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Part 1

“A-Actually……umm………I-I—” she stuttered. First impressions were critical, and though Yui knew it was an honest mistake, she didn’t see a way out of this without embarrassing the boy beside her.

 

“Actually…I’m—”

 

“—Yuuko Asahino.” said the boy, raising his hand. “That’d be me.”

 

Voices murmured through the columns of students as their teacher stood with mouth agape, looking back and forth from her clipboard.

 

“Aaaagh geez— nothing ever goes right the first time around!”

 

With a frustrated sigh, she quieted the voices in the classroom and faced her two new students with redeemed composure.

 

“Sorry, sorry; first week troubles and all. Won’t happen again, I promise.”

 

Yui looked to the boy beside her, but the expression on his face was difficult to read.

 

“REGARDLESS, you two were absent yesterday! As punishment, I’ll be talking to the both of you after class, and you still need to introduce yourselves.” Her sudden chastising of the two caused the students to jump, including the two in front of her who gave a small bow.

 

“Well,” she huffed, crossing her arms. “Asahino, once again, I apologize for my carelessness. Seeing as how you already started, please continue with your self introduction.”

 

“It was a simple misunderstanding, no apology necessary.” the boy bowed. He turned to his classmates, a neutral expression covering his face.

 

“Good morning, my name is Yuuko Asahino. Though my name is a bit odd, please feel free to call me Yuuko or even just ‘Yuu’. As for something interesting about me…” He put a hand to his chin as he looked to the ceiling. “I guess I really enjoy reading. Anyway, I look forward to being with everyone this year.”

 

With that, he bowed. Slow, confused claps emanated from the students’ hands, and while the pause after his words were brief, it seemed to stretch into hazy minutes. It was during this time Luka could feel the others do exactly what he was doing— trying to understand the boy in front of them.

 

Even before he spoke, the first thing noticeable about him were the eyes— an impossibly vivid golden color, like liquid sunlight; after that………nothing. He was average in height, and the bangs of his hair parted slightly left, but nothing more. Nothing besides his eyes caused him to stand out; even his introductory speech, which was as normal as one could get, felt bland if you removed the confusion from the name.

 

Luka couldn’t help but feel that, compared to the Yuuko he spoke to yesterday, this was a completely different person.

 

How……does that work?

 

“Hmmm, keeping it simple. Not really common, but I like it; thank you Yuuko. Now then, we’ll move on to you Miss…?”

 

Miss Wakako gestured to the girl, who gave a small bow and paced towards the front of the class.

 

“Itomei. Yui Itomei,” the girl said, formally bowing. Murmurs much louder than last time filled the classroom, with words like “cute,” “soft,” and “wife,” being thrown around; it was easy to see why. Like the boy, the most striking feature about her were the eyes— iridescent like a star, if stars were as green as polished emerald.

 

No……not an emerald. It was deeper, and more reflective— like an ocean.

 

Maybe turquoise?

 

Unlike the boy, her unique appearance didn’t end there. Night black hair danced smoothly around her shoulders, reaching past her waist; tied to one side of her hair was an equally turquoise ribbon, which seamlessly complimented her small nose, lip, and chin, which appeared attractively sharp. Hardly anyone noticed the braid tied across the back of her hair, save for Luka who’d seen her up close.

 

If the boy Yuuko was covered in normalcy, then the girl Yui radiated elegance.

 

“As for something interesting about me, I enjoy writing and sewing. I’m close to my grandmother, enjoy a calm atmosphere, and my favorite time of day is—”

 

“—Itomei, that’s where you are!” Miss Wakako said, knocking on the clipboard with her knuckle.

 

The girl looked up in confusion. “Y-Yes; did I do something wrong?”

 

“Not at all, and I’m sorry to cut you off, but you’re in the wrong class.”

 

The atmosphere shattered like glass.

 

“The wrong…class?”

“Hmph,” the teacher nodded. “This is class one-four, you’re in one-two further down the hall. Makes sense, yesterday I heard a student was absent there too—” Her face suddenly became covered in thick shadow, her tone distraught. “—meaning my other absent student still isn’t here.” She sounded so defeated Luka couldn’t help but smile; he stood up, ready to give a speech when—

 

“Who cares?! Let her stay here!”

 

“That’s right that’s right! I’ll take Yui over that absent student any day of the week!”

 

“What they said! Besides, what if the absent student isn’t a cute girl!?”

