[identity profile] amylan.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] redpenwriters
Title: Greyscale
Author: [livejournal.com profile] amylan
Beta: N/A
Rating: K+
Genre: Shoujo, Fantasy
Notes/Warnings: None
Summary: There's a reason why Magical Girls are rarely grown up.
Length: 8003



Selphi had, however, grossly underestimated Aya’s capacity for holding grudges. It had been a week since the whole thing with Ms. Wakahisa and the girl still hadn’t spoken a word to Selphi. In the mean time, it seemed that Selphi had been right about the vampire, since the blonde had become increasingly irate over the past few days.

Then again, Selphi mused, it could also be because she hadn’t made any sort of apologetic gesture toward the other girl. But since the American had been right, she saw no reason to apologize, and that was that. Aya would just have to get over it in her own time.

…Fat chance of that happening in this lifetime.

So the American found herself pursuing the other girl after school. “Aya-chan,” she called, trying to get the girl’s attention. Of course, Selphi reminded herself, the problem wasn’t that Selphi couldn’t catch the other girl’s attention; it was that Aya was actively ignoring the other girl.

Selphi still had to try. “Aya-chan, wait up!” she yelled, catching up with the girl at the bus stop. She grabbed the girl’s arm to keep her from going anywhere. “Hey, come on and talk to me.”

“Miss Waters, if you do not remove your hand, I will roast you on a spit, no matter that we are in public,” the blonde hissed out.

“Oh, come on, Aya-chan, don’t be like that,” Selphi whine petulantly. “I thought we were getting to be friends!”

“…Miss Waters, believe me. You are the last person on this earth that I would ever consider being friends with.” With that, Aya jerked her arm away from the other girl and began to stalk across the street, giving a cursory glance to each side for cars.

“Aya! Dammit all, Aya, would you just—“ Selphi was cut off by the loud honking of horns.

Aya turned at the sound of the horns as well, in time to see Selphi’s body fly through the air and crash to the ground, rolling a bit before coming to a stop.

“SELPHI!”

***

Aya sat in the waiting room, watching the doors of the operating room nervously. It had been several hours since Selphi had been rushed into surgery for the injuries that she had sustained – several broken ribs, a broken leg, and a concussion among other things.

If I had just waited for her, Aya speculated desperately. If I had just listened to what she said… What was she going to say? What if she d—no, no, it cannot happen. Please, do not let it happen…

“Have ya heard any news?” Aya looked up to see the earth witch.

“What are you doing here?” she asked. “I do not think that this concerns you.”

Ami shrugged. “Doesn’t concern you either, but here ya are,” she pointed out before taking a seat next to Aya.

The blonde glared at the other girl. “She is my partner,” she replied vehemently. “Of course this concerns me!”

“And she’s a fellow witch, so of course it concerns me,” Ami retorted smartly. “Now are we done with our little pissin’ contest so you can tell me what’s goin’ on?”

Aya continued to glare at the other woman for a moment more before finally responding. “I do not know. The doctors have been in there for over two hours and there has not been any news on her condition.” She shifted her gaze from the other girl to her hands, wringing them restlessly. “Her family is over there,” she added, nodding over to them. “I… I have no idea what I should say to them.”

“Why do ya have to say anything?” asked Ami. “It’s not yer fault, Arashi, it was an accident. It could have happened t’ anyone.”

“But it wasn’t just anyone, it was Selphi!” Aya snapped. “This shouldn’t have happened! She could have listened for the cars or sped out of the way but she didn’t because I distracted her! I’m at fault for this!”

Ami rolled her eyes. “When yer done crucifying herself, maybe you’ll listen to reason – this was not yer fault. If Waters wasn’t payin’ attention, then that’s her fault and she paid for it. No one is gonna blame you fer anythin’, ‘cause there’s nothing to blame ya for.”

“You don’t understand,” Aya snapped, then crossed her arms and legs, turning her face away from the other girl. She heard Ami sigh before heaving herself up. There was the soft sound of footsteps on the tiles and Aya was alone once more.

Aya relaxed back into her previous position, staring at her hands again. It should have been me…

***

To be honest, Aya had had no intention of going home until she was certain that Selphi was safe and secure in the hands of the surgeons, but having to stay in the same room with her family took its toll. Several times she thought that she could see them glancing at her out of the corner of her eye – wondering what she was doing there, mostly likely. Selphi had never introduced Aya to her family, and the only reason that Aya knew they were the other girl’s family at all was because she recognized Selphi’s mother, Kyung-Soon Shin, from a picture on the cover of a fashion magazine.

So Aya found herself wandering home in a daze, still trapped in her thoughts of blaming herself for the accident. It was in this daze that she found herself bumping into someone.

“Ow, watch it!”

“Oh, sorry,” Aya replied automatically, ignoring the other person in favor of continuing home.

“Oi, you can’t just bump into someone like that and expect some lame-ass apology like that to cover it!” the other person snapped.

