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Recovery and Growth

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Iruma sighed as he lifted his bag off of his desk in Royal One, his shoulder giving a stab of pain as he did. Who knew he could get sore after a simple workout, compared to the training he had undergone with the student council? Ameri had been much tougher than their teacher had been, but still his shoulders ached as he moved.

“Iruma-sama?” Asmodeus Alice questioned as he approached the human, his bag already packed. “Is something wrong? Would you like me to carry your bag for you today? PE was rather rough.”

Iruma started to answer with a negative, but then slumped as his back gave a twinge as well. “Would you mind, Azz-kun?” He asked and held out the bag to his friend, his arm giving off faint tremors.

“Not at all, Iruma-sama!” Azz answered with enthusiasm, taking the bag like it was a holy relic. Clara skipped over to the two as the trio made their way to the door.

“Irumachi, are we still on for going to that bakery tomorrow?” She asked with a large grin.

“Yeah, we’ll meet at my place?” He answered, forcing a smile in return.

“A most sound plan, surprisingly,” Azz offered, giving Clara a considering look as the trio made their way out of the school and down to Sullivan’s manor. They parted at the gate, with Azz handing Iruma’s school bag to Opera.

“Are you alright, Iruma-sama?” The butler asked as they headed into the manor. “You don’t normally make Asmedeus-kun carry your bag.”

“I’m actually feeling really tired today,” Iruma admitted, trying to keep a smile on his face and barely succeeding. “PE took a lot out of me for some reason.”

“Hmm,” Opera considered. “Sometimes they do push the students hard in order to help them break past their limits. Why don’t you take a bath, and I’ll bring dinner to your room so you can recover.”

“Thank you, Opera-san,” Iruma replied as he tiredly made his way down the hall. A bath might just be the thing to wash away the ache in his muscles and joints. At least, he hoped it would.
________________________________________________________________

“Good morning, Iruma-kun!” Sullivan proclaimed as he slammed through the door to the human’s room in his enthusiasm. “Grandpa missed you at dinner last night!”

From the bed, Sullivan was greeted not with the warm smile of his beloved grandson, but an aura of menace emerging from under the bedsheets. The human’s normally accepting eyes were like gleaming pools of malice surrounded by blackness. Above the sheets, a hulking figure of miasma crouched above the boy, fangs glinting from a cavernous mouth.

For a moment, Sullivan was actually startled by this display from his normally docile grandson. Then he quickly flared his mana, which seemed to break Iruma out of his defensive posturing. The miasma retreated back into the ring on his right hand, and Iruma let out a little “Eep!” noise as he retreated back under the covers.

“I’m sorry, Grandpa,” came out muffled from the lump on the bed. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I scared Lied-kun like that during the Harvest Festival, but that’s because I was in survival mode. I shouldn’t be doing that now.”

“It’s alright, Iruma-kun,” Sullivan assured his grandson as he took a seat on the edge of the bed and laid a gentle hand on top of the lump. “Is something wrong? You’re not usually so grouchy in the morning,”

The lump shifted and nudged against Sullivan’s leg before settling more firmly against the support. “I got all sore after PE yesterday, so Opera let me have dinner in my room. Sorry for missing dinner.” The lump wriggled some more, and a hand slid up to grasp at Sullivan’s pants through the sheets. Sullivan couldn’t help but smile at the sign that Iruma looked to the demon for comfort. A far cry from the scared boy he had first brought to the Netherworld. “I hoped that I would feel better after sleep, but I still hurt.”

Sullivan frowned as Opera appeared at the door with Iruma’s usual cup of tea, bearing a similar frown. Sullivan held up a hand which was quickly surrounded by a haze of magic, and ran it over Iruma’s back, who squirmed against the tickle of magic before groaning and slumping in the bed from the effort. “Grandpa?”

“You don’t appear to be sick again,” Sullivan stated, his concern growing on his face. “At least, not as far as I can tell. And I made sure I could identify human illness after your episode at the start of the term. Can you describe what you’re feeling more clearly?”

