
Her life got her writing.
Over the next week, she wrote more than she had in the past month. She bled ink onto page upon page upon page, extracting her poison as she sat in her room, as she picked at her lunch, as she drove herself to exhaustion long after the sun had set. It became an addiction, and she barely looked up, even at Byakuya, which if she had, she may have noticed him glancing at her more than usual.
When she met up with Makoto again, he sat opposite her and watched her scribble, which she did with no pause, no waver. For a while, he didn’t say anything, until eventually he cleared his throat and shifted on his chair.
“Wow... You’re really inspired. Something exciting must be happening in your story,” he remarked.
She wrote a bit more before stopping, and frowned.
“It is my story, but not in the way you’re thinking,” she said. Makoto’s brow creased, and she explained, “This isn’t fiction... or romance.” Not yet. Maybe. “It’s... my I-Novel.”
His empty stare made her grit her teeth.
“It’s literature of a confessional nature, where the author has experienced the subject matter they’re writing about,” she told him. “The first of their kind are believed to be by Shimazaki Tōson and Tayama Katai in the early twentieth century. You might be more familiar with Naoya Shiga or Osamu Dazai.”
Judging by his face, he was not. He nodded anyway.
“So like an autobiography?” he said.
A beat passed.
“Sure,” she replied. She averted her gaze, fidgeting her hands. “It’s... not like my other novels. Those are built on delusions that only someone as downtrodden as me can visualise in true, full beauty. This is my very essence.”
Makoto watched her wordlessly. Touko stared down at her notebook. In the recesses of her mind, she could hear her class in elementary school laughing at the confession note that her sweetheart had pinned up for all to read and enjoy. She felt Makoto’s eyes bore into her, burning, and her hands shook.
With a deep breath, she hesitantly passed the green notebook that she had been writing it in to him.
“Here. Read it,” she said, eyes downcast. “I’ll trust you... as a friend, and you did inspire me to write it, so yeah.”
Touko waited and felt him take it from her grasp. After a few seconds, when she was sure that he was reading it, she lifted her gaze.
He read slowly, trudging through the prose, but not because he struggled to understand, or because he couldn’t concentrate. A minute later, he was still reading, his mouth ajar, and when he finally looked up, he had to tear his gaze away with great reluctance.
“That... was incredible,” he said in awe, seeming on the edge of laughing for lack of other reaction. “It flowed perfectly, and I could see everything... like I was there. I could hear every breath, smell my own sweat... reading it... makes my heart feel really heavy... but I can’t not!”
Makoto was trembling. Her lips twitched into a smirk.
“It's going to b-become a shocking masterpiece that'll change the face of the I-Novel f-forever!” she told him. She raised a fist, stars in her eyes. “My novel will be dissected... but... more importantly... there will be people who can understand my pain, and reading my journey... will be given hope and strength to carry on.”
“Wow, Fukawa-san... I don’t know what to say,” he said, saying something, but she appreciated the sentiment. He passed the notebook back. “You need to publish this. People need to read this. When it’s ready... and you’re ready, of course.”
Touko’s head tipped back down slowly, and the glimmer in her eyes collapsed into black holes. She hugged the notebook to her chest. Her heart skipped.
“But what if... people see that about me... and...?” she mumbled.
“To Hell with ‘what if’!” Makoto said, and the unexpected exclamation made her recoil in surprise. She stared at him, dumbfounded. “I’m sorry, Fukawa-san, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to hide any of this. Those who truly care about you won’t judge you harshly. Anyone who does is wrong, and you should forget about them.”
She digested his speech and swallowed. Then, she nodded and stood up, one fist raised.
“Right. I’m ugly... and I’m proud of it!” she announced loudly.
But as Makoto smiled at her, he saw her as anything but.
Hopefully Byakuya would be the same.
Touko continued to work on her I-Novel, spurred on by her determination and Makoto’s encouragement. This sort of thing must have been why the class voted for Makoto to be class president, a person who supported everyone, from Leon’s interest in music despite his talent being listed as baseball player to observing a fence holding competition between Kiyotaka and Mondo after they argued that Mondo had no discipline and Kiyotaka had no spine.
If they were to vote again, and Byakuya wasn’t running, Touko thought she would vote for Makoto, even if he didn’t have a talent like everyone else here.
