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if it’s between like and dislike, it’s neither

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Akane’s loathing does not start slow and simple.

It starts as a flame does when kindled, with red flames rising from searing blue cores. It’s kindled when he opens his lunchbox and, from afar, he sees a throng outside the middle-school classroom.

He makes his way towards the ruckus in no time—after all, his desk is two rows away from the door, and he only needs a peek through the doorway to watch.

Outside, past the walls of students, two middle schoolers stand out. One is Ao-chan: brilliant, shining, her hair like midnight and her personality like the spring sky. The scent of flowers from home wafts towards their classroom, still as strong as it has been for the past years. Akane doesn’t need to see her now to believe her beauty: he knows it is there, has known ever since he was a child. The student body does nothing to obstruct her appeal.

But there is another student, who manages to be more suffocated by the crowds than her. Akane leaves the doorway, drifts past Ao-chan’s audience and takes his eyes off of her for a moment. He wedges between some students and looks down—looks up—at someone who he’s never met before. The people around him fawn, swoon, hold papers to sign made of nothing but smooth perforations and names in sparkling ink. The boy smiles, calm even in the faces of day-one hysteria. People offer rings, beads, even their life.

The boy denies them, a simple ‘thank you’ and an outstretched hand composing his entire rejection. He resembles the sun, with rays bent in awkward angles and light covered by great clouds. Yet, Akane can’t help but think that past the patient demeanor, there is something contrary. His eyes don’t reach anyone else’s gaze or presents, and sweat edges on the sides of his head like Icarus’s wings. Akane wonders if this boy is the sun, who burns others, or the one being burnt by it.

Perhaps, he thinks, as he slinks back towards his first-year classroom, the boy is both. For Aoi Akane is far less popular than him, and that in itself is a double-edged sword.


“His name’s Teru Minamoto,” Lemon talks to him. He says it like it’s as ingrained as the beatmap of his Multi Live. “Second-year, middle school division. He’s, like. The most popular guy here. I hear even our seniors are jealous of him.”

“Is there anything else you can tell me?” Akane asks, like he isn’t as scarlatine and feverish over this as they are.

“I think he’s got—” A drumroll of taps on the screen. “A younger brother. He’s like ten. And a baby sister.”

Akane can’t tell if that helps him or not. Whatever the answer is, Lemon’s too busy racking a note combo to hear it.


Everyone is very, very in love with Teru Minamoto, Akane realizes. It takes only a few weeks to process it.

Every Monday, someone falls at his feet. Every Wednesday, a button falls, and someone sews it back into place. There’s no candidness in these events, nothing worth spending fifteen minutes of scrutiny on as Akane passes them in the halls.

Akane learns from the best: Lemon Yamabuki, with two eyes on the gacha and local Twitter at all times; Nene Yashiro, lovebird who flocks to Ao-chan’s side; and Ao-chan herself, popular enough to be on par with the second-year so confusing to him. 

Yamabuki says, first trimester: “Nobody knows why Minamoto-senpai is so popular, but everyone loves him anyways. They think it started last year when he got a love letter on the first week of school and rejected it cooly. Afterwards, people invited him to school activities so they could all get a piece of him. We weren’t there last year, so I guess we’ll never really know, but maybe that’s how he got into the student council.”

Yashiro says, second trimester: “Minamoto-senpai’s just one of the greatest! Don’t tell anyone, but I like him a lot! I know there’s so many other princes, but everyone’s been talking about him this month! It’s just so pretty to see him glittering under the sunlight among the rest of the crowd. You can’t not notice him!”

Ao-chan ends with a soft note in third trimester, after the end of year exams: “Minamoto-senpai’s always ranked first in his class. I hear his teachers love him for being such a stellar student. He always has the correct answer, so they’re afraid someone could faint if he gets something wrong! But it’s never happened.”

“…Akane-kun.”

Aoi’s voice echoes in the hallway, quiet and elegant. It’s just the two of them in front of those white posters, each name reread more than enough times. Teru Minamoto has scored 500 points, just as expected from him.

“Huh? Ao-chan? What is it?”