The class erupted in excuses to take the green-eyed girl in front of the classroom over their mystery student, but their teacher ignored them while leading Yui to the door.

 

“Come on, I’ll take you there and explain our misunderstanding.”

 

“Ehh? B-But I’m supposed to be with Yuu!” her elegant persona dropped as the teacher, “let’s go!” began dragging her.

 

“W-Wait a—Yuu! Yuu nooo!”

 

Yuuko waved goodbye to the girl with outstretched arms who made a last ditch effort to stay by grabbing the sides of the door frame. Ultimately, however, she was dragged against her will to her correct classroom.

 

Murmurs became full fledged complaints as the students spoke to one another in riled voices, at least, they were until Yuuko took his seat by the wall.

 

He didn’t know much about him, but Luka got the feeling Yuuko was used to a classroom staring at him.

 

“Are you dating that girl?”

 

“You mean if we’re in a relationship?” he asked, removing the items from his bag.

 

“Obviously!” another student eagerly pushed. “What’s your status with her?! Are you dating? Have you asked her out?!”

 

“My relationship with her………I’ve known her since childhood so—”

“ALREADY!”

 

“It’s over!”

 

“What’s with some people having all the luck? It’s unfair!”

 

“Idiots! Don’t you know the childhood friend never wins!?”

 

“This is real life you moron!”

 

Before he could finish his thought, a debate erupted between the students. As quickly as Yuuko was roped into the conversation, he was cast from it.

 

“Heh. Well, if you want my opinion then the childhood friend should always win after beating out the rest of the competition!”

The group of students looked to Luka in discomfort, quickly resuming their conversation after an uncomfortable few seconds.

 

“W-Well it also depends on genre! If it’s horror, then she gets brutally murdered! I mean how else is the main character supposed to grow, you know?”

 

The talking became louder, as if to drown him out, but the tension was still there—acknowledged or not, the student ignored the uncomfortable statement.

 

“Ha, or better yet—”

 

A loud rattle from the front of the classroom ended the conversation—

 

“Sorry about the wait class! Now that we have our new student, let’s get back on track. Picking up from where we left off yesterday……”

 

—and the faces of relief on the students couldn’t have been clearer.

 

Yuuko eyed the boy across the room; why would he let his mask slip so easily?

 

No.

 

It’d be far, far more accurate to say that the boy didn’t even own a mask.

 

The point of a mask was to hide, to become someone else; the boy staring at the tile below seemed to not understand that. In a world full of masks, Luka Schafer chose to hide away, with eyes glued to the ground; no one would be able to see his face.

 

Not even himself.

 

Was………that truly such a bad thing?




Part 2

He felt a tap on his shoulder once the majority of the students had cleared the classroom.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Yuuko!” he said to the boy pulling up an empty seat. He paused for effect, putting a heavy weight to his tone. “Do tell, how was your experience? This was your first time, so surely you were nervous, heart racing, blood pumping!”

 

“When you put it like that, it sounds a bit misleading,” he said, scratching the back of his head. Luka’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion until—

 

“—not like that!” he cried. “I meant your first time in class!”

 

“Heart racing, blood pumping.”

 

“Now I can’t tell if you’re serious or not.” he groaned.

 

“I wouldn’t come talk to you if I weren’t being serious.”

 

Those sudden, strong words caused him to sit up straight— mostly out of befuddlement.

 

“Serious…about what?”

 

“About what we talked about yesterday.”

 

“A-Ahh, I see……truth me told, however, I’m not exactly sure what the topic of conversa—”

 

“Luka,” said the boy, leaning towards him. “You haven’t looked me in the eye this entire conversation.”

 

“Wha—that’s totally not true,” he said, forcing himself to look at the boy before facing the floor. Focusing on a specific tile, he used it as a mental anchor to lift himself from his desk, hurriedly packing his things. “A-Anyway I should head back to the dorm; we have lots of work to do and I’m not the best at studying.”

 

He was halfway to the door when the still-seated boy called his name.

 

It was just like yesterday. He didn’t want to be there; he didn’t want to be in the room.

 

So why wouldn’t his feet move?

 

“Luka; do you want to look at yourself?”

 

“I……don’t understand what you mean.”

 

“Most people wear masks,” he said, rising from the desk. “Sometimes, they wear it for so long, they forget how to take it off to see themselves. But you don’t have that problem.”