She let herself not write for an evening and instead made a visit to the library with a cup in each hand. Soon after entering, she spotted Byakuya, and she walked over and carefully set down one of the saucers, so not to unsettle the dark brown coffee within the cup. Tiny bubbles dotted the amber perimeter of the drink’s surface.
Byakuya didn’t look up then, nor as she sat beside him with a cup of rosehip tea, which had required less stress to brew. Her first attempt at civet coffee boiled and tasted burnt, meaning she had to try again. There was little room for error when it came to taking it off the heat.
“Did you ever finish ‘Out’?” asked Touko. She held her cup in both hands.
“I did. It is a rather gruesome book, wouldn’t you say? For the most part, it was compelling, even if it lagged in places. Though there was no mystery, it kept up the suspense about what would happen next, and I was intrigued by it, but toward the end...”
He trailed off. Touko didn’t respond.
Her rosehip tea was brighter than his coffee.
“The scene between Matsuo and Satake left a sour taste in my mouth,” he said. “It was a graphic torture that one would expect a male writer to describe in such vivid detail, but the writer is a woman.”
She didn’t look up.
“It’s... sadomasochist, isn’t it?” she said quietly. Her thighs squeezed together. “Coming to feel pleasure... at such brutality...”
Byakuya’s chair creaked. He must have adjusted his position. Without having to check, she knew he leaned back, one leg crossed over the other.
“It devolves into torture porn by the resolution,” he said, dripping with disgust.
Touko lifted her head. His posture was just as she predicted.
“It’s a nauseating scene, and after Matsuo murders Satake, she comes to realise that they are both twisted, damaged individuals, and she feels a connection to him despite what he did,” said Touko, cradling her cup. Its surface was smooth. When she spoke again, it quivered. “However, she chooses not to continue on like him, but to travel around and find freedom. She does not let it become an obsession. There is debate on whether it is a feminist novel or not, but regardless, I believe its intended message to be that the actual difference between man and woman is the roles and expectations that society has placed on them, and that they can be equally depraved. It’s psychoanalysis.”
He shifted, putting down his cup and uncrossing his legs. Then he curved his back and rested his cheek in his hand, his elbow on the table.
“That is certainly an interpretation that one could make. I expect nothing less from someone of your talent,” he said, and she thought he was smiling, but if he was, it was very slight. “You’re interesting to talk to, Touko Fukawa. You had me fooled before.”
Her mind drained of all thought, and without realising, the ends of lips climbed up.
Byakuya lifted his head and fixed his glasses.
“I’ve seen photos of crime scenes, and this novel makes even the likes of Genocider Syo look tame,” he said, definitely not grinning anymore. “But, of course, unlike the characters in this book, he’s real.”
Touko’s smile dropped dead. Her blood turned to ice.
“G-Genocider Syo?” she stammered.
“At least, that’s the name given to him online. I don’t just read books, but also case files, and this case has piqued my interest, especially now that I have access to more information on it,” said Byakuya.
He set down his cup and folded his arms over his chest.
“The police have deduced that he spends a long time with his victim, torturing them as their life ebbs away slowly. He uses their own blood to write the message “BLOODSTAIN FEVER” nearby, and he seems to arbitrarily attack people, but that is, it only seems random if you attribute unsolved murders to him. Some claim that his body count lies in the thousands, but I think it’s around thirty. All of his proven victims are male, and, only top-ranking officers know this, but he also crucifies his victims.”
His blue eyes pierced her.
“Did you know the murder weapons are always scissors?” he added.
She didn’t finish her tea.
The scissors glided against his neck, and blood emerged from the fresh wound just as quickly and smoothly, staining the surrounding skin. He let out a cry of pain, which broadened the shark-like grin of the shadow in front of him.
“You sound so cute,” said the shadow, with arms and legs like a human. “But a corpse is a corpse is a corpse... right?”
When he tried to speak, he just gargled.
“You want to speak in tongue?” The shadow cupped his cheek. “Sure thing! I can read braille!”
“Why...” He managed. “Why...?”
“Why? Why am I doing this? Because why does a baker bake? Why does a writer write?”