“You know, I didn’t take you as someone who was into rumors. I’ve been telling Nene-chan since June. Why the sudden interest?”

Akane pauses. Despite the grand scavenger hunt, he can’t say he has a reason for it.

“Oh, don’t tell me!” She turns on her heel, hands laced behind her back. “Is there a chance that you l—”

“Absolutely not,” Akane cuts.

“Oh.” Aoi stops. A mirthful smile seeps into her expression. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with it! Plenty of the guys here like him, so you wouldn’t be alone.”

“Yes, yes, I’ve heard,” Akane shrugs, and his hands fold over his chest. “But you’ve already stolen my heart, Ao-chan! I could never take my eyes off of you. There’s no one else in the world that I would marry but you!”

Aoi stares and leans forward with a hum. “Mm… was that another confession, Akane-kun?”

“…It was,” Akane stumbles. Aoi looks through him like a window.

“Mm…”

In one motion, she stands back upright, turning towards the opposite end of the hallway. “Five points.”

“Aw, come on! What am I doing wrong?”

“You’ve definitely used those phrases before,” Ao-chan giggles, and Akane trips to catch up with her. “And, plus…”

“Plus?” Akane leans forward. Did she whisper it when he wasn’t somehow listening?

“…Well,” she sighs, “it just seems like you’re lying.”

“Huh?!” Akane halts. “But, Ao-chan, I could never!”

“I know, I know!” Aoi turns back to him. Her mouth curves downward with the angle of her eyes. “It’s just… this once, I’m not sure if you were serious.”


“What did she mean by that?”

Akane throws up her hands and groans. One week later, the thought lingers, and Aoi isn’t there to answer. He’s relaying the situation to Lemon, fingers tangled in his hair, every word a whine as it leaves his lips.

“I mean, how could I not be serious about confessing?” Lemon looks up from a Full Combo and leans back, exhausted.

“Have you ever considered that you’re jealous?”

A stiff laugh leaves him. “Jealous? Of Ao-chan? I couldn’t be!”

“No, dumbass.” Lemon’s five seconds away from bopping him with a notebook nearby. “Like, what about Minamoto-senpai?”

“What about him?” Akane takes the notebook, slides it under his elbows. “Well, I think it’s nice that he’s taking suitors from Ao-chan so I don’t need to deal with them. But, at the same time, something about him puts me off. I still don’t see why everyone likes him so much.”

“Man, maybe you need glasses,” Lemon snorts, and they leave it at that.


They don’t meet until next year.

They never would’ve met if not for an offhand quote by Aoi. “How nice,” she remarked, after the council president had introduced her colleagues. She’d talked about the president and how kind and sweet she seemed. Her leadership made total sense to her.

“I guess… I just admire them,” Aoi hummed. “They always take on so much, but they’re done by the day’s end. I’ve heard so much about them! I wonder what it’ll be like to meet the president when I propose the gardening club.”

That had been the log to the fire. Now, as Akane stands outside the student council room, reminiscing, he can only dread the burden to come.

But he’ll do it for Ao-chan, he remembers, steeling himself. He pushes open the door, a flame blazing in his heart…

and sees Teru Minamoto turn from the window to face him.

Oh.

Actually, he’d… forgotten Teru had been on the student council.

“Oh.” Teru was the first to move with a wave. “Are you one of the new members?”

“I… am,” Akane enters, a wary wave back. He’s never seen Teru alone like this, basking in the sun and not a sea. “Akane Aoi. Second-year, middle school division.”

“Well, Aoi-san, it’s nice to meet you.” The book in Teru’s hands shuts and slides across the counter. He walks over to the doorway and extends his hand. “I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about me, so I don’t think I need to introduce myself. Why don’t we try and get along?”

“…Sure,” Akane shakes, hand brushing upon the beads on his wrist. “We can try.”

It’s safe to say that from the first time they’d talked, Akane had never really been interested in trying.


“He’s on the student council. ”

“Dude,” Lemon snickers, “I told you that on the first day.”

“Well—” Damn, how can Lemon mock him in the middle of some rhythm game? “I didn’t remember, okay?!”