 

“I don’t understand what you mean!”

 

His voice came suddenly, startling Yuuko, yet he didn’t step back. No, instead he kept behind the boy’s back, the boy who wouldn’t turn around.

 

“It’s hard, isn’t it?”

 

“………………”

 

“You probably know what I mean. You want to change, but where would you even start?”

 

“………………………”

“I wanted to talk to you because I want to tell you where.”

 

“………………………………”

 

The room was silent for a long time, so silent Yuuko could hear the shaking voice of the boy in front of him.

 

“………………you………don’t know that. Just………leave me alo—”

 

“HOOOUOH! New kid!”

 

A boy with messy dark hair tied into a ponytail walked into the room; lazy bangs dangled over his sharp eyes as he came in with another boy through the second classroom door.

 

“Hello.”

 

“‘Hello’?” he smirked. “Why are you being so formal? We’re in the same class, right? That makes us friends, and friends shouldn’t be so uptight with each other.”

 

“Guess it’s just the way I was brought up.”

 

“Sounds depressing, though it makes sense given that intro of yours. Seeing as how that’s the case, let me give you some friendly advice.”

 

The boy approached Yuuko, putting an arm around his shoulder and speaking in a voice that was obviously directed.

 

“You see New Kid, a community is made of like-minded people. Like-minded people work well together, they support each other, and don’t try to one up each other for attention.”

 

“Oh? I didn’t think my introduction came across that way.”

 

“No no, see your introduction was simple, kind of bland, but it wasn’t an outlier.”

 

The grip around his shoulder tightened, though Yuuko got the feeling the boy wasn’t doing so on purpose.

 

“When someone acts out from the group, they destroy the balance. Outliers like feeling special, but don’t consider what it does for everyone else! As a result, the community and all its members are in disharmony, all because some BRAT wants to feel special! Don’t you think so?”

 

Yuuko gave no response, staying in complete silence for a few moments before finally offering a response.

 

“I do; up to a certain point.”

 

The boy gave an amused sort of sigh before pushing Yuuko away.

 

“Well, no one can ever agree one hundred percent on something, but as long as you don’t encourage any outliers, you should get along just fine with me and everyone else in the class.”

 

“I’ll keep it in mind, thanks.”

 

“You’re welcome,” said the boy, turning to the all too quiet blonde. “What do you think, ‘Shepherd’? Are all us harmonious ‘sheep’ lost causes?”

 

No reply came from the boy.

 

“Hmm, I’d have figured you’d jump at the chance to talk about how normal people are. Well, it doesn't matter. Sheep or not, they have somewhere to belong, and they always will.”

 

With nothing left to say, he slapped the back of the boy’s shoulder while calling for his friend who’d been collecting his items. They were about to leave, but not before the boy looked back to Yuuko.

 

“You should remember our talk, it might come to save you one day. See you around, New Kid.”

 

With that, the boy and his friend disappeared into the nearly empty halls, leaving an uncomfortably heavy feeling in the air.

 

It stayed like this for a long time, neither moving for some reason; perhaps waiting for the tension in the air to dissipate, or waiting for a response from the other. Thinking this, it was Yuuko who shattered the tension in one phrase, catching Luka off guard.

 

“Mind if I visit your room tomorrow morning?”

 

“…wh……what for?”

 

“To start.”

 

“Uaaah, s-sure?”

 

Without missing a beat, Yuuko walked out of the room, bag against his side. He put one foot into the hall before turning back.

 

“I’ll be there early. Really early. Wear something you won’t mind sweating in.”

 

With that, he left; leaving Luka with a smile he didn’t know was from pain, or amusement.

 

“When you put it like that,” he said, wiping his eyes with his sleeve, “it sounds misleading.”




Part 3

It was around five in the morning when Luka heard his doorknob rattling.

 

At first, he thought it could’ve been his dream. He willed himself to silence everything around him, a metaphorical mute button for his created world; it worked for a time, until knocks began to follow. He tried to open his eyes, but they were too heavy.

 

If death is here for me, that’s okay. I’ll just get a bit more rest before I’m taken.

 

This was his thought process, more or less. He was so disoriented he didn’t know if he was dying, all he knew was the allure of his dreams calling out from his mind. Accepting it’s invitation, the sounds of knocking dissipated into muffled blurs, and he returned to his restful slumber.

 

That is, until the piercing tapping sounds started ringing against his balcony door.

