Help, I was Transmigrated into a Cannon Fodder Character Turned Main Villain's Romantic Interest? - Yesuna - プロジェクトセカイ カラフルステージ! (2024)

Chapter 1


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Brother? What’s wrong?”

Tsukasa’s head snapped up to meet the owner of the voice, tinged with concern. One moment he was drifting off to a tragic fantasy novel wrapping up the tail end of its unfortunate characters’ (victims’) fates, the next he was looking at a pouting blond girl with cute pigtails. Her rose-pink eyes were scrunched up as she awaited her, if Tsukasa inferred contextually, brother’s words. Tsukasa tried his best to unsubtly scan the room. Judging by the girl’s growing pout, he judged it wasn’t at all.

“Brother! I know you can hear me! Unless training too hard can cause loss of hearing,” The girl was going for teasing, but the way the last sentence wavered at the end gave away her worry in the statement being true.

“A-ah! Of course not! Uh…sister?” Tsukasa had wanted come off as more confident than questioning, lest he gave away that he was very much an only child.

The girl rested a cool palm on Tsukasa’s slightly sweaty forehead. The casualness of the gesture could only be indicative of them being family with a close, caring relationship. “Maybe you hit your head on something as you trained today. You aren’t usually so spacey. Are you sure the knight exams can’t wait until next year?”

Knight exams? There’s no way…


“Are we saying each other’s names now? Tsukasa?” Presumably-Saki was back to pouting, her hands pulled back to cross her arms to emphasize her disgruntlement. Tsukasa had to hold back a chuckle at the cute gesture meant to come off as affronted. He just as quickly had to hold back the urge to scream and flee the bed where he was detained.

What were the chances of Tsukasa getting thrown into the thick of the novel he just finished reading hours ago? Or however long he had been allowed to drift off for. Strange how he was able to go to sleep after reading such a disappointing story that was borderline enraging from how frustrating the climax was. Tragedy after tragedy, character death after another avoidable character death, if only it weren’t for abundant miscommunication and selfish, 0 IQ side characters making bad choices left and right.

Saki Tenma was a cheerful, cute girl mentioned in passing in a fantasy novel titled Mad Wonderland. Generic name aside, maybe it was fortunate that Saki was featured infrequently in such a novel. She had met a quick end in the story, a casualty from a monster outbreak that razed the village. Off-screen as it was, it was a sad fate for such a nice girl that only wanted to support her brother’s dreams.

Tsukasa Tenma, a character Tsukasa coincidentally and ashamedly shared his name with, on the other hand was an arrogant, cringeworthy boy who made knighthood by the skin of his teeth. If it weren’t for obvious nepotism and bribery from absentee parents, the only other similarity Tsukasa could admit to having with his literary namesake, the poor boy would have been kicked out from lack of swordmanship and next to no magic affinity. The kid only had the title of nobility to stand on, yet he abused it to mock knights that could wipe the floor with him on the training grounds and even take pot shots at the big baddie of the novel. It was shocking he outlasted his sister in longevity, seeing the devastating amount of times he shoved his foot down his throat. The fate he ended up meeting was as cathartic as it was horrifying, seeing how Tsukasa was slated to take his place. At the time it was fun to see such an annoying character meet his comeuppance, one of the few deaths that felt deserved. Such a trash character was only present to highlight the integrity of the other righteous, hardworking characters in the novel. The best thing such a character could do in the end was die horrendously to the main villain to show off the power gap between them and the protagonists. What better way to demonstrate the might of the bad guys than to throw some expendable soldiers their way and see how easily they are obliterated. That’s right, Tsukasa was veritable cannon fodder if he didn’t figure out a way to change the outcome of the novel.

Tsukasa’s stomach grumbled at that moment, taking him out of his near panic-attack and causing Saki to let out a little giggle. Seeing how at least Saki seemed fond of him, the Tsukasa of the novel didn’t seem completely irredeemable. 99% irredeemable.

“Guess nap time is over. Why don’t I make us something, sister?” Tsukasa suggested as he finally swung his legs out from the bed sheets. Might as well ingratiate himself to the only person who saw him favorably.

“You’re going to cook, brother? It’s been so long since I got to eat your cooking!” Saki exclaimed, eyes wide in excited wonder. Make that back to 100% irredeemable, what kind of brother doesn’t have time to make food for their younger sibling, no matter how busy they were? Besides, Tsukasa doubted his namesake actually spent any time training, if their stagnant, poor swordmanship had anything to say about it. “Although, I can call one of the maids to fix something for us if you’re still feeling tired?” Saki suggested, concern still etched in her voice.

Right, maids. They were nobility weren’t they? House Tenma, represented with some kind of fancy family crest featuring a golden unicorn, symbol of purity and magic. Not that it meant much seeing how their parents defaulted so easily to bribery to get their way. The royal academy that book Tsukasa was guaranteed to get into was filled with knights and mages, some students admitted due to noble lineage and others through demonstrated prowess. There were quite a few noteworthy characters admitted due to their skills in both magical artes and athleticism, including Tsukasa’s favorite character that he sorely did NOT want to meet in this timeline. Such goal was borne out of self-preservation. He didn’t know whether dying in this story meant dying for real, and he didn’t have any desire to find out.

"Nonsense, sister. I'm more than happy to make us some food!" Tsukasa replied. He and his singular entourage reached the kitchen, decked out with a magically-powered gas-range and equally magical cooler for storing ingredients. So those without magic make do with expensive, mana-powered appliances. At least Tsukasa’s character had the power of money going for him.

Saki helpfully got out the pan and utensils as Tsukasa went hunting through the fridge for what he could make. Something quick and filling would be good, seeing how Tsukasa’s stomach wouldn’t shut up and Saki must have been up for a while waiting for her brother to finally rouse. He could easily make an omelet with stir-fried beef and veggies as a side, and use the excess later for soup stock. Saki seemed enraptured watching Tsukasa skillfully chop the washed vegetables, likely bamboozled that her brother had more prowess with a kitchen knife than a sword. Tsukasa made sure to chop slower.

Once the table was set, Tsukasa watched Saki excitedly dig in and hum in delight before picking up his own spoon. Might as well bite the bullet.

“Saki, how would you feel if I wasn’t able to get into the Royal Academy?”

Saki stopped mid-bite to look at him with surprise, like she was shocked Tsukasa was admitting a weakness. “I knew you had actually had some reservations about it, brother! Of course I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to attend somewhere else. Just… Mother and Father seemed so confident in you being able to get in.”

So in the end he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. His parents have him set on attending, basically a one-way ticket to his timely death. With how stringent the Tenmas were on tradition and the power of the nobility, Tsukasa would be more likely disowned than allowed to disgracefully attend some random trade school instead. Maybe he put up a confident facade to keep his sister from worrying about him. Book Tsukasa almost pulled on Tsukasa’s heartstrings. Almost. It hardly explained why he was such an unrepentant brat in the Academy, not to mention that he and his sister were hardly shown interacting in the novel to support this theory. Maybe the author forgot to write the interaction in, which would’ve helped to flesh out the cardboard character that Tsukasa was now filling the flat role of. God he was doomed.

“That’s right, guess I’ll just have to do my best. Becoming a knight is a great honor,” Tsukasa said a bit woodenly, spooning a bite of omelet into his mouth and tasting anxiety.

Well on the upside, it’s been a while since he got to share a meal with someone. Tsukasa’s own parents were dismissive at best, defaulting to a hands-off approach for child-rearing. The type to leave money on the table for groceries as they traveled around for work. It had made Tsukasa at least wish he had a younger sibling to dote on, or someone to eat dinner with instead of having to look at a blank wall as he ate in the dark. There wasn’t much point in wasting energy on lights to illuminate an empty house.

Tsukasa’s hand resting on the table was suddenly grasped between two others.

“Brother! I know Mother and Father are really strict about you getting into the academy, but it doesn’t mean that your path is stuck on only becoming a knight or mage when you graduate! I heard the credentials you get from graduating will help you in getting into any trade you want later on! You could become an ambassador or a part of the royal court like Father is! And if not, well, you’ll be an adult by then and should be able to do whatever you want!” Saki stated resolutely, firmly holding on to Tsukasa’s hand in what she perceived as encouraging. Tsukasa saw it as his lifeline.

His non-existent acting skills hadn’t resulted in being caught like the imposter he was in a side-character’s body, but rather caused his novel sister to be worried about him. When was the last time someone has cared to look at him, see how he felt about something? Whether he felt uncomfortable or just completely out of his depth? Saki didn’t have any power to overturn the ruling of their opulent parents, but neither did a fantasy school board where magic existed. She instead offered up her unconditional love and support to a self-centered brother who wouldn’t even make her breakfast. She was too good for this sad novel, and she deserved far better than what fate had in store for her.

That’s right, she’ll be ripped apart by wild monster hounds if he doesn’t do something. When did that happen in the story? If only he hadn’t dismissed it as another tragic loss and kept skimming. He had to remember, this was his darling sister’s life at stake now!

Either way, his best bet is to train up in the Academy, maybe make a few friends along the way that will support him in defending the village from the beast raid. Tsukasa and Saki were both currently living in one of the properties under their estate, a quaint house close to the fresh air of the countryside. Tsukasa recalled that Saki was relocated here due to her sensitive constitution and Book Tsukasa had followed with the excuse of the house being conveniently located near the academy. There were barracks that Tsukasa would be required to live in should he be accepted but that’s just another detail disregarded by Book Tsukasa’s tsundere(?) wiles.

Tsukasa gave Saki his most confident smile. “Indeed, Saki! I don’t know what I was so worried about when I have such a good sister to support me!” Tsukasa found he didn’t have to strain so hard to keep his smile up, especially when Saki returned it with a bright look of her own. They both went back to enjoying their meal.

"This is so good brother! I didn’t know you could cook like this!” Saki complimented affluently. Tsukasa preened from the praise. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching their adorable sibling eat well? Saki looked entertained by Tsukasa’s played-up peaco*cking, shoveling spoonfuls into her mouth faster just to emphasize her enjoyment. Tsukasa tutted and reached over to dab his sister’s sauce-covered mouth with a napkin.

“Now now, no one here is going to steal it from you! You would think the maids were starving you with the way you’ve been eating,” Tsukasa scolded lightly. Sure there was etiquette to be followed for the two of them, being offspring of nobility, but Tsukasa wasn’t about to enforce such rules as they dined in the comfort of their own home. Tsukasa was more concerned about Saki choking or having indigestion from eating too fast and explained so to his younger sibling. Saki went back to cutely pouting but obediently chewed her food thoroughly before swallowing. What a filial sister, Tsukasa hoped that if he ever had his own children they would be just as sweet.

Once they finished up breakfast and washing up, Tsukasa decided he might as well get some sword practice in. He did take fencing classes in his other life, but he didn't know how well such experience would translate here. Surely the Medieval style swords everyone used here will be heavier and unwieldy.

Tsukasa had grabbed what he assumed to be his own sword. The golden hilt was was decorated with an intricate design of a unicorn, its long flowing mane and wings curling around the guard of the blade. It was far more ostentanious than any practical blade needed to be. Clearly it was just as showy as its previous wielder, but was it just as useless?

Tsukasa unsheathed the sword, revealing the slim, silver blade of a rapier. He took the blade in hand and lightly pressed down on the metal, watching the blade flex and snap back into place as he let go. So his namesake didn’t swing around a big ol’ broadsword, at least he knew his limits in this one aspect. Tsukasa took a couple practice swings, then went through his tried and true fencing warm-ups. The blade was light and quick, far better than what Tsukasa feared he had to work with. He made sure to practice his footwork and stretches after confirming that his sword was useable.

After a few hours, he went back inside to find Saki next to the window, which had a view of the yard he had been training on.

“Brother, that was amazing! It’s like you developed a new technique overnight!” Saki exclaimed, rising to hand Tsukasa a towel to wipe his sweat with.

“Haha, do you mind describing how I looked different today from the other times I practiced?” Tsukasa asked, voice faltering. He didn’t expect Saki to be so attentive to his sword work.

“Well, you were a lot quieter? Usually you shout with each swing, you say it helps with vanquishing your toughest foes!”

“Oh,” Tsukasa said weakly.

“Oh and your swings were a lot quicker and small I guess? Like more jabby? You usually like to take big, powerful swings. But both techniques you use are equally cool, of course!” Saki tacked on at the end and Tsukasa tried his best not to face-palm. Clearly using the rapier wasn’t his namesake’s idea, but more likely whatever sword tutor the Tenmas had paid off to help their hopeless son. Book Tsukasa had likely looked ridiculous, using his slim blade like it was some big, grandiose broadsword.

“With all these techniques under your belt, your admission into the Academy is more than guaranteed tomorrow!”



“Brother you’re worrying me again…”

It’s tomorrow???


Idk if Tsukasa would’ve gone into acting if he didn’t have a sister to put on shows for, so our current Tsukasa is ambitionless before entering this novel

Chapter 2


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Couldn’t this world have been nice enough to drop Tsukasa off maybe a week before the academy exam? A single day is hardly enough to cram everything he needed to know! It’s like high school entrance exams all over, except he only had 24-hour notice before the test date.

And why was there only a practical portion to the exam? There’s no test on magical theory or history or even monster trivia. Do they just need warm bodies that know how to fight? Or maybe the author was too lazy to write it in.

"And say hello to Toya for me!" Saki said as she hugged him goodbye. Tsukasa hugged back, promising to visit on the weekends to share meals together again. Saki would be attending an all-girls academy soon, more focused on honing the fine arts rather than marital education. She had played the harpsichord for him after they had shared dinner together. He nearly shed a tear from how talented she was.

Tsukasa at least knew that the other Tsukasa was admitted with no magic prowess and next to no sword skill. Maybe he should count his lucky stars that he was transmigrated to a time before he did any irreparable damage to his reputation in the academy and was renowned as a bratty rich kid, all bark and no bite.

There was a carriage waiting outside their home, the trim done up in gold and the wooden body was either bleached or came from some kind of magical white birch tree. It was near blinding as Tsukasa adjusted the sword at his hip and climbed up into his ride. Guess the Tenma’s direct successor was expected to ride up in style. At least he didn't have to attempt to ride a horse to the academy, he’d likely miss the exam altogether.

The academy was just as ostentatious as expected. Rich fields of grass lined the paved stone walkways. Fancy marble fountains were scattered across the grounds and blooming flowers of every colorful, fantastical species were planted in beds. The building itself was a grand, beautiful castle, something taken right from a 3D asset store. Ezio couldn’t have found a better one to scale. Banners flew with a blue rose, the emblem of royalty, and glittering stained glass was etched with the same symbol. Tsukasa took in his fill of the sights as he stepped off the carriage and was guided to line up with the rest of the candidates at the training grounds.

He could hear a scoff coming from behind him, no doubt due to the extravagant entrance he had just made. Curiosity got the better of him and he turned to look for anyone eye-catching. Ah yes, there’s a redhead who stood out. He was likely Akito Shinonome, with the characteristic scowl and acerbic stare aimed at whoever was unfortunate to meet his gaze.

Of course, at that moment their eyes meet. Tsukasa put on his brightest smile and waved. Akito looked taken aback and immediately scowled, looking away to stare at the instructor in the front. Well, Tsukasa couldn’t begrudge the boy. Akito would later become one of the most skilled knights in the realm, joining the Royal Guard charged to look after the Crown Prince. Book Tsukasa hadn’t made Akito's life any easier, taunting him about his non-noble lineage and messy appearance. Shouldn’t the fact that Akito got here on his own merits make him all the more impressive? And Akito’s uniquely styled hair and casual clothes reminded him of those KPOP idols. Why did Book Tsukasa keep going out of his way to mock how the boy stood out?

Tsukasa decided to leave the poor boy alone for now and looked elsewhere. He glanced and saw a pop of long pink hair held in a high ponytail, very eye-catching and likely belonging to Mizuki Akiyama. A throat was cleared and Tsukasa finally looked to the front. A bespectacled man with well-groomed hair and a tailored suit stood in the front, looking out of place in the sea of applicants in practical clothing. Not like anyone was willing to call him out on it.

“Please wait until your name is called out. You will be expected to dispatch your targets with either weaponry or magic. No mana crystals or magically-automated armaments are allowed in this exam. No attacks should be deliberately targeted at another applicant. Anyone caught violating these rules shall be promptly asked to leave and forfeit their right to take this examination,” said the man with a stick up his ass. He didn't even bother to introduce himself. Tsukasa felt his nerves sinking in from the brief rules. They were given quite a lot of freedom in this test, otherwise. He caught sight of some people actually holding rifles. If they end up aiming those at another contestant wouldn't it already be too late to stop them?

Worry about yourself, Tsukasa! He shook off his nerves and finally looked to the side of the instructor. Oh that’s another incredibly important character, isn’t it?

Toya Aoyagi. Donned in a gray dress shirt and windswept two-toned hair, he looked just as princely as if he were wearing a crown and full regalia. He was there just to oversee the exam. The prince was already well known to have prowess with ice magic and would be attending the academy alongside the applicants who pass the exam. Saki had mentioned that he should say hi, but how favorable of an opinion could the prince have of him?

And like clockwork, the prince’s eyes met his and sparked with recognition. Tsukasa remembered Saki’s words and waved vigorously, mouthing hello with a smile. Might as well start off on the right foot.

The prince’s eyes crinkled, muffling a cough of laughter with his hand. Maybe they were on better terms than Tsukasa initially thought. Suddenly he felt a heated prickling at the back of his head. Tsukasa not-so-subtly turned around to find Akito glaring at him like he could reduce him to ashes with his stare alone. Oh no, calm down sir! Tsukasa won’t be stealing your best friend any time soon! In fact, he was planning on mending your relationship to the best of his abilities.

Toya and Akito, a prince and his most trusted knight. Well, they would’ve been if it weren’t for the boundless miscommunications throughout their interactions. If their relationship was a forest fire, Book Tsukasa was the convenient oil tanker truck that crashed right into it. Prince Toya would always try his resolute best to keep relations between nobility and royalty civil, and Book Tsukasa would always try his darndest to make it the biggest hassle for them all. Akito couldn’t stand within 10 feet of Tsukasa without getting badgered with annoying jabs and passive-aggressive taunts. It was like poking a feral wolf with a stick and expecting it not to snap. Toya ended up having to be the one to de-escalate, taking the side of nobility due to hierarchy and red tape. Akito would snarl back like a wounded wolf, determined to hide his hurt. With Toya having to maintain relations and Akito wanting to have nothing to do with nobility and politics, their relationship faltered. Tsukasa ruining a perfectly good friendship with his big mouth was just too depressing. They both ended up meeting their downfall in their own gruesome ways, without ever having the chance to reconcile. It was too cruel of a fate, Tsukasa hoped that they could get along now that Book Tsukasa wasn't around making fires that needed to be put out.

The examinations were carried out. Applicants were called on by test overseers to demonstrate whatever skill they had to take down the magical training dummies. Some of them took the form of a large golem, which was as terrifying as it was cool. Magic was real in this world; Tsukasa was actually watching someone throw lightning across the field to take out a fleeing dummy soldier. Tsukasa then watched as a cool-faced beauty took out several flying targets with a bow and arrow and was swiftly given a passing grade. He watched as less notable applicants failed due to being unable to conjure whatever magical beast or element or missing their target with their magically imbued playing cards they were hurling. Seto Kaiba remained safe on his throne, it appeared.

Akito was eventually called up. Tsukasa felt anticipation swell up as he watched the boy step forward, casually spinning his longsword like it was a mere baton. Tsukasa was pretty sure he couldn’t even replicate those moves if he had a baton. The test administrator narrowed his eyes at the display, not at all impressed at the flashiness coming from a non-noble. His hand glowed and the immobile training dummy morphed into a… that definitely wasn’t in the book. The dummy emerged as an intimidating, fire-breathing dragon. That couldn’t be fair at all, can it?

The black-scaled dragon stomped around, causing the training grounds to shake and distract plenty of other applicants trying to take down their own targets. Everyone was giving the dragon a wide berth, except for the man of the hour, who grinned cheekily and continued to spin his sword like he was in the final round of a national baton twirling competition. Focus, Akito, you’re about to be a roasted carrot!

The dragon didn’t seem to appreciate the routine, giving off an ear-shattering screech and flapping its wings. The kick-up wind blasted heated air currents across the field, forcing Tsukasa to shut his eyes to keep the dust out. When he opened them back up, Akito was already charging toward the dragon, sword out and laser-focused on its soft unprotected underbelly. The dragon seemed just as wary of this and beat its wings rapidly yet again until it flew up, up, far above the training grounds and away from anyone who didn’t have some sort of flying ability. Tsukasa looked over at the smirking administrator. Should you really be that proud about bullying a commoner boy this way? How could they expect one person alone to take down a whole dragon? The Akito from the book was only required to dispatch of some golems, which he did with a couple of sword slashes and a blast of fire, demonstrating his skill in both fields. What caused this drastic change in the plotline already?

Akito didn’t seem intimidated in the least. In fact, he actually sheathed his sword and plopped down on the ground. He made a show of it too, crossing his legs and lounging, resting the back of his head on interlocked fingers. Has the kid given up? Tsukasa was flabbergasted, looking back from Akito, to the enraged administrator, and to the other stunned applicants who were watching the whole display. The dragon was circling above like a scavenger bird waiting for the chance to scoop up a kill, and Akito was like a sitting Peking duck.

Suddenly the dragon dropped, nosediving toward the ground with its jaws open to expose its red maw. Shrieks of alarm sounded from nearby applicants, but Tsukasa was unable to take his eyes off the source of the pandemonium. Akito wasn’t just playing dead, he was performing.

Akito’s eyes snapped open the moment he was encased in red flames. The surrounding screams were pitched with terror as the audience believed they were witnessing a boy getting burnt to a crisp. The heat of the flames reached as far as Tsukasa, who continued to watch, enraptured.

An important ideology to keep for the magic system of this story was that one couldn’t make something out of nothing, just like alchemy. Any amount of mana put into a spell will cause a congruent amount of magic to manifest from it. A spellcaster can utilize mana crystals to amplify their overall mana input. But magical automatons, such as the training dummies, have a preset amount of power due to their mana crystal core. Their morphology is the only thing that can be adjusted. Therefore any training dummy turned into a fake soldier should have the same amount of magical power as a training dummy dragon. Tsukasa had forgotten such logic when he was blindsided by magic being cast before his very eyes.

Therefore he wasn’t shocked when he saw a sword pierce through the back of the dragon’s throat. The red dragon breath ceased, giving way to concentrated azure and fuchsia flames, Akito standing calmly in the center. The bright, colorful flames were dispelled as soon as the defeated dragon reverted into a faceless training dummy. Akito really just used his longsword like a javelin, hurling it through the open jaw of the dragon as it breathed out fire. Just how strong was his throwing arm?

All in all, it was a remarkable introductory fight by one of the main protagonists from the story. The exchange was dramatic, displaying Akito’s fortes such as his ability to keep cool under pressure and utilize his near-inhuman strength. It also couldn’t have lasted more than a minute.


And the prince must have seen it as well. Here he comes now! And he was… visibly upset?

“Don’t you know how dangerous that was?” Toya walked over at a brisk pace, flushed and huffing like he’d just been sprinting. Akito’s little grin of satisfaction dissipated into a blank mask.

“Your Highness, to what do I owe the pleasure for such a visit?” Akito asked, giving a shallow bow that others might view as offensive but was probably as polite as Akito could possibly manage. That was stone cold. Tsukasa had forgotten that their relationship had already started to fall apart at this point. Toya’s parents, namely the King, had only grown more strict with the prince once he reached the age of being able to attend the academy. Therefore the two, who were once thick as thieves, were separated by their gap in station. Akito must have recognized why Toya had to follow formality but that didn’t mean it hurt any less.

“You know why, Akito,” Toya reproached, hands balled tightly and lips pressed in a line. The prince was perturbed by the aloof greeting and Akito didn’t seem like he’ll be more hospitable anytime soon. Time for Tsukasa to try his hand at some damage control.

“Your Highness!” Tsukasa cut in, catching the attention of both boys. “Wasn’t that an incredible showing from Akito? He went for the fastest method of catching his target off guard and dispatched of it in one go! He must’ve taken liberties because it was a training dummy, I doubt he would’ve gone for such a risky play if he were fighting a real dragon,” Tsukasa explained eagerly. He also had the foresight of Akito’s extensive talents as a fire mage. A training dummy dragon couldn’t really hold a candle to the control Akito had over his superheated, colored flames. Tsukasa turned to the knight-to-be for confirmation.

However, Akito stayed silent, neither confirming nor denying Tsukasa’s excuse. Not the greatest time to stay quiet, Akito. Toya crossed his arms, growing more doubtful by the second. Tsukasa patted Akito on the shoulder, much like one would slap a TV to get it to work. It only caused Akito to wrench his body away from the touch like he was trying to avoid getting dirty. Wow, if Akito was stone cold to Toya, he was like the Arctic to Tsukasa.

“Akito was very impressive, don’t you agree, your Highness?” Tsukasa said a bit desperately, trying again. Akito at least started to emote, baffled at the praise Tsukasa kept throwing at him, who was hoping at least something would stick. Toya blinked at the question. He then nodded like it was an obvious fact of life.

“Of course he was, Akito’s amazing. I just wish he didn’t literally just stand in the line of fire. He should’ve ceded and asked for a new opponent. In fact-” Toya promptly turned and flagged down the administrator observing Akito’s exam.

Tsukasa glanced over when he heard a quiet choking noise and noticed Akito’s face was flushed bright red. How strange, he didn’t think Akito had strained himself much during that fight. Maybe even fire mages can get too warm.

Toya was busy addressing the administrator, looking every bit like the royal that he was. “Administrator Otori, that was extremely irresponsible and negligent of you. You know that a dragon wasn't one of the recommended training models for the examination. What if it caused an actual panic? The other applicants could have been injured unnecessarily,” Toya condemned sternly.

“Your Highness, there isn’t any condition in the exam requiring that the chosen target could not be a dragon. The limited ruleset was implemented to not only test the range of an applicant’s skills, but their flexibility in handling unexpected situations. How could they be trusted to protect this kingdom if they aren’t prepared for any possible circ*mstance? If the applicants panic from something as minor as a fake dragon then surely they’ve already proven themselves unfit to serve our country,” Administrator Otori justified, tapping his fantasy equivalent of a clipboard with his feather pen. “Besides, applicant Akito Shinonome made a passible attempt in carrying out his task.”

Only passible? Akito took it out in one hit, didn’t you just watch? Toya seemed to think the same thing but thought better of responding.

“It’s good you’re making nice with the peasantry but you shouldn’t be so emotionally driven, or so obvious with where your favor lies, your Highness. If you would excuse me, I must continue with my assessments,” Administrator Otori dismissed them with a pompous smirk and walked off. Toya stared at the ground, body stiff with frustration.

“Toya.” A small gasp escaped the prince upon hearing his own name. His attention swiveled back to Akito.

Akito had a small, yet genuine smile on his face. “Told you rich people were f*cking pricks.”

Toya laughed, the stiffness leaving him with the sound. “I told you, you can’t say that, Akito.” Akito walked over to join the prince, and they soon launched into banter like the best friends they once were. Oh good, they’re finally talking to each other again! Tsukasa could cry with relief.

“Tsukasa Tenma!” As soon as one incident was over, another must arise. A different administrator strode over and Tsukasa left the boys to it, not wanting to disrupt the tentative truce they had formed.