Aya turned around, sighing. “Look, I am very sorry for bumping into you, but if you don’t mind, I have something very important on my mind. Please leave me alone.”

The blonde turned to walk away, but before she could leave, she found herself being grabbed by the arm. “What do you want, I already apologized!” she snapped.

“Hey, look, I just wanted to say sorry,” the other girl said. “It looks like whatever it is must be pretty serious, and you probably didn’t need me jumping on your back to top it off.”

“No, I didn’t,” Aya snapped, then forced herself to calm down. “Your apology is accepted. Thank you.”

She turned to walk away from the other girl when she found her arm being caught once more. “Yes?”

“I was wondering, do you want an escort home?” the girl asked, grinning. “In your condition, you might end up running into a mobster or something and seriously pissing him off, and then you’d be dead.”

“I’ll be fine on my own, thank you,” was Aya’s tart reply. She pulled her arm away and began walking once more, but the strange girl quickly moved in front of her and prevented her from moving ahead.

“I insist, really. As an additional apology for being such a brat while you’re in pain,” the girl explained. “Come on, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Aya bristled at the idea that a girl like this could harm her, but quickly cut herself off and sighed. “Very well, it is not as though you are going to listen to me anyway,” she said, the last part mostly muttered under her breath.

The girl smiled brightly. “Great! I’m Himeko Kurosawa, and you are?” she asked, giving a short bow as she introduced herself.

“Aya Arashi,” Aya replied curtly, beginning to walk ahead once more. This time, Himeko tagged along, trotting after the girl much like a terrier after its master.

“Arashi, hm? Like… Arashi, the business CEO?”

“Yes, that would be my father.” Aya’s normally chilly manner quickly turned to Arctic at the mention of her father.

“Wow, it must be great to be related to someone like that,” Himeko commented. “And you must be really rich too, right?”

“We have enough to live comfortably,” was the reply. “And I would hardly know if it is ‘great’ to be my father’s daughter or not – I hardly ever see him, as he spends most of his time traveling around the world for business meetings.”

There was a low whistle from Himeko. “So much for rich kids having an easy life,” she remarked. “Do you live by yourself?”

Aya shook her head. “No… I live with my mother. She is a rather strict woman, but I have learned quite a bit from her.”

“Really, now?” There was a wide grin on Himeko’s face. “What’s she like?”

“Well, she is very traditional,” Aya found herself saying. “But she has a strong pride from being a descendent of samurai. She has made sure that I have had an education in all the traditional Japanese skills for women, and she has also taught me the art of using the naginata.”

“Oh, you can use a naginata? That’s so cool!”

The blonde smiled a little. “Yes, I have been using one ever since I was a child. My mother says that my proficiency is on an expert level – only a few months ago, we had a sparring match and I won for the very first time, so she taught me the succession technique.”

“You should be very proud of yourself,” Himeko complimented. “I’ve tried to use a naginata before, but the damn thing was just so unwieldy that I couldn’t even swing it without hitting someone in the head.” She laughed embarrassedly. “Good thing that the blade was made of wood.”

“Yes, a very good thing.” Aya looked at the other girl with amusement. “If you want to learn to use the naginata, then you ought to call my mother and arrange lessons with her. She often takes in students for private tutoring.”

“Really?” Himeko’s expression lit up. “Well, thank you! Maybe I will. Would you mind giving me her phone number?”

Aya paused for a moment, then nodded, beginning to fish around in her pockets for a pen and a piece of paper. Looking up, she found that Himeko was already holding both items out to her, a slight look of amusement on her face.

“…Thank you.” Accepting the items, she quickly wrote down her mother’s name and her home phone number, as well as office hours, then handed it all back to Himeko. “I suggest that you do not call on the weekends unless it is an emergency – Mother prefers not to take calls those days.”

“Got it.” The other girl tucked the items into her pocket. “I probably shouldn’t call on holidays either, then.”

“I would not advise it, no.” Aya looked around her surroundings. “This is my neighborhood. I only have a few streets to cross before I am home.”

“I’ll leave you off here, then.” Himeko bowed. “Thank you for letting me walk you home.”

“Thank you for walking me home,” Aya returned. “It was… enjoyable. I hope that you decide to take lessons with my mother.”

Himeko laughed a little. “Well, we’ll see. Goodbye, Miss Arashi.” The girl gave another bow and walked away, leaving Aya alone once more.

Aya smiled slightly, then began her way home once more. Himeko had been a badly needed breath of fresh air after the stress of the day, Aya decided. I feel so much better just talking with her.

Reaching the door, her worries from before struck. Miss Waters… Is she all right? Did the surgery go well? Aya dropped her things by the door to be picked up by the servants and, after looking in her day planner, dialed in an unfamiliar number.

“Yes, hello?” came a voice speaking heavily accented Japanese. “This is Kyung-Soon Shin. How may I help you?” Despite the accent, Aya thought that she could hear tension and exhaustion in the woman’s voice.