The lump groaned, and a blue head finally poked out from the end of the bed, a frown marring the usually smiling face. “It’s like...a throb, I guess? It’s mostly my shoulders and legs, but my back too sometimes. The shoulders have gotten better since yesterday, but the legs are worse.”

“If I may interrupt,” Opera stated while placing the tea on Iruma’s desk, causing Iruma’s head to swing towards them, before groaning again at the pain his sudden movement caused. “It sounds similar to what young demons describe as their wing roots finally emerge. Do humans ever grow new limbs?”

“New limbs?” Iruma questioned, with a considering expression. ”No, humans only have 4 limbs. We do grow new teeth, but only once, and I finished with that years ago. Or—well, some grow another set, but I don’t think that happens until we’re a little older, and sometimes they don’t come in right, so we get them taken out, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening right now.” A moment of inspiration struck, and he abruptly sat up. “But humans do grow taller. I’ve heard people talk about growing pains. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me.”

“Growing pains?” Sullivan echoed with a quizzical tilt of his head. “I thought humans grow slowly.” He gently wrapped an arm around Iruma’s shoulders, giving the boy a gentle squeeze to rest against the demon’s side.

“Usually, we do,” Iruma agreed, and leaned more heavily against his grandfather, accepting the support. “But sometimes humans go through periods where they grow more rapidly. I’d heard it usually happens to kids who are younger than me though. I wonder why it’s happening now.”

Sullivan hummed, stroking a hand over his chin in thought. “Maybe because you finally have enough to eat and a safe place to rest? You didn’t have those while you were in the human realm, right?”

Iruma jerked around to stare at his grandfather in shock. “How did you know?” The human wondered, his voice soft with shame.

“Hmm, well, you know that the Harvest festival was monitored. And I’ve seen demons act like you did, when deep in enemy territory with the supply lines cut off.” Sullivan explained. “Also, your parents were quite upfront with their treatment of you. It’s part of the reason I was so willing to adopt you. No child, human or demon, should be treated like that.”

Iruma groaned and reburied himself under his covers. “So everyone saw me acting like an idiot? Not just Master Bachiko?”

“The teachers were monitoring, but I doubt that any of the main faculty will make the connection. Your familiar might figure things out, but only if he decides to pay attention,” Sullivan attempted to reassure the human, who just groaned again and hunched into a tighter ball.

Opera noticed Iruma’s hellphone, which had been vibrating quietly on his desk during the conversation. “Iruma-sama, your phone,” Opera offered the device to the lump, and Iruma groaned again. A single hand sneaked out to grab the device before retreating once more.

“That’s right, I was supposed to go to Magical Street shopping district with Azz-kun and Clara today,” Iruma moaned beneath the sheets. Sullivan ran his hand along Iruma’s back in an attempt at comfort.

“If you’re not feeling up to going out, I’m sure they would understand,” Opera stated, picking the tea up once more and joining Sullivan in sitting on the bed.

“But, we haven’t had a chance to hang out since before the Harvest Festival! We spent so much time getting ready! I missed spending time with everyone from the Abnormal Class, but especially Azz-kun and Clara,” Iruma whined, his nose emerging from the bed at the smell of the fresh tea.

“Then why don’t you all spend the day here?” Sullivan offered with a smile. “You were going to that new shop, right? Opera can go pick up some of their food and bring it back here. Grandpa wants you to feel better, and overworking yourself too much will just lead to injuries.”

“I guess,” Iruma conceded, and the sounds of buttons being tapped could be heard through the blankets.

___________________________________________________________________

“Iruma-sama is unwell again?” Asmedeus Alice asked for confirmation from the butler, while Clara bounced with nerves at his side.

“Is Irumachi sick again?” The green-haired demon questioned as she swayed back and forth from Asmodeus and Opera, her innocent eyes wide. “But we’ve been taking care of him! Except when we were all training…” She trailed off, her hands flying to her mouth in realization.