Tsukasa faced his administrator, who hummed as he probably recalled whatever spiel the school board had made about taking it easy on the Tenma kid. Tsukasa rubbed his sweaty palms on his fancy, pressed pants, one of the least ostentatious pieces of clothing he discovered in his closet. He went with the most practical outfit he could find, since most of the others looked like something straight from a renaissance fair. He didn’t want to know how expensive they were and was not looking forward to getting beat up in them.

His designated training dummy was transformed into a regular soldier, to Tsukasa’s relief. The fake soldier unsheathed its weapon and Tsukasa did the same. You got this, Tsukasa Tenma. Remember your training. Your 6-hour, last-minute training. All you have to do is defeat this man-sized magical being with a sword. Tsukasa decided to stop thinking and swing.

The dummy blocked the first blow and returned it with one of its own, albeit exaggeratedly telegraphed. Tsukasa stepped back to evade and threw a jab right at the chest.

The dummy was stabbed and allowed the momentum to throw itself backward, landing on the ground with a dead thump. And ceased moving. The administrator scribbled something on his clipboard.

…Even in a bout of fencing the opponent had to be hit 15 times. The dummy went down immediately after one hit. The power of nepotism was too much. Tsukasa looked over and saw Toya and Akito still talking with each other. Well, at least they were making up. Maybe the administrator had called Tsukasa over while the prince was distracted on purpose. Toya certainly wouldn’t have let such favoritism slide had he just seen what happened. The academy was blatant with their partiality for nobility while trampling over any chances the commoners had.

Without much else to do but accept his fate, Tsukasa stood by idly and watched as his administrator nodded to him and walked off. Should he feel thankful? He was mostly suffused with guilt, even if it wasn't up to him to cheat on the exam. But he needed to do this to save Saki…

"Wow what a show!"

Tsukasa jumped with a loud yelp at the unexpected voice, spoken right into his ear. He looked to the side and was met with effusive pink.

"Ah, the name's Mizuki! I'm guessing you're a well-to-do noble, right?" Mizuki grinned cheekily, taking a step closer when Tsukasa took a step back. "You don't think you could hook me up, could you?"

So someone else was watching, of course there was. His administrator couldn't have let him get beat up some before calling it quits, could he? Clearly, the school board wasn’t bribed enough to make his examination win “believable”.

In this type of situation, the best thing to do was feign ignorance.

"Hahaha, I think you’re charming enough to not need any help from me with that?” Tsukasa played off, which only caused Mizuki’s grin to grow.

“Aww thanks, pretty boy. You’re not so bad yourself, although that wasn’t exactly what I meant,” Mizuki rejoined, throwing an arm over Tsukasa’s shoulder and locking him in place. Tsukasa winced as he felt a muscle spasm under the unyielding grip.

Mizuki was another one of the knights that would go on to join the Royal Guard. Despite being more free-spirited than what was expected of a proper knight, Mizuki performed their job well and was a force to be reckoned with. It was alluded to in the book that Mizuki was hiding some sort of secret, possibly one bordering on treason, that they were using their illusion magic to cover it up. However, that subplot was never fully delved into.

Instead, Mizuki later defected from the kingdom, committing actual treason before their secret could be discovered. They were suddenly nowhere to be found after a brutal battle against the Book’s main villain’s deadly forces. It was only on the desperate insistence of Akito’s sister that Mizuki was alive somewhere that they weren’t ruled as a tragedy of war. She begged for a search party to help look for the missing knight, but they were never found over the course of the story. Although Mizuki wasn’t explicitly stated to have died in the story, being forgotten and not having a resolution to your character arc was in a way a tragic end. Tsukasa felt pity for the future knight, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t wary of them either.

“Tsukasa Tenma, right? That’s what that sleazy proctor over there called you. Anyway, you see, good sir, I saw something really interesting just now. And I tend to have loose lips around people who could help me out~”

Tsukasa was then locked into an intense staredown with his captor, a cold sweat started to break out as he tried to figure out the least incriminating thing to say. Nothing came to mind.

Mizuki then suddenly stepped back and sighed despondently. Tsukasa could already feel an ache in his shoulders building due to the intense pressure on them moments ago. Future knights of the Royal Guard really couldn’t be taken lightly. "Man, you really have no poker face. Lighten up, man It’s not like I was the only one who saw what just happened, and none of them cared. And even if I was, no one’s going to take a commoner’s word over a noble’s. They quite literally rule the world,” Mizuki shrugged.

Tsukasa felt like yelling. And so he did.

Mizuki jumped and stared at him wide-eyed. Then they laughed hysterically.

“HAHAHA, by Gods! You got quite a pair of lungs there, friend!”

“Then we’re even. Since you scared me earlier,” Tsukasa announced smugly.

Mizuki seemed accepting of his rejoinder. They gave an apologetic shrug. “Can't blame me for trying, it only gets tougher here on out," They then take up an inquisitive stance, holding their chin with their fingers. "Although your form was pretty interesting, much better than a lot of the sheltered nobles that pay to win through life."

Tsukasa tilted his head in question. "My form?" Tsukasa wondered if fencing existed in this world.

"It just seemed like such an understated style for a guy who stands out like you do. I wouldn't mind a little spar with you, once academy life starts up," Mizuki said, tapping the sheathed saber at their side. Something off to the side then caught Mizuki's attention. "Oh sh*t, gotta run, I'll catch you later Sir Tenma."

They slapped Tsukasa on his still-smarting shoulder, which nearly knocked him over, waved and ran off. Oof, if this is how it feels just to feel a friendly tap then Tsukasa had no idea how he'd survive a sparring round.

Soon he was once again joined by Toya and Akito.

“Tsukasa, I apologize for not greeting you earlier. Did you just finish up your examination?” Toya smiled as he inquired. He and Akito both were in much better moods, like some great weight was lifted from their shoulders. Akito nodded a greeting to him as well. He seemed to have a better opinion of Tsukasa after he enabled them to make up.

“Ah yes, my exam went by fairly quickly! I think my administrator went easy on me,” Tsukasa forced out a triumphant laugh. A bit too easy.

Toya nodded in acquiescence. "I'm sorry we missed it. The examinations should wrap up soon. Let's wait for the closing remarks together."

Once the results were finalized the day was finally concluded. The uptight head administrator came back out to give a half-hearted congratulations to the passing examinees and dismissed them. Tsukasa was finally allowed to go back home. They will be expected to pack whatever essentials they need to bring along with them and move into the barracks on campus later in the week.

Tsukasa had a couple of days to relax, dote on his sister, and ponder a bit at how Book Tsukasa and he were essentially raised the same way by their parents, which was not at all. That aside, he had a nice time putting his head on right about how he would handle his future school years. Maybe he should be putting more thought into how he could return home to his real world, but it was also just nice getting to see a smiling face as he ate dinner. Maybe Tsukasa was lonelier than he thought.

Besides, he imagined that once he ran the course of the novel’s story he’d probably be returned home. He needed to do his best to keep himself and his new acquaintances from dying, and the best route for that was to not stir up trouble. He just needed to keep his head down while keeping tabs on major plot points. Maybe he should write them down… The next one should be the academy's upcoming expedition, for hands-on experience in dealing with monsters.

The afternoon before the first day, Tsukasa had received a missive about enrollment and roommate assignments. It seemed that even the title of nobility doesn't get you a room to yourself. Or maybe his parents had cared just enough about getting him into the academy but after that he was left to his own devices.

After dinner, Saki offered to clean the dishes so Tsukasa could relax and read the missive. What did Book Tsukasa do to deserve such a polite, caring sister? Never mind that they could just ask a maid to prepare dinner and clean, they had both decided on their own that they’d prefer to do such chores together. Tsukasa effusively praised his lovely sister for being so considerate, which made Saki giggle as she took the praise with grace. Tsukasa finally undid the wax seal on the letter and read the message. And reread it. Oh no.

Oh, how could Tsukasa have forgotten? The main villain of the novel had gone on to carry out such grandiose atrocities, razed whole towns to the ground with a mere flick of the hand and bodied renowned knights with a sad*stic smirk on his face. But such a man had humble origins, one of his first notable steps being his enrollment into the Royal Academy. Despite all his sins, he was Tsukasa’s favorite character in the novel, the one who he stuck through angst and turmoil with just to see how his journey ended.

And now he was Tsukasa's roommate.


Thank you for the comments!
Hopefully we will meet my cute little meow meow soon

Chapter 3


Tsukasa is a simp

Chapter Text

Rui Kamishiro. Orphaned at a young age and faced with hardship at every turn, he was labeled as an outcast since birth and never had someone to rely on. His immediate affinity to magic and fascination with experimenting spooked the other kids at the orphanage, even though they were harmless! For the most part anyway, the only way the small automatons that Rui built could cause any real damage was if they exploded, and that only happened if Rui intended for them to. Due to the lack of high-quality materials, Rui ended up having to use recycled scraps to build his magically-powered robots, focusing on the structure rather than any aesthetic features. Despite Rui’s creations being incredible feats of engineering, their rusty, skeletal appearance kept other children from seeing them as such. Tsukasa couldn’t fault children for being scared of what must have looked like advanced Halloween decorations, but it was still tragic that no one recognized Rui's talents and even shunned him for it.

The sole friend Rui was able to make was a girl who lived near the orphanage, Nene Kusanagi. She ended up being impressed by the inventions and Rui had built her a small, charming robot that performed little dances and could hum back any tunes Nene sang to it. Eventually however, Nene ended up having to attend boarding school and Rui was forced to be alone once again. Maybe if Rui had at least one person by his side, possible romantic love interest like Nene was framed to be or not, then maybe Rui wouldn't have taken the complete plunge into tyranny.

After Nene left for boarding school, Rui was back to being spurned and alone. He then immediately immersed himself in his robotics and magical theory, reading through the donated books and then sneaking out to read at the library. Learning how to lockpick to escape the orphanage had opened Rui’s way to a life of small crime. He lifted parts from metalworking shops, nothing that would be missed, and sold simple robots for spare change. The magic cores the robots would need to be powered by were found in dumpsters and dug up from forests. Cores needed to be treated and charged with mana before they could be used. The ones found in the trash or in the wild were either used up like dead batteries or in a crude, unusable form. But Rui somehow found a way to process them and made them work, and then eventually he found a way to bypass using them entirely. In a world filled with magic, Rui was the most magical one in it.

Once Rui was of age to leave the orphanage, he decided to apply to the academy. Rui’s main motivation for applying was the monetary allowance the Academy offered to its attendees. The chance of having reliable access to money, food, and shelter was too hard to pass up.

Rui’s admission was a no-brainer, already being one of the most skilled mages the nation had seen and Rui even intentionally kept the full depth of his powers under wraps during his attendance. On the other hand, Rui’s school life was lonely and hellish. He got picked on constantly for being a nameless nobody and coming from poverty. The nobles wanted nothing to do with him and those who weren’t didn’t want to become targets themselves from associating with him. Jealousy ran high for the talented inventor and how he was favored by the more academically-oriented instructors, as opposed to the corrupt ones who kissed the nobility’s ass.

One day Rui’s room was trashed by some random nobles. What ended up happening was tragic for not only them but especially for Rui. The nobles had likely gone out of their way to destroy not only Rui’s measly belongings but all of his inventions as well. What they stupidly didn’t remember was that automatons were fragile, intricate instruments, their core made of concentrated mana that could explode upon heavy impact. Rui of course had built-in safety measures that made his automatons more durable, but his bullies were very thorough in making sure that they were unsalvageable. As a result, the exposed, cracked cores had gone off, taking the lives of the nobles trapped in the room as well as a third of the academy barracks.

The easiest scapegoat for this tragedy was Rui, the true victim of this event. He not only had his room broken into and his years of work destroyed, but he was being blamed for the foolishness of people who were set on seeing him fail. The cruelty and unfairness of the world he was trapped in were boundless.

He was kicked out dishonorably from the Academy and was almost forced into military custody, but he escaped with a mix of lockpicking and the automatons that he carried on him. He outran any soldiers after him and took up life as a traveling hermit, keeping his identity hidden and taking up odd jobs to make a living. Maybe he could make enough to build a home for himself, and once his pursuers gave up on him he could just fade into obscurity. The moment things started to be looking up, there was news of rising monster attacks and the nation’s forces being too overwhelmed to stop them. Nobles were pressuring the king to prioritize protecting their homes and assets, while minimal forces were sent out to save smaller villages and families with no funds to pay for hired guns.

In the end, Rui had heard rumors of his hometown, where his orphanage was located, being decimated. Rui had rushed back, not because of any lingering attachment to the place, but to check on Nene, whose home was there too. He had a small hope that Nene could have escaped the devastation by being at boarding school when the attack took place, but what he found at her home crushed him. He discovered the small dancing robot Nene had always carried around with her, mangled under the debris of her home. Either she had abandoned it once she lost contact with Rui or Nene had perished alongside her town. Either way, Rui had lost the only person who had treated him like a human being, someone of worth not because of his ability but because he existed.

In the end, it caused Rui to snap. What was the point of trying to find a place in the world if no one was going to care about him? Everything he tried to do was wrong, everyone found him wrong, and he had enough. He obsessed over amassing magic and focused his ingenuity on one goal: obtaining revenge. If the kingdom and political infrastructure were going to be so corrupt that it only looked after the rich and left the unfortunate like Nene to rot, then what’s the point in letting it flourish?

Rui had studied the behavior of the rampaging monsters, building robots that could mimic their appearance, mannerisms, and twice their power. Those automatons ended up winning their dominance and led packs of monsters that were directly under Rui’s control. Thus Rui led legions of feral, ruthless troops that overwhelmed the nation’s armed forces. The monsters were suddenly far more organized and directed in a militaristic fashion that the nation wasn’t ready for. The nobility was mercilessly slaughtered first, and the Kingdom had no choice but to organize like they were truly at war.

Rui was more formidable than any other nation they could’ve fought against, accumulating forces outside of the country and even recruiting wyverns and intelligent monsters like orcs and elves. Instead of using robots to mimic their leaders, Rui made deals with the higher-level magical beings by promising them all the riches and land they pilfer and monster steeds of their own to control. None of them opposed him due to the incredible deal they were offered, already pissed at humans for occupying their territory and killing their kind. They barely considered Rui a human himself, with his unrivaled mastery over magic and bloodthirst that surpassed any of theirs. He earned the moniker of Dark Alchemist, and his legacy spread by word of mouth until it was known across nations.

The story had descended into describing the one-sided slaughter of the knights, many of them having nothing to do with Rui but only performing their duty of protecting their kingdom. Knights like Akito who had gained the reader’s sympathy and were written in to flesh out both sides of the conflict put in a valiant effort, to the point where they were able to face down Rui himself.

To the knights, it was the showdown of their lives. To Rui, it was his victory lap. The Royal Guard had tracked Rui down to a deserted mansion, located in a once-thriving commerce city. They pulled out every trick in their arsenal, using up valuable mana stones and even tapping into their life force to pull out high-level magic invented at that very moment. At the climax of the battle, Akito and Toya had pulled off a full resonance of their magic, conjuring a Frostflame Dragon in a perfected unison of fire and ice. In the end, however, it couldn’t overcome Rui’s might. In fact, it caused Rui to become incensed. Whether it was due to him knowing that he would never be able to conjure such magic since he knew he would never share such a close bond with someone else, or envious of the bond itself could only be speculated. Rui pulled out all the stops, conjuring a Nebulous Dragon of his own with scales dark enough to negate light and impervious to magic. The Frostflame Dragon, with crystal scales hard as diamond and icy breath so cold it incinerated the surroundings, was no match for it.

Rui had coolly taken out each of the knights who could still stand, saving Akito and Toya for last. In a fit of extreme pettiness and cruelty, Rui had his dragon pierce Toya with its talons. Akito was forced to watch the prince bleed out and die, powerless to help. The sole remaining knight had screamed and cursed Rui to his dying breath, his flame magic going berserk and vaporizing everything, including the corpses of his fallen comrades. His grief for the failure of his ultimate duty, protecting his prince, was felt in every attack. And yet Rui evaded them all. Akito fought until he was no more than a standing, hollowed-out cadaver, having used up all his mana in his last-ditch outburst and his body up-right only due to an unconscious need to stay so. Akito was already dead, his body moving on its own as his soul had already left this world to be with Toya in the afterlife. Rui was once again victorious and very, very alone.

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the first time a knight had faced down Rui as the “Dark Alchemist”. Such an event had belonged to an incredibly unfortunate person, arrogant and stupid and very much someone Tsukasa wished he wasn’t currently occupying the role of.

The Tenmas were one of the nobles who requested a personal security detail, especially wary after the death of their beloved daughter. Being one of the richest, most well-known nobles however painted a huge target on their backs, and they were the first ones cut down by Rui’s organized forces. The sole Tenma able to escape such a fate was Tsukasa Tenma, still attending the Royal Academy and not home in the original Tenma estate at the time. In a feat of sheer idiocy, Tsukasa had set out with one of the many knight parties with the goal of hunting down the rumored mastermind, in order to avenge his family name.

And with no one feeding into the coffers of the Academy to pay off the protection for the young Tenma, the school had allowed Tsukasa to be sent to the slaughter. Tsukasa wondered how his book counterpart wasn’t choking from the severely low survival rate of such excursions, or maybe his bravado pushed out every other logical emotion. Out of sheer misfortune, Tsukasa’s party had run into Rui while he was out for a walk.

While the other knights were frozen by Rui’s heavy magical presence, Tsukasa kept strolling up and, very stupidly, asked Rui if he knew where the Dark Alchemist is. And then! Mocked him! To his face! Tsukasa spouted how cowardly and evil the Dark Alchemist was, sending monsters out to do the dirty work for him. Rui actually seemed amused by Tsukasa’s overconfidence and inquired further about what else the knight thought about such an evil mastermind. Spurred on by his captive audience (the other knights were too stunned into silence to even speak up) Tsukasa then even voiced his suspicions about how the Dark Alchemist had started his devious plans long ago, starting with smaller towns like where his poor sister had lived and worked his way up to the big cities. The false accusations had caused Rui’s humor to dissipate immediately.

If there was one target Rui had deliberately avoided, it was the poor towns. When he assumed control over the monster packs, he put an end to the raids on the small towns and built their strength so that they could decimate the rich cities. It was clear from his character motivations that he did not want a repeat of what happened to Nene happening to anyone else. His true nemesis was the nobility, who saw people like him as nothing more than dirt under their boots. And yet Tsukasa trampled all over that, digging his grave deeper and deeper.

“You nobles can only see how the world affects you, everything else is merely a means to an end. I can’t decide if your greed or ignorance is more deplorable,” Rui had said, his voice neutral but his magic surging. He had enough of Tsukasa running his mouth and one-tapped him right in the gut. Rui hadn’t seen a lot of hand-to-hand combat in the novel, his robots and magic were more than enough for the job. Tsukasa must have really offended him. Tsukasa immediately went down, his breath and consciousness knocked out of him. The attack must have finally kickstarted the other knights, them finally drawing their weapons in a panic to fend for their lives. None of them lived to tell the tale of their encounter.

What a useless life Book Tsukasa had lived. The only thing he had accomplished was dragging his name through the mud. Think of how much he would’ve benefitted if he knew how to keep his mouth shut.

Well, the root of the problem wasn’t Tsukasa, but the story itself! To think, this could have all been avoided if society wasn't so corrupt! If only the children weren't raised to spit the hateful vitriol of their parents and exclude those that were different! If only the random extras were slightly less stupid and decided not to commit indirect suicide by destroying those magic cores in Rui's room! Imagine how much good Rui’s imagination and inventions could do for society! They could make expensive appliances readily available to the public, and help those who didn’t have any magic to operate in a world dependent on it.

Then again there wasn’t much Tsukasa could do about the decisions of the author. A conflict had to start from somewhere. With the power of foresight and human decency, surely Tsukasa could tip the scales in favor of his and Saki’s survival. Rui only sought out revenge against those who wronged him, not against those who ignored him. He had even built a grave for Nene, leaving Nene’s restored dancing robot with it. Rui was human at heart, and he was far from corrupted by his hatred upon his admission into the Royal Academy. Just lonely.

Tsukasa could do this! Think of all the good Rui could do with a friend on his side! And he could see all of Rui’s cool robots up close, too. He had once built an adorable bunny one that could cry on command! And also ate any of the vegetables that Rui didn’t want to eat, but Tsukasa couldn’t condone such behavior. Future evil mastermind or not, everyone needs to consume a good balance of nutrients. Healthy diet, healthy mind, right? Tsukasa had to make sure Rui was receptive in every way to the help he deserved. The novel he was stuck in didn’t have to end in such tragedy again.

With the decisive first day fast approaching, Tsukasa’s packed luggage was being brought into his overly prestigious carriage and he prepared to say his goodbyes to Saki.

Seeing his luggage get loaded was when Tsukasa had inadvertently allowed a sliver of doubt to slip into his mind. What if being nobility already made Tsukasa unsalvageable in Rui’s eyes? Sure he had no control over his parents’ under-the-table dealings, but he was still benefiting from it all.

Saki opened her arms and waited for her brother to get over his internal crisis. When he saw his sister, Tsukasa instinctively opened his arms and embraced her. Realizing this may be the last chance he may be able to hug his sister, someone he didn't realize he could come to adore so quickly and unconditionally, he squeezed even tighter. Saki laughed but hugged him back just as hard.

"Brother, you're acting as though we'll never see each other again! I'll see you this weekend, I know you'll do great at the Academy! Blow the socks off all those snotty rich kids!"

No one had more faith in him than Saki did. It truly was invigorating having someone root for him, even if he had done nothing to deserve it.

“Haha! Of course I will, Saki! I’ll make tons of friends and tell you all about class when I get back. And then you can do the same when you come back from school too! I’ll cook something special next week,” Tsukasa promised. Saki gleefully asked about possible desserts that she could help him with and to make sure to write back often.

Once their conversation seemed to reach a pause, a maid came over to hand Tsukasa a package from Duke Tenma. Looked like Book Tsukasa received an allowance from his parents just like Tsukasa had. There was a fancy note that came with the pouch of money. More time probably went into sourcing the expensive parchment paper than his fictional parents had spent on writing the note. Maybe they even had one of their servants write it, an impersonal note congratulating him on getting into the academy and reminding him to focus on “forming connections” and “conducting himself in a manner fitting of a Noble Tenma.”

Seeing Tsukasa’s expression sour as he read reminded Saki of a gift for her brother as well. “Oh brother, I have something to send off with you too!”

Tsukasa looked up to see Saki reaching for a pouch tied to her side. She pulled out a cloth charm, decorated with threaded beads in a shape of a star. She presented the object to him proudly, so Tsukasa could appreciate it in all its glory. Tsukasa didn’t bother holding his tears back.

“SAKI! It’s beautiful! Did you make it yourself?” Tsukasa blubbered, accepting the gift and holding it like the precious object it was. “I’ll treasure this forever, it’s my most prized belonging!”

Saki giggled, flushing happily at the praise. “It’s just a little thing I made to wish you luck. Not that you’ll need it, so just think of it as something to remember me by. I’ll make you something even better next time!”

“It’s already perfect.” Tsukasa proclaimed wholeheartedly, hugging Saki again and lifting her into the air. Saki hugged back, but not without hiding a little sniffle of her own.

Seeing the academy again wasn’t any less overwhelming than last time. The coachman unloaded his luggage for him, not allowing Tsukasa to reach for a thing. Well, guess that meant he’s free to find his dorm and greet his anticipated roommate. He didn’t know what would be preferable, arriving first to his room and having to await his fate or finding his schoolmate already there.

One of the few regrets Tsukasa had so far in his foray into the novel was missing Rui’s examination. He must have been present during the first time Tsukasa had been on campus but had flown under the radar and taken his exam during the chaos of Akito’s match. Seeing how automatons had been banned during the test, Rui must have used his attack magic instead. Rui, later on, had been able to master many forms of magic, such as summoning high-level beings and time manipulation, but his current, powerful yet unrefined magic would’ve been a sight to behold. The novel had likened it to antimatter, magic that manipulated gravity without detection. In the novel, Rui had raised his hand and caused the training dummy to collapse in on itself. The test administrator called in three more training dummies in disbelief, and Rui gave just as many repeat performances until he was allowed a passing grade (and to put an end to the unsalvageable property damage).

"We meet again, big shot!" Tsukasa was suddenly wrapped in what felt like a chokehold but was really just a slim arm thrown over his shoulders. Mizuki wasn't even known for their strength amongst the Royal Guard, so why did it feel like Tsukasa was about to have his neck snapped? “Looking for your room? I’ll show you the way, friend!”

“I-I appreciate it,” Tsukasa wheezed, dragged into the barracks whether he wanted to be or not.

“You look like you’re walking to a guillotine. Cheer up, buddy, the first day of school isn’t that bad! Or maybe you don’t like your roommate? Are they a real asshole?” Mizuki was surprisingly perceptive. Funny they should say the former when they were infamous for skipping classes themselves.

Tsukasa shook his head as well as he could. “More like I’m hoping to make a good first impression.”

“Oh, is Daddy Dearest already wanting you to build connections? They must be high profile to get you so nervous. What family are they from?”

“Uh, I mean he’s not nobility, I just want to get along with him?” Besides everyone’s lives being at stake, who wouldn’t want to get along with their roommate?

“Not nobility? Are they a merchant family on the rise? Do they have a clothing line?” Mizuki prodded.

“Why do they have to have money for me to want to get along with them? Maybe I just want another friend?” Tsukasa countered. Mizuki blinked at him and then smirked cheekily.

“Are they cute?”

Against his will, Tsukasa felt his ears burn as he sputtered. “I-No! I don’t know! I haven’t seen him! I just want to be friends with my roommate, simple as that!”

Mizuki finally stepped back, hands up and making a conciliatory motion. “Alright, alright, geez, the lungs on you can’t be underestimated. You really want a friend that badly?”

It was Tsukasa’s turn to blink. “You’re saying that like we’re not friends?”

Mizuki’s eyes widened. Then they smiled genuinely. “We are.”

They walked a while without Mizuki strong-arming Tsukasa into walking with them. They passed through hallways lined with stained glass windows and varnished stone paving the floor. Other students in uniform walked past them, greeting Tsukasa in deference but not even acknowledging Mizuki’s presence, treating them like they didn’t even exist. Tsukasa was unsettled, to say the least.

They reached what appeared to be the dorms, with numbered rooms and people toting luggage in and out of doors. Tsukasa knew he had to open door number 88 sooner or later.

“You okay there? Want to hold hands?” Mizuki asked teasingly, wagging their fingers.

Tsukasa grabbed the proffered hand, tugging Mizuki after him as he breathed deeply and rested his hand on the doorknob. He felt the other’s hand jerk in his grip like Mizuki was shocked Tsukasa had accepted it. Tsukasa may have called Mizuki’s bluff, but Mizuki allowed their fingers to curl around Tsukasa’s reassuringly.

Tsukasa opened the door. Inside the room he found two beds on either end, a cozy rug in the center, and a boy sitting in the middle of it. Messy purple hair, a tool reminiscent of a screwdriver held in his mouth, and the most golden eyes Tsukasa had ever seen. It was like they could reflect the entirety of the sun. The book did not do Rui’s appearance justice.

“Hey, you’re the guy who made all those training dummies into a pancake! That “fwoom!” magic!” Mizuki exclaimed, gesturing with both their free and occupied hands to demonstrate said pancake effect. The back of Tsukasa’s hand smarted.

“Gravity?” Tsukasa suggested.