“Ah, hello, Ms. Shin,” Aya replied nervously. “My name is Aya Arashi. I am a… classmate of Miss Waters’. I was there when the accident occurred and I was also in the waiting room. I believe that you saw me?”

“What?” the woman asked, as though she were only half-paying attention. “Oh, oh, yes.”

“In any case, I was hoping that you could pass on some information regarding Miss Waters’ condition.”

“Yes, of course. Well, she survived the surgery and is in the intensive-care unit of the hospital. She’s currently stable – the doctors say that if she makes it through the next few days without complications, then she’ll be on the road to recovery, though it may take some time for her to fully heal from her injuries.”

Aya heaved a sigh of relief. “I see. Thank you. There are a few other people that I know of that would like to know this information as well; do you mind if I tell them?”

“No, not at all.”

“Thank you. Well, I’m sorry for bothering you. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye.” There was a soft click on the other end of the phone, and Aya hung up as well.

Selphi was alive. She was safe. Thank god. Smiling to herself in relief, the blonde collapsed onto her couch for some rest. She would be scolded later, but she needed one badly if she wanted to finish her homework for the day.

***

“So, Waters is alive, huh?”

“Yes.” The smile had yet to fade from Aya’s face, even a day later. “I have the number for her room in intensive care and her mother has given me permission to visit, so I am going to head over today and see how she is.”

“She was hit by a car, Arashi, how do ya think she is?” Ami asked dryly. “I guess I ought to go visit her at some point, too.”

“She probably would not appreciate it,” Aya replied dismissively. “In any case, you would still need to get permission from her mother.”

“I already have permission,” Ami replied.

Aya stopped and looked at the other girl strangely. “You already spoke with her mother?”

“Nope,” Ami replied. “But as long as she’s not banged up too badly, I’m pretty sure Waters’ll let me in herself. We have some stuff to go over, anyway.”

“’Some stuff?’ What kind of stuff, may I ask?”

The blue-haired girl shrugged. “Just witch stuff. She asked to look for more demons a few days ago, that’s all. Don’t go getting’ your panties in a twist, Arashi,” she warned before turning off and heading for her home.

Aya just shook her head and continued on her way to the hospital.

Hospitals truly were depressing places, Aya thought to herself as she walked along the corridor. Having already checked in with the nurses’ station, she was now trying to find Selphi’s room number.

211… 213… 215… Here it is, 217. Aya knocked on the door softly and went in. Upon entering, she froze in the doorway.

“Oi, hey, Aya-chan,” Selphi croaked, waving her good hand at the other girl. “Nice of you to come visit me.” The American was propped up in bed, one arm in a cast lying across her arm, the other wrapped in soft dressings. She also had her head covered in soft bandages as well, as there were a few spots where she had scraped her face on the road. Looking down the bed, Aya saw that the girl’s legs were, for the most part, unblemished, with the exception of the cast that her left leg was in. The leg in the cast was elevated so that it was above her heart.

“Miss Waters… Are you all right?”

Selphi shrugged, then winced. “Except for the throbbing pain in my head and the throbbing pain in my arms and the throbbing pain in my legs and the… well, you get the idea. Besides all that, I feel great! Can I have some water?” she asked, looking at the water bottle on her bedside table longingly.

Aya was quick to oblige, opening the water bottle and lifting it to Selphi’s lips. The girl drank as though she was as dried out as the desert. “Thanks,” Selphi said when she had finished the bottle off. I can’t wait to get the bandages off of my arms. You know, at meal times they have to have someone come in and feed me? Feed me, like I’m a little baby!” She let out a huff of air, lying back. “It’s so degrading.”

“It could be much worse, though,” Aya pointed out.

“Nooooo, it couldn’t,” Selphi whined. “Unless I was dead, which… would be bad, but I wouldn’t know it and at least I’d have a little bit of dignity.”

Aya could feel her eye beginning to twitch. “Well, then, you should just commit suicide,” she suggested angrily. “If being dead would be so preferable to being alive, then what are you doing here still?”

Selphi looked at the other girl as though she were insane. “Relax, would you? I was only joking and besides, I like living, even if the pain parts are kind of annoying.” She grimaced as she tried to move the arm in the cast. “You take everything too seriously, you know that?”

“And you don’t take anything seriously enough!” Aya yelled. “Do you have any idea how worried everyone was while you were in surgery? You could have died in the operating room, you could have died on your way here in the ambulance, and yet all you care about is your dignity?”

“You’re not listening to me.” The American gazed coolly at the other girl. “Aren’t you being a little hypocritical, anyway?” she asked, her tone light but her words the complete opposite. “After all, you all here are the ones that kill yourselves over your honor and pride. No,” and now a small smile spread across Selphi’s face, painful as the expression was. “No, you really have nothing to say to me.”

“Miss Waters-“

“Don’t let the door slam when you leave,” was all that the other girl said before settling back into the bed. She began to flip through the channels, as though the other girl didn’t even exist.