“Right, right,” Lemon coughs, kicking him away like a flick note, “‘Cause you’re still only focused on Akane-san. Got it.”

If Lemon wasn’t holding onto his phone with a death grip, Akane might’ve taken it instead.


It turns out that working on the student council is exhausting.

It’s not that he despises his job on the student council. He has a purpose and a duty, and his heart lightens when someone thanks him for fulfilling it. But it’s a heavy load to bear; Akane never knew it was this great until he was the one arriving at school with bags under his eyes.

If he listens close, he can hear his heart telling him to stop. It’s not worth such a strain when he has to choke down snark to get into someone’s good graces. But in spite of that, Akane pushes forward.

When it’s not for himself, it’s for Ao-chan, he mumbles. That’s how it’s been and that’s how it will always be. As he takes on the last of Teru Minamoto’s grueling load or starts to talk with a complaining student, he remembers: this is for Ao-chan. Even when he hates the job.

He learns to shut up about the job before he can start complaining, though, because there’s always worse. After all, if there is anything more cumbersome than working on the student council, it will always be his work on the Far Shore.

It didn’t take long to learn last year that supernaturals lack all respect for the living. There was, and still is, always the pokes of a century-old toddler calling him stupid during council meetings. A cranky old man likes to ask him to clean the clocks, believing a few minutes of stopping time will give him enough rest after gym and paperwork. In the end, it’s student council meetings and preternatural chores which form a cycle of school and supernatural, one pushing against the other for time. The more it continues, the more exhausted Akane gets.

On the day that he leaves with a bag full of paperwork, time stops without his will. The pocket watch slips from his pocket with a giggle, and Akane jumps to grab at the chain. His hand catches thin air, and he sinks to the floor, both hands steadying himself and his backpack as he stares at Mirai.

“Blehh~ You really are a stupid idiot, aren’t you?”

Excuse me? Akane excuses himself and groans. “What the hell do you want?”

“The grandfather clock!” Mirai chirps. “The old clock, stupid! It’s dirty!”

“Do you ever do anything around this place?” Akane grumbles. He jumps, aiming for Mirai, and pulls her down by the scruff of her collar.

“Mirai tells the truth! That’s all she needs to do, idiot!” She looks up, sticks out her tongue, and jeers.

“Ah, kids. Always making a ruckus, aren’t you?”

The old, sturdy voice is almost enough to release Mirai. If Akane wasn’t so vexed by it already, he would have been startled, too.

“Always the late one, aren’t you?” His grip on Mirai’s collar tightens. “I knew you were behind this. Why don’t you ever clean the clocks, Kako?”

“The last Clock Keeper of the Present always enjoyed a wash or two. It’s routine.” Kako grins. “That’s all.”

“Whatever,” Akane scoffs, plucking the pocket watch from Mirai’s grasp. “You didn’t come here just to make me clean, did you?”

“An astute observation,” Kako answers, a hum in his voice. “You would be right. We’re here to warn you.”

“Warn me? About what?” The watch chain spins in Akane’s fingers. “Another incoming truck?”

“It’s not an act this time, young keeper. It’s gravely serious.” He shuffles forward, and his hand falls on Akane’s shoulder. “It’s about one of your fellow councilmembers.”

“…Who is it?” Akane narrows his eyes. Kako’s gaze hardens through his mask.

“That Minamoto boy,” Kako replies, and Akane feels his right arm shake.

“Do you know the history of the Minamotos?” Kako prods, and Akane shakes his head. He loosens his grip on Mirai, and she clings to his shoulders like a scared crow. “Their ancestor was Minamoto no Yorimitsu, slayer of the supernatural Shuten Douji. It is in their blood to slay any supernaturals they come across without hesitation. Do you know who that boy is?”

Akane’s silence answers.

“…He’s the most powerful exorcist at this school right now. I’ve no idea how you‘ve evaded him, but you should be wary. We don’t need to lose you while you’re still under contract.”

“That’s…” Akane shakes his head. “Ridiculous. I’m not even dead. A contract doesn’t count towards being a supernatural.”