“Sure, that one. My friend here was super impressed by it! They’re also your roommate so make sure to get along you two,” Mizuki finished, nearly bowling Tsukasa over again with a hearty slap on the back. They ran out with a wink and… did they just mimic blowing a kiss?

The door slammed behind him like a gavel sentencing. Tsukasa stared at the closed door, jaw dropped. Unbelievable, he couldn’t believe Mizuki abandoned him just like that in his time of need! Well he was originally planning on doing this alone, wasn’t he? Just carry on what he rehearsed in the mirror, you got this, Tsukasa! Tsukasa cleared his throat and put on his most charming grin.

“Greetings! My name is Tsukasa Tenma, from the noble house of Tenma! It’s a pleasure to meet your acquaintance!” Tsukasa stuck out his hand as he was greeted with silence. Rui’s eyes flicked down to the offered hand then flicked back up to meet Tsukasa’s gaze. He grabbed the tool from his mouth, rose from his seat on the rug, and walked toward Tsukasa. Then past Tsukasa. Tsukasa then heard the click of the door behind him.

That could’ve gone better.

Chapter 4


Spoiler/TW for allusion to self-harm: Tsukasa sees Rui engaging in what he believed to be self-harm, but Rui only has the intention of using his blood for magic. It’s not super explicit but if you would like to avoid it please skip the paragraph starting with “Rui once again sat in the middle of the room…”

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Tsukasa unpacked his belongings and tidied his side of the room. He knew better than to touch any of Rui’s automatons without permission. Hopefully other people will have second thoughts about breaking into Rui’s room and trashing it as well since he now shared it with a Tenma. At least Tsukasa’s title was good for something.

Although they got off on the wrong foot, Tsukasa was determined to greet Rui again and reintroduce himself properly. Maybe Mizuki’s additional presence threw him off. Rui could've felt uncomfortable with two strangers in his room and decided to flee to safety. Tsukasa should treat Rui akin to a skittish cat, and let Rui approach him so he could meet on his own terms. He’s bound to come back to the room eventually…

Addendum: Rui did not come back that night. Tsukasa had finished penning Saki a letter about his arrival and was now pacing back and forth, arranging and rearranging the stationary on his desk. Tsukasa had also spent a good amount of time staring at each of Rui’s automatons scattered around the room. What he wouldn’t give just to be able to sit them up, so they weren’t just crumpled and laying unfinished on the floor. But Tsukasa held back the urge.

Did Rui get lost? He didn’t decide to sleep outside just because Tsukasa was in here, did he? It would almost be curfew soon, and Tsukasa didn’t want Rui to get in trouble for wandering around alone.

No Tsukasa, don’t chase. He can’t come across too strongly, or he’ll just scare Rui even more! He had to remember that Rui had a lot of experience being self-sufficient despite his young age. No matter how small and unsure he had looked sitting alone in the middle of the room, Rui was extremely intelligent and knew how to take care of himself. Patience, Tsukasa Tenma! Once Rui learned that he could trust him, they’d be great friends in no time!

Nodding determinedly to himself, Tsukasa finally got ready for bed. He still wanted to know when Rui got back, however, so Tsukasa strategically leaned his sword against the door. If Rui opened the door later that night, the movement would cause his sword to clang against the stone floor. Tsukasa would wake from the sound and be alerted of Rui coming back to the room safely. And then Tsukasa would have his perfect chance to reintroduce himself. If Rui suspected Tsukasa of trying to scare him with a prank, then Tsukasa can just explain that he had placed his sword near the door so he wouldn’t forget it for the opening ceremony the next day. It was a foolproof plan!

Second addendum: Rui never came back at all last night. Did that boy even get proper sleep without a bed? Rui already had stunted growth from malnutrition, he didn’t also need to suffer from sleep deprivation. Tsukasa fretted even more, getting up far too early and quickly dressing for opening ceremony. He smoothed down his pristine white and blue uniform, decorated with gold accents and a gold rose clasp to cinch his royal blue cape in place. Tsukasa did take some time to admire the outfit in the mirror, it wasn’t every day you got to cosplay in such high-quality materials! He looked like he walked straight off an expensive medieval fantasy movie set. He reminded himself again that he was living in one now. Tsukasa did a quick spin and watched as the cape flowed behind him. So cool! He may have also indulged in a pose or two.

Tsukasa soon strapped his sword to his waist and set out for the academy grounds where the students would gather for the ceremony. Since he had gotten ready early, he had some time to look around for Rui. If he couldn’t find him, Tsukasa still had a chance of catching sight of Rui during the opening ceremony. He should be easy to spot if he was there since he’d be one of the few not in uniform.

Tsukasa reached the grounds and observed a few other early risers milling about in front of the stage for the instructors to give their speeches from. The field was covered with unnaturally lush, green grass, likely protected through magic so that people could trample on it without worry. The thicket bordering the field was likely maintained the same way, with some growing colorful blooms or fruit.

The best way to look out for someone is to get a good vantage point, and Tsukasa had another perfect plan for it. He had climbed a tree or so in his younger days; surely a knight attending the most prestigious school in the nation would be able to climb a tree easily (never mind that Tsukasa cheated his way in).

Tsukasa chose a thick-trunked oak and tried the first branch. Once he confirmed it was sturdy, he hefted himself up, pressing his boots against the textured trunk for leverage. The branch rustled and a few leaves were knocked off by the force of the motion, but Tsukasa didn’t hear any imminent snapping sounds.

A few students looked over, curious about the commotion. None of them had gotten a good look at the student who decided to scale a tree right before the ceremony, so some of them jeered at the strange display. None of them had notable purple hair so Tsukasa didn’t take notice of any of them.

Tsukasa kicked for a burst of momentum and heaved his way up onto the branch, winded as he sat down. The novel couldn’t have granted him any power-ups? He was but an ordinary human, who would be expected to deal with magical deadly beasts and the most dangerous teenager Tsukasa has ever known as his roommate. The odds were very much stacked against him.

When Tsukasa took a look around, he saw that his vantage point was only slightly higher than normal. After all that effort too…Tsukasa realized his plan didn’t factor in his underdeveloped tree-climbing skills. He decided it was worth trying to get a bit higher, shakily reaching for another sturdy branch without losing his balance.

“Whatcha doing up there, Boy Wonder?”

“GAHHH!” Tsukasa did not shriek, but he did turn to grab onto the wide trunk to not fall off in his surprise. “Mizuki? How do you keep finding me?”

“That’s a secret~” Mizuki held a finger to their mouth and winked. “This isn’t exactly a front-row seat but I admire the commitment.”

“I’m trying to find my roommate, who YOU left me with ALONE!” Tsukasa pointed out; not like he was still bitter about being abandoned.

“You did not see the eyes you were making at him, lover boy. I take it that it didn’t go well. You must have come on too hard.”

Tsukasa sighed as he let go of the wide trunk. He hoped he didn't get too many splinters from this. “I know. Rui left soon after you did and never came back to the room.”

Mizuki looked at him surprised. “I didn’t expect you to admit it so quickly. What did you do to scare him off so badly?”

“I don’t know! All I did was introduce myself.”

Mizuki hummed, then took a running leap and swung onto a branch near Tsukasa’s level. They made it look so easy, guess leg day couldn’t be taken for granted in fantasy novels.

“Don’t worry lover boy, I’m sure he’ll come around. You just have to be patient,” Mizuki said, patting Tsukasa encouragingly. “He didn’t seem like the shy type during his exam.”

Rui really wasn’t. He kept to himself in the novel, but that was because most people were assholes to him. Rui wasn’t the type to go out of his way to avoid someone. It may also be because Tsukasa was used to reading about Rui immediately cutting down any enemies that posed a threat to him.

“Then why is he avoiding me?” Tsukasa wondered.

In an absentminded gesture, he reached for the carrying pouch he had strapped to his side. It felt strangely lighter than it should be. Tsukasa hastily pulled open the drawstring, filled with dread when he saw that his parents’ money purse wasn’t in there. Oh no.

“Hey, you okay?” Mizuki asked as they watched Tsukasa’s expression turn into panic.

“My most precious belonging! It’s gone!” Tsukasa exclaimed, frantically patting down his pockets. He couldn’t care less about the money his parents gave him, but Saki’s charm! He placed it in the money purse for safekeeping, how could he have lost it so easily? Mizuki's face shifted from worried to confusion and Tsukasa then heard a mechanical whirring sound behind his head.

He turned.

White eyes glowed at him from a rusty metal sphere, a spinning set of propellers keeping it afloat. Despite how much Tsukasa admired Rui’s inventions, having one appear right behind his head would catch anyone off-guard. Tsukasa shrieked.

“Tsukasa, watch out! The ledge-” Tsukasa tipped away from Mizuki’s outreached hand. He tumbled backward out of the tree.

Tsukasa woke up in what he assumed to be the infirmary. He was laid down on a soft mattress and covered by a thin blanket. His head throbbed. Mizuki’s face above him pinched in concern when Tsukasa closed his eyes from the pain.

“What happened?” He asked.

“You fell out of the tree,” Mizuki answered despondently like they were upset they couldn't prevent it.

"Thank you, Mizuki, for accompanying me here. Did you carry me?"

“I didn't, that thing picked you up and started flying off!" Mizuki pointed accusingly at the robot hovering behind the privacy curtain surrounding Tsukasa's bed, hiding in shame.

Isn't that Rui’s hologram drone? Now that Tsukasa had a better look at it, he realized it was the robot that had acted as Rui's long-distance eyes and ears in the novel, recording important conversations it overheard from traveling soldiers and politicians. It displayed them all to Rui like a high-tech magic crystal ball. It was one of Rui’s robots that had survived the ransacking of Rui’s room and had gone on to be one of Rui’s most treasured inventions.

The version in front of Tsukasa was what he assumed to be the first edition of it, especially with how decrepit the metal was. Once Rui basically had access to the wealth of the world he upgraded all his older robots. He gave his hologram robot a sleek, stealthy redesign, exchanging its spherical, clumsy shape for a slimmer one that allowed it to easily camouflage in foliage and dark corners. It had the power to turn invisible, but the design was part of the aesthetic.

However, Tsukasa didn't recall any capabilities that involved being able to carry unconscious people.

“Then you were the one to carry me here? Thank you,” Tsukasa directed to the robot, which seemed to bob in the air in understanding.

“That thing caused you to fall, you know-” Mizuki muttered but Tsukasa hushed them. Even so, the robot seemed repentant and shy. Tsukasa gestured it over.

“Come on, I’m not mad! It’s ok, I think it’s very cool that you can fly,” Tsukasa encouraged it as the robot finally stopped hiding behind the curtain and slowly floated toward the bed. Its simplistic design and movement reminded him of BB-8 from Star Wars. Once the robot was within reaching distance, Tsukasa gave it a little pat. It chirped in response, how adorable!

“I take it you know what it is?” Mizuki sighed, after watching the exchange.

“I think it’s my roommate’s,” Tsukasa responded. “He has a lot of automatons in the room.”

“What? So he sent this after you to stalk you?” Mizuki uttered with a grimace. Tsukasa turned away from his new acquaintance to look at Mizuki, stunned.

“Why would he send an automaton to stalk me? He’s avoiding me, remember?” He asked, which caused Mizuki to look exasperated.

“To keep tabs on you, obviously! Who wouldn’t when you’re a Tenma,” Mizuki sighed. “A lower class citizen like him, no wonder he took precautions. You could chase him out of the academy with a single complaint.”

“I wouldn’t!” Tsukasa exclaimed, aghast.

“I’m starting to see that,” Mizuki rolled their eyes.

“By the way, I appreciate you coming to make sure I was okay, Mizuki,” Tsukasa said earnestly. “You’re a good friend.”

Mizuki looked unmoored by the compliment.

Tsukasa realized he may know more about Mizuki than many of the students, but it wasn’t anything that Mizuki had actually told him themselves.

“How have you been doing, Mizuki? Is your roommate treating you well?”

“Uh, me? I’ve been doing alright, my roommate seems like the type to keep to herself but she seems chill.”

“Good, good,” Tsukasa nodded, then winced when he forgot about his head injury. “Sorry I made you miss the opening ceremony.”

“Ha, anything to miss some boring event where old people nag us about working hard for the nation. We all know the real reason why we’re here,” Mizuki glanced over at Tsukasa. “Well, most of us know.”

Tsukasa couldn’t help but think he was being made fun of.

“By the way, what did you lose earlier? You were really upset.”

“AH! Saki’s charm!” Tsukasa startled. “I swear I had left it in my coin purse, but maybe I dropped it somewhere…”

“Your roommate seemed like the type to have sticky fingers,” Mizuki said ominously.

Tsukasa stared at them. “You’re not suggesting that he stole it, are you?”

“Bro, you’re loaded, of course he would steal from you!” Mizuki exclaimed like they couldn’t believe they had to explain it. “If you’re going to kick him out, he might as well make the most of it, right?”

“But I’m not going to kick him out!” Tsukasa responded, shoving his blanket aside to stand. The robot flying by his head chirped in concern as he stood shakily. “I’ll just ask him-very politely- if he has seen my charm. It would be rude to accuse him of stealing when I have no proof.”

“I’m almost positive…You know what, never mind. Your roommate’s in your room.” Mizuki said.

Tsukasa stared at them in surprise. “How do you know?”

“It’s how I know where you are,” Mizuki admitted. Tsukasa waited for a more in-depth reason but Mizuki just smiled. They didn’t seem any more forthcoming.

“Well, thanks for the help, Mizuki. I’m assuming you won’t be going back to listen to old people give speeches then?”

"You got me, I’ll see you in classes. Maybe next time I can show you how to actually climb a tree,” Mizuki laughed.

Tsukasa definitely knew he wouldn't be able to pull off that superhuman leap Mizuki made earlier.

Once Tsukasa checked that he was fit to walk back, Mizuki nodded in farewell and then smirked. No matter how much Tsukasa braced himself, he still let out an "Oof!" as Mizuki slapped his back. Like clockwork.

“Ugh, I’m injured, Mizuki!”

Tsukasa walked back to his room with his new robot friend in tow. It seemed to be bobbing in the air faster as they reached their destination like it knew it was getting closer to Rui.

“So how did you carry me to the infirmary? Do you have hands?” Tsukasa asked the robot. It wouldn’t hurt to try, even if it seemed the robot wasn’t able to talk.

The robot chirped and tapped its body against Tsukasa’s shoulder, and then Tsukasa started to…float?

“WHOA!” Tsukasa’s limbs flapped uselessly in the air. So Rui granted his robot gravity magic too. It was Tsukasa’s first time ever flying that he was fully conscious for. It was as incredible as it was terrifying.

With Tsukasa suspended in the air, the robot seemed to chirp happily and started toting him off to his room at a far faster speed. Clearly, it was unsatisfied with how slowly Tsukasa was walking back. Tsukasa would appreciate the gesture if he wasn’t also scared out of his mind.

“This is my first time! Slow down please!”

The robot gently set Tsukasa down on his feet once they were in front of his bedroom door. Tsukasa was shaky on his legs from the experience, but he still patted the robot in thanks. It had eventually slowed down at Tsukasa’s terrified screaming, which luckily no one was around to hear. At least the robot seemed skilled in maneuvering Tsukasa’s suspended body; there were no unfortunate encounters with hard walls on their way here.

It was round two of Tsukasa introducing himself to Rui. Tsukasa knew he had resolved to let Rui approach him on his own terms, but surely having his robot carry him here counted for something?

As Tsukasa gathered himself to knock, he noticed a bag lying discarded by the door. He crouched down for a closer look, and saw that it was his missing coin purse! Peeking inside, he saw that it was completely empty.

That...that brat!

It was one thing to steal Tsukasa’s money, but Saki’s precious charm? The most important belonging that Tsukasa had only received a day ago? Don’t tell him that Rui had swiped it when he had walked past Tsukasa while shirking off his greeting! Tsukasa’s shame at losing such an important item was overshadowed by the burning, righteous fury consuming him. Just for this, he decided that he wouldn’t be knocking on the door, thank you very much!

“Rui!” Tsukasa shouted, barging right through the door to his room, followed by a fretfully chirping robot.

What he saw immediately put out his raging anger.

Rui once again sat in the middle of the room, this time with a glinting blade slicing into the meat of his palm. A line of red streamed down from the cut, dripping onto the carpet as Rui looked up to meet the eyes of the room’s intruders.

Tsukasa’s heart dropped to his feet. He could feel his blood turn to ice. He rushed right toward the other stunned boy sitting on the ground, grabbing the small blade from Rui’s loosened grip and placing the offending object out of reach as his other hand put pressure on the wound. Bandage, he needed a bandage. Cloth could do too. Tsukasa looked around for some clothing he could easily rip to make a makeshift wrap. His cape could work. But no, he should wash it first, right? To disinfect it? How did infections work in this world anyway-

“I’m not hurt,” Rui cut in. Tsukasa realized he was rambling the whole time he was pressing down on Rui’s cut. He looked down, past the mess of blood, to find not even a scar. Right, magic.

“I…You should treasure yourself more. Therapy probably isn’t a thing here but there are people you can talk to about this. Well maybe not, but I’m willing to listen. Just don’t hurt yourself again like this, things will get better.”

Rui gave him a weird look and pulled his bloodied hand back.

"Why do you care? You don’t know me.”

“Of course I care! It’s because you’re a person!” Never mind that Rui’s technically a complete stranger or the coolest and strongest person Tsukasa had ever read about. “No one needs to go through such pain to be acknowledged. You’re smart and talented, you deserve to be here just as much as anyone else, if not more.”

Rui’s expression twisted like he wasn’t expecting such an answer. He clenched his hand and then opened it to show Tsukasa a small red crystal.

Rui stared at Tsukasa, like what he showed him was supposed to explain everything. Tsukasa understood nothing.

“What’s that?”

Rui blinked. "It's a mana crystal.”

Oh. Oh! “That’s very cool, Rui! Did you make it yourself?”

Rui looked flabbergasted. Uh oh, maybe Tsukasa shouldn’t be praising Rui’s clearly incredible invention like it was a grade schooler’s finger-painting picture.

“Ah, I guess this is why you needed your blood, right? To make this? Haha, that’s embarrassing, I apologize for jumping to conclusions,” Tsukasa was waffling, the wind taken out of his sails as he realized his misunderstanding. Even if Rui was young, Tsukasa didn’t need to treat him like an outright child. “Sorry for grabbing you like that. It’s really amazing, what you made,” Tsukasa had no idea if he was making things worse or not. Rui’s expression was blank and unchanging.

Rui spoke up, softly. "You don't think it's disgusting?" Creepy? Inhuman?

"Of course not!" Tsukasa responded immediately, his memory of the novel filling in the blanks. Rui’s main passion was inventing, engineering all sorts of magical gadgets and manipulating his magic with such precision it could rival the greatest of wizards, all at the age of a teenager. And yet here he was, alone in his pursuit of knowledge, the love and support he deserved were tossed aside to only be harassed and jeered at. When others were jealous or scared in the novel, they lashed out. Rui was never at fault.

Tsukasa heard a familiar chirp near his head and was reminded of the little robot that accompanied him here. He saw it proudly hold up Tsukasa’s empty money purse. What timing.

“That reminds me! You better not have thrown it away,” Tsukasa remembered, putting his palm out.

Rui scrunched his eyebrows in something akin to guilt. "I already spent it all."

All that money already? Tsukasa needed to talk to Rui later about his spending habits. "No, my most important item! My charm! Surely you saw it?"

Rui's eyes widened in recognition, then dug into his pocket and pulled out the cloth charm in pristine condition. Tsukasa let out a sigh of relief as Rui handed it over.

"Why do you care so much about it? It's not a magical artifact. It barely even costs anything," Rui asked, not maliciously, but as a genuine question.

"It's from my darling sister, of course I would treasure it above all else!" Tsukasa exclaimed. Rui winced from the volume but seemed to consider Tsukasa's response.

“Anyway, Rui Kamishiro, right? Hopefully I don’t need to tell you that stealing is bad. I’m glad you didn’t throw out my charm like you did with my money purse but next time you should ask if you want something!” Tsukasa lectured.

Rui took in his drone holding the money purse and Tsukasa with a sense of incredulity. “That’s it? You’re not mad?”

Was Tsukasa mad? “Well I mean I’m upset I almost lost my charm, but you gave it back. And I’m glad you’re not avoiding me anymore.”

“You have enough grounds to send me to a different room or get expelled,” Rui said flatly.

“Why would I want that?” Why did both Rui and Mizuki think that Tsukasa wanted such a thing? “I just want us to get along and have a peaceful school year, honest.”

Rui let out a breath like he was resigned. In fact, it felt like the tension of the whole room relaxed. Tsukasa looked around and saw that the robots scattered around the room, ones he had assumed to have been uncompleted and powered off, were all upright and trained on him. Like they were posed to protect their master. Tsukasa felt a chill of fear rattle down his spine. He should remember that he was talking to the future destroyer of the nation. No matter how cute of a kid he was now, he still had the power to snap Tsukasa like a twig.

“I’ll pay you back.”

“You don’t have to,” Tsukasa rushed to say. You really, really don’t have to. “It’s just money.”

“I will,” Rui said determinedly.

The drone chose that moment to zip over to Rui, eyes glowing to project a grainy hologram of Tsukasa being flown over to the room. He could hear himself screaming “This is my first time! Slow down please!” and then screaming some more. Tsukasa buried his face in his hands to scream internally. He thought they were friends, little robot! How embarrassing!

Rui actually let out a small laugh. Tsukasa perked up at the sound. Maybe his embarrassment was a little worth it. “Hello, Tom. We should upgrade your camera, now that I have the parts for it,” Rui glanced at Tsukasa with the remark. Tsukasa shrugged, the money was put to better use in Rui’s hands than his anyway. Tsukasa doubted there was much he needed to buy that the academy wouldn’t provide anyway.

“Ah, hang on Rui, I know a way you can pay me back,” Tsukasa realized, causing Rui to stiffen. “N-nothing bad, I just want you to sleep here properly. And go to classes. You skipped opening ceremony just to be here when I wasn’t, right? Since you don’t have a reason to avoid me anymore, you should rest properly now,” Tsukasa hoped he didn’t come off as nagging.

Rui nodded slowly, taking in Tsukasa’s requests like they were mission directives. He didn’t need to take Tsukasa’s nagging that seriously…

“Tsukasa wants me to sleep with him and accompany him throughout the day?” Rui voiced, causing Tsukasa’s jaw to drop. That was not even close to what Tsukasa had asked of him! Well, maybe if one took what he said and then completely misconstrued it to make it sound as suggestive as possible, then sure. “I can do that. I can pay you back too.”

“Um, like I said, you don’t-”

Rui’s intense stare shut down the rest of Tsukasa’s sentence. Then the most stunning smile Tsukasa had ever borne witness to took his breath away. “I will. I’ll pay you back tenfold, I promise.”

Tsukasa shivered, but he wasn’t sure if it was from fear this time.


Rui: Steals, stalks, and antagonizes him
Tsukasa: my baby my little baby who hurt so much

Chapter 5


I didn’t know where to mention this originally, but Tsukasa irl is 17, in his last year of high school. At this point in the novel Tsukasa and the others are 14/15, so they are 2 years younger than their canon ages in prsk

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Rui immediately set off to work upgrading his hologram robot, Tom. Tsukasa took this time to admire his, frankly, favorite character ever, immersed in his element. Rui would go on to build the most complex robots capable of mimicking terrifying beasts and even intelligent beings smarter than humans, but even he had humble beginnings that Tsukasa was more than happy to witness. Rui started off with cute simple robots like Nene’s dancing one, and one of Tsukasa’s favorites, the crying rabbit. It seemed Rui had yet to build that particular robot, as Tsukasa scanned the others he had out displayed. Some of them he did recognize, like the fan robot that could blow refreshing cold air, like a miniature AC. It could also walk around with you so you’d always have the fan blowing into your face as you were lounging around on hot days. There was also a cataloging robot that Rui would let roam outside to register different flora, small animals, and, ugh, bugs that it found. Rui basically made his own version of the Pokédex.

Many of Rui’s robots at this time served different functions, Rui letting his imagination run wild in inventing whatever his heart desired. That all added to the tragedy when Rui had his heel-turn in the story, devoting himself to building only combat robots. Not that Rui lost his ingenuity in making his automatons; it took a lot of intelligence to figure out how to get a robot to breathe superheated magical fire without ruining the integrity of its metal structure. No, Rui had put aside his main motivation, the joy of invention, in order to focus on building whatever would make his army more powerful. What powered him wasn’t happiness, but vengeance. Rui’s only reprieve from the cold world was turned into his main weapon against it. It certainly was effective, with how the ending of the novel turned out, but Tsukasa couldn’t say Rui was fulfilled at the end of it.

Tsukasa hoped that in this timeline Rui could have a safer, happier life. Tsukasa didn’t know yet if he could befriend Rui, but he could at least make sure that no one picked on him and that no one destroyed their room this time around. If Rui doesn’t get kicked out of the academy and instead graduates with the honors he was bound to achieve with his talent, he’d have reputable metalworkers across the nation vying to have him join their guild. Rui could get a cozy blacksmithing job, build all the robots he wanted in his free time, and maybe if they grew close enough over the years Tsukasa could come to visit to see all the cool inventions Rui came up with without the threat of war affecting his every decision.

Unruly hair curtained around Rui’s face, but Rui was unbothered as he was fully focused on his work. Tsukasa watched with morbid fascination as Rui nonchalantly took apart his sentient robot child, mumbling something about aperture and focal length as he rummaged through Tom’s robot guts. Maybe Tsukasa should call it surgery, with how precise Rui was with unscrewing small panels and maneuvering metal wires capable of conducting magic, in place of electricity. Rui truly elevated the trade of robotics into artistry.

Tsukasa did have the urge to point out how Rui’s way of hunching over his work on the ground wasn’t very ergonomic, but his desk was too small of a work area to contain all of his implements. Tsukasa considered offering to push his desk against Rui's to give him a bigger elevated workspace, but he also didn’t want to break the boy’s focus.

Tsukasa could easily keep watching Rui work for hours. However, there was orientation scheduled after the opening ceremony, which should be wrapping up by now. Each of the students had received schedules for the classes they would attend, the ones more inclined toward a subject like magic would attend advanced classes of that nature and so on. There were also basic classes that everyone had to attend, the fantasy equivalent of gym class, such as swordsmanship. There were also arithmetic, history, and magic theory classes which Tsukasa seemed to have a chance in since they didn’t involve demonstrating his lack of physical prowess. They just involved more studying. Tsukasa was at least prepared for that aspect, after having practiced cramming for college entrance exams for months.

Rui seemed to take note of how Tsukasa kept glancing between him and the ticking of the mechanical clock on the wall. He soon sealed Tom back up and stood from his spot on the carpet.

“You seem eager,” Rui breathed right into Tsukasa’s ear while he was distracted by the clock, which nearly made Tsukasa’s soul leap out of his body. “I didn’t expect you to be so zealous for formal education.”

“I just don’t want to be late for classes,” Tsukasa mumbled. He was already feeling guilty for missing out on the opening ceremony. Hopefully, nothing too important was said during the speeches, since nearly everyone he knew had missed it. And he wasn’t about to ask the prince what went on during it like he was asking to borrow notes from a class he was absent for.

Rui switched on Tom, who whirred back to life and floated to his place next to Tsukasa. It seemed Tsukasa had a robot mascot companion now.