He stretched out his neck, heaving, and in a hoarse voice, said, “No. Why... are you crying?”
The shadow hesitated. “What?”
And the reflection in his eyes showed it to be true.
Touko rapped her knuckles against the door and then waited. She didn’t know if Byakuya was even in his dorm, but he hadn’t been in the library. Still, they had been in the same class for about a year now, and in that time, she had taken note of his favourite locations and mentally constructed a timetable of his day.
Her hard work paid off. The door finally opened, though only slightly, and Byakuya’s face emerged behind the modest crack.
“What is it?” he asked. She took a deep breath that rattled her bones.
“I... I want you to read this,” she said, showing him the notebook.
Byakuya glanced at it and narrowed his eyes at her. “Why would I want to read one of your romances? Be gone.”
She predicted that he planned to close the door, and she thrust out the book toward him. The door continued shutting, so she wedged her foot forward, and got it in there just in time.
“It’s not a romance,” she said. “I wrote... something else.”
“Oh?” he said, not sounding particularly interested. Touko latched on anyway.
“It’s an I-Novel. I haven’t finished it yet, but... I would like you to read it.”
When she tried pushing the door open wider with her foot, he didn’t stop her, gazing at her.
“And why should I be interested in your life? Do you have a sob story to tell? Do you expect me to pity you?” he asked.
She puffed out her chest and stood her ground. “Byakuya-sama, if... if this... doesn’t... exceed your expectations... then I will never talk to you again.”
“Oh?” he said, again, but now with a note of intrigue. His eyebrows rose a little before he furrowed them again. “Fine. Give it to me...”
Touko didn’t breathe as she handed him the notebook. As they stood there, the two of them, both touching the notebook, thoughts swarmed in her head. Possible things to say, to blurt.
I want to get to know you better. I have feelings for you. I have another personality in me called Genocider Syo. She could kill you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
He tugged on the book, which she now held with a grip that could choke someone.
“Let go of it,” he said.
She met his eyes, and whatever he saw made him freeze.
“I...” love you. “I...” share a body with Genocider Syo. “I hope you find it worth your time, Byakuya-sama.”
Touko smiled. He blinked.
“What’s wrong, Byakuya-sama?” she said, still smiling.
“I don’t understand. You’re smiling, but then... why are you crying?” he asked.
She raised a hand to her cheek. “What?”
And the reflection in his eyes showed it to be true. Touko let go of the notebook, bowed and then hurried away without looking back.
Even though both of them continued to attend classes for the next week, Byakuya didn’t bring up the I-Novel. Whenever her gaze so much as passed over him, the urge to ask him what he thought of it spiked in her, only to ooze and stick to her throat and settle in the pit of her stomach.
She had told him that if it didn’t surpass his expectations that she would never talk to him again, so perhaps that was what had happened. On the next Friday, after classes ended, she slipped out and hid away in her room, shutting the door behind herself. Completely and utterly alone, she dragged herself to her bed and teetered on the spot beside it for a few seconds.
Then she flopped facedown, shaking.
What happened shouldn’t have come across as a shock. After all, her first crush, way back in elementary school, had taken her love letter to him and just before he moved away, pinned it to the noticeboard for everyone for everyone to gawk and laugh at. That letter had been fueled by her love for her only childhood friend, and he went and did that. Broke her heart.
Consequently, he became Genocider Syo’s first victim.
Touko knew this would happen. If she had kept her mouth shut, this wouldn’t have happened.
At some point, she might have fallen asleep, and if she did, she didn’t dream. When she awoke, or at least broke out of her trance, darkness had fallen in her room, and she curled up into a ball.
Before she could fall back asleep, her doorbell rang. Touko jolted up. Not wanting to talk to anyone, she didn’t move, waiting, and enough time passed that she began to think she had imagined the sound, but then it rang again, two presses. She screamed in her head for whoever it was to go away, to let her rot.
“I know you’re in there,” said Byakuya, right outside of her dorm, and she took a moment to realise who it was.
Once she apprehended the reality, the velocity with which she shot up could have blasted her through solid concrete, and she stumbled over to the door. As she opened it, she half-expected to wake up in her bed, but there he was. Very real. Very alive.
Byakuya held up her notebook.
“Let’s talk,” he said.