 

The first came like nails on a chalkboard, his eyelids instantly flew open and he threw off the covers in disoriented rage. Another sharp *tap* sound echoed against the glass door, leading Luka to open it in a hurry. Maybe it was because he didn’t have his glasses, or because he was still mildly disoriented from waking up in a hurry, but he didn’t see the pebble being hurled in his direction until it struck his forehead.

 

“Eugorph!”

 

“Ah, sorry about that. I’d already thrown it when you opened the door.”

 

“What the…” rubbing his head, Luka squinted to make out the shape of the voice in front of him.

 

“Is that…Yuuko?”

 

“Hey.”

 

“Yeah, hey, what are you—”

 

In that precise moment, the drowsiness wore off, and his eyes properly adjusted to the morning light. If it weren’t for the fact he clearly woke up after getting hit, he would’ve thought the scene in front of him was a dream.

 

On second thought, maybe it still was.

 

“—ARE YOU ON A TREE BRANCH?”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“DON’T SAY THAT SO CASUALLY!”

 

He grabbed the railing and looked down; his room was on the second floor, meaning they were at least six meters above ground. Even so, the branch Yuuko precariously stood on seemed a bit higher than that.

 

“What are you doing!? Why are you on a branch!”

 

“You weren’t answering your door.”

 

“So you decided to climb two stories and throw rocks at the glass door?!”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“DON’T SAY THAT SO CASUAALLLLY!”

 

“Can we talk about this later? I’m pretty sure this thing is breaking.”

 

Luka grabbed his hair in frustration and panic as he helped the boy inside.

 

A moment later, both were panting on the dorm floor due to the amount of adrenaline coursing through their veins so early in the morning.

 

“…I……” huffed the boy next to him, “am so sick………of climbing trees.”

 

“You’re……insane………you could’ve fallen!…”

 

Yuuko waved aside the comment. “It’s fine, I fell from that height one day when I was seven.”

 

Luka didn’t have the energy to rebuttal. But he did have the energy to think about why yesterday he seemed to be such a different person during class; yet after lessons were over he confronted him on something they spoke on before.

 

He didn’t understand him—

 

“…do you want to see yourself?”

 

—and worse yet, it seems that confusion was one-sided.

 

“So,” Luka said, rising from the floor. “Why are you here?”

 

“I told you to be ready early in the morning.” he said, picking himself up. “We’re late, at this rate we won’t be able to do much.”

 

“Do much of what!?”

 

For the first time, Yuuko gave him a clear and direct answer.

 

“Running.”

 

“………”

 

“……………”

 

“……………………”

 

“………………………”

 

“……………………………”

 

“Runni—”

 

“No, I heard, I’m just………” Luka sat back down on his bed. The adrenaline started to wear down, and in replacement, a heavy feeling in his stomach grew. He knew exactly what it was, having felt it so many times before.

 

“Thanks………Yuuko……………but I’m alright.”

 

“But you’re not.”

 

Those words caused him to flare. From out of nowhere, and without warning, Luka began to shout.

 

“What do you know about me being alright!?” he accused. “Is that why you came here, huh!? Is this all just some elaborate way for you to make fun of me?!”

 

He felt awful as soon as the words left his mouth, but the boy in front of him just stared straight ahead. Silence followed, and even though Luka’s anger still flared, it wasn’t an awkward silence.

 

It was………contemplative?

 

Yuuko crossed his arms as he looked up in thought. “Maybe I’m doing it for a few reasons, none of them meant to make fun of you.” he insisted. “But, if I had to name the biggest one, it’d be because I’m selfish.”

 

Luka’s anger quelled, replaced with bewilderment.

 

“Selfish?”

 

Yuuko walked to the balcony’s glass door, but didn’t open it. From there, one could see a still rising sun comforting a still waking city.

 

“I heard something once; I think it was a dream I had when…………well, I heard a phrase. ‘Move yourself, and move others.’ Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do; under the influence of someone, I’ve been trying to go back to my ideal.”

 

“………it can be a bit hard to keep up with him, but that just means he isn’t bothering to put on a mask around you.”

 

“At the time, the ideal wasn’t very realistic……no; it’d be more accurate to say I didn’t even have one, at least not set in stone. That’s why I want to reach it now. Being realistic about my ideal………if I do that, I might be able to reach it.”

 

“Under the influence of someone………is that Yui?”

 

He gave Luka no verbal answer, but it was enough.