“Then I’ll finish your upgrades later, Tom, since I have a promise to keep,” Rui said, then interlaced his long fingers to stretch them outward. He ran them through his hair, which fell messily back into place. Tsukasa wanted to feel touched that Rui was upholding his request for him to attend class, but then Rui reached for his shirt and suddenly started stripping! Right in front of him!

Tsukasa held in a scream but his next question was higher-pitched than usual. “WHAT! ARE! YOU! DOING?”

Rui tilted his head, an innocent look on his face. “Getting ready for class?”

Or at least his tone sounded innocent, Tsukasa was too busy keeping his eyes closed and determinedly covering them with his hands to look. “At least warn me beforehand so I can turn around!”

“You’re surprisingly innocent, Tsukasa,” Rui’s voice came too close again. Tsukasa refrained from jumping; for someone who had acted as society’s punching bag, Rui had surprisingly small regard for personal boundaries!

“I’m not looking until you’re fully dressed!” Tsukasa proclaimed. There were some especially unsavory characters in society that would take advantage of Rui’s naivety. Tsukasa hoped he could influence Rui to learn that it didn’t hurt to be too careful.

“Is that so,” Rui tapered off, and it was peacefully quiet for several seconds. Tsukasa pondered if Rui was finally finishing up getting dressed, but then he heard a foreboding ripping noise. Fearing the worst, Tsukasa pulled his hands away from his eyes and witnessed a half-naked Rui, from the waist up, tear a huge hole through his bedsheets.

“Ah, you looked while I still wasn’t dressed, Tsukasa! Does that mean I win?”

AHHHH! Did Rui think they were playing some kind of game? What was the premise, to get Tsukasa to become a voyeur? And Rui had even sacrificed a perfectly serviceable bedsheet for a one-sided competition he was participating in by himself!

The image of twin dusky specks on the expanse of Rui’s pale, smooth chest was burned into Tsukasa’s mind. Tsukasa quickly slapped his hands back over his eyes. The damage was already done, but it was the principle of the matter! “Just hurry and put your shirt on, Rui!” He’s barely made any progress! At this point, if Rui had to go to class still in his pajamas then so be it.

Tsukasa sensed movement in front of him but he resolutely kept his eyes closed this time. He heard a sigh and boot-clad feet purposefully making noise as Rui walked over to him. “I’m ready, Tsukasa.”

Tsukasa took a quick peek between his fingers, to determine if Rui was actually telling the truth. What he saw nearly made him choke on blood. The buttons of Rui’s uniform were completely misaligned, his collar stuck up haphazardly and his belt had been left undone. Surely someone had taught Rui how to dress himself before? Tsukasa felt a twinge of guilt when he remembered that Rui was an orphan (but also selectively forgoing his memory of how Rui was also a veritable genius who very much knew how to dress himself).

Tsukasa caved and approached the mess of a human, undoing Rui’s buttons to redo them properly. Rui seemed taken aback by Tsukasa’s sudden assertiveness but then smiled victoriously.

“My, how direct. I didn’t think we would move this fast, Tsukasa.”

“If I don’t do this, who knows when we’ll make it out the door!” Tsukasa cut in, ignoring the strange remarks Rui was making. What did he mean by fast? Rui dressed at a snail’s pace, with zero urgency and causing more issues than there ever needed to be!

Once Tsukasa finished with Rui’s buttons, he straightened out Rui’s collar and deftly buckled the belt around his waist. He smoothed out any wrinkles in Rui’s uniform with a clinical sweep of his hand and looked proudly over his work. “There, handsome as ever.”

Rui let out a startled cough and a “thank you,” letting his hair fall to hide the tips of his reddening ears. Tsukasa nodded, relieved that the ordeal was over.

Of course, things could never be that easy, as Tom let himself be known again. In a stunt of reciprocity, the robot decided to display to Tsukasa what he had just recorded in high definition, with its newly upgraded optics.

Tom projected a crisp, movie-quality hologram of Rui, stripped near naked except for a small cut of cloth covering his privates. This time Tsukasa did scream.

Tsukasa dragged Rui into the classroom, both of them egregiously late, as noted by the irritated professor. Tsukasa gave an apologetic look to the professor as he pulled Rui toward the back of the room, praying no one stared at them too much. With how all the eyes in the room locked onto the unlikely duo in unison, there was no god heeding Tsukasa’s wishes.

At least Rui went along with Tsukasa easily enough. Once Tsukasa caught sight of a familiar, albeit bewildered, face, he breathed a sigh of relief and sat himself down next to them, Rui at his side.

“What happened? Why were you holding hands with him, don’t tell me everything actually worked out?” Mizuki whispered aggressively, glancing at Rui suspiciously.

“Don’t worry, Rui and I talked. Why is everyone staring-” Tsukasa whispered back, but with the way the instructor threw a scathing glare at him he apparently didn’t do a great job. Tsukasa’s mouth clamped shut.

Mizuki waited for the instructor to turn back to teaching before elaborating. “You made a bit of a spectacle of yourself falling out of the tree earlier. And then you come in late with your new…friend.”

Mizuki bore a distrustful stare at Tsukasa's roommate. Tsukasa could feel himself break out into a cold sweat. Oh no, Mizuki, don't antagonize Rui too much, you don’t want to make an enemy you would regret!

“Hm, so you’ve taken to personally stalking Tsukasa rather than sending your floating friend to do it for you? What are you after?” Well, Mizuki was wrong in the first part of their statement; Tom had merely turned invisible and was no doubt recording all of them. More worryingly however was how Mizuki’s seemed to be threatening Tsukasa’s roommate.

How did you not notice Tsukasa dragging Rui to class to even be present, Mizuki? Tsukasa took in none of the curriculum being overviewed by the professor as he nervously looked between his two acquaintances.

Rui stared back passively at Mizuki until recognition glinted in his eyes. A sinister smile curled on his face. "Akiyama, was it? Seems like you have quite a lot to hide. Are you sure you should be taking the high ground on discussing ulterior motives?"

Mizuki immediately paled. Somehow Rui noticed something that caused Mizuki to clam up, possibly one of the only characters in the novel with the ability to do so.

One of Rui's most prominent, yet vastly underappreciated, talents was his ability to read people. How else was he able to survive on his own for the majority of his life, negotiating with street vendors for food, jobs, and parts for machinery? Or build all sorts of robots that could mimic complex beasts and command armies at will?

Was it with this ability that Rui had taken one glance at Mizuki and picked out Mizuki's greatest weakness? In the novel, Mizuki had been one of the few who was actually civil toward Rui. For Rui, someone sorely lacking in positive relationships, to be making another “enemy” like this in front of Tsukasa’s face was upsetting.

Tsukasa was still holding onto Rui’s hand. He let go to pull out paper and a feather pen from the satchel he slung on in his rush out the door. Rui looked forlorn at the loss of physical contact but watched as Tsukasa scribbled out a note for him to read. “Please get along with my friend, I’ll introduce you to each other after class.”

Rui somehow looked even more put out, holding his hand out for Tsukasa’s pen to write something back. Tsukasa handed it over and watched as Rui scrawled, “This wasn’t part of the terms of my debt to you.” …How formal. Was Rui referring to how Tsukasa asked him to attend class and sleep in a bed as collateral for the money he stole? It seemed as though Rui was treating their interactions like a contract, far from the friendship Tsukasa was hoping to build towards. Tsukasa had to find a way out of the hole he dug himself into.

He took the pen back that Rui proffered and wrote, “Mizuki is a good person. I’m sure they’ll be a friend for you too if you give them a chance.” There, now Tsukasa’s request would be to Rui’s benefit too. Tsukasa then felt a finger tap under his chin and lifted to turn toward Rui.

Rui looked straight at him, and whispered, “Then I would like to request something from you in exchange.” Tsukasa shivered from the close proximity, he never in his life could’ve predicted having such intimate eye contact with his favorite, and extremely intimidating, character. He felt Mizuki bristle at his side, probably getting the wrong idea about them again.

Tsukasa shook off Rui’s hold and wrote again. “Fine! Just pay attention in class for now! And I’ll do whatever you want later, okay?”

Rui seemed satisfied, like the cat that caught the blond canary. Tsukasa turned back to Mizuki, with a note saying that he’d explain things to Mizuki later. Mizuki nosily looked over Tsukasa’s written conversation with Rui, their brow twisting in confusion and looking at Tsukasa like he was going mad. Tsukasa tapped at his note, urging Mizuki to pay attention to the part they were supposed to read. They rolled their eyes and waved him off, turning towards the professor. Finally, Tsukasa could pay attention to class.

The professor was going over the basics of magic, such as elemental affinity and mana control. Those with little mana reserves but great control could still wield magic effectively, while those with the reverse could end up hurting themselves and others by letting their magic go berserk. Being a knight at the academy doesn’t necessarily require great magic; if you could swing a sword around well enough you could still be equipped with magic-resisting armor to face off against threats to the kingdom (in Tsukasa’s case, if you waved enough money around you could become anything). Those with skill in both magic and physicality were considered the greatest of knights, an automatic shoo-in for the Royal Guard.

The professor moved on to discuss how students would participate in an aptitude assessment, a simple way of measuring mana capacity and elemental affinity. The method was quite interesting since it involved allowing a colorful magical chicken, called a Brood Druid, to sit on your head. It was like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter, except it judged you based on your magic rather than random personality traits. The bird normally judged which of its eggs to focus on nurturing by detecting its vitality, and people found that the birds were also skilled in judging other characteristics in this way. This particular chicken had been trained to judge the level of magic power an individual had, along with what kind of elements they had an affinity to and thus placed them in a class most suitable to their skill.

Once let loose, the chicken fluttered to each of the student’s heads, squawking out, “B class, water affinity!” and the like. Students chattered excitedly or in outrage at their rankings, publicly announced as the professor noted how each of them was judged. Tsukasa wiggled in anticipation as the chicken got closer to them, Mizuki grumbling how they didn’t want the magical chicken messing up their hair. Too soon the Brood Druid landed on Mizuki and made themselves comfortable, and squawked, “A class, illusion affinity!”

Mizuki let out an angry “Ugh!” and shoved the chicken off their head, causing the bird to cluck indignantly and land on Tsukasa’s head, scratching his scalp with its talons. Tsukasa yelped as pained tears clouded his vision.

Suddenly he heard a furious beeping and Tom manifested out of thin air, just to headbutt the chicken off of Tsukasa’s head. The chicken fluttered off, squawking even louder as the professor called for order and for the automaton to be confiscated.

“Triple F class! No affinity!” The bird screeched angrily, flying out the doorway and forcing the professor to give chase. Tsukasa sunk in his seat, face burning from being the center of attention again for the wrong reasons.

It was the expected judgment, but it was still disappointing to learn that he had no mana at all. Book Tsukasa was stated to have a small affinity for wind magic, so Tsukasa was hoping for at least something like that. But alas it was determined that Tsukasa could never wield magic. Such was fine in his original world but here, in Mad Wonderland, it was a huge bane. If his sword skill failed him out in the field then he'd be out for the count.

That damned bird was still chanting Tsukasa’s assessment as it flew away, alerting the whole Academy that there was an attending student utterly devoid of magic. Mizuki looked dumbfounded then downright apologetic, clapping their hands together in supplication and chanting sorry to Tsukasa. Tsukasa gave them a strained smile and patted their shoulder, it was an accident. Besides, who exactly thought it was a good idea to bring a magic chicken to a classroom?

The murmurings in the classroom expedited with the absence of the professor, many people glancing over at Tsukasa and some of them even giggling to themselves. What a judgemental group of teenagers. Tsukasa looked back to find no Tom, the shy robot likely turning itself back invisible with all the commotion. Rui however was staring at Tsukasa considerately. In the novel Rui had been ranked a double S class, with a gravity affinity. Tsukasa would’ve still liked to see what Rui would have been ranked in person, but with how their Sorting Hat had fled the coop it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

The professor ran back in, feathers in his hair as he announced in a frazzled voice, “Those still unassigned will be temporarily placed in the F class course for now, class dismissed!” The professor ran back out as the remaining students groaned, though Tsukasa doesn't know why they were upset by their lack of placement. Getting judged sucked.

Mizuki took that as an indication to grab Tsukasa and drag him out of the classroom, determined to get that explanation that they were waiting for. Rui latched on to Tsukasa’s other hand without any prompting, and the three of them formed an awkward conga line out of the room.

Once Tsukasa, and additionally Rui, were dragged far enough away from the class and prying ears, Mizuki crossed their arms and stared at Tsukasa. “So what’s with your tag-along?”

“As I said, Rui and I talked and sorted things out. This is Tom, he belongs to Rui,” Tsukasa said, pointing out the flying robot that came back into view.

"He's not…threatening you, is he?" Mizuki asked hesitantly, giving Rui the side-eye. Rui smiled at them benignly. Well at least one of them was trying to be friendly, even if Tsukasa had to bargain for it.

“No! Rui is a good kid, he’ll be attending classes with us and sleeping properly in the room from now on, right?” Tsukasa announced, looking to Rui for confirmation. Rui nodded obediently with his cat-like smile. See, Mizuki, Rui isn’t a threat.

Mizuki narrowed their eyes skeptically like they didn’t believe Tsukasa for a second. Well at least Rui didn’t seem to take offense to it, and Tsukasa can’t force a friendship to happen between them immediately. If Mizuki stuck around Rui long enough then they’ll see that Rui was a man of his word.

“Anyway, it’s lunchtime now, right? We should go eat!” Tsukasa said, tugging both his companions along.

“I can’t believe that automaton can turn itself invisible. I should learn too,” Mizuki mumbled. “Where’d your roommate even find such a thing?”

“He built Tom!” Tsukasa said proudly, inordinately pleased that Mizuki was impressed by Rui’s invention.

“He WHAT?” Mizuki threw a shocked look at Rui. Geez, Tsukasa knew it was an amazing feat of engineering to perform at such a young age but Mizuki didn’t have to look that surprised. “Are you sure he didn’t steal it?”

Tsukasa stopped in his tracks, causing Rui to nearly bump into him. “Mizuki! Rui has been polite to you ever since we left class, but you haven’t even tried to properly talk to him and have only accused him of things he didn’t do! I know you’re just worried but you have to give Rui a chance. Now apologize so we can start over, have a nice meal, and finally get to know each other.”

Mizuki gaped at Tsukasa’s scolding. It was the first time they had seen Tsukasa truly mad, and it was to defend his shady roommate Mizuki was rightfully wary of. Rui, standing behind Tsukasa, seemed to look just as stunned if not more so. Then a hungry look consumed Rui’s face, an unbidden smile breaking out as Rui focused his full, heavy stare on Tsukasa. Mizuki didn’t know how Tsukasa didn’t notice it, even if he was magically void like that annoying chicken said. The dark aura emanating from Tsukasa’s roommate was even thicker than it was when they were in the classroom, filling Mizuki with unease. They didn’t need that chicken to judge how powerful Rui was, Mizuki could already tell that he was the most powerful student on campus and no one stood a chance against him. It begged the question why the kid was playing obedient with Tsukasa when he was so strong, but Rui’s look confirmed Mizuki’s suspicions. This crazy couple was obsessed with each other.

Best to mollify the one side of the combo that Mizuki actually trusted. “Fine, my apologies, Rui. I hope we can get along,” Mizuki said with exaggerated remorse. Rui raised an eyebrow at the faked apology but Tsukasa looked content.

“Well, Rui? Do you accept?” Tsukasa turned to see if Rui was receptive of Mizuki’s concession.

“If it’s amenable to Tsukasa then I will accept as well,” Rui replied, not even bothering to give Mizuki the time of day as he continued to stare at Tsukasa. Tsukasa nodded.

“Good! Then let’s go eat!” Tsukasa then reached up to pat Rui’s head, like he actually did something good. Then he had the audacity to look shocked at what he just did, staring at his offending hand like it moved on its own. Rui brightened immediately at the touch, Mizuki thought they could see a tail wagging behind the taller boy. The two of them were quickly becoming insufferable.

The trio reached the cafeteria, a giant dining area with long tables covered in immaculate white table cloth and students bustling around seats and the abundant buffet area. Tsukasa watched Rui load up his tray with meat, bread, and soup, and very obviously avoid the vegetables.

Tsukasa made loud sounds of disapproval as Rui walked past the salad bar, not even giving it a glance. Mizuki watched in horror as Tsukasa yanked Rui back and served him a pile of vegetables, causing Rui’s proverbial tail to droop. And yet he tolerated it all, the manhandling and the handing off of food he would rather starve than eat. What exactly did Tsukasa do to be the subject of such devotion?

On their way to sit at an unoccupied table, a leg was purposefully stuck out in front of Rui’s way. Mizuki watched Rui deliberate whether he should trip over it, or rather, how to trip over it. He went with spectacularly.

Rui kicked the foot in a way it would surely leave it sprained as he flopped onto the floor, face down and upending his tray of food across the floor. There goes the vegetables.

Tsukasa gasped like a distressed damsel, falling to his knees to help Rui up and check on any wounds he got from his faked fall. Rui looked up at his “savior”, staring up teary-eyed with blood trickling from his deliberately broken nose and, if Mizuki was hearing right, even sniffling. Mizuki didn’t know whether or not to applaud Rui’s dramaturgy, his pitiful display riled up the sole audience he had prepared it for.

“How dare you!” Tsukasa shouted hotly at the guilty student nursing his injured foot. The angry mother bear faced his suffering baby cub, sitting Rui up and pulling out a handkerchief to hold against his bleeding nose. “Tilt your head forward, we’re going to the infirmary.”

“It’s ok, Tsukasa,” Rui answered meekly, seeming a bit astounded his plan worked so well. Mizuki wanted to be shocked as well but after what they’d been forced to witness, this was just another nail in the coffin, sealing the fate of Tsukasa’s EQ and Mizuki’s sanity.

“Taking pity on the commoners, Tenma?” The student taunted, using bravado to mask their pain.

“I’m merely looking after a fellow student, who you have no right to discriminate against!” All of Tsukasa’s ire was directed back at the student after making sure Rui properly held the handkerchief against his face. “Now apologize!”

The student scoffed. “Like I need to listen to some rich kid with only money to his name. The great Tenma’s successor can’t even wield magic and associates with the filth of society.”

Tsukasa was outraged, as though this was the first he’d been to exposed to the high and mighty drivel of the upper echelon of society. Deciding it was time to intervene, Mizuki crouched down and told Tsukasa to drop it and ignore the guy. It was better to just leave and enjoy their meal, someone like him would blow the situation out of proportion and Tsukasa didn’t need more negative press on himself than he already had. However, Tsukasa couldn’t just leave things as is.

“House Windsor, right? If I recall correctly, weren’t you ranked D in magic? How painfully mediocre for an on-the-rise noble. At least my position is secure with the family connections and investments,” Tsukasa said, with an air of arrogance. “Not everything is about how hard you hit, but that might be difficult to grasp for a muscle-brain like you.”

Kids could be so rude at this age. Well, Tsukasa could be mean too! He was lucky he recalled the student as one of the extras in the novel, an insecure bully who tried to one-up Rui with nothing but his status. If Tsukasa got this noble to back down, then it might save the kid’s life later down the line and he won’t be an unfortunate future victim of Rui’s if everything went south.

Unfortunately, the student looked ready to fight, standing from their seat and making to grab for Tsukasa by the collar. Tsukasa flinched at the movement and Mizuki jumped to intervene, but then the student stepped back as he choked on air.

The student panicked and sat back down, patting down their throat in bafflement. Tsukasa was surprised by the student suddenly thinking better of engaging him but he went with it.

“Are you reflecting now? What do you have to say for yourself?”

The student, appearing to feel remorse, stayed silent. His face twisted in pain as though he was struggling to breathe. Tsukasa felt irked that he never wrested an apology out of him for Rui but he agreed with Mizuki, not wanting to cause more of a scene than he already has. He helped Rui up and patted off the dust from his uniform. He gently removed the handkerchief Rui held up to his nose, seeing that no more blood was running but the skin underneath was stained red. Tsukasa clicked his tongue, disgruntled by how the blood marred Rui’s handsome face. Not willing to use his dirtied handkerchief, Tsukasa wetted his thumb with his tongue and wiped away the stain. There, back to looking perfect.

Mizuki would be gagging if they weren’t watching Rui’s finger finally uncurl, releasing the suffering student’s airway from its magical constriction. Rui, never mind that he could easily heal away his injury, allowed Tsukasa to fuss over him and drag him back to the buffet to get more food. He was pleased as punch, blushing happily as Tsukasa loaded a new tray of food for him, letting the boy off without vegetables for now after his, no doubt, harrowing experience with bullying.

Mizuki glanced back at the student who had been choked. Fear was the most evident emotion on his face, self-preservation winning over any posturing the student had set out to do as he refused to even look over at Tsukasa and Rui. Other spectators had turned back to their meals after the event was over, and Mizuki took that time to shrug off their own trepidation. Would it be wise to keep associating with Tsukasa, when he had unknowingly picked up a lethal stray who could end a life with a mere thought? Certainly not, but Mizuki knew themselves well enough that they didn’t excel in making wise decisions. Curiosity won over any other motivating factor, and Mizuki considered Tsukasa as a friend as well. They weren’t just going to abandon the oblivious boy to the wolves. Tsukasa was an upright, sheltered rich kid who would get eaten up if left on his own.

On cue, Tsukasa and Rui came back with their meals. If Rui’s food was a pile before, the amount of food on his tray now couldn’t be called anything less than a tower. Mizuki followed them to a free table, ready to dig into their own meal. As predicted, there wasn’t a hint of anything green on Rui’s tray, but Tsukasa still nagged Rui to eat everything on his plate.

“Will I get a reward if I do?” Rui asked, smiling teasingly as Tsukasa huffed.

“Don’t I already owe you one? At this rate I’ll be the one in debt. Aren’t you hungry, Rui?”

Rui pouted. “Then only if you feed me.”

Tsukasa sighed and stabbed a bite of chicken cutlet with a fork, sponging up a bit of sauce and holding it up to Rui’s mouth. “It looks good, right? Take a bite, Rui.”

Surprisingly enough, Rui’s face became inflamed, mouth closing over the tines and chewing slowly. He then took the utensil back from Tsukasa, who offered it freely. “It’s embarrassing to be treated like a spoiled child who can’t eat on his own, isn’t it Rui? Be a good boy and eat up,” Tsukasa teased and patted the blushing boy on the shoulder.

So the mastermind in the making wasn’t completely shameless yet. Mizuki wondered how long it would take for Rui to get over this particular hurdle and become utterly insatiable, ramping up his demands more and more. At this point, Mizuki could only laugh. What a gross couple.


sorry to everyone that i tricked into thinking this would have a plot. This is merely so i can turn Tsukasa into a doting bimbo and rui milking him for it

Chapter 6


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Tsukasa had to say bye to both Rui and Mizuki for dueling practice. Mizuki gave their farewells, leaving Tsukasa with a hefty slap on the back and running off with a wave. Rui was indignant by Mizuki's stunt and Tsukasa had to repeatedly reassure Rui that it was just a friendly gesture.

"Tom, look after Tsukasa," Rui said, still pouting. Said robot turned itself visible above Tsukasa to beep in acknowledgment.

"Ah, I guess with everything that happened, I forgot to thank you earlier, Tom. You hit that chicken because you thought it was hurting me, right? That was very brave of you," Tsukasa said, petting the robot. "It's too bad the professor saw you too, you'll have to be more careful from now on not to be seen, otherwise you'll get confiscated," He warned.

Tom chirped happily. Rather than looking reassured, Rui was in a worse mood, seeming even jealous of the attention Tom was getting.

"How come only Tom gets pets?"

"What do you mean how come only Tom gets pets?" Tsukasa sputtered. Did Rui not remember what he forced Tsukasa to do throughout all of lunch? "Did you even do anything to warrant getting them?"

Rui’s brow scrunched up in thought, as though he was calculating if any of his recent actions would net him a reward. Tsukasa sighed. The poor kid was so touch-starved that he believed he had to bargain for it, like Tsukasa’s affection was a limited commodity.

“Rui, you don’t have to treat all of our interactions as transactional,” Tsukasa chided. “If you want something from me you can just ask. I meant it when I told you before."

Rui frowned, which implied that no, he did not think he could “just ask”. Where did Rui’s prior shamelessness go when he had asked Tsukasa to feed him earlier?

"C’mon, try asking,” Tsukasa prompted encouragingly.

“What can I ask for?” Rui asked with a questioning tone that made Tsukasa consider his response.

“...Well, if it’s within my power, and within reason,” Tsukasa answered hesitantly. Rui wouldn’t wring him dry, would he? Besides, Tsukasa didn’t want to overpromise and get Rui’s hopes up to the point of disappointing him.

Rui hummed, lost in thought. He seemed to be considering everything deeply, it was starting to make Tsukasa sweat. Rui, please don’t go overboard, there’s only so much someone magicless like Tsukasa could do.

Tsukasa realized that Rui had been staring quietly at him for a while, without requesting anything from him. It was approaching the time for each of their next classes, they would have to leave soon to get on time.

“Um, Rui? Don’t you want anything?”

“More like indecisive…” Rui muttered, finger to his chin as he deeply deliberated his request. “Would this count as the favor you owe me then?” Tsukasa gave him as close to a reprimanding glare as he dared and Rui had the gall to chuckle. “Then I’ll save my favor for something special. For now…could I request a hug?”

How was this future world conqueror so cute? Granted, a corner of Tsukasa’s mind constantly tried its best to tell Tsukasa to tread with caution, but Rui’s innocence made him just want to spoil him. Just a hug? Tsukasa could give Rui the best hugs, Saki vouched for them herself.

Instead of waiting for the hesitating boy to make the first move, Tsukasa opened his arms and approached Rui himself. Unwavering, he rested his palms on Rui’s surprisingly wide back, slotting his face into the crook of the taller boy’s neck. Tsukasa breathed in the smell of petrichor, iron, and something addictingly sweet, a unique blend that he could have only expected Rui to have. Tsukasa couldn’t sense magic in the way others could, he was unable to detect auras or perceive how strong someone was by looking at them. However, from this close proximity, he was able to smell how powerful Rui was. The overflow of his abundant magic disseminated from his body and burned the air surrounding him, allowing Tsukasa to catch notes of ozone. Rather than feeling terrified, Tsukasa felt soothed as he was encompassed by a layer of pulsing warmth.

Rui cautiously encompassed Tsukasa’s waist with his arms, following Tsukasa’s example and burying his nose in Tsukasa’s hair. Tsukasa hummed in contentment and basked in the moment. Finally, he got to do what he had daydreamed of throughout his reading of the novel, embracing and comforting his sorely mistreated favorite character. He gave Rui some soothing pats on the back for good measure and a squeeze, which Rui returned eagerly, if not slightly too fervently. Tsukasa gave a breathless “Oof!” as Rui crushed the air out of his lungs, and Rui dutifully lessened his hold while giving an answering whine. Maybe Tsukasa should have taken Rui’s superhuman strength into account before offering himself like a lamb to slaughter. Luckily, Rui was a quick learner and figured out the optimal pressure to hold Tsukasa without choking him out.

Sadly time stopped for no one, not even for future world conquerors, and Tsukasa tapped Rui on the shoulder to indicate that they needed to wrap it up. With the immense pout Rui had on his face, he looked ready to invent time manipulation magic on the spot. Instead, he stuck his nose in Tsukasa’s hair one more time and took an indulgent, audible whiff. Tsukasa couldn’t help but yelp from how close Rui seemed to be from that action, but then he was obediently released. Tsukasa was no longer being embraced but his body felt as though it was still being heated up.