“You can stop time,” Mirai whispers. “You’re one of the mysteries. Doesn’t that count?”

There’s no way, Akane mutters. It can’t.

He just can’t bring himself to say it.


“Are you sure nothing’s up with Minamoto-senpai?”

“Dude,” Lemon looks up from song selection, “Are you sure you’re not hallucinating?”

“I’m not,” Akane grumbles. It’d be easier if he could just mention the entire ‘Far Shore’ part of the situation. “Every day I walk into the councilroom, I’m more and more concerned.”

“Maybe you should just ask him what’s wrong, dude. I can’t help you.”

But Akane could never. He’d be swallowing his pride, failing to mask his anger, unable to hide the sweat that would prove he somehow wasn’t human. So Akane grumbles and nods—even if asking Teru about all his woes wouldn’t help him, either.


Akane’s vision is a whirlwind. It’s as if the clouds have swirled around him and fogged up his glasses, or as if the wind has drawn hasty white streaks in his vision. The world twists and Akane’s entire body hurts, strained by the acid in his sides and the absence of breath in his lungs.

How can this be happening? He can’t fathom how. All he had done was leave the student council meeting immediately, taken a turn to leave the other second-years and transform, and headed off to finish the day’s job. He was doing fine finding his way to the grandfather clock, even with the sudden absence of Mirai’s jeers, and now—

Now, with the scorch marks on his cape and the ache in his limbs and chest, Akane’s nowhere near the grandfather clock, nowhere near safe and far too close to the words dazed and afraid. By the time he comprehends what’s happening, he’s been backed up against the dressing room door. The handle slips out of his hands, but he clings and pushes it down anyways, opening it and falling back with the door. A blade lands in the open doorway, and would snag his cape if he hadn’t already bundled the tail end in his hands and ran.

The blade dislodges from the floor and Akane realizes, heart sinking, that there’s nowhere else to go. Steel blocks the doorway in wide arcs and cuts sharp enough to draw blood. Fear does not move, but freezes his legs in place, cementing his graveyard as the hallway between the two changing rooms and his shroud as the cerulean cloak he hid himself in so many times before.

Of course. In the end, it turns out that Akane doesn’t need to try to get to know the third-year on the student council. It’s Teru who bridges the gap himself, with electricity like a rope to bind them together and steel great enough to touch his heart. His sword is drawn once more, its edge inches from Akane’s neck as it glints under the dressing room lights. Tens of rays bounce around them, forming a cage of rays as thin as needles and sharp as the metal that makes them. The space inside is tight, so tight that Akane’s breath barely travels before it hits steel or skin, and so small that he feels like nothing more than a speck that the light shines all over.

Sweat dots his forehead. It strings together and falls in long arcs, bubbling and staining his vest like globs of wax. With every passing second, the sword comes closer, forming a long slit in the wall behind him and chilling his red-hot heart to ice. But Teru remains silent, and so does he, teeth trapping his lower lip and eyes squinting to glare the other down. After all, words don’t need to leave their mouths: the light strikes every syllable, reflects every thought in front of them without the need for tone or sound.

Don’t you have any last words? Akane hears. Aren’t you going to fight back?

I don’t see how silence doesn’t count as a fight, he thinks, laughter bubbling up so high he could snicker if he wanted.

“What are you laughing at?” He finally hears, and Akane realizes those first chords before Teru’s own, the chords that sound so unfittingly like wind chimes and laughter, are his own.

“You’re hesitating,” he snaps before he can think about it. “I thought your family wasn’t supposed to do that.”

The wind stops and the sound of wind chimes fades away, hushed by one simple observation in moments. Teru stares him down, unmoving. Only cold metal inches closer to the hair on Akane’s neck, making his teeth clench and making him brace for the incoming swing.

But there is no swing, only silence—and then Teru’s voice fills the room again, stern and condemning. “Before you take your punishment, Akane Aoi, answer me this. Are you truly as human as the people around you thought you were?”

Akane nearly spits at him, nearly laughs in a face all too close to him. But, instead, he stiffens, eyesight no longer shaking but locked in a cold stare as he answers.