Aya was rooted to the floor for a moment, but soon her anger began to take control of her. “Fine,” she spat out. “Just fine. See if anyone else will care about a worthless slut like you!” With that, she spun on her heel and stalked out of the room, not caring if anyone heard or saw her.

On her way out of the wing, one of the nurses stopped her. “Miss Arashi?”

“Yes,” she snapped out, hardly in the mood to deal with incompetent medical personnel on top of everything else that day.

“Miss Waters has just informed us that your permission to visit has been rescinded,” the nurse said, hunching a little at Aya’s gaze. “So you won’t be able to visit her from now on, and security will be called if you violate the order.”

The anger that Aya held inside of her began to rage out of control, and Aya could feel pressure building behind her eyes. “Of course, I will be happy to oblige,” she replied in a frigid tone. “Good day.” With that, the blonde continued on her way to the elevators.

That girl, that worthless girl, I don’t know why in the world I wasted even an ounce of worry on her, Aya raged internally. Gods, I… I wish that she had died in that accident. She would have deserved it! Loathsome, inconsiderate bellycrawler! What use does she have on this planet! Just kill her! Whatever deity exists, whatever you are, I beg of you to just kill her and free me from her influence!

As Aya continued to seethe, the pressure grew stronger and stronger, until she began to feel as though her head was about to explode. She jabbed the button for the elevator to open and pressed a hand against her forehead, gritting her teeth against the pain.

***

“Oi, Arashi.”

“I do not want to hear it, Miss Aomori,” Aya stated flatly as she tried to eat her lunch in peace.

“Too bad, yer gonna listen anyway.” Ami tapped her foot on the ground as she thought about what to say. “You really need to get over this whole thing with Waters. The both of you are actin’ like a couple of kids…”

“She does not take anything seriously,” Aya retorted. “I do not need to waste my precious time with someone so frivolous, especially when that someone cannot even appreciate that I am making the effort to spend time with her.”

“Have an ego much?” the blue-haired girl asked sardonically. “Ya really seem ta like makin’ everythin’ about you, dontcha?”

“I do not know what you are talking about.”

“Just something. Anyway, you’ve been friends with Waters for a while, haven’t ya? You oughta be used to this kind of thing.”

Aya was silent for a moment. “We are not friends; we are partners. In any case, I do not know why that should matter. She was never been so grievously injured before; it doesn’t follow that she would treat this incident the same way she treats everything else.”

“She treated the Arata thing the same way that she treated everythin’ else,” Ami pointed out. “Face it, Arashi. Waters is Waters, and there’s not a damn thing in the world that’s going to change that – not any time soon, anyway.”

“…I suppose.”

“Good. Now, maybe you two will make up and stop running around and being such damned idiots.”

The remark sent the blonde bristling. “And just what do you mean by that?”

Ami rolled her eyes. “Yer bein’ an idiot by not rememberin’ what Waters is always like. She’s bein’ an idiot by not bein’ any other than what she is, even if it means that you an’ her aren’t gonna play nice anymore. So yer both bein’ idiots.”

Aya opened up her mouth to make a remark, but Ami just turned away. “Oh, shove it, Arashi. Tryin’ to keep you two workin’ together is gonna end up giving me enough grey hairs for the rest of my life. Just swallow yer pride and get everythin’ over with, wouldja?” With that, the onmyouji left, moving through the brush silently as the plants parted themselves to make way.

That girl, Aya seethed. Why does it seem as though everyone believes that they know better than I do when it comes to matters such as these? Ridiculous… Just ridiculous…
She stared at the reflection in her teacup. “…Oh, dammit all to hell,” she muttered, sculling the rest of her drink.

So once again, Aya found herself heading to the hospital. The girl better be more amenable about this whole thing, that’s all, she thought to herself. She continued her internal dialogue of grudgingly allowing Selphi a second chance. Distracted, she once again found herself bumping into someone.

“Hey, wa – oh, hello, Miss Arashi!”

“Hm?” Aya looked up. “Oh, Miss Kurosawa. It’s nice to see you again.”

“The pleasure all mine,” the other girl replied with a smile, walking closer. “Distracted by something again, huh? Same thing as last time?”

“No. I… Someone that I know was hospitalized recently, and that was why I was distracted before,” Aya explained. “I went to see her the other day and we ended up having a fight.”

“A fight, huh? Was it a big one?”

“I suppose it was. She was making jokes about her health and told her that she ought to take things more seriously. She had me so worried about her…” A small part of Aya wondered why she was spilling out all this information to an almost complete stranger.

“Huh.” Himeko looked thoughtful. “Well, it might have been insensitive for to make cracks about something that bothered you, but did she know that you were worried in the first place?”
Aya paused. “…Well, no, but she seems to notice everything.”

“If she’s sick enough to be in the hospital, I don’t think she’s going to be paying much attention to anything but getting better,” Himeko pointed out. “I realize that you probably don’t want to hear all of this, but it’s just something that you ought to consider.”