 

When he turned, at that very moment the rays of the morning light illuminated the back of his person, making his faint smile that much harder to see. It wasn’t a reassuring smile, it was more like the one he saw the day he went to his apartment.

 

No, just similar.

 

Even Luka could tell there wasn’t a trace of happiness to it.

 

So what kind of smile was it?

 

“It’s not possible to change yourself in one day, Luka. But one day is a good place to start.”

With those words, he mentioned something about trying one more time tomorrow. He didn’t fully pay attention, because the words still echoed in his mind.

 

“One day is a good place to start.”

 

He layed back down, but wasn’t tired and couldn’t go back to sleep even if he tried. He didn’t want to.

 

He didn’t know how long he stayed there, but enough time passed to where the sun struck his eye.

 

With that, he got up, and began preparing his things for the day.




Part 4

There were times he still tried telling himself the isolation didn’t bother him; sometimes it worked.

 

He would talk to himself about how none of the people around him had gone through what he had, leaving their homes, taking a journey. They didn’t know what it was like to be ostracized, and that clearly put him above their level.

 

They were lies, of course. He knew they were.

 

What Ryu had mentioned to Yuuko the day prior, he had no rebuttal against it. He was an outsider, he knew that, but there was no other way to get rid of the pain in his chest without becoming a black sheep. In the end, he understood what he’d done— he’d traded in one type of pain for another.

 

But, at the very least, this pain was something he could choose. Unlike the last, which felt like a gaping hole in his head and chest, this pain felt melancholic. He had a say in which type he could feel; without becoming the black sheep, the gaping emptiness, the pain he had no say in, would’ve stayed.

 

When Luka walked down the stairs from his dorm to the ground floor, he felt out of breath. His body suddenly felt so much heavier than he felt it needed to be, and the reason was obvious. When he traded in the gaping emptiness for a melancholic anchor, it came with another drawback. It’s not like he noticed the weight gain, he just looked in the mirror one day and didn’t like who stared back.

 

Ever since that day, he tried not looking in the mirror; instead, he hoped everything would return to normal. And the days passed, yet nothing changed.

 

Then again, he never really tried to change anything.

 

He hoped the problem would go away on its own, that with time his habits of eating comfort food and staying locked inside would yield results. And they never did.

 

Similarly, just like the weight gain, he didn’t notice when he’d started avoiding the topic of his health in general. He got himself becoming angry when it got brought up in an anime or novel or movie; of course he wanted to look the same way the heroes in those stories did, but it was easier to just let it go. It was easier to tell himself that his suffering separated him from others.

 

Then a boy he hardly knew crashed onto his dorm floor, telling him he wanted to help because of his own selfish ideal.

 

And before that, a girl he hardly knew saved him from his bully, which had wounded his pride much more than he thought it would— mostly because he was surprised he still had any left.

 

This morning had done something similar to him, pride he didn’t even know was still there became wounded. And it made him furious. Irate. Enraged.

 

He wanted to shout; to hit something, someone. Throw his books on the floor, break his table while the tears blinded him.

 

He wanted to cry for stooping so low. He wanted to scream that he hated himself, but couldn’t find it in him to change. He wanted to sob on the floor and say that he’s selfish too; selfish for not wanting to work for what he wanted to change about himself. Selfish for doing what he’d done to his friend Ryu years ago; starting this whole cycle of bullying in the first place.

 

Selfish.

 

And remembering these things that happened just this morning, to his surprise, the tiniest bubble of pride welled inside him for not doing so.

 

Maybe it was the midday scenery on the rooftop. Maybe it was because, for the first time since school started, he avoided eating his usual lunch of sugared cakes and comfort food. More than anything though, Luka knew it was because he let those feelings of frustration course right through him like a river.

 

He didn’t act on any of those impulses. Though he wanted to punch the concrete beneath him, he didn’t; though he wanted to shout at the top of his lungs, he wouldn’t.

 

Those bitter feelings clung to him still, but for the first time, he found it in him to do something about them. Yuuko had seen right through Luka, even when he wouldn’t see himself.

 

He didn’t want to let this chance, this one last opportunity, go to waste.

 

So when Luka returned home that evening after school, he clung to that frustrated memory. When he chose to make a semi-healthy dinner, he clenched his fist in anger.

 

And when Yuuko knocked on the door early that next morning, Luka was quick to answer.