“I’m as human as all of them have ever thought,” he snarks. The heat melts away what ice frosts his throat, and as quickly as his first answer came, he adds, “And, judging from everything I’ve heard about you, far more human than you’ll ever be.”

And there, with a last laugh and a grin twisted between his sweat and pain, Akane knows that he’s going to die. He waits for the last breath, for the last memory of Ao-chan to flicker through his mind as so many other memories should. But it never arrives—not even as his vision blurs or as the sword once against his neck backs away, or as Teru Minamoto, eyes wide and quavering and eyebrows scrunched and raised, is his last sight before all goes dark.


Akane’s vision clears under sunlight.

White light fills the room, diffusing the yellow tinge that enters through the open windows. It’s the first thing he notices after his eyes open, even after they adjust and focus on his surroundings. The curtains are drawn, but in front of them are two seats, taken by a boy in a baseball tee and a girl with wavy blue curls.

Akane pushes himself up from the bed, but he doesn’t reach more than a few inches off before thudding back onto the white sheets. It’s with that and a grunt that Lemon and Ao-chan turn to him, leant far enough from their chairs that the hind legs wobble off of the ground.

“Aoi-san!”

“Akane-kun!”

“I’m fine,” His voice rings out third, softer and strained as he winces from the burns on his arms. “You and Ao-chan don’t have to yell.”

“But—you’re hurt!” The latter stands, her hands gripping the railing. A hand reaches out, but never reaches him, drawing back from the bandages wrapped around his wrist and forearms. “What happened to you?”

“I…”

And though his heart still throbs, its beat still as fractured as the light once smattered upon it and the blade that once tried to split it, it’s Ao-chan’s question that makes his blood run cold. If anything is his intention with answering, it’s to assure her, not to worry her—because he could never hurt her with the burden that he took on for her, no matter what.

Even if it means lying to her, he thinks. Even if it means hiding the truth about himself once more.

“It was a lighting accident,” Akane supplies, “in the auditorium. The student council asked us to check the lighting for the upcoming festival.”

His voice is hollow and frail, but not compromised: no secret is exposed, no truth fully uncovered. The mysteries behind Kamome Academy and the tales within it are reduced to rumors and silence for another day, another week.

“Us?” She pauses, clings to the ebbing wave, and Akane pauses. Because ‘us’ is no more than a word for two people who are in no way similar—for two people who would never dare be seen standing next to each other in peace. Because ‘us’ refers to a boy only part supernatural and a boy meant to rid the world of all supernaturals, parts and whole, and if Akane dares think about it, ‘us’ refers to two humans who could be all but.

But ‘us’ is only meant to refer to two members of the student council and nothing more. For the living who have no need to see the farthest reaches of the shores, that description is all they need.

And Akane uses it.

“Minamoto-senpai,” he sighs, pulling the wave away. “We went to the auditorium together. He’s the one who brought me here after the accident.”

He speaks his last—and with it, Aoi lets go.

“Oh,” she nods. “I see.”

Her hands fall back, holding each other in front of her skirt, and she backs away towards her seat. Akane sinks back into the bed, falling further into the white sheets and clouds but never out of the sunlight’s reach. As he does, he looks back to her and Lemon, watching the two of them in their chairs. Lemon eyes him, glancing back and forth between his phone, to him, to the injuries no closer to healing, then away. Ao-chan fidgets, her lips pursed and her eyes watching him intently. Her stare never leaves, yet as serene and tranquil and all too beautiful as it is, it never matches his.

It’s then, in that moment of peace, that he realizes something. As he falls further, he realizes that that is the first time that he’s ever lied to her—even if she frowns, or stares through him in the same way she would if he told the truth.

He closes his eyes, drifts back to sleep, and dreams only of Ao-chan and the sun.


They don’t really… talk to each other, after that. Not for a few weeks; not until the middle of June, when the sun sits overhead and smothers the school with its light. The student council room has grown hot, drowned in sunlight that pours through its gaping windows and swathed in the damp, musty air.