“I suppose.” Aya squirmed a little. “She said that we Japanese placed too much in pride as well, though…”

“What would she know about pride?” Himeko retorted scornfully. “With all the luxuries and competition in this world, we must set high goals for ourselves to make a niche. She’s only an American; don’t take her words so seriously. They don’t have a clue what it means to be honorable anymore.”

“You have a point.” Aya relaxed. “I suppose that Miss Waters and Miss Aomori were right; I do take things too seriously.”

“Yep. You need to relax more, Miss Arashi,” the other girl teased lightly.

“Please, call me Aya.”

Himeko looked pleased. “All right, then. You can call me Himeko.”

“All right, then. Well, I am going to go visit my friend now. I suppose I will see you around?”

“Definitely. Have a nice day!” The girl trotted away happily, and Aya was left with another smile as she continued on her way to the hospital.

***

“You seem awfully cheerful today,” Selphi remarked as she continued to watch television. “Did you meet someone special?”

“…No.” The blonde walked further into the room. “Were you the one that told the nurses’ station that I had permission to visit again?”

“No one else would have cared enough to,” Selphi said.

“…I see.”

There was a long silence in the room before Selphi finally broke it. “Look, Aya-chan, if you’re going to say something, you may as well spit it out. Mulling over it until Doomsday isn’t going to help anyone.”

Aya flushed with anger. “Well, I am so very sorry that I wanted to be careful about my wording,” she answered sarcastically. “I suppose that I should not take your feelings into account.”

“No, you shouldn’t, because I have a thick hide and you’re not about to hurt me with a few offhand remarks about whatever it is that you’re thinking of. Especially if it’s about us both being idiots, or whatever it was that Ami-chan was ranting about – I didn’t catch all of it.”

The Japanese girl had a expression crossed between annoyance and amusement. “She spoke with you as well?”

“Something like that, yeah,” Selphi replied. “I don’t think that I’m being an idiot, but then I don’t really pay attention when anyone calls me an idiot.”

“Yes, I have noticed that,” Aya said dryly. “So, I suppose that we are at a stalemate.”

“Not really. I will willingly admit that I’m an idiot as long as you made a mistake when it came to judging Ms. Wakahisa.”

Ms. Waka… “What does that have to do with anything?”

Selphi looked amused. “Well, she is sort of the reason that this whole fight between got started, isn’t she? You didn’t think that I was right about her, and I was.”

“There is still no proof of that,” Aya argued. “You are just making a baseless conjecture from what you sensed using those weird abilities that your body gave you. That does not mean that you can make perfect judgments about people.”

“And what about you? You have a ‘weird ability’ that your body gives you too, don’t you? Besides the whole fire thing, before you try and use that as a cover.”

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Aya said stiffly. “You seem to think that I have the power to “make windows into men’s souls”, as it were, but I can tell you, you are far off-course in your guesses.”

“Aya-chan, you don’t play a player, okay?” The American finally made eye contact with the other girl. Her expression was one of apathetic boredom. “And you especially can’t play me right now. Not after that car accident, anyway.”

“Just because you have been injured, it does not mean that you can guilt me into giving up whatever information that you want me to—“

“Oh, I don’t need to guilt you into anything, Aya-chan,” Selphi replied. “As much fun as that might be, it’d also take far too long, since you can walk away and I can’t follow you, it’d be a wasted effort.”

Aya looked at the other girl strangely, trying to figure out what she was talking about. If she wasn’t going to manipulate her into giving answers…

Wait. She had said something earlier about hearing her thoughts… But it could not be, right? She did not have that ability…

“…Miss Waters?”

“Hm?”

“Are you… Are you reading my mind?”

Selphi shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m hearing a lot of things nowadays… Maybe my brain is just bored and picking up on whatever it can to occupy itself.”

“…I see.”

“It’d be cool if I could read people’s minds, though, wouldn’t it?” Selphi enthused. “You know, I have a cousin that can do that? Two cousins, actually… Anyway, it’s just my senses that told me that Ms. Wakahisa wasn’t evil.”

“…Why do I have the distinct feeling that once again, you have kept potentially vital information from me for your own amusement?”

“Well, you’re half-right, but I didn’t keep it only for my amusement. I’m not that petty, you know,” Selphi cajoled. “I wanted to see if you could make a leap of faith and just believe in my judgment for once.”

“Your judgment is flawed.”

“Because it’s not yours?”

Aya smiled just a little. “Among other reasons. You are too emotional, Miss Waters. You allow your feelings and your attachments to people to interfere with your duties.”

Selphi snorted. “Right. And what feelings and attachments did I have to Ms. Wakahisa?”

“The both of you are demons, particularly demons attracted to blood,” Aya replied. “I assume that there is some sort of clannish quality between you lot, like the kind between lions.”

Selphi just started laughing hard. Every few moments, she would have to stop breathing long enough for the pain to fade away again, but then she would resume laughing once more.

Aya tapped her foot against the floor. “I fail to see what’s so humorous.”

“Of course – hahaha-owwww – of course you do.” She stopped speaking until her laughter finally faded. “You have no idea what demons are really like, do you?”