“How was that? Was it nice?” Tsukasa asked, voice coming out shakier than expected. He must have been more nervous being so close to his favorite antagonist than he thought. Rui looked bereft, looking down at his hands as though trying to ingrain the feeling of embracing Tsukasa’s body.

“Tsukasa’s waist is so small.”

“E-excuse you!” Tsukasa admonished, aghast. That’s all Rui had to say about their hug? Sure, Tsukasa was a bit thin for a boy his age but he didn’t put on weight or muscle easily, and he wasn’t really interested in working out in his previous life anyway. Rui wasn’t exactly meaty himself, but that was due to a lack of proper nutrition. Still, you didn’t see Tsukasa pointing out Rui’s hypocrisy.

“It wasn’t bad,” Rui said softly, elaborating as he saw how disgruntled Tsukasa was by his comment.

“Alright, see if I hug you again,” Tsukasa huffed and crossed his arms in faux annoyance, which caused Rui to let out such a pitiful sound Tsukasa had to double-check if it actually came from him. Rui has gone alarmingly flushed and teary-eyed. Tsukasa had noticed that Rui went from shamelessly brazen, teasing Tsukasa and asking for affection, to extremely meek the moment after he received it.

“Now then Rui, go to class or you’ll be late,” Tsukasa said, clearing his throat and turning away from Rui’s heartwrenching gaze. If Tsukasa looked any more it’d be too difficult to deny the boy anything. He may just allow Rui to do something terrible, such as showing up late for class.

"May I have another hug after then?" Rui asked, with upturned begging eyes that Tsukasa couldn't look at directly lest he combusts. Tsukasa better build up a tolerance soon or he may just let Rui walk all over him, and Rui wouldn't even need his magic power to do it.

"Yes, yes, of course. It's a promise. Now go!" Tsukasa shooed him off.

“Then just a pat for now,” Rui said, even bending his head down for Tsukasa to easily reach.

There he is, back to being brazen! Tsukasa might’ve used a bit more force than he had with Tom, but he was still reeling from Rui’s tone shifts. He ruffled Rui’s messy hair and nearly got his fingers tangled in the unbrushed strands. Tsukasa should sit Rui down later and brush it for him, he was lucky his hair was so soft and healthy if this was how he treated it.

“Go! Now!” Tsukasa pointed in the general direction of Rui’s next class, which should be blacksmithing. Tsukasa had dueling practice to get to.

Rui nodded sullenly from still being forced to leave, but there was a skip to his step from getting what he wanted. When did the boy get so clingy? Did this mean that Rui considered him a friend now?

After departing from his clingy companion, Tsukasa once again entered the field where their initial examinations were held. Students dueled each other with swords, clanging echoing throughout the grounds as Tsukasa felt himself sweat. Where were the training swords, the instructor wasn't expecting them to practice with actual sharp metal, were they? The stupid liberties fantasy novels take these days…

Tsukasa was able to spot one particular redhead dodging swings and beating back three swordsmen at once. He saw the clear frustration on each of Akito's opponents' faces, none of them able to land a hit on the guy and being repelled across the dueling field the moment their blades met his. Tsukasa took a guess that the nobles opposing Akito had attempted to take him on one by one, but then lost and decided to all try at the same time. From the bored look on Akito's face, none of it seemed to be effective.

The students near Tsukasa eyed him up like prime meat, likely due to hearing the rumor of his lack of magic and therefore assuming that he’d be easy to take down in a sword fight. Tsukasa decided to quickly approach Akito and catch the redhead’s notice.

"Oh, Tenma," A flicker of annoyance passed on Akito's face, but then he seemed to remember himself and put on a fake polite smile. Guess Tsukasa could only call it an improvement from the last time they met, but still! Did Tsukasa’s previous goodwill only earn him this much?

"Akito! You look well! Mind if I join you?" Tsukasa put on twice the cheer, to make up for Akito’s lack thereof.

"Join me?" Akito asked skeptically, not bothering to gesture to his three groaning opponents lying on their sides.

“Of course! Who better to spar with than the best one here?” Tsukasa supposed that some flattery wouldn’t hurt. Akito still looked at him like Tsukasa was mad but Tsukasa knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn’t about to lose a limb taking up the challenge offered by a noble with something to prove, who was likely to start wildly swinging at any point. No, better to go with the most skilled swordsman who would beat him easily but wouldn’t make Tsukasa an amputee anytime soon.

Akito faced him reluctantly, not exactly eager but still taking up Tsukasa’s challenge. What a diligent underclassman! Tsukasa's hand shook as he drew his blade. Even if he knew Akito was honorable and wouldn't incapacitate him, he still wasn't looking forward to swinging around sharp steel that could hack off a limb. Akito seemed to sense this, not drawing his sword and watching Tsukasa take his stance.

"Straighten your back…Tenma," Akito said, examining Tsukasa's form. "Have you not sparred before?"

"Not with real swords," Tsukasa muttered, following Akito's advice. Tsukasa's fencing practice in real life was very safe, with proper padding and practice foils.

Akito saw Tsukasa shivering, sighed and walked over, not even bothering with drawing his sword. “Tenma, I’m not about to draw on someone who looks like they’re about to sh*t themselves in fear.”

“Don’t leave!” Tsukasa was ready to beg for Akito to not abandon him to the sharks. There were already bloodthirsty nobles lurking nearby, ready to swoop in once Akito decided to look for a more worthy opponent.

Akito scratched the back of his head, letting out a frustrated sound. “Look, I owe you one for letting me talk to Toya anyway. Just tell me what you want.”

What a stand-up guy! “You don’t mind sparring with me then? I know I won’t stand much of a challenge for someone who’s guaranteed a spot on the Royal Guard.”

Akito immediately glowered. “Are you making fun of me?”

“No?” Tsukasa said, confused, but then he recalled the tribulations Akito went through in the novel to become a Royal Guard. Originally, Akito wasn’t even considered a possible runner-up for the position, due to his low status and lack of academic merits. It was only due to Toya vouching for solely him that he was allowed candidacy. Of course his sword skill and magic spoke for themselves and Akito was eventually allowed a position, but it still took several years for him to finally be allowed to apply. What a terrible political system, to only allow for people with wealth rather than actual skill to rise the ranks. Having just joined the academy, Akito would consider the opportunity to join the Royal Guard to just be a far-fetched dream. However, a wild plan was brewing in Tsukasa’s mind.

“Ah! You must be worried about your performance in upcoming classes then! Not to worry, we can study together! You’ll have no trouble on the practical portions of magic, I’m sure, but theory and tactics are vital for you to master as a future knight,” Tsukasa said confidently. If Akito were to excel in classes and be vouched for by not only a prince, but a reputable noble like the Tenmas, surely he’d be accepted into the guard that much sooner? Not to mention, if he and Akito were to become friends then the knight wouldn’t mind paying a visit to a certain town containing a certain estate, on the day that surprise monster attack occurs. Someone of Akito’s caliber would easily wipe the floor with a pack of generic monsters, and the safety of Saki’s life would be guaranteed!

“Hang on, how are you so sure I even want to apply to the Royal Guard in the first place?” Akito held a hand up to stop the barrage of offers. “And why do you think I would want to spend more time with you than I have to just to study?”

“First of all, rude. Second, receiving excellent grades would exponentially increase your chances of getting into the Royal Guard. Someone as talented as you shouldn’t be aiming for anything else! Besides, Toya may be royalty but someone as diligent as him would set aside time to study. We can invite him to our sessions!” Tsukasa remembered how prideful Akito was in the novel. He and Toya were still tiptoeing around each other and Akito never bothered using any excuses to study to spend extra time with Toya, likely due to some strange sense of pride. Weren’t they friends before all else? Akito should’ve just asked for help to improve his grades from a hard worker like Toya. And if everything worked out, getting into the Royal Guard on his own merits would no doubt impress Toya too!

“WHAT?” Akito hissed, as though he didn’t think Tsukasa’s idea was great.

“What do you mean ‘what’? Don’t you want to spend more time with Toya?”

“Yes! Wait, no! Argh, that’s not it!” Akito seemed to be getting himself all worked up over some prideful hang up again. “Why are you even offering to study with me? What do you get out of it?”

“Ugh, what is it with you kids wanting to make everything a give or take? Maybe I just want to do it out of the goodness of my heart,” And maybe Tsukasa was hoping to bring Rui and Mizuki along as well. Although they both tended to skip classes in the novel, Tsukasa wanted to make sure his friends had the best chances of getting their dream occupations once they graduated. The best way to do that was to encourage them to become diligent students. “But if you’re so keen to pay me back then can we just fake spar until everyone else minds their business?”

"Ah, them?" Akito glanced at the others loitering nearby. He suddenly cast a smug smile and snapped his fingers, springing forth a blazing ring of fire around the pair. Nearby students yelped in shock at the sudden manifestation of flames but Tsukasa could barely hear them over the roar of heat. Akito's intimidation tactics were a bit too effective. "There, now our unwanted audience is gone.”

“Uh haha, that’s one way to do it,” If Tsukasa wasn’t sweating before he certainly was now. “I appreciate your time.”

“It’s not like I’ll learn anything from sparring with the likes of them. No offense,” Akito tacked on at the end. Lucky for him, Tsukasa wasn’t the type to get offended by nobility nonsense. Akito truly wasn’t the type to abide by social conventions.

“As long as Toya doesn’t hear you talking like that,” Tsuaksa muttered, but he must have said it too loudly. Akito abruptly unsheathed his sword, accompanied by the smooth sing of metal. Tsukasa might have let out an involuntary “eep!”

“It would be a waste for the class to end without having gained anything from it, wouldn’t it, Sir Tenma?” Akito said with faked mirth. “Don’t be so distraught, we’ll just be fake sparring, like you said. May we learn from one another.”

Akito then guided Tsukasa through practice swings and forms, smacking his legs with his sheathed blade when he fell out of position. Tsukasa’s blade was lightweight, but it still took a toll on his muscles and soon his arms were aching from strain and his limbs were quickly bruising from Akito’s strict teaching. He did not sign up for such marital discipline! Too bad Akito wasn’t the least bit discouraged by his yelps of pain.


Suddenly Akito’s ring of flames was extinguished by a hail of ice, going out with clouds of steam. An icy bridge cut past the superheated steam, allowing for the Third Prince to walk through to meet the two in the center.

“sh*t-” Akito rubbed the back of his head as Tsukasa continued to catch his breath.

“What were you thinking? There had been reports of a fire mage keeping a noble captive during dueling lessons, where magic is strictly prohibited during matches-”

“There’s only rules against using magic in the sparring sessions themselves. I just so happened to use mine to block out some nosy spectators,” Akito countered.

“Sir Tenma, are you alright?” Toya asked Tsukasa, bypassing Akito’s argument entirely. Don’t tell him he had to play damage control again?

“N-not to worry, Akito here just wanted to spice up our sparring session a bit. I told him it was a little chilly out here and he may have taken a more unconventional method to accommodate me, ahaha,” Tsukasa did his best to mitigate, although it probably would be more convincing if he wasn’t wheezing at the same time.

“How many times have I warned you, Akito? You can’t just carelessly raise a hand against others here, even if you think you’ve found a loophole in the rules.”

“You mean to say rich people can do whatever they want and we just have to let them trample all over us, is that it, Toya?” Akito sneered.

“No! I’m saying that they’ll persecute you easily for a single slip-up and I won’t be able to stop them. I have no power here Akito, I can only follow the rules and prove that I can be trusted before I’m allowed to bend them myself!” Toya raised his voice, frustration bleeding through and causing Akito to snap his jaw shut. Meanwhile, Tsukasa’s mouth dropped in awe. He never expected Toya to speak so truthfully all of a sudden. Maybe it was due to the two of them seemingly coming to an understanding during examinations, just for Akito to “act up” again. Something seemed to click into place for Akito, his expression coloring in regret.

“It seems I’ve been making your job quite difficult, Toya. You’ve always been good at playing the perfect prince, but I’m only just now realizing that you mean it,” Akito nodded in acquiescence, turning to Tsukasa. “I have wronged you, Sir Tenma. What would you deem a befitting punishment?”

“Huh? I-what?” Tsukasa rasped. Just when he thought he finally caught his breath he lost it again to the speed of the conversation. Akito had coached him through a brutal training session, but he hadn’t done anything wrong to Tsukasa per se.

However, with the smoke clearing out, Tsukasa saw that they were once again surrounded by students, maybe even more so. Ah, so it wasn’t necessarily about Tsukasa having to deal out discipline, but to appease the upset masses. Then Tsukasa had the perfect idea. “Not to worry, in the presence of our benevolent Highness I have decided on a light sentence for your transgressions! Outside of classes, you’ll be put under direct supervision of Your Highness until you have learned your lesson about following regulations.”

“Hah?” Akito said incredulously. Even Toya looked dumbfounded by the decision Tsukasa came up with. Hmm, maybe Tsukasa shouldn’t have just foisted responsibility onto a royal prince without justification.

“Well, not just anyone can monitor an S-class mage like Akito, so who better than another S-class mage who can neutralize his favored element!” There, no need to thank Tsukasa for giving Akito time to spend with his best friend! Akito's expression seemed to grow more pained as Toya nodded along to Tsukasa's reasoning.

"Yes, that may be for the best. I will be in your care, Akito."

"You can’t be serious… Shouldn't I be the one saying that to you, uh, Your Highness?" Akito corrected himself for the sake of the murmuring crowd listening in. In a low voice Akito directed to Toya, “I didn’t expect you to skip class to come deal with me though, Toya.”

“I asked the professor for permission to deal with an urgent matter. Hopefully this doesn’t happen too often, since we’ll be seeing each other more often now,” Toya gave Akito a pointed look that had him looking away sheepishly. If there was one person who could actually get Akito to bend to his will it would be Toya, and his status as a prince had nothing to do with it.

“Isn’t it great that everything got sorted out?” Tsukasa said to both of them, who seemed to be in their own little world. “While we’re on the subject, why don’t you join us on our study sessions, Your Highness?”

“You got Akito to agree to study?” “What are you deciding all on your own?” Toya and Akito asked simultaneously.

“You helped me through such intense training, it’s only fair that I return the favor!” Tsukasa announced smugly, knowing that even if he wasn't able to convince Akito on his own he now had another person on his side.

“Thank you for offering, Tsukasa, I would love to join,” Toya then smiled expectantly at Akito, waiting for his response. Akito’s face flushed red, groaning as he heavily deliberated.

"...Just don't go overboard," Akito muttered.

“Wonderful! Then once a week we can meet in the library-”

“Once a week?!”

“And likely more during exam weeks,” Tsukasa finished, Akito growing more and more anguished over what he’d just agreed to. Toya nodded along proudly, pleased with Tsukasa’s plan.

“I always thought you had great potential in academics, Akito, you just needed to put in some effort. You’ll be at the top of your classes in no time.”

“Oi, I’m only going to put in enough effort to be considered for the guard,” Akito grunted, which made Toya blink in surprise.

“You want to join the Royal Guard?”

“I can’t believe I’m outnumbered by studying fanatics,” Akito said, shaking his head, exasperated. “Don’t you have a class to get to, Your Highness?”

“Ah,” Toya realized. “Then let’s talk later, Akito. I’m glad you’re alright, Tsukasa. I’ll see you both soon,” Toya gave his goodbyes and rushed off back to his class, the majority of the crowd around them dispersing after the drama was dealt with.

The disgruntled instructor standing off to the side, likely the one who reported the incident to Toya in the first place, then asked the students to gather.

"Well, that was a thrilling interruption but let's not have repeat performances such as that, shall we? Sir Shiraishi will be back next week to guide swordsmanship practice so let us not get too carried away with dueling.”

Tsukasa recalled that one of the notable members of the current Royal Guard was Ken Shirashi, a distinguished knight who had inspired many young common folk like Akito to take up the sword themselves. He was on a long-term assignment to investigate the monster outbreaks and was gone on an excursion to a neighboring city. Tsukasa supposed that many were eager to be personally taught by such a renowned swordsman, especially those who shared Ken’s own commoner background.

Akito had the lofty goal of not only joining the Royal Guard like Ken Shirashi, but surpassing him as well. In the meantime…

“Please continue to pair up with me, Akito! No, teacher!” Tsukasa asked of Akito, bowing respectfully. Akito gaped at the sudden address, then swatted at Tsukasa to straighten back up.

“What do you think you’re doing after just ordering around the royal prince?”

“Until Sir Shirashi arrives, please continue to train me! Otherwise, I may just lose my life before even arriving on the battlefield.” Tsukasa shuddered. Akito’s spartan training sessions were the lesser of two evils than sparring against the trigger-happy nobles they shared the class with.

“Ugh, listen, I don’t know where you got the idea that you’re so hopeless but you’re not as bad at fighting as you think. Your form and technique may be unique and lacks power, but you’re fast and can hit where it hurts. If you’re able to get your hands on a magically-imbued sword, you’ll probably do fine out in the field,” Akito gave his assessment, which caused Tsukasa to stare dumbfoundedly at him. “I said this for your own peace of mind. And I’ll be your dueling partner just until Sir Shirashi arrives, alright?”

“OH AKITOOO!” Tsukasa cried out. In a feat of sheer gratitude he threw his arms around Akito, bringing him into a crushing hug. Probably more crushing for Tsukasa. What did this teenager eat for him to be built like a brick sh*thouse?

"Argh! Get off!" Akito yelled, forcefully shoving Tsukasa off of himself and brushing off his slightly crumpled uniform. Wow, the kid was considerate one moment and then rude the next. Tsukasa didn't have a contagious disease, Akito! If this is how he reacted to getting a friendly hug then what was he going to do when he was forced to attend formal balls and dance with fancy strangers?

Dueling practice wrapped up and Tsukasa finally had his last two uneventful classes in arithmetic and history. With the amount of math he studied for college exams still fresh in his mind, and with how studiously he had read the novel he was trapped in during his free time, the classes felt more supplementary to the knowledge he already had. It seemed he would be helpful with Akito’s future study sessions after all.

Tsukasa reached his room, ready to ask Rui to accompany him to dinner, but found no light coming from under the door. Tsukasa wondered if had come back from classes first, but then he opened the door to find Rui sitting on the floor, watching through clips displayed by Tom. Rui’s icy glare at the hologram should have alerted Tsukasa that something was wrong when he had first entered, but Tsukasa was too startled from seeing his eerily quiet roommate.

“Rui! I didn’t know you were back. Why are you just sitting in the dark like this?”

“Ah, Tsukasa. I’ve learned that my next investment should be in fireproof metal,” Rui said off-handedly. “Tom had some trouble maintaining operation while you and your classmate were dueling, but he was able to catch the two of you embracing later on.”

The accusatory tone Rui’s last statement took had Tsukasa feeling almost guilty, although he wasn’t sure what about. He did feel bad that he didn’t even consider how Tom was taking Akito’s flames, but it wasn’t like Tsukasa had any control over the situation at the time either. If it was to make sure Tom would be safer, Tsukasa didn’t mind pitching in funds to get hardier materials for him.

“Tsukasa, how many favors have you gained with other classmates here already? It seems you have been amassing many an alliance with strong magic users. Is it to make up for the lack of your own magic?” Suddenly Rui was looming over Tsukasa, who had barely seen the other move to stand. The two of them weren’t that different in height, Rui likely to grow taller as he got some better nutrition, but the few centimeters Rui had on him suddenly made Tsukasa feel towered over. Why was the young main antagonist being so intimidating right now? What exactly did Tsukasa do?

“What are you talking about, Rui? I just spoke to a few friends, who I met before I even met you! Are you upset about something?”

“Am I just another tool for you, Tsukasa? Another stepping stone for you to rise the ranks of nobility and make a name for yourself? Will I just be thrown away once I lose my use and replaced by the next promising mage?” Rui asked, his eyes glinting ominously in the darkness of their room. Tsukasa was reeling from how Rui could have come to such a conclusion, but he at least knew he had to put a stop to the accusations before Rui’s wild speculations spiraled even further.

“No, Rui! I’m not sure why you think you’re just some tool, but you’re not just something that can be replaced!” Not as an all-powerful main antagonist, nor as a person. Tsukasa was quite fond of the teenager already, even if he was needy and being slightly terrifying right now. “And I may have framed studying in exchange for dueling practice as a deal with Akito, but I really just see it as friends helping each other out. I try my best to help out my friends.”

Reflecting on Tsukasa’s past life, he was a bit lacking in the friendship department. He was seen as a bit of an oddball, and high school was unfairly harsh to those who stood out. He wasn’t really able to make any acquaintances until he learned to keep quiet and put a damper on his personality. It was somewhat a sad existence, but it was the cost of fitting into a judgemental society. Tsukasa wondered if he had misstepped with Rui in the same way. His inexperience with having friends was showing through.

"Does that mean you'll reward anybody that is your friend? You'll hug and pat Mizuki and Akito whenever they ask for it?” Rui immediately drooped, his menacing demeanor giving way to a sad kitten look.

“I’m pretty sure you’re the only one who would ask me for them anyway,” Tsukasa rolled his eyes. So this is what it was really about. His roommate was far sillier than he expected the main antagonist of a tragic fantasy novel to be. Deep down Rui was just a neglected kid who coveted affection.

“Don’t be jealous, Rui. You’re the only friend I really have any desire to dote on,” Tsukasa said truthfully. Rui was pure and adorable in a way that pulled on Tsukasa’s heartstrings, it made it that much easier to dote on him.

“Really?” Rui perked up at Tsukasa’s admission.

“I doubt there’s anyone else who wants them as much as you do-” An indignant beeping came from the robot back to floating over Tsukasa’s head. “Besides Tom.”

Rui was back to pouting, “But what if I want you to pet and hug me the most?”

“Then you just need to ask,” Tsukasa said. He didn’t realize how many reassurances his large toddler of a roommate would need to feel at ease about Tsukasa’s affection. “Now that’s sorted out, why don’t we turn the light back on and head to dinner together soon-”

When Tsukasa turned to flick the mana-powered lanterns on, he felt a tug on his sleeve. He looked back to find Rui staring at him intensely, warm breath blowing at Tsukasa’s bangs.

“What if I want more than pets and hugs? Something that you wouldn’t give to just friends?”

“Are you asking…” Tsukasa took a moment to think as Rui crept fingers around the sides of his waist. The light touches tickled and nearly caused Tsukasa to flinch. “You want to be best friends?”

Rui’s movement froze for a moment, then continued until his palms fully rested at Tsukasa’s sides. “What benefits does being best friends entail?”

“Haha, you make it sound like an upgrade package to a subscription,” Tsukasa laughed, which just made Rui tilt his head in confusion. “I haven’t had a best friend before, so I would be learning along the way, the same as you. Do you want to learn with me, Rui?”

Rui nodded eagerly, then bit his lip in deliberation. “Can I hug you, Tsukasa? Just like this?”

“Of course, Rui,” Tsukasa barely finished when he was enclosed in sturdy arms, his nose buried in a familiar scent. The darkness blanketing the room and Tsukasa’s vision seemed to amplify all his senses, causing him to shudder as he felt Rui’s hands roam against his back.

“So if I’m your best friend, I can ask for more than this, right, Tsukasa?”

“You can,” Tsukasa said, hoping to fufill Rui’s request in the name of their newly minted status as best friends.

“Sleep with me.”

“What?” Did Tsukasa hear that right?

“My bedsheets were ripped earlier today-” That you ripped yourself! Tsukasa did not point out. “And Tsukasa just so happens to have a lovely set on a bed that we can both use.”

While it was true that their beds were a decent size for two teenagers to sleep comfortably on, Tsukasa had never exactly slept with someone else in a long time. His parents had not allowed him to sleep with them beyond his years as a toddler, and growing up as an only child with a few friends didn’t allow for much opportunity for sleepovers either.

“T-then, after dinner. And make sure that you eat properly during then,” Tsukasa bargained.

Rui nodded happily. “I heard that you can only have one best friend, that’s what makes them the best. So you can only do such things with me, okay?” Rui’s lips brushed against Tsukasa’s ear, which actually made him flinch back. Somehow it felt as though Tsukasa was being thrown more off-kilter by Rui rather than growing more comfortable with him. How was he going to deal if Rui’s demands only escalated?

“I also decided on a track change, Tsukasa.”

“Huh?” Tsukasa asked, still frazzled from the burning tip of his ear that Rui had touched.

“I’d like to become a knight, just like you!”



Imagine Rui and Tsukasa playing charades, except Tsukasa is terrible at guessing and Rui doesn't know what the word means. The word is lovers

Chapter 7


I cringed very hard while writing this chapter, please enjoy

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Rui becoming a knight would be a complete deviation from the plot that Tsukasa was expecting. Sure, Tsukasa fully intended on keeping Rui from getting expelled from the academy, which would already be a huge plot point shift from the novel, but Rui deciding on a different career altogether? Tsukasa could imagine all the engineering job offers lined up for Rui upon his graduation crumbling to dust. No matter how talented the boy was, not having the prerequisite classes would greatly diminish the reputable apprenticeship offers he would have later on.

Tsukasa pulled away from Rui to give their conversation his full attention. Rui reluctantly let the other step away.

“Why so suddenly? Do you not enjoy crafting automatons? Magical engineering would be a great way to get into a career involving them,” Tsukasa didn’t want to stand in the way of any dreams Rui had, but he also wanted him to fully consider all the opportunities he had laid out for himself.

“Inventing is fun, but I also enjoy being with Tsukasa. This way I can have both,” Rui justified, which nearly made Tsukasa cry out in frustration. What innocent reasoning, and yet Tsukasa couldn’t help but feel at a loss.

“Don’t give up on your dreams just because you want to see me! We’ll see each other plenty during mealtime and after classes.”

“Who said inventing was my dream? It’s just a hobby,” Said the guy who nearly devastated the whole nation in another life with said hobby.

“Isn’t it? I mean, you’re so good at it,” Tsukasa let slip.

“Tsukasa doesn’t think I could also be a good knight?” Rui asked sullenly.

“That’s not what I-You would be great at anything Rui. I just want you to do what you enjoy most,” Tsukasa said.

Rui put on a lovely smile, bright enough to light up the dark room. “Then I’d like to become a knight alongside Tsukasa. That would mean enrolling in offensive magic and dueling classes, yes?”

Rui wielding a weapon? The plot was just derailing even further from the novel. Rui's inventions, war allies, and magical power were so great that he never had to bother waving around a sharp stick. Tsukasa couldn’t decide whether expanding Rui’s already vast skill set would even be beneficial, or if it would be better for Rui to hone the skills he already had. To become a master of one skill or a jack of all trades? Then again, it was Rui he was talking about. The boy was likely to just become a master in everything.

“But Rui, you do know that enrolling in the same classes as me doesn’t mean that we’ll take them at the same period, right? There are too many students enrolled this year so a lot of classes have been given multiple time frames,” Tsukasa said.

“Ehh? No way!” Rui wailed, looking devastated. Tsukasa resisted the urge to pat the distraught boy. “Does that mean you still need to partner up with that fire mage during dueling classes?”

“You mean Akito? Don’t tell me this is the actual reason why you want to become a knight!” Tsukasa said, disappointment leaching into his tone. "If there's anything more dangerous than a skilled swordsman, it’s an untrained one. The reason why I paired up with Akito is because he knows what he’s doing and he’s honorable, so he won’t hurt me unnecessarily.”