These days, Akane’s realized, he spends more time in the student council room than ever. When Akane loses Ao-chan in the tangle of lilies and sunflowers, he resigns to the council room on the second floor, where the garden crams into a small section of the view from above. He eats, not with Lemon Yamabuki, who’s back in the classroom playing the same game and same songs, nor Nene Yashiro, who he sees Ao-chan hang out with more and more with each passing day, but alone, resigned to the placidity of the hollow room.

So it is, of course, a surprise to him when Teru Minamoto walks in one day, and when they stare each other down afterward, bemused and silent. Akane’s hands freeze and drift towards the gold chain in his pocket. Then, as his fingers brush upon two hands of the clock, the seconds and minutes tick out of his grasp, and Teru moves from the doorway towards him.

There’s no sword at his side that noon, Akane notices, but a yellow lunchbox instead, wrapped in soft, pastel fabric. Its pale color is strengthened by the light filling the room. Even with the lack of weaponry, he can’t help but shift in his chair or rock his balance onto his feet.

“You’re not here to exorcise me again, are you?” he asks with caution, and Teru cants his head, shifts his gaze.

“Hm? Oh, no,” he smiles, pulling out a chair two spaces away from Akane. “That wasn’t my intent. I just came to have lunch. As usual.”

“But I’ve never seen you here at lunch,” Akane squints. Teru places his lunchbox on the table and laughs.

“I suppose we’ve just lacked that kind of luck,” he unclasps the lunchbox, then turns to him, his hands folded in his lap. “I’ve been dealing with a few of the high school teachers’ affairs myself, so I’ve hardly the time to be here. Tell me: you haven’t sat here every day for the past weeks, have you?”

“…No,” Akane resigns, and Teru nods, “Exactly.”

He opens the lunchbox, and Akane watches. The sun shines on white rice and curry and a square full of sliced orange potatoes on the side that glisten when turned aside. He stares as Teru reaches towards it—and then, just as quickly, pushes it away. Akane bites into his own food all the same, chewing it down as the silence between them grows like the time or the sun.

And then, the silence shatters.

“Are you going to try to exorcise me again?” Akane holds a portion of rice between his chopsticks, half-raised as he asks.

There’s no response, at first. All he gets is the tick of the clock in his pocket and the muffled chatter outside. Then, as Teru sets down his spoon, he continues.

“I might,” he speaks curtly, as if that suffices for an answer and Akane won’t object that it’s not. “That depends on whether or not you’re a danger to the students here.”

A danger? Akane drops his food into its box. “A danger,” he repeats, masking his awe with a scrunched nose and a huff. “How could I be a danger to them,” he posits, “if I was actively working on their own council?”

Teru shrugs like he doesn’t have the answer to that, eyes half-lidded as he drifts between his food and their discussion. “There could be many ways. What’s consistent is that supernaturals are fickle and manipulative—their interactions with humans never end well.”

“Are you calling me a supernatural too, then? Because I’m nothing close to one.” After all, if Akane thinks back to the past year and a half, he can find himself almost agreeing with the exorcist’s ideas. It’s the implications that he’s not who he is—that he isn’t human —that he has to argue against.

“You do work with them,” Teru sighs. “You are part of the Seven Mysteries.”

“Not by my will,” Akane spats, turning his head away from him. “I did that to protect Ao-chan. That’s all there was to it.”

‘Ao-chan?’ Teru murmurs, and then— “Oh. Yes. She’s your classmate, isn’t she?”

Akane can’t deny that his head lifts, that he looks back to Teru with a new glint in his eyes. The words flow out of his mouth and his voice lilts, like the uncontrollable wind chimes that soar through the breeze. “And the most stunning of them! She’s been just as beautiful and kind since we were kids. In fact, I’d say she’d be the most popular person in this whole school if it wasn’t for you!”

“Oh. I see.” Teru pauses. Akane nods.

Oh. Wait. Hold on—

“Oh, no, no, that’s not what I meant to say, really— Akane drops the chopsticks and throws his hands up, inching further away on his seat as he waits for Teru to act. The sweat starts on his forehead, but as the exorcist remains unmoving, gaze still narrowed towards his food, Akane’s worries come to a halt. His fingers curl, though his hands still shield his chest, and they don’t fall until Teru speaks.