“I have been battling them for the last three years; I would think that I would have some understanding of their workings,” she replied coldly. “I am no greenhorn.”

“Neither am I,” Selphi pointed out. “Believe me, Aya-chan, I’ve got a lot more experience with these guys than you do – and personal experience to boot. I like to think that my unique perspective is a little closer to what the demon world is like.”

“I do not think that I understand what you are getting at.”

“Probably not. My point is, you’re thinking of demons the wrong way. You simplify too much.”

“And as far as I am concerned, you are making things too complicated. Either make your point or drop the subject,” Aya demanded.

“Geez, okay. Patience is a virtue, you know…”

“As though you can talk,” the blonde replied spitefully.

Selphi just grinned. “Point taken. In any case, you think of demons like animals. It seems like you just think of them as beings with some ability for organization and making plans, but in the end they’re just animals that happen to be smarter than most other animals.”

Aya was a little shocked. “I… suppose that is true. I do not see what that has –“

“The problem is that demons aren’t a single herd of species like humans are. You can’t just say that all demons are the kind like that,” Selphi interrupted. “You’re right that some of them are like that, but others are more like people.”

“Those things are not people,” Aya snapped. “People do not kill others.”

“And what about murders and the like?” Selphi pointed out. “People are people. They’re capable of killing; I’d think that someone like you would pick up on that.”

The Japanese girl raised an eyebrow. “’Someone like me’?”

“You have earmarks, that’s all I’m saying,” was the reply, Selphi waving it off with a dismissive hand. “Getting back to the demons, if a demon needs to feed on things, then you can be sure that they’re going to be competition. They might occasionally work together to bring down bigger animals, but for the most part, they like drinking or eating or whatever by themselves. The only thing that might prevent a betrayal based on food would be higher reasoning skills.”

“I believe that you have just proved my point about Miss Wakahisa,” Aya replied. “She must feed on blood, and that is all she cares about.”

“No, what I proved was that I’m not going to be soft on her just because she likes blood,” Selphi replied. “In fact, that person especially hates vampires, so there’s even less reason to me to be kind.”

“Fine, then, I will grant you your point for the moment,” the blonde allowed. “Now, would you mind explaining to me what would stop Ms. Wakahisa from feeding on other people?”

“Simply put – she’s a person.”

“…You are speaking in riddles again.”

“Oh, sorry,” the American replied with her usual obnoxious grin. “I mean that before she was a vampire, she was a person, and normal people don’t exactly want to eat other people.”

“That does not stop most vampires from feeding,” Aya pointed out.

“Oh, I’m not saying that she’s not an odd one if she really does feed on demons,” Selphi said, conceding the point. “I’m just saying that in a place like Japan, where everyone is superstitious and there’s a lot of magic around, it’d be best for her to keep a low profile. Feeding on the demons around here would provide her with food, and destroying the demons gives the added benefit of making the city safer.”

“I still do not believe you,” Aya said flatly.

Selphi sighed. “Oh, fine. I also cheated and asked Ami-chan to find out whether or not she was feeding off of humans or demons.”

Aya raised her eyebrows. “Really now. And how did she find that out, may I ask?”

“Just one of her many sparkling talents, I guess,” Selphi replied with a shrug. “She did something to see Ms. Wakahisa’s memories. She was telling the truth.”

“And what if Ms. Wakahisa and Miss Aomori are working together? Or if Ms. Wakahisa was able to fool Miss Aomori’s mind?”

Selphi chuckled this time, learning her lesson from before. “Aya-chan, Ami-chan makes her living by exorcising and killing demons. I don’t think that she’d work with one – or that one would work with her. And Ami-chan seemed pretty confident about the whole thing, so I’d say that whatever she did was a pretty reliable thing – then again, you should probably ask her more about it.”

“I will.” Aya glanced at the clock. “I need to be going; our history and literature teachers have assigned quite a few chapters to read since you have left.”

“All right. And bring my homework with you the next time that you visit, would you?” Selphi requested. “I get bored just lying around in here all day long.”

“…Right.” Shaking her head, the blonde left Selphi watching TV in her room.

***

As soon as Aya stepped into the house that day, she was caught by her mother. “Where have you been?” Tomoe Arashi demanded, crossing her arms over her chest as she waited impatiently for an answer from her daughter.

“I was at the hospital, Mother.” Aya toed off her shoes and changed into slipping, carefully avoided eye contact with the irate woman. “I apologize if I worried you.”

“You have done more than just worry me, Aya,” her mother replied sharply. “I just received a phone call from your cram school teacher. She says that you have not been attending your classes for the past few days.”

“I have been busy,” Aya began to excuse herself, but Tomoe swiftly cut her off.

“Whatever you are involved in, Aya, you need to re-evaluate your priorities. Do not forget, your father and I want you to be as successful as possible, and that means preparing for the entrance exams for a good college. This is no time for you to be slacking off, especially when the midterm exams for this year are coming up.”