“No, he isn’t ill again,” Opera assured as they let the two young demons into the manor. “However, he is not feeling his best, and isn’t up to going out with you two as originally planned. Sullivan-sama has offered the run of the manor to you today so you can spend time together.”

“That is most gracious of Sullivan-sama,” Azz agreed. “We will need to pay our proper respects.” With a nod to himself, he threw open the doors to Iruma’s bedroom. “Iruma-sama!”

On the bed, Iruma quickly retreated back under the covers, a snarl emerging from his mouth. The miasmic form appeared over his body again, and everyone froze under the weight of the mana and the growl it released.

Azz quickly fell to his knees in a bow, his head lowered in respect. Clara remained frozen in the doorway as her knees buckled under her, her eyes wide in surprise and fear. Sullivan was once again the first to respond to Iruma’s instinctive reaction, and he gently bopped the boy on the back of the head.

“Now Iruma-kun, get a hold of yourself. Keep this up and you’ll give yourself another evil cycle.” The boy flinched at the reprimand, and the miasma once again retreated. Iruma poked his head out from the covers to look at his two friends, a wan smile on his face.

“Sorry about that, Azz-kun, Clara. It’s an old habit, I didn’t mean to scare you like that,” Iruma apologized, trying to reassure them.

“It’s not a problem, Iruma-sama,” Azz quickly assured, standing and approaching the bed. “Have you not fully recovered from PE yesterday?” Clara crept up as well, gazing at Iruma from eye level as she sat on the floor in front of the bed.

“Somewhat,” Iruma admitted, giving Sullivan a worried glance. Sullivan smiled and nodded, encouraging Iruma to say whatever was weighing the boy down. “Um, Grandpa told you that I’m adopted, right?”

Azz and Clara both froze in place, glancing at each other, before returning their gazes to Iruma. “So we did manage to wake you when you were sick,” Azz sullenly stated, before nodding. “Yes, Sullivan-sama informed us, and as you heard, we do not care.”

Iruma nodded, accepting their steadfast regard. He really was lucky to have made such good friends while in the Netherworld. “Um, to make a long story short, my birth parents...didn’t always take care of me properly. We think that since I now have access to things I didn’t before, my body is finally catching up on some growing. So I’m sore and achy from that.”

Azz nodded, as he sat next to Iruma on the bed. “That makes sense. Forgive me, Iruma-sama, but for a being of your power, you are rather...compact,” he offered gently with a warm smile. “I can’t wait to see what a magnificent figure you will possess when you finish growing.” Azz froze as a thought came to him suddenly, his face falling slack.

“Iruma-sama, I don’t mean to pry, but...your leg training. Do you train your legs so often because you...your wings are underdeveloped?”

Iruma frowned, and pulled the bedsheets more tightly around him. He glanced at Sullivan once more, but then steeled himself enough to admit, “More like, non-existent.” He squeezed his eyes shut, bracing for their reaction. When the silence held, he glanced at his friends to gauge their responses.

Asmodeus had frozen with a hand covering his mouth, his eyes wide. Clara had a stricken expression on her face, as her eyes rapidly cycled between Iruma, Asmodeus, and Sullivan. “But it’s fine!” Iruma attempted to reassure his friends. ”Grandpa’s been helping me practice my magic so I can still fly.”

“We left you behind the day of the flying race,” Clara quietly murmured, her hands rising to tug at her horns. “I jumped on Azz-Azz because I thought you were too far ahead for me to catch. But we left you, didn’t we?” Tears were welling up in her eyes, and she sniffled. “And right after you told us that friends important to each other and play together…”

“Clara—” Iruma cut himself off as tears fell down her cheeks. She threw herself forward and hugged Iruma’s shoulders, her sobs muffled against his shoulder. He drew one hand up to stroke her head consolingly. “It’s alright, Clara. I wasn’t ready to share that with you back then. I’m sorry for not trusting you.”

“Iruma-sama,” Azz began, his voice unsteady for once. “My apologies for not being a proper follower and friend. I should have been aware of this and sought to support you. I’ve been training myself to become your spear once you take over the school, but I’ve missed the most important details!”