“I assure you, I’m not at all offended,” he finally hums, turning to face him. His ankles cross between the legs of his chair and his hands hold together, folded neatly over his lap. “Although I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard someone say that before.”

“Of course you haven’t,” Akane snorts. “Aren’t you the most popular guy here?”

“I’ve heard it a few times, myself,” Teru nods.

“Well, I don’t see why you are,” Akane rolls his eyes, picking up his chopsticks again. “You didn’t do anything to earn that. And, I mean, you almost killed another student, too, so I don’t think you should be anything close to popular.”

“That I did,” Teru nods again, and Akane thinks he might be seconds away from pointing out how calmly he answers. “But you’re not much of a human one, so I’d say I was just doing my job.”

Akane’s hand freezes, the chopsticks he holds in the midst of colliding. “And what is that job, exactly?”

“It’s to protect the world from supernaturals. To exorcise them before they can endanger the living.”

“Huh,” Akane clicks, resuming long enough to gulp down another bite. “If that’s the case, then wouldn’t nearly murdering me contradict that?”

For a few moments, all Akane gets is silence. When Teru speaks, his voice is low, wary—cautious, but in no way like his comments before. “I… don’t see what you mean.”

“I am still human. I was just forced to sign a contract with them to save Ao-chan’s life,” He frowns, even when he knows it was a ruse, or that it would never have happened no matter what. “Or did you really not realize that when you were trying to take mine?”

The lack of a response that he gets afterwards seems like enough of an answer.

“…So, do you get it? I’m not a supernatural at all,” Akane huffs, taking another piece between his chopsticks. “You’re just bad at telling the difference,” he adds, and Teru flinches, a frown growing on his own face.

“That still doesn’t make you entirely human,” he starts, looking away. “You can see the Far Shore.”

“And so can you,” Akane cuts.

“For a different reason. You shouldn’t need to. And, even then…” He glances towards the clock in Akane’s pocket, the chain all too obvious as it hangs from the opening. “You can control the powers of a School Mystery as you please. That’s quite the ability for someone who’s purportedly human.”

“Even if I can, does that change anything about my humanity? Or any of the past thirteen years where I definitely was human?” It shouldn’t, Akane thinks, dropping the chopsticks into his lunch. Still, as Teru sighs, Akane has the growing suspicion that it somehow can.

“It doesn’t,” he says, surprising Akane yet again, until he adds, “But you have the powers of a supernatural right now. That means that for as long as you have them, you’ll never be as fully human as your classmates. And that power means that you can become a danger to them.”

“But I won’t.” It comes out faster than anything else he’s told him, before Teru can say anything more. “I don’t want any of this—I won’t use these powers unless it’s necessary, and I won’t do anything that those supernaturals request unless I’m forced to. I may have their powers, but it doesn’t mean I’ll go along with their pleas.”

Akane takes the watch from his pocket, dangling it out towards him. “I’m only protecting this so that no other bastard supernatural can take it for themselves. If I could, I would rather pretend that it—and all the rest of this bullshit—didn’t exist.”

Their conversation fades into the laughs and cheers outside, fades into the sunlight and stuffy air that fills the room. For a while, Akane stares at Teru, and the other does the same. Their eyes meet one another, locked as they wait for the other’s response. Akane watches the exorcist across from him, silent, unmoving. The sun covers half his hair and face, strong enough to nearly blind Akane’s gaze and leave only his eyes and frown clear through its shine. His eyes narrow, scrutinizing Akane well enough that he could look through him and at the bookshelves just behind him if he dared. It stills the breath in Akane’s chest and leaves his heart pounding faster and faster, tight and tense enough to be unbearable.

“…So you want to be normal,” Teru mumbles, releasing them from the gathering suspense and allowing Akane to breathe.

“Yeah,” he nods, ignoring the red that ebbs along the sides of his face. “I do.” Because if there is anything else in this world that he wants besides Ao-chan’s love, it’s the humanity that he knows he still has.