“I remember,” Aya whispered.

Tomoe nodded. “Do not disappoint us, Aya,” she said. “We have high hopes for you.”

“Yes, mother.” The answer was half-mumbled and the speaker stared at the floor.

“Straighten your back and look me in the eye when you answer, Aya,” Tomoe said. “I did not raise you to become a doormat to anyone who appears stronger.”

Aya did so, rolling her shoulders back and looking back at Tomoe with a steely glint in her eyes. “Yes, mother.”

Tomoe nodded, then left Aya to her own devices.

***

“Miss Aya!”

“Hello, Miss Himeko,” Aya greeted without looking from her book. Then she paused. “…Wait, what are you doing here?” As her mother as wished, Aya had returned to attending cram school.

“I go here, of course,” Himeko replied cheerfully. “I didn’t know that you came here too, though.”

“Er… Yes. Are you in a different class?”

Himeko nodded. “Yep!” She pointed in what was assumedly the direction of her classroom. “I’m still on the same floor, though, so I don’t know why we haven’t seen each other before.”

“Probably because we were not aware of each other before,” Aya pointed out. “Besides that, I... have not gone to class for the last couple of days.”

“Because of your friend?” the other girl asked with a knowing look.

“…Yes.”

Himeko frowned a little. “You know, if your friend is willing to keep you from something as important as cram school, maybe she isn’t the kind of friend that you ought to have.”

“She is a good person,” Aya immediately said. “She’s not the brightest person in the world, but she is still a good person.”

“I’m not asking whether she’s good or not,” Himeko pointed out. “You’re the one bringing it up.” Aya remained silent, and the other girl sighed. “Look, I’m just trying to look out for you, Miss Aya. I know what it’s like to have someone close to you be… sick or injured badly enough that they have to go to the hospital. I just want to make sure that you understand that even though your friend’s life is on hold until she gets out, that doesn’t mean that your life needs to be on hold, too. You need to take care of yourself.”

“I can take care of myself well enough,” Aya replied. “But… Thank you for your concern. My mother has already warned me that I need to regain my focus on my studies.”

“Good.” Himeko smiled widely. “Well, see you later!” She skipped out of the classroom, drawing not a few looks from the more serious members of the class. Aya just smiled a little to herself before returning her attention to her book.

***

The following Saturday, Aya once again visited Selphi, this time bringing a folder of homework with her. The American had regained the use of her non-dominant hand, so she was able to begin working on the chapters that she had been assigned to read. The two girls shared their usual banter, and Aya left her partner in high spirits.

Said high spirits promptly ended a few minutes later when she ran into Ami on her way out of the hospital. “Now what are you doing here?”

“What yer doin’ here – payin’ a visit t’ Waters.” Ami tilted her head slightly, a slight smirk crossing her face. “Nothin’ wrong with that.”

“I fail to see why you need to visit her,” Aya replied coldly. “You are not her partner or her family. Her health should be none of your concern.”

“Yeah, exceptin’ that she’s part of a team, just like you are, and I’m part of that team too, remember?” Ami rolled her eyes. “Just occasionally, Arashi, ya need to remember that you and Waters don’t need ta do all this work by yerselves. Yamino an’ I can help, too.”

“Whatever. I would be careful about disturbing her,” Aya ordered before beginning to walk away.

“What I do ain’t any of yer business, Arashi,” Ami called after her. “After all, you’ve got a new master to chase, don’t you?”

The blonde spun around. “Do not insult me,” she hissed out. “I have no master other than myself.”

“So ya say,” Ami replied, shrugging. “We’ll see how things turn out.”

Aya was rendered by the apparent stupidity of the other girl, as well as the nonchalant insolence displayed. Pursing her lips, she turned back to the doors and stormed out. Ami watched after the girl for a bit, then sighed and headed for the elevators.

***

“Did you have fun doing that?” Selphi asked as the blue-haired girl entered her room, eyes glued to the TV.

“Doin’ what?”

“You know.” The American shot the other girl a significant look.

“Nice to see that mind-reading ability of yours is comin’ along well,” Ami remarked, taking a seat in a chair at the window. She rested her chin in one of her hands, leaning her elbow against armrest.

“Yeah, the only problem is that I can’t shut the damn thing off,” the other girl grunted. “Ah, well. It can’t be hard. I’ll just have to learn how to ignore it is all.”

“Can you do that?” Ami frowned. “I’ve never hearda telepathy being constant like in yer case… Maybe somethin’’s wrong.”

“Don’t go sounding the alarm already, Ami-chan,” Selphi soothed. “It’s only been a few days, so maybe it’ll just go away after my brain heals or whatever.”

“Maybe.” Ami didn’t look convinced.

“…You really haven’t had constant telepathy like this before? I mean, like when you were developing yours?” Selphi seemed curious about the other girl’s experience.

Ami shook her head. “Nope. When it developed, I just started pickin’ up on people’s thoughts all of a sudden, and then it’d go away again. I didn’t have a clue what was going on ‘til my dad took me aside and explained it all. Then my family started trainin’ me to control it.”