 

“That was fast.”

 

“No……it wasn’t.”

 

The boy looked confused for only a moment before nodding, motioning his hand for his friend to follow.




Part 5

“DAMMIT!”

 

He screamed as much as one could when out of breath. He stomped on the rubber track, the rebound hurting his foot and causing his already wounded pride to fall even more.

 

“No one ever starts at the level they want. It takes time.”

 

“You don’t get it!” said the boy drenched in sweat. “I was ready to change, I was ready to get my pride hurt, but not like this!”

 

“It takes time.”

 

“Look!” he said, pointing behind him.

 

It wasn’t hard to see why the boy was disappointed. They’d barely started jogging along the school’s track when, just a fourth of the way through, Luka had already fallen out of breath.

 

“That’s the most pathetic run I’ve ever seen in my life!”

 

He sat on the grass to one side, calming his heavy lungs. He felt he was suffocating, the heat produced by his own body making him dizzy; he could faint any minute. He couldn’t help but think, however, that through all this he at least made for good entertainment.

 

“I don’t even know why I came out here.”

 

“Yes you do, and it’s not for them.”

 

Luka knew he was referring to the same thing he was seeing; two students off in the distance snickering at the boy heaving like a fish out of water.

 

“If the people around worry you, tomorrow we’ll run outside the school.”

 

“Right, that way the whole city can laugh at me instead.”

 

Immediately, he felt a sharp, stinging pain from the back of his head. Grabbing it, he looked up at the boy who now stood beside him.

 

“The outlier of the story wanting to stay hidden; it’s not too often you hear something like that.”

 

“I—!”

 

“………?”

 

“……nothing. Nevermind.”

 

Yuuko scratched the back of his head before speaking. “Still, I know a place where we can go.”

 

“Yuuko, I—”

 

“One day.”

 

“What?”

 

“I told you I’d tell you where to start, and that’s exactly where. One day. If people laughed at us, or pitied us, that’s fine, but you don’t change by stopping. Today was one day, and it was a good place to start.”

 

Luka didn’t quite know how to respond to that; in fact, he still had a difficult time talking to the boy in general. It wasn’t like it was hard to talk to him, per say, but it’s like he chose his words so carefully, like he’s writing a storybook.

 

It’s different from someone like him, who only acts like someone from those stories.

 

“GAH—!” The boy furiously rubbed the back of his head, glaring at the boy next to him. “Why do you keep hitting the back of my head!?”

 

“Cause you keep looking down.”

 

“I—!”

 

It happened again.

 

What could he say to something like that?

 

Again, he’s seeing through him.

 

He’d always noticed himself doing so, but it was akin to a person being aware of their breathing.

 

“I……does it matter?”

 

“Of course it does.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Cause you can’t see where you’re going by looking down.”

 

Hesitantly, he took the outstretched hand of the boy. He thought it was an offer to help him off the ground, and it was, but as soon as he was on his feet he felt an odd texture in the palm of his hand.

 

“What’s this?”

 

“A seed.”

 

“Why would you give me a seed?”

 

“Plant it.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Cause it’ll take time.”

 

He was about to ask whether he was referring to Luka or the plant, but the words died in his throat when he realized the metaphor.

 

“Do you know how to?”

 

“Of course I know how, it’s how I used to help my parents out back home.”

 

“By planting?”

 

“Something like that,” he said, pocketing the seed. “Does this mean we’re trying again tomorrow?”

 

Yuuko patted his shoulder, which he forgot was still wet with sweat. Not-so-discreetly wiping it away, he gave him a thumbs up before the both of them returned to the dorm to prepare for morning classes.

 

As they reached the dorm, however—

 

“Heh?”

 

—the key Luka inserted twirled around the lock with zero resistance.

 

“How did…? Why—?”

 

All of a sudden, a certain noise returned to his memory.

 

“Yuuko, that rattling from yesterday morning— did you try picking the lock?”

 

“Aha,” he humorlessly said, scratching his head. “Yeah, turns out it’s actually pretty hard to pick a lock. I’m sorry about that.”

 

Luka stood there for a few seconds before—

 

“Pff……pfffpffftahaha………aaahahahaha!”

 

—bursting into laughter.

 

“Yu-Yuuk—Yuuaahahaha!”

 

“W-I mean it’s hard picking a lock. I tried looking up a guide online, but they made it difficult to follow with talks about ‘pins’ and ‘torques’.”