“You seem to have a high opinion of this Akito,” Rui commented in a detached voice. “Is he really that strong? Will you hug him after every session even when he doesn’t even ask for it-”

“Rui!” Tsukasa was realizing that Rui was the type to be possessive of his best friend. “You know I admire you too! You just have different things you excel at and enjoy, and I’ll be more than happy to ask you for help when the time comes and I hope you ask the same of me. But…” Tsukasa recalled his parents’ letter to him before he arrived at the academy. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if someone as ordinary and defenseless as him were to go against his parents' wishes and be disowned. What could he possibly do by himself in a dangerous world filled with monsters? What would happen to Saki? “I have an obligation to take the knight course. Even if I’m terrible at every aspect of it, I don’t have much choice but to do so. If I don’t, my parents will cut me off and Saki would…Anyway, it's important for me to graduate from the knight course, but you don't have to."

"Terrible? I doubt Tsukasa would be terrible at anything," Rui remarked, giving Tsukasa far more credit than he deserved.

“I appreciate it Rui, but there’s only so much I can do when I’m unable to wield magic. I’ve never received formal training in swordsmanship either,” Tsukasa admitted.

"No formal training? And yet your parents expect you to achieve knighthood all on your own? Sounds like they've abandoned you to the wolves,"

"More like they expect money to fix everything…Not that that makes much difference," Tsukasa muttered. Hang on, why is he airing his grievances to the guy who suffered the most in this novel? Stop being pathetic, Tsukasa!

"Sorry Rui for making this about me. Now, I want you to make your decision without considering any other factors except for your own. What do you really want to do in life?"

"I want to be with Tsukasa," Rui said, immediately and decisively. Tsukasa groaned in frustration. They had come full circle.

"Look Rui, we've only known each other for two days. I don't want the decision that determines your whole life path hinging on just our friendship."

"Why are you so against me becoming a knight, Tsukasa? I'm starting to think that you just want to get away from me," Rui sighed sadly.

Looked like it was time for Tsukasa to be blunt. "No! Being a knight is hard work, Rui. And it's incredibly dangerous. The knights sent out for scouting unknown monster herds most of the time are the ones of commoner birth. Surely you know how corrupt our system is? They'll exploit you any way they can if you're seen as expendable! At least blacksmithing is relatively safe and pays well. With how incredible your inventions are, you would no doubt be able to make a comfortable living after apprenticing and opening your own shop."

"So you're questioning my resolve," Rui said consideringly. Tsukasa paused. It wasn't exactly what he was going for but he'll roll with it.

"Yes, being a knight isn't something someone can become just to seek fortune or fame. It takes diligence and selflessness, not just strength and talent. That's what makes the truly great knights stand out from the others. I won't be able to become a true knight for that reason, in fact I believe my parents only want me to take this course to build relationships with the aristocracy. However you Rui, if you have the free will to pursue whatever course you want then I want it to be something you're willing to put your whole heart into."

"I see, so you're suggesting I should aim for the Royal Guard as well," Rui said. Tsukasa could've face-palmed. Rui gave him a bright smile. "I'll make you proud and become a great knight, Tsukasa."

Tsukasa finally capitulated. He should’ve known better than to attempt to out-stubborn the boy who once was the most resilient enemy of the state. "Then I hope you're prepared, Rui. Remember, if things get too difficult or dangerous you can quit or run away. There's no shame in saving yourself."

Rui nodded along obediently, taking Tsukasa’s advice for once.

“Good, then let's have dinner and think about this later. You don’t have to finalize your decision now so why don’t we think about it more thoroughly after a good meal?” Tsukasa turned to the door, but felt a tug at his sleeve. He looked back to the grip of Rui's outstretched hand.

"You're not disappointed, are you Tsukasa? That I decided differently from what you imagined?"

"No, of course not. I'll support whatever decision you make," Tsukasa said, staring down at Rui's unmoving hand. “So, what’s this about?”

Rui shuffled his feet shyly, turning his head to the side as he mumbled, “Will you hold hands with me as we go?”

Ahh, too cute! Of course Tsukasa will hold his best friend’s hand, even if he’s overly stubborn and won’t listen to reason. Rui could’ve taken the easy road and become the world’s best inventor, and eventually live out a safe, cushy lifestyle. Then again, the boy must fear being lonely once he graduates, look at how much he clings to Tsukasa. Rui had imprinted on him like a little duckling, falsely assuming that the moment he lost sight of Tsukasa that he’ll have lost the only source of affection he had. Tsukasa had to help Rui build up his independence and give him the confidence to pursue his own goals. Tsukasa knew Rui had the potential, he just needed Rui to see it too.

The two interlocked fingers and traveled to the dining hall together, Tsukasa feeling the burning stares of students also traveling through the halls. Tsukasa didn’t think that a noble such as him would attract so much attention, even if his family was up there in terms of wealth. Was it because he was close to a commoner like Rui? Hmph, well there wasn’t much for him to care about besides making his friends and parents happy. What could his parents possibly complain about if he still managed to do well in classes and graduated from the knight course in the end?

Rui paid them no mind, humming to himself and giving Tsukasa a warm smile whenever their eyes met. His junior was adorable, but wasn’t he a bit too happy? They were just holding hands.

When they reach the dining hall together, Tsukasa grabbed a tray for Rui and takes a sample of everything available from the canteen. Rui immediately grimaced at the green he saw on his plate but Tsukasa would be stern this time. Rui, you need color in your diet, your whole meal can’t consist solely of brown food groups! Despite Rui’s sad, imploring eyes, Tsukasa sent him to sit so he could grab food for himself.

Once Tsukasa had readied a tray for himself, he headed toward the table Rui had sat down at and was immersed with a sense of foreboding. The boy somehow was surrounded by a couple of students, chattering away and getting oddly close to talk to him. Now if Tsukasa was in his old world, he may internally congratulate Rui for seemingly getting along with other people so quickly on their first day of classes. Alas, this was nothing close to a normal setting, and Tsukasa walked faster to intervene in what was clearly a bullying situation. Oh, he really couldn’t let his guard down for a second, this world was specifically catered to make Rui’s life as painful and frustratingly isolating as possible.

The moment he saw someone wrap a far-too-tight arm around Rui’s shoulders in a mockery of a friendly shoulder embrace, Tsukasa ran up and did the same to the offender. “Hello there, you guys seem to be having a lot of fun! Mind if I join in?” Tsukasa announced in a loud voice, making sure his presence was known.

“Sir Tenma, it’s a pleasure. We were just greeting a classmate, he seemed quite lonely,” One of them chirped up. A classmate? So these students actually shared classes with Rui today?

“Do you share classes with them, Rui?” Tsukasa directed at the boy, who nodded at his question. Suddenly one of the other students ruffled Rui’s hair roughly, pulling at his tangled hair. Tsukasa hissed audibly as Rui’s head was wrenched by the crude treatment.

“So the peasant is able to answer his superiors! For a moment I thought the poor thing was either deaf or illiterate. The academy is so kind to take in such charity cases,” One of the bigger students guffawed, then disgustingly spat into Rui’s tray of food. “Eat up, the school’s cuisine here is better than anything you could’ve scrounged up in the streets.”

Tsukasa saw red, heated rage boiling over as he couldn’t believe what occurred right in front of him. They weren’t even being subtle with their bullying this time around. Tsukasa was still feeling guilty from the incident that happened to Rui during lunch, for the boy to be immediately bullied again twice in one day during mealtimes? What if Rui developed a negative association between eating and coming to harm? Tsukasa can’t let allow for his poor roommate to be more traumatized than he already was.

“Hey! Who in their right mind would want to eat something that someone just spat in? Does your spit contain the key to immortality?” Tsukasa shouted, wagging his finger at the vagrants. “Now please leave my companion alone, we will need to get him some unsullied dinner.” Tsukasa reached around to grab Rui’s hand, but then was forcefully pushed down to take a seat next to Rui instead.

“We aren’t done talking, Tenma. Surely you can spare us some of your time?” The one who had wrapped an arm around Rui said, a dirty blond Tsukasa assumed was a noble that he couldn’t recall the name of. In fact, he didn’t recognize any of the nobles that were antagonizing Rui. There were multiple unnamed nobles that took turns in making Rui’s life miserable in the novel, but Tsukasa was going to make sure that this time around he would know them all by face, if not by name.

“Can I ask for the names of our acquaintances, then?” Tsukasa asked, finding Rui’s hand quickly and giving it a reassuring squeeze.

“What a privilege to earn the acquaintance of such an esteemed noble,” The larger student said, likely being the leader of their ragtag group. “You know, Temna, I heard an interesting rumor about an elite successor being magically inert. You don’t happen to know anything about it, do you?”

What was with this unsubtle non sequitur? Tsukasa had no interest in sharing ammo with societal bloodsuckers like them. “Wow, that is an interesting rumor! I would love to discuss such an interesting topic, but it would be rude to start a conversation when I don’t even know the names of the people I’m speaking with,” Tsukasa put very bluntly.

The larger student put on a smile that was more of a grimace, tapping the family crest pinned to their uniform. “The McGailan family, Class A fire mage. I could only imagine how debilitating it would be for such a powerful elite family to have their next successor be a dud.”

Who raised these nobles to be so rude! This kid may have the wingspan of Rui and him combined but he didn’t have to shovel his intimidation tactics down their throats. “Yes, it truly would be such a loss. One could say the same of a talented magic user who doesn’t have an ounce of respect for their contemporaries. If they can’t behave when greeting their fellow students then how can they be trusted to serve under the king?”

A burly hand grabbed Tsukasa by the scruff of his uniform, causing Tsukasa to get choked by the tightened neck of his clothes. Some of the students of the gang startle at their leader losing his patience. “I’m not sure if I heard that right. The Tenma successor really has a mouth on him, and it’s all to defend some street urchin. Are you sure this is the type of ally you want to be associating with?”

“Better than those with no integrity like you! You all came here to gang up on a single person just because they happen to have a name without prestige. Joke’s on you, Rui has more integrity in his pinky than all of you combined! Now unhand me!” Tsukasa retaliated, wriggling in the bully’s grasp until he felt a jarring impact to the side of his face, causing his teeth to slice into the inside of his cheek and his body to fall on top of Rui.

“Tsukasa!” He heard Rui cry above him. Tsukasa felt his head rattling from the punch, but he wasn’t completely out of it to not know that the screaming he heard was not coming from either of them. Tsukasa blinked to clear his sight that was seeing double, looking around to find where McGailan was and if he was coming with a follow-up attack.

Instead of up, Tsukasa should’ve been looking down. McGailan was writhing on the floor, cradling his hand with the other and whimpering piteously, his lackeys backing away and looking at the situation in horror. Tsukasa's eyes focused to catch sight of McGailan’s hand, which was grotesquely colored from bruising and his fingers were crumpled at strange angles. Tsukasa had to look away, he was already feeling nauseous from the punch and the sight was absolutely not helping.

“Tsukasa, please, are you okay?” Rui asked worriedly, his hand hovering over Tsukasa’s bruised cheek. Tsukasa felt warm tingling, the flesh of his cut cheek melding back together and the swelling of his injury fading away. Tsukasa pulled out his handkerchief and spat the blood that collected in his mouth into it. The poor cloth was seeing a lot of blood today.

“Thank you Rui, I appreciate it,” Tsukasa said, as Rui helped him sit up but kept him seated in his lap. McGailan’s lackeys finally used their brains and helped their leader up, carrying the injured boy off to the nurse’s office, but not before sending the two poisonous looks. Tsukasa was miffed that he was only able to catch McGailan’s name, but it was for the best that the situation was over. The work of McGailan’s mangled hand could be none other than Rui’s, but they’ll face the repercussions of the situation later.

“Should we go back?” Rui asked.

“What?” Tsukasa stared at the other. But they had yet to eat, Rui needed his nutrition!

Rui stared back at him, his expression complicated. Surely the boy wasn’t blaming himself for what happened?

“Nothing was your fault Rui, why are you looking like that?” Tsukasa smiled, his cheek felt brand-new, probably even better than it was before. “Besides, we can’t go back yet, you have to eat.”

“It’s ok, I’m not hungry,” Rui said, gently moving Tsukasa off his lap and into the seat next to him. No, Tsukasa was putting a stop to Rui’s developing guilt complex, he was not about to let the boy starve himself out of some need for self-flagellation.

“Well, I am. And I want you to eat with me,” Tsukasa announced, pushing Rui’s dirty tray to the side to slide his own closer. Tsukasa pierced a piece of seasoned pork with a fork and waved it in front of Rui’s pursed mouth.

“...You’re not going to question what just happened, Tsukasa?” Rui asked, looking away. “What if I told you that I could have prevented you from getting hurt in the first place?”

“What, by sealing my mouth shut? I don’t regret anything I did, Rui. I wanted to stand up for you, but clearly I got carried away,” Tsukasa explained, pointing at his once-injured cheek. “In the end, you were the one who saved me. And now we can argue that we retaliated out of self-defense if those guys ever try to press charges against us.”

Rui still seemed to look troubled, so Tsukasa huffed and maneuvered the food closer to Rui’s mouth. “Take a bite Rui, it’s good! Oh, it’s dripping,” Tsukasa moved a hand underneath the pork to catch the stray drops. Since it was only the two of them, Tsukasa didn’t bother with dining etiquette and licked up the juice from his palm. He looked up to find Rui staring at him, cheeks slightly pink and mouth ajar. Tsukasa took the chance to slide the bite of pork into Rui’s open mouth.

“Chew, please.”

Rui’s teeth clicked shut together and the boy dutifully chewed. He swallowed and said, “I would eat it if it was Tsukasa’s.”


“If Tsukasa had spat in my food, I would eat it.”

Tsukasa laughed heartily. Was that an attempt on Rui’s end to make light of the situation? “Thanks Rui. I would never do such a thing, I would only want you to be able to enjoy your food!”

Rui mumbled something that sounded like, “I would,” and Tsukasa ruffled the boy’s hair, lovingly, as the boy deserved. How dare those bullies treat the poor kid’s hair so harshly?

“I hope you don’t run into those bullies anytime soon,” Tsukasa said, still ticked.

“I shouldn’t anymore,” Rui remarked. That’s right, didn’t Rui say they were in class with him?

“You mean that you ran into them after lunch? Don’t tell me they bullied you during classes too?”

Rui hesitated to answer, then nodded. Tsukasa groaned. “No wonder you want to switch course tracks, with such terrible people like them in your classes!” The worst part was that Tsukasa couldn’t guarantee that Rui joining the knight course would let him escape such bullying. And clearly Tsukasa’s Tenma name wouldn’t save Rui either; in fact, it appeared to be painting an even bigger target on their backs. So much for Tsukasa protecting Rui from bullying.

"Isn't Tsukasa hungry? Why are you only feeding me and not yourself?" Rui brought up. In an act of reciprocity, Rui grabbed his own fork and brought a piece of meat up to Tsukasa’s mouth. The boy then seemed to remember himself, blushing deeply and his hand holding the fork started to shake. Tsukasa clamped his mouth around the proffered food before Rui could think to pull away.

"You're right, I'm starving Rui! You saved me again!" Tsukasa joked cheerily. His shy, darling boy. If his Tenma name wouldn't protect them, then Tsukasa just needed to think of something else. For now, if Rui wanted to take the same course as him for a sense of security then Tsukasa would encourage him without protest. Besides, Rui’s current career choice wasn’t set in stone yet; he could switch back to the engineering track once he felt safe again.

Another morsel of food was brought to Tsukasa’s lips, and Tsukasa opened his mouth to accept. This time it was a garlicky green bean, crunchy and nicely seasoned. Tsukasa chewed thoroughly and grabbed another to offer to Rui, but the other pulled a petulant face without accepting.

“Don’t tell me you fed me a green bean just so you didn’t have to eat it?” Tsukasa asked crossly. “Eye for an eye, Rui.”

Rui whimpered and sank into his seat, causing Tsukasa to click his tongue. “No, sit up! You can’t escape eating vegetables forever!”

What Tsukasa saw next caused him to freeze in his tracks, nearly dropping his fork in terror. Rui’s eyes were welling up with large shiny tears, and his mouth was wobbling over a meek “Tsukasa…” Although Rui’s pretty visage wouldn’t look out of place on a stained glass window, Tsukasa couldn’t help but feel as though he committed a grave sin. Tsukasa heard something shatter and he wondered if it was his heart. What was he doing? The boy just got out of a harrowing experience and now his best friend was forcing him to eat what he detested most. Tsukasa couldn’t even recall if there was a time that Rui cried in the novel. Was it because he perceived what Tsukasa had done as a betrayal, something he’d never experienced before due to never having someone he trusted to actually betray him? Whatever the reason, Tsukasa couldn't help but feel awful.

"Alright Rui, why don't you feed what you don't want to me? Just as long as you eat everything else,” Tsukasa acquiesced. Tsukasa’s handkerchief was too filthy so he brought up his hands to wipe away Rui’s crystalline tears. How could someone look simultaneously so pitiful and adorable when crying? Rui stared at Tsukasa blankly, almost in a disbelieving manner, then nodded to Tsukasa’s proposition. He then sniffled, likely scarred from being offered a string bean in the first place. Looks like Tsukasa had to introduce greens slowly into Rui’s diet.

The rest of dinner passed by uneventfully. Rui had obediently eaten all the meat and bread Tsukasa hand-fed him, his face adorably flushed the whole time. Rui had even gotten up to get Tsukasa seconds, since he had eaten the majority of Tsukasa’s plate and insisted that Tsukasa needed to get his fill of food as well. How sweet his best friend was! Tsukasa wondered if Rui's face was red from crying earlier. It stayed that way even as Rui shakily hand-fed Tsukasa the rest of his food in return.

They headed back to their room together, hand-in-hand, with Rui revitalized even from the multiple tribulations that day. Tsukasa, meanwhile, felt exhaustion setting in. He was unprepared to be so out of his depth, basically starting his high school career all over again but with not a single advantage. If someone had booted his life up from character creator mode, they seemingly dumped all his stats into owning money and nothing else. How was Tsukasa going to survive three years of this?

Once Rui opened the door to their room, Tsukasa nearly cried of relief at the sight of his bed. He quickly freed himself of his boots and cape, too busy stripping to hear the soft choking noises behind him. Tsukasa dressed down to his pants and collared undershirt and flopped face-first onto his mattress, already bemoaning the idea of having to wash up and change into pajamas before sleeping. He could feel a looming presence over him and haggardly shifted his head to meet Rui’s gaze. With his breath audibly picking up, Rui leaned over and placed his hands on either side of Tsukasa’s head.

“Make room for me, Tsukasa. You said we could sleep together, right?”

Tsukasa jolted and nearly collided heads with Rui, whose face had dropped down to be close to his. They were sharing breathing space rather intimately. “A-about that, Rui. sleeping together is kinda… How about I just fix your bedsheets for you? I can sew it up like new!”

Rui’s breathing halted and he drew back, and Tsukasa was forced to watch the boy’s expression crumble into despair. “But Tsukasa had promised…”

Tsukasa sat up quickly before Rui had descended into sniffling again, he couldn’t be the cause of his best friend to cry twice within the hour! “Okay, okay Rui, let’s get ready for bed first and then we can talk about it.”

Rui’s countenance barely improved. “Have I asked for too much, Tsukasa? Was I too selfish?”

“No! Of course not!” Tsukasa exclaimed. Was Rui being selfish asking for company as he slept after being alone for all his life? Obviously not.

Tsukasa had no conscious memory of sharing a bed with anyone, not even his parents. His main hesitation was from it being a novel experience, rather than it being about Rui overstepping any boundaries with him. “I just haven’t slept with anyone before-”

“Really? I’m your first?” Rui cut in, sounding as though he was in awe.

Tsukasa briefly wondered if Book Tsukasa had ever shared a bed with Saki. Book Tsukasa, the character who never bothered with making dinner for Saki or befriending the poor, lonely Rui. Whether or not he did, this was Tsukasa’s first time and he decided in the end to be truthful to his own experience. He was Tsukasa for the foreseeable future so he might as well make the identity fully his now. In response to Rui’s inquiry, Tsukasa nodded, then gave a startled wheeze as Rui dropped on top of him. The boy sprawled, snuggling his face into the crook of Tsukasa’s neck. “Please, Tsukasa,” Rui begged, his tone heavy with sincerity.

Tsukasa groaned, folding like wet paper. “Yes, alright, I promise! Now wash up and get ready for bed first,” Tsukasa hadn’t even finished the order before Rui was rushing through the door to their shared washroom, not even bothering with grabbing a towel or a change of clothes. Tsukasa wondered if his common sense had already gone off the deep end, finding Rui’s overeagerness to be adorable.

Tsukasa didn’t bother looking through Rui’s belongings and grabbed one of his own fluffy, luxurious bath towels packed for him by the Tenma maids. He knocked on the bathroom door, hoping to quickly pass the towel to Rui so he wouldn’t walk out naked when he was done washing. Tsukasa realized he made a major oversight when Rui swung the door wide open, his fully naked body glistening from the brief bath. Zero shame! This boy was going to be the death of him, intentional or not.

“RUI! Don’t just open the door like that when you’re naked!” Tsukasa screeched, his eyes squeezed shut as he flailed the towel in front of him, praying that Rui would take the hint and grab it. Tsukasa nearly breathed a sigh of relief when he felt Rui take the towel, but then his hand met a wall of damp, warm skin. No, nope, this was too much for Tsukasa’s fatigued mind to deal with right now. Rui will need to learn about propriety eventually but today was not the day. Tsukasa was going to take his own advice and run away this instant.

“Back in the bath, now! Rui! Wash thoroughly or I’m not letting you in bed!” Tsukasa pointed vaguely to where he sensed the bath was, as he stubbornly kept his eyes closed. Rui whined but he followed Tsukasa’s directions, and Tsukasa made sure he heard the click of the door shutting and water splashing before he finally opened his eyes.

Tsukasa raided his luggage and found several silky pajamas, then decided to offer a light blue set to Rui since the boy unlikely owned a comfortable change of clothes for sleeping in. He laid the clothes next to the door for Rui to spot easily and communicated to Rui to get dressed in them before exiting the bathroom. Tsukasa then took a seat at his desk. If he laid down in his bed he would likely drift off, so Tsukasa decided to start penning his next letter to Saki. She would be delighted to hear about his classes and his eccentric friends.

Rui finally walked out, half an hour later, skin rubbed raw and smelling of citrus and rain. He was dressed in the set of pajamas Tsukasa had placed near the bathroom door, the clothes straining against his wide shoulders and the cuffs of the sleeves several centimeters too short. Tsukasa decided he needed to go on a shopping spree with Saki that coming weekend, Rui sorely needed some new fitting clothes. What was the point of wealth if he didn’t splurge on his loved ones?

Tsukasa waved the boy over, tsking at how red Rui’s skin was. It seemed he took Tsukasa’s orders too seriously. “Do I need to show you how to wash up, Rui? There was no need for you to treat your skin so roughly to get clean.”

Rui waved a hand over his irritated skin, the redness receding immediately. Tsukasa sighed. “I know you’re fully capable of healing, Rui, but you don’t have to hurt yourself unnecessarily. Treat yourself kindly.”

Rui nodded, which Tsukasa could only hope Rui took this lesson as seriously as he took Tsukasa’s previous directions. Tsukasa guided Rui to sit on the carpet, pulling up his desk chair to sit behind the other. Rui’s hair was dripping, the boy obviously not bothering with drying it before exiting the bathroom. Tsukasa gently wrung the wet hair with a small hand towel, then grabbed a comb to run through the soft hair. The shower had loosened many of the tangles in Rui’s hair, and Tsukasa carefully worked through the strands to get the rest of them out. Rui melted into the treatment, leaning his back into Tsukasa’s spread legs and humming a chipper tune. Could it be, was he recalling a song that Nene had sung for him before?

“Where’d you learn that song from, Rui?” Tsukasa asked, hoping to learn a bit more about Rui’s past. Did the boy actually have romantic feelings for his childhood friend? The original novel had delved into tragedy more than anything, snuffing out all possibilities of romance that the characters could have had. This was the perfect chance for Rui to have a heart-to-heart with him!

Rui stopped his humming, likely to contemplate how he would answer Tsukasa’s question. “A…friend taught me.”

Friend? Just a friend? Don’t act too intrigued, Tsukasa, just ask for what Rui is willing to share. Maybe he’s shy about his true feelings! “Oh, a friend? Do they also attend the academy?”

“No, they attend a boarding school,” Rui said, and proceeded to not elaborate any further. Tsukasa even waited to see if Rui would say anything else but the other just kept silent. Did he fall asleep?


In response to hearing his name, Rui tilted his head back to lean against Tsukasa’s stomach, the dampness of his hair leeching through Tsukasa’s thin shirt. Tsukasa noted that Rui’s eyes weren’t just golden, but glittered emerald and ruby in the right light, as though Tsukasa had happened upon a pirate captain’s prized treasure chest. Tsukasa pushed away strands of hair that stuck to Rui’s forehead, guiding them behind Rui’s ears. What a handsome boy, he would have no trouble capturing hearts as he grew up.

Too busy staring, Tsukasa nearly forgot about his follow-up question. “Ah, Saki’s also attending one! Is it the one in Miya?”

Rui hummed noncommittally, but Tsukasa couldn’t help but feel as though he was being heavily scrutinized. “Why so interested, Tsukasa?”

“Can I not be curious about you, Rui?” Tsukasa sputtered. He was not expecting Rui to be so defensive of Nene, did he actually have feelings for her? “If you have any friends then I’d like to be friends with them as well.”

“Just friends, right? No other best friends?”

“No, that’s reserved just for you,” Tsukasa assured. If Rui really did have a budding romance, Tsukasa had to make sure that Rui knew he wasn’t competition.

Rui smiled at him brightly and straightened back up so Tsukasa could continue brushing out his hair. “I haven’t seen Nene for years. I doubt she remembers me,” Rui said, his tone taking on a melancholic wistfulness.

Anyone forgetting Rui? Impossible! “There’s no way, Rui! Don’t lose out hope, I’m sure you’ll see each other again,” Whether or not Rui stayed on the path of knighthood, Tsukasa would make sure to keep Saki’s and Nene’s towns safe from falling victim to monster attacks. Tsukasa wasn’t entirely sure of the time frame of when Nene’s town was destroyed, only that it was a couple of months after Rui had been kicked out of the Academy. He had some time to hatch a plan for reliably protecting the town by then. “Just look forward to how joyous your reunion will be!” Tsukasa reassured.

Tsukasa had finished detangling Rui’s hair, now idly running his fingers through the ends. He patted Rui to let him know that he was done but Rui stayed seated between Tsukasa’s legs. “I hope you aren’t misunderstanding anything, Tsukasa. You’re my only best friend as well.”

Rui leaned back to look up at Tsukasa again, this time his eyes trained on the other’s intensely like he was making a silent vow. Tsukasa’s face was suddenly flooded with heat, feeling weirdly flustered about Rui making such a sweet sentiment about their friendship. Tsukasa cleared his throat before speaking. “I appreciate it, Rui. Go ahead and head to bed, I’ll join you after I wash up.”

Tsukasa quickly stood from his chair, not at all trying to escape the situation, and Rui pouted at the loss of contact. “Can we wash up together next time, then? You can show me how to get clean properly,” Rui suggested. Tsukasa could’ve smacked himself for offering such earlier.

“Just don’t scrub yourself so hard next time!” Tsukasa pointed out, scrambling for his pajamas and bath towel. Tsukasa closed the bathroom door behind him, cutting off Rui’s sad kitten gaze and he was left with just his thoughts. No, Tsukasa was going to stop thinking, take a nice bath, and prepare for sleep. In a bed next to his best friend. Tsukasa was not doing a great job of taking his own advice.