“Azz-kun,” Iruma stated firmly as he sat up, dragging Clara up with him. She curled up besides him on the bed, her shoulder heaving. “I don’t care about you being a spear. You’re one of my precious friends. Having you beside me is more than enough. It’s actually more than I thought I would ever have. So don’t beat yourself up over something that I was too afraid to tell you.” With that, Iruma used the arm not petting Clara to pull Azz into a hug. The three clung to each other for a while as Clara’s sobs trickled to a stop.

Still seated on the bed, Sullivan couldn’t help but smile at the scene. After the three started to ease up their tight grips on each other, Sullivan cleared his throat and stood, the trio instantly focusing on him. “Well, I think spending the day here is a great plan. Opera,” he ordered to the butler, “get the bakery information from Iruma and buy a collection of their goods for us to sample. I’ll get the game system set up for multiple players, hm?” He offered the young demons and human a warm expression.

“Y-yes, thanks, Grandpa,” Iruma responded, giving his own smile in response. “I’ll get up and change,” and he started to put action to his word, only to wince and hiss as the pain gave another thrum through his body.

“Hey, is it like when my siblings run around too much and then are achy the next day?” Clara questioned, looking to Sullivan and Opera for confirmation. Tears still clung to her cheeks and eyes, but she seemed to be putting on a brave face so they could return to a sense of normality.

“As far as we can tell, yes,” Opera offered, pulling some casual clothes out of Iruma’s wardrobe.

“Then I have just the thing to help!” Clara declared, jumping to her feet with a grin. She tapped her pockets, and out came two rubbery floppy rounded rectangles. Each was decorated to look similar to the Valac family matriarch. “Mommy makes these for the chibis, and they stay warm for hours, and just needs a bit of mana to refresh them occasionally!” She proudly offered one each to Iruma and Asmodeus, who took them with a bit of caution.

“Oh, I’ve heard about people using things like these before!” Iruma responded, laying one across his shoulder and sighing as the heat sank into the sore muscles. “Too bad we can’t have these everywhere.”

Azz considered the item in his hand with a thoughtful frown. “Clara, how big can you make one of these?”

She gave her own frown. “I can probably make them bigger, but I don't know how to make something that big warm enough. Mommy’s the one who always did the spell.”

Azz offered a victorious smirk of his own. “Have you forgotten my family’s magical ability?” He held his free hand aloft, and a magic circle lit over it. “The Asmodeus family specializes in fire, and we have multiple spells that provide heat. It’s how we gain control before practicing higher tier spells.” He stood and pulled Clara off the bed. “Sullivan-sama, please show me where we will be, and we can get things prepared for Iruma-sama.”

Sullivan tittered happily, and gladly led the two teens out of the room. Opera and Iruma were left alone, with the human’s face slack in shock.

“Well then, Iruma-sama,” the butler began, and moved to help the human stand. “Please give me the bakery information, and I’ll help you dress before I depart.”

“Yeah,” Iruma agreed absentmindedly. He could still feel the wetness of Clara’s tears on his shoulder, but the warmth from her creation was steadily soaking into his bones.

“And if I may, Iruma-sama,” Opera continued, “you have found perhaps the two most loyal demons in all of the Netherworld. I do not believe your trust will be betrayed.”

Iruma took the heat pack off his shoulder, and stared at the familiar bright green color of the Valac family. “Yeah. I’m really lucky,” he softly affirmed, before offering Opera one of his warm smiles.

After giving Opera the bakery information, Iruma made his way to the large recreation room, where Sullivan was cheerfully darting about to make the room more comfortable. In the space in front of the TV, Clara had pulled out an undecorated heat pack the size of a futon, and Azz was using his family’s spell to heat it. Clara rolled back and forth across the surface, apparently making sure that it was heated evenly. They all offered Iruma welcoming smiles as he made it into the room.

“Irumachi!” Clara called out, “Come try this. Azz-Azz did a good job with the heat!” She stood up and gently dragged Iruma into laying down. He relaxed into the warmth with a sigh.