“Hm,” Teru pauses, looks away, “I see.” And, with that, he turns back to face the table, his face and his lunch now fully soaked under the light.

“…Aoi. Come back to this room tomorrow at lunch. I’ll see what I can do.”

The smear of red stays on Akane’s face, his eyes wide with the same shock that keeps them in place.

“Why?” He asks, once he’s shaken out of his stupor—but Teru has already gone back to his lunch, a smile on his face as he pulls the sweet potatoes forward, and takes the answer with him.


“Oi, Aoi-san, when’d you get glasses?” Lemon stares at him, barely pulling his attention away from Ao-chan as he waves a floppy magazine in his face. Akane wrests the magazine from his hand and sets it down under his composition book, watching his expression grow bewildered all the while.

“Right before summer break,” Akane mentions—one truth for his incoming lies. “They’re reading glasses. It’s been troublesome reading the files with student council work, so Minamoto-senpai recommended I look into them.”

“Man,” Lemon’s eyes widen, mouth still agape. “You’re really turning into a nerd, huh?”

“Shut up,” he mutters, reaching for the magazine again, and Lemon reaches for his phone instead.

The leaves outside have begun to rust from green to brown, or yellow and orange as the sun outside still does while it shines. Still, the stale and fusty air pervades the room, filled with the last sweltering waves of the summer. As the thick air fades and the world outside pales, Akane finds what’s still bright and colorful amongst the crowds. Ao-chan sits three desks away from him, still as brilliant as sapphires or as bright as the spring sky. In his pocket, spotless and lustrous, is the golden watch that he’s guarded over for two and a half years, its time and age stopped decades before he had ever beheld it. Both shine like rare jewels, polished and dazzling to any who see them no matter what.

In the corner of his eye, then, he spots a figure moving through the hallways, stride long and brisk. He looks towards the doorway and watches Teru Minamoto, swathed in hazy, thick sunlight as he carries a clipboard and a hall pass. His sword hangs at his side, bouncing rays off of its gold trim to form knots along windows and walls. His hair still shines like the sun, his eyes like the sky and the fog around him like the clouds. But behind them, if Akane lowers his glasses, he can see the outlines of wings, thin and beautiful but charred and dissipated at their end.

As Teru disappears past the doorway frame, Akane edges his glasses back up, and glances back to Lemon and his composition book through the glossy frames.

“Yamabuki-san?” he starts, abrupt and curtly. Lemon looks up from his game and squints.

“Eh? What is it now?”

“What do you think of Minamoto-senpai?”

“Me?” Lemon halts, silent, then frowns at him. “Haven’t you asked me this kinda question before?”

“I probably asked something like what you know ,” Akane scoffs. “Now I’m asking what you think.

Lemon sighs and picks up his phone, navigating across the app. “Well, I don’t have much to say about him. I think he’s interesting. Pretty, if you want to call him that. But we’ve never talked.”

“Ah,” Akane nods, pauses. Lemon looks up from his phone once more.

“You know, have you ever said what you think about Minamoto-senpai?”

“…What?”

Lemon squints, then goes back to the app he’s still so invested in, pressing a button and waiting for others to move. “I mean, you work with him. It made sense when you didn’t know anything about him in first year, but I’m sure you know enough about him now to say something. What do you think of him, Aoi-san?”

What… does Akane think? He thinks of the first day, when light beamed from him in all directions; he remembers the first time they met, in the student council room, when the sun fell upon him through the window. He thinks about when he nearly pierced through him with all the lightning around him, and their meeting weeks afterwards when he did all but. He can’t say he has a good answer to that.

…No, Akane realizes, he has. He’s had one since the start.

“…I don’t like him,” Akane coughs. “In fact, maybe it’d be better to say I hate him.” That he loathes him.

“Are you sure you’re not just jealous of him?” Lemon wonders, and Akane wonders, after all these years, why he would ever be jealous.

“Nope,” he huffs. “I just don’t like him. It’s as simple as that.”

“Well, whatever you say,” Lemon groans, as if it isn’t what Akane says, but the bell rings and they leave it at that.