 

“Ahahahahahaha! N-No I ju—I-I thought you were the type to be good at everything, you know?”

 

“Ahh, that’s definitely not true.”

 

“That reminds me,” he said, opening the door. “Tomorrow, I want to show you something cool.”




Part 6

“But why here? There’s nothing particularly noteworthy.”

 

“I don’t know. He just said, ‘Bring Yui and meet me by the school’s north stairs.’”

 

“Maybe he wants your advice on something?”

 

“Or yours.”

 

“Oh Yuu, you flatter me so,” she said, fluttering her eyelashes.

 

“I didn’t even say anything.” he exasperated.

 

When he looked back to her, Yui’s head had tilted in his direction.

 

“You…” he looked around them before continuing. “You want to do it here? Now?”

 

“What? There’s no one around and Luka should arrive by the time we’re done.”

“I just………haven’t you gotten over it yet?”

 

“Excuse me.” she spoke with an accusatory glare. “Need I remind you it’s your fault I’m like this? Take responsibility for your actions.”

 

“Yui, it’s just that I—”

 

“…Yuu……” she said in a tone completely different from just a few moments ago. “Please…? I feel anxious without it, and we’re not in a place we can be alone.”

 

He sighed through his nose, but couldn’t help a faint smile. She was right, it was Yuuko who had begun the ritual, he had a responsibility to continue it. Especially if it was for her sake.

 

Making sure no one else was around, he gently began rubbing the top of Yui’s head. He could hear her soft giggles as she braced her clenched hands against her chest, savoring the feelings of warmth spreading from the top of her head to the tips of her feet.

 

The two stayed like that, with Yuuko tenderly, and forcefully, caressing the top of her head. Yui felt the boy in front of her was about to say something, but they heard footsteps quickly approaching and returned to more normal positions.

 

“My friends,” said an out of breath blonde boy. “I thank you……for taking the journey……to………anyway, you guys are going to love this.”

 

“Luka, I’m glad you invited us for lunch, but what exactly is ‘this’?”

 

With another deep breath, the boy sprinted up the short stub of stairs behind them and removed two metal rectangles from his pocket, one of them ending in a sharp angle and the other having grooves.

 

“Yuuko, my young apprentice, would you care to explain or shall I?”

 

“Young…apprentice?”

 

“I………accidentally broke the lock to his dorm trying to pick it.”

 

“You……what?”

 

“Haha! Indeed! And so, I’m returning the favor to our dear Yuu-boy by teaching him how to pick locks!”

 

“Yuu-boy!” she said, hitting his shoulder, “you should know better than to break peoples’ things!”

 

“W-where did that nickname come from all of a sudden?”

 

“Still,” Yui said, leaning in closer. “I’m surprised you know how to lockpick.”

 

“Hmphmph; Yui, I am a master of many arts, skilled in the ways of prestidigitation! Yuu-boy will undoubtedly pick up a skill or two from being my apprentice!”

 

“Prestidigitation?”

 

“Indeed!……I’m not quite sure what it means……”

 

“No seriously, Yuu-boy? Eh?”

 

Yui seemed to be the first to gain a sense of normalcy from the situation. “Wait, you two! Going up to the rooftop is against school rules, we could get into trouble!”

 

“Precisely why there are no cameras around to observe us Miss Yui!” Both of them looked around while Luka continued working, and it seemed he was right. There wasn’t a single camera in sight. “If we stay away from the roof’s edges, indeed, there shan’t be a soul to spot us.”

 

“Luka, I still think—”

 

She stopped her sentence when something nudged her arm. To her right, Yuuko was giving her the slimist of nods; though she didn’t know what he was thinking, she knew him well enough to understand his theory.

 

“There’s something he wants to talk about in private.”

 

Still, why the roof?

 

She had an idea of that also.

 

Because, for the moment, that’s the type of person Luka is. The only place he could talk.

 

The boy beamed as he swung open the door with fervor, but hesitated the moment sunlight struck their bodies. It wasn’t until Yui saw a small finger touch the back of his head, that he raised his eyes, looking back to them with a faint smile.

 

“Say,” she asked the both of them to their surprise. “Are you both free this Saturday?”

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About the author

OceansInTheSky

Bio: Author of The Promise of Yuuko Asahino and The Aspects, but the former is my passion.
Site where updates first happen: https://ncode.syosetu.com/n3526fy/

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