“Is it warm enough, Iruma-sama?” Azz asked, and took a pillow off the sofa to prop up Iruma’s head.

“It’s great, Azz-kun,” Iruma confirmed, smiling at his friend. “The only way it could be better would be if i could be pressed in further.”

“Oh, I believe I can help with that,” Sullivan piped up, earning three startled gazes. “Miss Valac, a large throw blanket, if you would. Big enough for all three of you, if possible.” Clara eagerly summoned a fuzzy blue blanket, which she offered to the chair demon.

“Now, I know school isn’t in session today, but here’s a quick lesson for you three. I’ve already shown Iruma this spell to help him fly, but here’s a practical application.” He lifted his free hand and cast “Fractal” and the edges of the blanket were pulled towards the floor. “Gravity manipulation can be used to make an object weightless, but the reverse is also possible.” He flung the blanket over Iruma’s prone form, and the human was pushed deeper into the support beneath him.

“Oof,” squeezed its way out of Iruma, but he smiled as the warmth beneath him embraced more of his body, his eyes sliding shut. Clara eagerly approached and went to lift up the edge of the blanket, and she staggered under its heavy pull to the floor.

“Wow!”

“As expected of the chair-demon,” Asmodeus agreed, experimentally tugging at a corner. “How does it feel, Iruma-sama?”

“Good,” he answered drowsily. “If Opera-san wasn’t coming back with food, I’ll be tempted to fall back asleep.”

“Hey, Irumachi, let me try!” Clara exclaimed, wriggling her way under the edge of the blanket. As she snuggled herself along the edge of the heating pad, she offered her own sigh of contentment.

Asmodeus protested, quickly yelling, “Why are you trying to snuggle up to Iruma-sama?” His hands were fluttering about, clearly tempted to drag her away from the human, but not wanting to intrude upon his master’s space. Clara gave him a smug smirk and sat up, letting the heavy blanket pool on her lap.

“Oh? Are you jealous, Azz-Azz?” She let a chuckle. “Then, shall we play for the right to be next to Irumachi?”

“You’re on!” Azz quickly rose to the challenge. “Sullivan-sama, would you be the judge?”

Sullivan giggled, seating himself on the sofa next to Iruma’s head. “Oh, I would be honored. Best out of 5 matches?” The two teens quickly agreed, taking up the controllers and hunching over in their focus.

When Opera finally returned after an hour, they had only gotten to the third match, and Azz and Clara were evenly matched. Clara kept trying to throw off Azz by throwing in additional challenges, such as individual poses whenever their avatar had an extended combo sequence activated. Azz clearly didn’t appreciate the extra work, but Sullivan hadn’t protested against Clara’s additions, so the fire-wielding demon was forced to rise to the challenge.

Iruma, propped up enough to lean against Sullivan’s leg, was just laughing and smiling at the antics of his friends, allowing the chair demon to judge whether the poses were dramatic enough. There was a flush over the human’s checks, but rather than the fever that had clouded his face in previous weeks, the joy and happiness were the clear causes today.

“I’ve returned, with the bakery’s best products,” Opera announced, well aware that everyone was too caught up in the impromptu show that was on display. Sullivan used a spare controller to pause the game, causing Azz and Clara to both freeze mid-dramatic pose. The two frantically windmilled their arms in an attempt to regain their balance, only to fail and collapse across the foot of the heating pad. Iruma just laughed with pure mirth, and Sullivan gave the servant a wink.

“Thank you for the trip, Opera,” Sullivan answered. “Why don’t you tell us how it was?” So Opera responded about their trip, and unboxed the pastries and cakes that he had been supplied with, upon revealing that Sullivan’s household were the intended recipients.

Iruma took the offered treats, and pulled Clara and Azz to sit with him while they ate. The victor hadn’t been decided yet, so it was fine for the two of them to sit with him, right?

Maybe, Iruma considered as he finished one treat and started another, maybe one day he could trust them with his biggest secret. Until then, he would happily spend his days with these demons.