Tsukasa was hit with a wall of steam as he entered the bathroom, accompanied by the citrus scent of the body gel. The bathtub was a luxurious size large enough to comfortably seat two fully grown people, not that Tsukasa was getting any ideas. Said tub filled with heated water when Tsukasa activated the mana core at the base of it.

At least the author of the novel remembered to mention modern conveniences adapted for this fantasy setting, otherwise Tsukasa wouldn’t know how he’d deal without hot running water. Mana cores were the be-all and end-all to their world. He wondered how many were mined for the upkeep of the academy alone. Such a versatile, precious resource would be the cause of wars and the rise and fall of kingdoms.

Tsukasa had fully undressed and was sinking into the heated water when he nearly slipped from a sudden thought. Didn’t Rui just make a mana core all on his own earlier? With just his blood?

As expected of the invincible main antagonist. No wonder he could make numerous automatons without requiring major mining operations to find powerful mana cores. He could make everything in-house!

No, Rui wasn’t going to become the main antagonist any longer, not when Tsukasa had any say in it. His best friend was going to grow up happy, secure, and loved. If Rui was going to be targeted and taken advantage of for his incredible talents, then Tsukasa just had to make sure that they were kept under wraps. His ultimate plan of keeping Rui safe was slowly piecing together.

Once Tsukasa emerged from the bathroom, dressed in his own set of sleepwear, he saw Rui sitting on the floor again engrossed in tinkering with the skeleton of a new robot. Tsukasa took a seat on his bed, watching as Rui pulled out a familiar blood-red crystal and finally seemed to realize he had company. He turned to glance back at Tsukasa, seeming unsure about what he had been planning on doing next.

“What is it, Rui?”

“If I promise to heal myself right after, is it ok if I…” Rui then gestured to his palm, blood crystal resting in the center. Tsukasa recalled his earlier freak-out about Rui initially creating the crystal and sighed.

“Now that I know why you’re doing it, I understand. Just make sure you’re eating properly if you’re planning on making this a hobby,” Tsukasa didn’t want Rui fainting from anemia.

Rui nodded in understanding, flicking open a switchblade and making a precise cut in his palm in a gesture that was a bit too practiced. Just how often had Rui been experimenting with his blood to form mana cores?

Blood welled in the center of Rui’s palm. The boy carefully kept it from dripping and clenched his hand around both the fresh blood and the crystal. Tsukasa watched, intrigued, as Rui’s expression turned focused as he manipulated his gravity magic to condense it all into a mana core. Minutes later he opened his hand to reveal an even smaller crystal, pulsing with light and had taken on a rich violet hue.

“Beautiful,” Tsukasa breathed, watching as colorful light overflowed from Rui’s hands. It was a sight he would never get to see in his original world, and it was something Rui had created all on his own.

Rui glanced up from his invention to see Tsukasa leaning over to get a closer look. He then lifted his hand, bringing the crystal closer to Tsukasa’s sight. Tsukasa thought Rui was just offering Tsukasa a better look, but the boy’s generous smile implied that he was actually offering the crystal to him!

“No, Rui, I can’t take this. Weren’t you making this for your automaton to have?” Tsukasa refused, shocked by how easily Rui had given up such a powerful object just because Tsukasa admired it. Rui’s naivety pained his heart, what if some sinister individual tricked Rui into giving them a mana core with a silver tongue?

“Of course, how thoughtless of me. I shouldn’t have offered Tsukasa such an unpersonalized gift. I’ll make something more suitable for you later,” Rui spouted, causing Tsukasa to groan.

“You don’t have to, Rui,” Tsukasa mumbled, but Rui only responded with a sweet smile. Rui nestled the newly-formed core in a compartment at the center of the automaton skeleton. Tsukasa found himself holding his breath in anticipation as Rui stood the structure up on its legs, which wobbled but kept its balance. It was akin to watching a newborn take its first steps.

The automaton held its arms out, taking shaky steps with its thin, metal legs. The robot glanced between both Rui and Tsukasa, its small metal face had empty sockets where Rui was likely planning to attach eyeballs to later. The robot seemed to see to some extent, since it suddenly waved its arms in a panic and tottered off to hide behind Rui’s leg. Tsukasa gasped, poor thing! The automaton may have no aesthetic additions to it yet, but Tsukasa could tell from its shy personality that it was Rui’s crybaby bunny robot.

“Don’t be scared, it’s just me!” Tsukasa cooed, which caused the robot to squeak and actually tumble over. Rui let a snort of laughter escape as Tsukasa gasped in faked affront.

“Rui! Your poor child just fell down and you’re laughing!” Tsukasa exclaimed. Rui righted the fallen robot and patted its trembling form.

“Tsukasa’s voice is just so charismatic, it would be hard for anyone not to be intimidated when they first hear it,” Rui said with a teasing lilt.

Tsukasa harumphed and flopped backward into bed, arms splayed out. What a jokester Rui was. “We have classes tomorrow Rui, so make sure you finish up soon and sleep.”

No sooner had Tsukasa said it, he was pounced on by the other. Ugh, so heavy!

Rui’s body was on top of his, flush from head to toe. Hands wormed their way underneath Tsukasa’s body to wrap around his back and squeeze at his waist. Tsukasa groaned, not ready to sleep wrapped up by a bed octopus.

“Rui, get off, sleep on the side at least! The lights aren’t even off yet,” Tsukasa wheezed. Rui whined but yielded, rolling his body to the other side of the bed but still keeping his arms around Tsukasa. An effortless wave of a finger cut the lights and Rui snuggled back into Tsukasa’s side as close as he assumed was reasonable by Tsukasa’s standards.

Well, it wasn’t as bad as Tsukasa had expected, at least. With how clingy Rui was, it would be like an extended hug, done horizontally. Tsukasa didn’t know what he was so worried about.

“You smell like me, Tsukasa,” Rui noted, face close enough that they shared the same pillow.

“Well, we did just use the same soap.”

“No, it’s more than that,” Rui whispered, nose burying even closer into the crook of Tsukasa’s neck. “I thought this earlier too. You smell like you belong to me.”

Tsukasa felt strangely pinned by that comment, wondering what that meant as well. Rui took a shameless inhale, snuggling up against Tsukasa like he could meld right into his body. Tsukasa felt as though he had more affectionate physical contact with Rui today than he’d had with anyone in his past life.

“You’re the strangest guy I know, Rui,” Tsukasa said off-handedly, patting Rui’s back.

Rui stirred slightly and pulled away just enough to look at Tsukasa. “Is that bad?”

“Silly boy, of course not. It means you’re special to me,” Tsukasa said sincerely. Rui preened and settled back down, somehow his hold grew even tighter around Tsukasa’s waist.

It was going to be a long night.


Tsukasa: i can fix him [singlehandedly jumpstarts rui’s villain arc]

Also my lovely friend jenjen posted her first fic about darling middle schooler rui and his hot (bimbo) older tutor tsukasa, if you hadn't had enough fluff yet please go read Sow a seed in the ground and let it know it's something special

Chapter 8


white day rui man, im still not over him
anyway my note last chapter, sorry for any panic, i will not clarify lol
I did not read over this chapter, pls enjoy

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Was Tsukasa trapped in a sauna? He was sweating, he couldn't breathe, and he was held down by hot iron bars that kept him from moving. In the distance he heard a faint beeping noise. When he tried to move, the bars would grow tighter, sapping away at Tsukasa’s will to try and move again. Despite the restraints, Tsukasa was comfortable where he was, but something was compelling him to get up. His instincts told him it was of vital importance that Tsukasa woke up for that alarm.

Tsukasa’s eyes snapped open to daylight filtering past the velvet curtains. A familiar robot was bobbing in the air, eyes flashing with the beeps he emitted. It was morning, but what time was it? Tsukasa went to move but he realized the source of the “iron bars” restraining him.

“Rui, it’s time for class,” Tsukasa patted the arm wrapped around his middle, which also happened to be holding down his own arms. Despite being held down like this for what he assumed to be all night, Tsukasa felt oddly refreshed. Although he didn’t expect Rui to have such a high body temperature, the heat generated caused Tsukasa’s back to be sticky with sweat and his clothes to cling to his skin. Hopefully he had time to take another bath before class.

Rui mumbled sleepily behind him, nuzzling against the back of Tsukasa’s shoulder and not at all willing to prepare for the day. Tsukasa rolled his eyes at the predictable behavior, then pulled at Rui’s hold until there was enough give for him to shift around and face his bedmate. Tsukasa then screamed hysterically.

“Rui! Why is there blood all over your clothes!” Tsukasa was able to gesture wildly at the dried blood due to Rui’s grip loosening from his scream. Rui blinked slowly, looking pained at the early hour and the sudden wake-up call.

“Tsukasa doesn’t remember?” Rui asked in a scratchy, deeper register than his normal voice. He nonchalantly rubbed the sleep from his eyes, not at all concerned like Tsukasa was about the bloodbath on their bed. “You wriggle around in your sleep. One minute I was asleep, the next an arm whacked me right in the face. The way Tsukasa sleeps in bed reminds me of a starfish.”

“I did this? I hit your face?” Tsukasa asked, distraught.

“Don’t worry, I healed my nose right up! I apologize but I had to hold Tsukasa down to keep a repeat performance from occurring,” Rui then giggled, completely ignoring that he wouldn’t look out of place as a victim in a slasher film.

“Argh! I knew something would go wrong if we slept together! Rui, I’m so sorry, it's probably better that we sleep separately from now on-”

“No!” Rui cut in, finally looking as upset as the situation called for. “It was the best sleep I had in years. Please, Tsukasa, I promise I won’t get hurt next time!”

“Shouldn’t I be the one promising not to hurt you next time?” Tsukasa replied, aggrieved.

“Now that I know what to expect, I’ll make sure to hold you down from now on,” Rui said in a jovial tone.

Tsukasa sighed and ushered Rui to finally get out of bed and prepare for the day. Rui once again tried to undress right in front of him, but Tsukasa shoved the boy into the bathroom before he fully could.

The bed sheets were stained with dried blood. Tsukasa stripped the bed and then himself of his sweat-soaked pajamas and stuffed them into a basket he assumed was for laundry. He debated whether he should bother with putting on his uniform when he was planning to take a bath, but then his alarm clock floated over.

“Thanks Tom, you saved us from being late for class,” Tsukasa patted the robot, then recalled that Tom was likely present when McGailan and his friends were picking on Rui. “That reminds me, did you happen to get a good recording of those bullies’ faces from yesterday?” Knowing their type, they had likely already filed a report and put all the blame on Rui. Tsukasa wanted to be prepared to refute their claims on any fronts.

Tom chirped in affirmation and projected a close-up of each of the bullies’ faces. Tsukasa couldn’t help but praise Tom’s cinematography skills. With this, Tsukasa could at least start identifying the people he needed to watch out for.

Tsukasa was startled when he heard a horrifying crack come from the direction of the bathroom. He spun around at the noise and caught Rui staring at him, open-mouthed with the bathroom door dangling from his grip, twisted off its hinges.

"R-Rui! The door! What happened?"

"Tsukasa looks so slim," Rui said in awe, face inflamed and eyes taking on a glazed look. "Tsukasa's nipples-"

"Ahh! Don't look!" Tsukasa shrieked, grabbing his uniform and using it to shield the sight of his chest. He did not want an evaluation of his nipples. Rui looked as though he were in rapture, the poor door still swinging from his hand.

"Fix the door!" Tsukasa ordered nonsensically. Rui blinked emptily at him, then slowly looked down to stare at the door in his hand as though he had no idea how it got there in the first place. In a moment of comprehension, Rui set the broken door against the frame and went back to staring at Tsukasa's covered chest. Tsukasa was absolutely mortified.

“Why do you keep staring? Are they that weird?” Tsukasa asked, feeling oddly self-conscious of Rui’s opinion. He recollected being made fun of when getting changed for gym class in school, but he had brushed it off and just started changing after everyone left for class. He didn’t want Rui to think differently of him because of his body’s…features.

Rui snapped out of his reverie. “Tsukasa’s n-nipples? No, they’re perfect!”

“That wasn’t my question!” Tsukasa flushed, not willing to hear about how Rui came up with that particular opinion. “Turn around, don’t look! I’m gonna take a bath and get ready, please just open the bathroom door and wait for me, okay?”

Rui seemed to want to say something else but then stiffly nodded. He lifted the door from the frame and Tsukasa rushed past him, deciding to ignore the sudden splintering noises as he entered the bathroom. They definitely needed a new door now.

Rui was still out of it as they headed to their first class for the day, mumbling about something looking “pink and soft”. Tsukasa was adamant about not making eye contact with the boy he was dragging behind him, still embarrassed by their earlier mishap. The two of them probably made quite a sight as they entered the F-class magic course. At least they were on time for once.

The magic professors have yet to locate another Brood Druid, so Rui was stuck in this class with Tsukasa, not that Rui seemed to mind. The two took their seats as their professor eventually tumbled in through the doorway.

Tsukasa took notes as the professor explained the principles of magic theory, a magical quill behind him writing them out in the air. Tsukasa tried his best to focus but Rui wouldn't stop! Staring! At him! Why wasn't he facing the front? Rui didn't even bother with pretending he was paying attention, his whole body twisted to fully face Tsukasa.

"Rui! Pay attention!"

Rui tilted his head at him questioningly. "Not to me!" Tsukasa whisper-yelled then pointed to the front of the classroom. "I'm quizzing you on all this later…”

"Now class, just because this is categorized as the 'F-class' doesn't mean you can slack off," The professor stated, looking pointedly in Tsukasa's direction. Tsukasa shrank in his seat, did he really talk that loudly?

"We are continuously expanding our capacity to live day-to-day life without the necessity of spellwork. Mana cores are increasing in availability, and not just in household use. We have automatons and other appliances that are capable of utilizing magic to perform important tasks for us. Depending on your chosen career paths, you may be using these types of tools to amplify your magic. For example, knights may use weapons with mana cores that enhance their magic or increase their control.

“Therefore, don’t think of yourselves as lesser than your peers for being in the ‘F-class’. You merely were born with a smaller mana capacity. It has no bearing on your skill or talent as a student here in the academy. With support from our nation, you will have the resources needed to be as successful in casting magic as any A-class mage.”

Tsukasa heard some quiet scoffs in the classroom but he took the lesson to heart. It was true that one’s importance in society shouldn’t be based on if one was born into wealth or with more magical power. This was the exact logic that would have prevented the majority of issues from the novel in the first place!

“Now, this doesn’t mean that an F-class mage has never been able to perform high-level magic before without artificial assistance. There is a rare phenomenon known as ‘magical resonance’ which has allowed even those labeled as ‘F-class’ the ability to perform incredible feats of magic. It has only been documented to take place when the involved users are under great duress and have a unifying goal in mind.”

Tsukasa found himself raising his hand. The professor looked intrigued and called on him.

"Yes, Sir Tenma?"

"Can one pull off a resonance even if they're magically null?"

"Magically null?" The professor pondered. "I don’t believe I’ve come across anything that qualifies as such. Nothing is truly void of mana in this world; even inanimate objects like rocks and the air we breathe have some trace of mana. It's imbued in all with the grace of the goddess."

So that sorting hat chicken equated Tsukasa’s magic capability to that of a rock. Was it possible that the goddess had skipped Tsukasa when giving out her magic powers? Or maybe it was due to him not being of this world?

"Anyway, you are all here today because you would like to perform some magic, yes? Let's do it then, everyone please stand and line up!"

Murmurs started up in the class from students excited about being able to use magic. Tsukasa was shocked. In the novel, it took weeks before any of the A or S-class magic users were allowed to participate in practical training. And yet here they were, F-class mages allowed to use magic on the first day? Were professors just more cautious with higher-level mages due to the higher risk?

Tsukasa felt uneasiness in the pit of his stomach, unsure about the professor’s decision to jump into a practical demonstration so soon. A warm hand interlaced with his, and Tsukasa looked over to find Rui staring at him, which seemed to be the new norm. However, Rui’s presence eased Tsukasa’s nerves, the other sensing Tsukasa’s apprehension and putting on a relaxed smile. Tsukasa squeezed Rui’s hand in gratitude. What could go wrong with the strongest mage in the nation next to him?

The two of them joined the other students in the front of the classroom and lined up as the professor explained what exercise he wanted them to carry out. Each of them was to alter a square of parchment paper in any way, such as by burning, cutting, or soaking it, with magic. Tsukasa didn’t know how much luck he would have with such an exercise if he wasn’t allowed to physically tear the thing. At least the exercise itself didn’t seem too dangerous.

A female knight went first, encasing her hands around the small square of parchment the way that the professor guided her.

“Now, it doesn’t matter how much mana you have if you lack control. I can assure you that if a D-class mage with perfect control went up against an A-class without any, the latter would not be the victor,” The professor advised the girl to guide her flow of mana to a point. The form the magic took was just as important as the output. Since it was a simple sheet of paper, it only took a sliver of magic to cut it, so the most important aspect was control. The girl’s face scrunched up in concentration as the paper in her hands started to flutter and then shattered like glass. She looked at the remaining pieces of paper in shock, then whooped with glee.

“Well done, Lady Shiraishi! You have a rare affinity that is hard to master. If you become skilled in this it may just be a matter of time before you surpass your father as a knight!”

An Shiraishi, as Tsukasa deduced, laughed sheepishly as the professor moved on to the next student. Tsukasa didn’t realize there was a future Royal Guard in the F-class! No wonder An used magic so sparingly in the novel.

Some of the other students got the memo and started on their own sheets of paper. Tsukasa debated whether he should even try. Surely he’d be caught if he tried to manually put a rip in the paper, even if the professor wasn’t looking. He glanced over to look into Rui’s hands, and saw that his piece of parchment had been turned into… a paper dragon?

Tsukasa gaped at the class assignment turned origami. When did Rui even have time to make that? The dragon was even flapping its wings and moving its paper mouth in a mimicry of breathing flames! Rui presented the dragon to him proudly, as though waiting to be praised.

Tsukasa covertly looked around, making sure no one else had caught sight of the moving paper dragon in Rui’s hands as he covered it with his own hand. “Rui, what are you doing?!”

Rui drooped from not getting his desired response. “Does Tsukasa not like it?”

“You know it’s not that!” Tsukasa realized that he was the only one who foresaw the dangers of others learning of Rui’s covetous ability to make mana cores. He needed to find a way to encourage Rui to be placed in the S-level class but to keep his ability to make cores under wraps. “Look Rui, the fact that you’re able to bring a simple piece of paper to life like this is extremely impressive, it’s genius even! But if the professor sees it-”

The sentient origami dragon was crushed before Tsukasa could even blink. Rui’s expression turned eerily serious. “I’ll be placed in a different class from Tsukasa.”

Well yes, but that wasn’t the point! “I… Well, you should be, Rui, you obviously belong in the S-class! You won’t be able to learn properly if you stay in this one,” Tsukasa clarified. Rui didn’t look the least bit convinced, instead looking over into Tsukasa’s own hands.

“Is Tsukasa having trouble with his paper?”

“You know I don’t have magic, Rui,” Tsukasa reminded the other.

“But you do have mana, Tsukasa.”

“I don’t think having the mana capacity of a rock is going to cut it.” Literally, he might add. “That chicken basically gave me a whole new category just to describe how hopeless I am at magic. Have you even heard of ‘Triple F-class’ before?”

Rui gave him a contemplative look, then suddenly turned away.

“Oh, how are you two doing, Sir Tenma and Sir Kamishiro?” Tsukasa nearly jumped at hearing the professor’s voice. How did he already get to them? “Ah, I see you’ve already demonstrated prowess in gravity magic, Sir Kamishiro. Excellent work,” The professor noted as he examined Rui’s compressed paper. Then he moved on to Tsukasa’s.

“It seems you cut your paper as well, Sir Tenma! Hm, what an interesting cut. Do you recall how you achieved it?”

“I don’t know,” Tsukasa answered, not daring to look over at Rui. Rui must have realized the professor was approaching and had quickly done something. That boy! Why was he helping Tsukasa cheat? This was all going to end with both of them in trouble once Tsukasa was caught unable to do magic! “I think this was a mistake, my hand might have slipped and torn it.”

“Nonsense, this is a special type of parchment. If someone tore it without the use of magic then it would indicate such, like this,” The professor demonstrated with a spare sheet he tore a corner off of, causing the edge to turn red. Tsukasa felt himself start to sweat.

"The cut you made appears reminiscent of that of wind magic. Anyway, good work, Sir Tenma! We will continue to hone your skills and confidence throughout the academic year,” The professor moved on, and Tsukasa didn't know whether to be relieved or cry. Wouldn't it have been better for him to just come out and say he had no magic in the first place? It wasn't like he would get kicked out of the academy for lacking it, right?

Rui had a smug grin on his face. It was as irritating as it was adorable, and it made Tsukasa want to pinch his cheeks to get him to stop.

“You just tricked our professor! Now what are we going to do when he realizes that I actually don’t have magic?!”

“Was Tsukasa not worried about his performance in this exercise?” Rui asked, as though confused as to why Tsukasa was upset.

“Yes but that didn’t mean I wanted you to help me cheat! What am I going to do once I get caught?”

Rui’s smug grin returned. “Then Tsukasa just needs to not get caught.”

Before Tsukasa could get Rui to elaborate on what he meant, a red missive flew in through the door and across the classroom, nearly nailing the professor in the face.

“My, how rude! Couldn’t have this waited until after class?” The professor huffed, snatching the insistent letter from the air. “...Sir Tenma and Sir Kamishiro? You’re being called into the disciplinary office. Is it really so urgent that it must cut into class?”

It looked as though Tsukasa and Rui would have to answer for the incident during dinner last night already. How could things go downhill so quickly?

Rui took Tsukasa’s hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Do you trust me, Tsukasa?”

Rui’s warm hand made Tsukasa realize how cold and clammy his had become. Tsukasa looked at the other unsure but nodded. Once they exited the classroom together, Rui pulled Tsukasa into a corridor and embraced him. “Don’t be so worried, Tsukasa. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Tsukasa was suddenly swathed with a wave of calm, his jumpy heart rate returning to normal, then slowing to resting. His eyelids became heavy and it felt as though he were dreaming while awake. Why didn’t he just leave everything to Rui? It would be best to stay by Rui’s side forever and never have to make another painfully stressful decision all on his own again. Everything felt so peaceful. Everything felt so wrong.

“Rui, Rui, stop!” Tsukasa panted, digging his nails into Rui’s arms. “I don’t want this!”

The fog of calm that settled in his brain dissipated as quickly as it had arrived. Tsukasa blinked away the grogginess, feeling his awareness trickle back in. Once the forced calm had left his consciousness, Tsukasa glanced up at Rui, who looked crestfallen.

“Are you alright? I’m sorry, I didn’t think you would react like that,” Rui apologized somberly.

“It’s alright, I just wasn’t expecting it,” Tsukasa said. He recalled that Rui had used hypnosis on aggressive magical beasts and shopkeepers before in the novel, but he never expected Rui to have already learned the technique at this age. Nor to use it on Tsukasa to help calm him down. “I appreciate what you were trying to do, but next time explain it to me if you’re about to use some kind of magic on me.”

Rui nodded, a sorrowful look on his face, as though he was a sad kitten left in the rain.

“Have I breached your trust, Tsukasa? You gave it to me but I betrayed it and forced you through an unpleasant experience.”

Tsukasa shook his head rapidly. “No! Of course not! You did that to help me, didn’t you? Besides I wouldn’t have called it unpleasant, it was more like I was scared because I wasn’t sure what was happening,” And in a way it worked, since Tsukasa wasn’t feeling as panicked as he was before.

Rui smiled sadly, his earlier bravado whittled away by his perceived failure. His arms were still wrapped around Tsukasa's waist. Tsukasa patted the boy's arm to console him.

"We should go, Rui,” Tsukasa said. Rui’s arms around him tightened.

“I meant it, Tsukasa. I won’t allow anyone else to hurt you again,” Rui proclaimed. Tsukasa smiled, touched by his best friend’s vow to protect him.

“Thank you, Rui. I want to help keep you safe too,” Tsukasa hugged him back, hoping his embrace relayed his forgiveness and affection for the other.

When the two of them entered the disciplinary office, they were met with several familiar faces. One was enraged, the owner of it had his whole arm in a cast. The other belonged to a man that sat behind a mahogany desk, adjusting his glasses as the two of them walked into the office. Tsukasa held back his groan of dread; he had forgotten about administrator Otori.

“Hello sirs. McGailan here has already informed me of the purported transgressions he holds against you both. I must say I was quite disappointed when I heard that you were involved, Sir Tenma.”

Tsukasa tried his best to keep his rage at bay. McGailan had likely already given his very skewed side of events, painting them as the instigators of the mess. He wondered if administrator Otori was upset with him because he had sided with a commoner like Rui instead of with a noble, or simply because his parents hadn’t paid him off well enough to be dealing with Tsukasa’s messes.

“Now then, I would like to hear your side of the incident, Sir Tenma,” Otori directed at Tsukasa, which made McGailan push off his seat with a clatter.

“What? Why are you asking him how things happened? Do you not see my arm, clearly I was the one who was wronged! …Uh, Sir,” McGailan's outburst fizzled as Otori gave him a sharp look.

"I understand your complaints, Sir McGailan, but as an administrator it is my duty to get a fair viewpoint from all sides of the situation," Otori stated. “Please proceed, Sir Tenma.”

“The incident I believe McGailan was referring to took place at dinnertime yesterday,” Tsukasa explained how it was his first encounter with McGailan and his friends, who were harassing Rui and went as far as to slander him and spit in his food. When Tsukasa had attempted to extract them both out of the situation, they were met with resistance. He then mentioned that McGailan had been the one to throw the first punch.

“And then your pet over there cast some voodoo magic on me and destroyed my hand!” McGailan shouted, unable to stay silent any longer.

"Do you corroborate Sir Tenma's timeline of events, sir Kamishiro?" Otori asked, ignoring McGailan's outburst. Rui nodded.

"Hey, it's two against one, how is this fair?"

"I've only brought in the involved parties, as relayed through your side of the story, Sir McGailan. Unless there were other people involved whom you have neglected to mention?" Otori interrogated, making McGailan nervously backtrack.

"W-well, how can you believe Tenma got punched in the face when his face looks completely fine?" Tsukasa felt himself getting heated from anger. Obviously because healing magic existed! Tsukasa wished he could pull out Tom's recording of the incident, but it wasn't worth outing Rui's robot and possibly getting him confiscated.

"I could say the same about your completely bandaged arm, Sir Gailan," Tsukasa said with a hint of snark. Why was his whole arm bandaged when it was just his hand that was hurt anyway, unless it was to exacerbate his injuries? From what Tsukasa had seen, the best way to treat his broken fingers would be to splint them.

McGailan gave a haughty grin as he unraveled his mummified arm, revealing that his bandaged fingers were splinted together. With how energetic McGailan was, Tsukasa would’ve never known that his hand was brutalized just yesterday if he weren't there to see it. He must be on some tough painkillers.

“So you’re saying two students from the F-class, one of whom you punched in the face, used magic to break your fingers? Are you sure you aren’t so incompetent that you just hurt yourself when punching Tsukasa?” Rui cut in coldly.

Tsukasa's jaw dropped alongside McGailan’s. McGailan recovered first, incensed. “Y-you, I will not be spoken to in such a way by some street rat!”