“How long did that take?”

Ami shrugged. “A couple of years."

The brunette leaned her head back into the pillows, staring up at the ceiling as she calculated in her head. “That sounds about right. I think it was the same for my cousin.”

“Yer gonna have to explain yer whole family to me sometime, ya know that, right?”

“Oh, I figured as much,” Selphi replied serenely. “Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time for that once I’m back on my feet and figuring out creative new ways to cover up all these marks – speaking of which~” She looked at the other girl expectantly.

Ami sighed and hefted herself out of the chair. “Yeah, I know, I know,” she muttered, walking over to the IV stationed by Selphi’s bed. Fishing around in her pockets, she found and pulled out a small glass vial of something green and somewhat putrid looking, as well as a hypodermic needle in a plastic bag.

“Are you sure that that’s the right stuff, how did you get that needle, and is it sterilized?” Selphi listed out her questions. “And if it isn’t, then I don’t want it anywhere near me. I don’t need to deal with some kind of infection on top of the rest of these things; that’s going to be a pain in the ass.”

“Relax, I soaked it in alcohol after I made it,” Ami replied, removing the cap from the bottle. She screwed the hypodermic needle in its place, then began feeling around Selphi’s neck.

“What are you doing?” the injured girl demanded, trying to squirm away from the other girl and only succeeding in causing herself more pain. “You still haven’t answered my other question!”

“Because it’s stupid. I have all of ‘em labeled, see?” The blue-haired girl turned the vial so that Selphi could see the label, which had a few characters that the American couldn’t read. She moved on to checking Selphi’s good arm, palpating at certain spots.

“I don’t know what that-“

“Got it.” Without warning, Ami jabbed the needle into Selphi’s arm. The girl would have let out a shout, but in the same movement Ami had moved her hand from Selphi’s arm to Selphi’s mouth. For a few minutes, Ami was preoccupied with keeping Selphi still until she calmed down again.

Fortunately, given Selphi’s condition, the American calmed within a few minutes. “Dammit, Ami-chan! That hurt like hell!” she half-yelled and half-whined.

“Oh, suck it up,” the other girl replied. Resting her hand on the vial, she concentrated, focusing her energy on the herbal remedy within. She could sense the liquid begin to flow out, and a few minutes later the vial had emptied itself out into Selphi’s body. “There. I had to shove it in straight, so it’s probably going to take a while before it starts to kick in.”

“It’ll be worth it when it does, though,” Selphi sighed. She flinched as Ami pulled the long, thick needle out of her arm. “Goddamn, lady, why did the needle have to be so big?”

“It’s not like I’m drawing blood,” Ami replied. “I had to have somethin’ big enough for th’ potion to flow through, and it’s a little chunky.” She set the empty vial on the bedside and began fishing in her pockets again, this time coming out with a small medical kit.

“Oh, great, you put chunky stuff in my veins. I feel so much better,” Selphi retorted sarcastically.

Ami paused for a moment from tearing open gauze packets from Selphi’s arm to give the girl a good smack in her head. “If ya don’t want the stuff in yer veins, I can always pull it out for ya.”

“No, thanks. That’ll be worse,” Selphi replied, giving a little shudder. This earned her another smack from Ami for not holding still. As Ami began wrapping bandages around the gauze, the brunette said, almost conversationally, “Aya-chan’s starting to become distracted.”

“I didn’ notice,” Ami replied dryly, continuing her work. “Except fer, ya know, the parts where you won’t leave me or Yamino alone any time we visit, just complainin’ on and on about how Arashi’s abandoned you and whatnot.”

Selphi pouted a little. “It’s not my fault…”

Ami shot the other girl a tired look. “Right.”

“Anyway, it seems like her attention’s elsewhere nowadays, doesn’t it?” Selphi continued, as though the previous conversation never took place. With a grin, she added, “Looks like I’m just not important anymore.”

“Are you poutin’?” Ami demanded. She finished bandaging the girl’s arm and grabbed the vial and needle, both of which quickly melted into unidentifiable lumps in Ami’s hand. “I’ll need to be careful cleanin’ these…” she muttered to herself.

“Just remember that you’re not supposed to re-use needles,” Selphi reminded forcefully. “Anyway, since I’m stuck in bed, I can’t exactly go watching over Aya-chan…”

“I already said I was gonna do it, Waters. Ya don’t need to keep askin’,” the onmyouji pointed out.

“Well, it doesn’t seem like you’re all that enthusiastic about it…”

“I’m not. But…” Ami looked over her shoulder at a mirror near the door to Selphi’s room. The other girl had had it brought it a few days ago, though God knew why when she was in this condition. The reflection in the mirror warped, and then was replaced by another image – that of Aya and another girl strolling down what looked like a shop street. They didn’t seem to be aware of anything strange.

Ami smiled to herself. “It’s no trouble at all. That’s why I volunteered.”

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