“And yet you blame this F-class street rat for incapacitating you, a respectable A-class mage? There’s only so much you can twist a narrative in your favor until it folds in on itself,” Rui countered, unsmiling. Tsukasa could've sworn that the temperature of the room dropped several degrees. Rui's statement was the blunt truth, and yet things did not seem to be going in McGailan’s favor at all.

In his anger, and total lack of self-preservation, McGailan stomped toward Rui until he was right in his face. Tsukasa’s hackles raised, ready to squeeze between the two of them just to get the bully to back off.

“Enough,” Otori said before McGailan could escalate the situation into physical violence. “Please remove the bandages from your fingers as well, Sir McGailan."

McGailan gaped at the administrator. "Are you serious, Sir?"

"If you do not wish to be written up for wasting my time and your classmates' then yes."

Giving in, McGailan stepped back from Rui and irately pulled at his bandages until they came loose. Tsukasa steeled himself to see heavily bruised, if not still-mangled fingers. From what he had glimpsed at during dinner time, there was no way McGailan could have made a full recovery even with standard first-aid magic. He couldn't exactly condone Rui's intense retaliation but he did it with protecting Tsukasa in mind. Tsukasa was ready to accept blame in place of Rui and call what occurred a self-defense freak accident. There was no way he would let Rui take the fall and be at risk of getting expelled.

Once the bandages fully unraveled from McGailan’s fingers, Tsukasa had to do a double take. His hand looked completely normal! There wasn’t even any bruising?

“So what was the issue again, Sir McGailan?” Otori asked, looking quite done with the situation. Tsukasa’s bewilderment could easily be mistaken for indignation; meanwhile Rui stared down McGailan like he was less than dirt.

“Sir, I swear on my honor that I'm not lying!”

“Then your honor means little,” Otori sighed, turning his attention to Tsukasa. “Since there is insubstantial evidence on either charge’s side, I am willing to dismiss you all with a mere warning. Things do not bode well in your favor, Sir McGailan, so I suggest you take my offer.”

Tsukasa did not need to be told twice to agree. McGailan was red-faced and looked ready to erupt but nodded anyway.

“Good, I’m glad this was resolved without preamble,” Otori dismissed them all with a wave of a hand. McGailan stomped out the door, but not without an acidic glare aimed at the other two. Tsukasa doubted it would be the last they would hear from him, but was mostly thankful that the ordeal was over.

“Sir Tenma, before you go, about the correspondence between your parents and my father,” Otori spoke up. "He will be sending them a reply within a week about the arrangement."

Um, what? What were Tsukasa's parents planning? Tsukasa nodded along, befuddled as he tried to wrack his brain about what the elder Otori brother could be talking about.

"You may return to your classes," Otori said to Tsukasa's confirmation. He glanced at Rui with a neutral expression, more curious than anything, and then turned his attention to his paperwork.

That was as good a dismissal as they would get. Tsukasa walked out of the office with Rui in tow to head back to class. Suddenly Rui grabbed his hand, keeping Tsukasa in place.

"Good to meet you again, Akiyama," Rui said amiably to a wall. Tsukasa stared at the empty hallway, confused until there was a shimmer in the air. Mizuki then phased into existence.

“Aww, you’re no fun, Rui. I was gonna surprise Tsukasa with my new trick!” Mizuki pouted.

Tsukasa blinked at their sudden arrival in shock. Hadn’t Mizuki been fascinated when Tom had turned invisible just the other day? Did that mean they got the hang of said trick after seeing it performed only a couple of times? “You mean you learned how to do that in less than a day? That’s incredible…”

Mizuki made a pleased noise. Meanwhile, Rui’s arms wrapped around Tsukasa’s waist from behind, the slightly taller boy resting his chin on Tsukasa’s shoulder. Mizuki's expression instantly morphed into disgust.

"I see you're even grosser than before," Mizuki muttered under their breath, soft enough that only Rui could hear. Rui smiled smugly.

"Wait, how'd you find us? Aren't you supposed to be in class?" Tsukasa realized.

Mizuki looked away whistling guiltily and Tsukasa gasped. “Mizuki! Don’t skip class! Go back right now!”

“Ugh, but it’s so boring. It’s just a lecture on basic theory and we can’t use magic. And there are only 10 minutes left of class anyway.”

Then that meant Tsukasa and Rui were likely to miss the end of class as well. It seemed that their getting early to class meant nothing in the end.

“Then that means you have no excuse for not attending our study session later this week!”

“What?” Mizuki stared at him confused.

“It wouldn’t do to fall behind so early in the semester,” Tsukasa lectured. “ And it would be a perfect time to introduce you to my other friends!” He should remember to ask Akito and Toya later today when a good day to study together would be.

“You have friends other than me and Mr. Koala over there?” Mizuki asked, sounding astounded.

“Of course I do!” Tsukasa replied, offended. Rui's arms tightened around him. Tsukasa patted the other as thanks for also getting offended on his behalf. "I'll introduce you to them! I guess we should go ahead and head to the cafeteria if class is ending then."

Tsukasa went to head to the cafeteria but Rui’s arms held him in place. Neither of his other two companions made a move to head the same way.

“Are you sure you want to eat there again?” Mizuki asked skeptically. “It sounds like bad news.”

Tsukasa gaped. Was Mizuki listening in on their meeting with administrator Otori? “Then what do you suggest we do?” He wasn’t about to let Rui starve just because of some potential bullies!

Rui muttered into Tsukasa's ear, "I'd rather eat somewhere with just Tsukasa…"

Mizuki stepped closer. "Don't hog him all to yourself, clingy roommate. Besides I know a good spot where to eat.”

“I’m not just his roommate, I’m his best friend,” Rui declared proudly. The shameless declaration made Tsukasa feel a bit self-conscious, as Mizuki slapped a hand over their mouth to muffle their guffaw in vain.

“Then follow me, Wonderboy and trusty sidekick. Not as many people eat in the gardens so maybe you troublemakers will be safe out there.”

Mizuki led them through a backway into the kitchens where Tsukasa and Rui were made to wait outside the doorway. Mizuki turned invisible and followed behind a worker who opened the door for them to hustle several sandwiches. Tsukasa was too anxious watching Mizuki disappear bits of food from under the busy kitchen’s nose that he didn’t even notice that Rui had left his side momentarily until he felt hands kneading at his sides again. Was he ever going to be able to stand again without 70 plus extra kilograms of weight leaning on him?

“I got the goods, let’s go!” Mizuki reappeared in front of the two, whispering covertly like they were accomplishing some kind of secret mission. Tsukasa looked back at Rui with suspicion, asking silently what the other boy had been up to in the meantime. Rui smiled back innocently and Tsukasa could only sigh. He prayed Mizuki’s unsavory habits wouldn’t influence Rui too heavily.

The three of them headed out to the courtyard, where multicolored flowers bloomed and stone benches lined the walkways. The rich scent of the foliage wafted through the air, the sun shined brightly with a nice breeze, all crafting a perfect setting for a picnic. Tsukasa took a seat on a bench and Rui immediately took a seat next to him, which Mizuki rolled their eyes at. Once each of them had a sandwich Tsukasa hummed contently, taking in the enchanting scenery. It felt as though it was the first time today that he was finally at peace.

As they partook in their lunch, Tsukasa inquired about Mizuki’s day and the classes that they had actually attended. Mizuki had an impressive streak of four classes attended going until this morning, which Tsukasa decided to celebrate. It was about the small victories. Rui stayed silent for the most part, listening in on their conversation and nodding along whenever Tsukasa turned to include him. He wondered if the boy was shy, after having not gotten along with Mizuki the other day, but Tsukasa decided that he should be proud that he wasn’t antagonistic like he had been either. Rui must be taking Tsukasa’s request to play nice with his friends sincerely.

“What’s that?” Mizuki pointed at a flower. Rui looked over and made a noise of interest.

“A yellow fairy pigeon, it’s usually mistaken for a butterfly but it’s actually a moth,” Rui answered.

Tsukasa choked on his next bite, very pointedly not looking in the direction the other two were. Please, in the name of the goddess, do not fly this way.

Rui then bent down to pluck a wriggling, indescribable creature from a leaf. With his bare hands! Tsukasa was too frozen from fear to move.

“This is its larval stage. Its unique pattern and coloration scare off predators. Doesn’t its fluffiness bring out its cuteness?”

“Kinda gross, but I guess I can see it,” Mizuki acquiesced, then looked up to see a petrified Tsukasa. “...So what do you think, Wonderboy?”

A fantastical bug was still a bug! Tsukasa shook his head along with his whole body, hoping Rui got the message to relocate the bug he was holding as far away as possible once he was done admiring it. Rui turned to face Tsukasa, which resulted in the grave misfortune of bringing the bug even closer to Tsukasa’s radius of personal space, where bugs are strictly forbidden. Tsukasa could no longer hold back his scream of terror.

“GYAAAA!! R-r-r-r-rui! Is it really necessary for you to hold it so close to admire it?” Tsukasa shrieked, jumping from his seat on the bench and backing away. Rui blinked at Tsukasa’s quick retreat then smiled benignly.

“Doesn’t Tsukasa believe that I could protect him from a threat as insignificant as a larva?”

“I’m sure Rui is fully capable of anything! I merely just do not want such a creature within my sights! They are within their rights to exist, just anywhere besides in my field of vision!”

Rui decided that his fun from terrorizing Tsukasa was soon outweighed by his desire to have Tsukasa within physical touching distance again, and set the bug back down on its leaf. However, Tsukasa didn’t return to his seat on the bench.

“Rui, I’m going to need you to thoroughly sanitize your hands before I come anywhere near you.” Rui’s befuddlement was met with a snort from Mizuki. So this is where Tsukasa drew the line?

With Tsukasa’s standoffishness, Rui doubted that Tsukasa would choose to accompany him to a washroom. Instead, he went with the option of instantaneous sterilization.

Rui encased his hands in severe, black flame, which radiated waves of heat. The sudden magic spike caused Mizuki to startle, nearly triggering them to draw their sword. The aura radiated was near murderous, causing Mizuki to sweat. Was this level of intensity truly necessary for “sanitizing” one’s hands?!

Tsukasa yelped when he saw the magic Rui displayed. The boy may have an affinity for gravity, but he had a full range of mastery on all the other elements, as expected of the former main antagonist. However, that didn’t mean he wanted Rui to rid himself of filth by toasting his hands!

“Rui! That’s overkill!” Tsukasa shouted, reaching out to clasp his hands over Rui’s. The desperate move was borne out of a lapse in judgment, Tsukasa forgetting to apply any regard over how the flames could burn himself. Luckily Rui snuffed the fire as immediately as he manifested them.

“See, I’m fine, Tsukasa,” Rui said cheerily as he interlocked fingers with Tsukasa. Tsukasa used the hold he had to maneuver Rui’s hands, checking the other’s palms and back for burns. “Are they sufficiently clean?”

“Geez, that’s not what I’m checking for! Quit scaring me like that!” Tsukasa reprimanded, wondering if Rui just enjoyed showing off. Mizuki settled back down, loosening their hold on the grip of their sword. They wondered if they could truly ever let their guard down around Tsukasa’s admirer like Tsukasa could do so instantaneously.

“For dessert,” Rui presented, pulling out what he likely nabbed from the kitchens himself. He laid out three cupcakes, remembering to grab one for Mizuki as well. One not to forget his debts, Rui likely grabbed it to pay Mizuki back for his sandwich but Tsukasa decided to perceive it as them getting along anyway.

He passed one to Mizuki, then held the other two cupcakes in his left hand. Tsukasa reached to grab one but Rui pulled away, smiling. “I want to feed you, Tsukasa.”

Tsukasa grumbled but relented. Eating a cupcake was a messy affair anyway. At least he made sure to pack a new handkerchief for the day.

However, instead of peeling off the paper liner like any other sane person, Rui took a handful off the top, digging his fingers right through the icing. Rui seemed to be dubious of his method of feeding as well but brought the handful of cupcake to Tsukasa anyway.

“Actually Rui, I think I’d rather eat it myself,” Tsukasa backtracked, looking at the other unblemished cupcake.

“But Tsukasa,” Rui pouted, looking down at the mess of pastry and icing in his hand. “After I sanitized my hands too, Tsukasa still thinks I’m dirty…”

"Ugh! That's not the issue here!" Tsukasa retorted. Mizuki was happily munching away, already halfway done with their dessert and watching their dinner-and-show unfold. "Surely you’ve figured out there are more efficient ways to eat a cupcake?”

“Does that mean Tsukasa won’t let me feed him?” Rui moped, then went to smear the cupcake mess on his hand onto the front of his uniform.

“NO!” Tsukasa screeched, diving for Rui’s hand. His aim was off, and he was met with a gross squelch.

Rui looked at him questioningly, then interlocked their messy hands. Tsukasa sighed. “Let’s go to the restroom.”

“But Tsukasa hasn’t eaten the treat I got him.”

“Let’s leave it here with Mizuki and we can go clean up.”

“I don’t trust them,” Rui said bluntly. Tsukasa looked to Mizuki to see if they were upset by the accusation, but they shrugged it off.

“He’s right, I can’t guarantee they’ll be here when you come back,” Mizuki admitted, already polishing off their own cupcake.

“Fine, feed me the other one! And just peel off the paper, don’t tear it apart like you just did,” Tsukasa succumbed.

Rui smiled, pleased about getting his way, and pulled off the cupcake liner as asked. Tsukasa leaned over, opening his mouth wide to hopefully eat quickly and wash his hands soon. Rui underestimated how big of a bite Tsukasa would take, his fingertips skimmed by teeth and wet tongue.

All Tsukasa heard was a soft gasp before the other half of the cupcake plopped, icing side-down, onto pristine white uniform pants. He looked up to find Rui blushing heavily as Mizuki was heaving, barely staying on the bench they were seated at. Tsukasa groaned, this was exactly what he had tried to prevent.

“Don’t be embarrassed, Rui. I guess I should have eaten the cupcake on my own,” Tsukasa sighed, licking the sides of his lips to rid his mouth of any smeared icing. Rui didn’t look the least bit reassured, somehow his blush only intensifying. The hand he was using to hold the cupcake was frozen mid-air, not bothering to move toward the cupcake staining his pants. Tsukasa decided to remove it for him, plucking the pastry from Rui’s pants. As though a heavy weight was unpinned from him, Rui scrambled from his seat and stood up, facing away from Tsukasa.

“Bathroom sounds lovely right now,” Rui said, stumbling back toward the academy building. Tsukasa felt oddly as though he needed to apologize, with Mizuki’s cackling as the BGM of his thoughts. He wasn’t sure what to do with the half-eaten fallen cupcake and just handed it to Mizuki.

“Is this a souvenir from your romantic comedy skit?” Mizuki joked, taking the cupcake and immediately freeing it of the sullied icing with a finger.

“I’m just gonna follow after Rui and make sure he’s okay,” Tsukasa said. “I’m holding you to that study session! And attend your classes while you’re at it!”

“Yes, mother,” Mizuki rolled their eyes, taking a bite of Tsukasa’s relinquished cupcake. They patted Tsukasa’s back consolingly. “Take it easy buddy, it’s only day two of class, y’know.”

Tsukasa nodded, putting on a smile as he waved Mizuki goodbye. It was true, Tsukasa was feeling high-strung to the point that even Mizuki noticed it. He took a relaxing breath and headed over to the restrooms to find Rui.

Once he approached the public restroom door, he knocked out of etiquette.

“Rui, are you in there? May I come in?"

Tsukasa heard a subtle noise and knocked again. He would like to wash his hands but maybe Rui wanted his space to do his business. “Are you feeling alright?”

“...Tsukasa,” Rui’s voice called out, slightly strained. Tsukasa’s concern kicked in and he pushed open the door. He saw no one else at the sinks or occupying the stalls except for the one he assumed Rui to be in. He drew close enough to knock on the stall door.

“Are you okay?” He asked again.

Tsukasa heard a thunk from inside the stall, then Rui groaned softly. “What is it, Rui? Is that sandwich not sitting well with you?”

Rui whimpered and muffled his heavy breathing with his palm. “I-it’s not that, Tsukasa. Could you wait for me outside?”

Tsukasa felt troubled but hummed in agreement, first washing his hands thoroughly to rid himself of icing, and then standing outside as asked. Rui came out moments later, face flushed and sweaty with water dripping from his bangs.

“Are you sure you’re alright? Should we stop by the nurse first?”

Rui shook his head, looking drained. Tsukasa looked at him worriedly, holding out his hand for Rui to take. Rui, to Tsukasa’s shock, jumped at Tsukasa’s offered hand and even took a step back.

“Rui?! Maybe you really should see a nurse,” Tsukasa gasped, far too accustomed to Rui entering his personal space for the situation to be flipped on its head like this.

“I-I’ll be fine. I think I just need some time to reset. I’ll see you after class, Tsukasa,” Rui said hoarsely, putting on a thin smile and then speed-walking away.

Tsukasa blinked at Rui’s fast retreat. They still had different classes since Rui’s request to transfer to the knight course was still processing. Tsukasa called out for Rui to not be afraid to head to the nurse if he felt unwell, then headed to dueling practice.

Akito did not seem at all ecstatic about a prospective study session but agreed to attend. They discussed a tentative date for Thursdays as Akito guided Tsukasa through sword forms. The situation didn’t last long, as Tsukasa was soon as out of breath as Rui seemed to be in the bathroom. Akito called for a short break for Tsukasa’s sake, and Tsukasa gladly took him on his offer, collapsing on the ground in relief.

“So, how are things going with Toya?” Tsukasa asked once he caught his breath.

Akito’s eye twitched. “Should we start up again already? You seem well enough to engage in small talk.”

“You can’t fault me for being curious!” Tsukasa cut in. Aoyagi Toya was a bit of a mystery, Tsukasa only knowing Akito as the one closest to the prince. However, he recalled that Saki had asked Tsukasa to say hello to Toya for her, so maybe there was a closer relationship between the Tenma siblings and Toya than the book had divulged. With being a prince, Toya must already have multiple responsibilities alongside being a student. And yet, Tsukasa had heaped on the additional condition of looking after Shinonome Akito, resident hothead, onto the Royal.

Tsukasa scrutinized his dueling instructor until he rubbed the back of his head in resignation. "Ugh, I just meet up with him after classes and we eat together. Happy?"

"Good, good, I'm so glad you're bonding again!" Tsukasa nodded, feeling proud.

"You really act like his older brother," Akito grumbled.

Tsukasa tried his best not to let his surprise show on his face. Akito sighed.

“I asked him why you acted so familiar with him. He said you used to take music lessons together.”

Ah, if Toya and Book Tsukasa had grown close enough to have a familial bond, then it made sense that Toya used to take Tsukasa’s side in petty debates between him and Akito. Toya seemed like an impressionable, loyal kid, likely to support his “older brother” even if he was an irredeemable brat.

“Yes, of course, Toya is a good kid!" Tsukasa nodded. If he and Toya were expected to have a close bond, then he should make sure to act accordingly. Would treating him like Saki be enough to cover his bases? Tsukasa called upon his knowledge of Toya from the novel as someone smart, hard-working, and dependable. Tsukasa smiled, it would be easy enough to act as a proud, older brother to someone like that. He was already proud thinking about how much Toya was able to accomplish for society while still only being a prince.

Suddenly the sheath of a broadsword was jabbed under his ribs. Tsukasa yelped and flopped dramatically onto his side.

“Break time’s over, Tenma. We’re working on your downswing next,” Akito barked. “When Toya was talking about how great you are, he certainly didn’t mean your stamina.”

True, but that still stung, Akito. Tsukasa groaned, seeing how long he could get away with lying on his side until Akito jabbed him again. It wasn’t for very long.

Akito put him through the wringer during dueling lessons, but Tsukasa wasn’t engaged enough in his other classes to not think about what was troubling Rui. Did Rui catch a cold? Stomach flu? Some other rare magical disease contracted from eating stolen sandwiches? Once his magic theory class was dismissed, Tsukasa rushed back to his room to find Rui, hoping he was already there.

Tsukasa knocked before barging straight in, expecting the worst like Rui to be lying prone in bed with fever, or to not be there at all. Instead, anticlimactically, the boy was at his usual spot on the carpet, fiddling with a small object Tsukasa couldn't see from his angle.

"Rui! How are you feeling?" Tsukasa asked, just to make sure. Rui looked up from his tinkering and met Tsukasa with a glowing smile.

“I’m fine, Tsukasa. How was your day?”

“It was good,” Tsukasa said, relieved that Rui seemed alright for the most part. “I think we’ll be meeting up to study with Toya, Akito, and Mizuki the day after tomorrow.”

Rui nodded at the plan, then gestured at Tsukasa to join him on the floor. Tsukasa approached, curiosity egging him on. It was always a treat getting to see whatever Rui was working on.

Whatever Rui was making, it was small enough to hide within his palms. Rui pulled away his hands from Tsukasa’s probing eyes and gave the other a cheeky grin, likely to build suspense. Tsukasa huffed but was ready to bite.

“I would like to call in my favor that I’ve been saving,” Rui requested.

Favor? “What favor?”

Rui pouted. “Tsukasa doesn’t remember? But it was so important to me.”

“Don’t get dramatic!” Tsukasa pondered, recalling the events of the other day. “Was it about getting along with Mizuki?”

Rui nodded. Tsukasa motioned for him to continue. “Tsukasa claims that he doesn’t have sufficient mana to perform the magic required in class. Mana is the source, but not the means, and I believe Tsukasa is fully capable of demonstrating magic if afforded the chance."

Rui then revealed what he was concealing with his hands, a beautifully crafted, sunset colored stone, placed on a golden base threaded with a necklace chain. Tsukasa stared transfixed, not moving until he noticed Rui attempting to place it around his neck.

"Wait, is this for me?"

Rui giggled, "Of course, Tsukasa. Who else could I have made this for?"

“But, wait, what is this?” Don’t tell him that it was a-

“Mana core,” Rui stated simply. Tsukasa couldn’t keep himself from facepalming.


if you would like to experience more gay panic read this fic do it now Sow a seed in the ground and let it know it's something special

Chapter 9


I was planning on this fic just being a silly little story, and it is for the most part, but then Rui pulls sh*t that makes me have to think. It’s bad for my small brain. Also ur guys’ comments are too smart, it makes me wonder if I'm either being too obvious or not obvious enough lol

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Tsukasa stared down the magical amulet Rui was handing to him. He doubted his best friend was thinking about any of the dire consequences that would occur if the object was found in Tsukasa’s possession. “Rui, I’m grateful but I’m pretty sure I mentioned something earlier about not cheating. Don’t you think using a mana core would constitute just that?”

“Which is why I asked for this to be a favor,” Rui said matter-of-factly. “Tsukasa’s morality would hinder him from wanting to reach his full potential.”

“I wouldn't necessarily call not wanting to cheat a hindrance...”

“But it would keep you from wanting to accept my gift, yes? I tailor-made this just for you, Tsukasa!” Rui said, bringing up the pretty stone to Tsukasa’s line of sight, as though he could miss it.

“When did you even have time to work on such a thing?” Tsukasa asked. It better not have been during class.

“Remember when I mentioned that you smacked me in the face during your sleep?” Rui brought up jovially, as though he were recalling a fond memory rather than one of getting assaulted by his best friend. “Since I was already bleeding I decided to go ahead and start working on my gift for you.”

“So you used your bleeding nose to make a mana core?” Tsukasa asked in disbelief.

“Wouldn’t it have been a waste not to? And now all I need is your permission to complete it!” Rui tacked on like it was just that simple. Tsukasa didn’t doubt that it really was just that simple for him, but what would be the ultimate consequences of Tsukasa accepting it?

“Alright Rui, first off, if I don’t get disciplined for initially pretending I had magic, surely it would be double the offense when, not if, they find out that I was using a core the whole time. Second, when they find out that you had made that core for me, you may be in even deeper water than I will be,” Tsukasa argued.

Rui played with the golden chain in his fingers, contemplating Tsukasa’s rebuttal. “Aren’t knights expected to use magic-enhancing weapons on the field anyway? What difference does it make if Tsukasa were to use a simple core during lessons?”

“So you were listening during the lesson today,” Tsukasa sighed. “I really shouldn’t, Rui. It wouldn’t be right.”

Rui paused, deciding to take on a different tactic. “Please, Tsukasa? I know I have asked for many things from you, but your accepting this core would mean a lot to me.”

Tsukasa turned away to not take on the full brunt of Rui’s begging eyes. He had to stay strong, it wouldn’t do to give in to every one of Rui’s whims.

A sniffle. Tsukasa bit his lip, hoping the pain would distract him from looking. “And this was all to thank Tsukasa for what he’s done for me too. I wanted to repay Tsukasa but I guess this kind of gift is unfit for him as well.”

“Don’t guilt me into it!” Tsukasa interjected. Ah. He made the fatal mistake of making eye contact with his roommate.

Rui was teary-eyed, his lip wobbling as he clutched the necklace to his chest. “I just want Tsukasa to be safe. It’s not just for classes, it would be for protecting yourself outside of them as well. If anything were to happen to Tsukasa and I wasn’t there to help…” Rui had the gall to let out a sob then.

“GAHH! Fine, don’t cry, Rui!” Tsukasa yelled, sticking out his hand for Rui to hand over the core. Rui recovered immediately, his tears evaporating as he shuffled closer to where Tsukasa had joined him on the floor.

“Then I would like to bring up a small predicament I had when creating Tsukasa’s gift. It would be in the practicality of Tsukasa using this core to perform magic. The mana cores I place in my automatons are very simple since the inner construction I build is what actually directs the mana flow and allows the structure to operate properly. Mana cores are concentrated mana, with some object acting as the binding agent. In this case, it would be my blood. A mage’s body can be equated to acting as both the mana core and the conduit, with the mage’s naturally-occurring mana distributed throughout their body, as well as the mage being able to channel their mana to produce magic all on their own. However, when a human uses an object such as a weapon imbued with a core, the weapon itself is acting as the conduit. Since my gift is just a core, Tsukasa will need to use his own body as the conduit to be able to produce magic. With this being Tsukasa’s first time using magic, the artificiality of the mana core may prove difficult to control. Therefore I think combining the core with Tsukasa’s own mana would aid in Tsukasa’s ability to harness it.”

"My mana?" Tsukasa asked, trying his best to keep up with Rui's explanation. "Do I even have enough to have an effect?"

"Think of this as a way of calibrating the mana core for your usage," Rui elaborated. “Remember what the professor said, Tsukasa, every existence has some form of mana, and that includes you.”

Tsukasa nodded tentatively. “Alright, then how do we do this?”

"The easiest way would be with Tsukasa's blood," Rui suggested.

“I figured,” Tsukasa couldn’t help but shiver. He wasn’t exactly bad with seeing his own blood, but he wasn’t thrilled about the premise either.

Rui flicked open his switchblade and offered it to Tsukasa, grip-side first.

“...On second thought, could you just do it?” Tsukasa folded, sticking his arm out and squeezing his eyes shut. He thought he could tolerate it if he compared it to having a nurse stick him with a needle, rather than attempting to administer the needle himself.

“Is Tsukasa sure?” Rui’s voice came closer than Tsukasa was expecting, causing him to squeak in surprise.

“J-just be quick!”

“Maybe Tsukasa should watch, so then it won’t be a shock-”

“I think it’s arguably worse when you drag it out like this!” Tsukasa snapped.

A finger slid under Tsukasa's chin to lift it up. Tsukasa's eyes fluttered open to meet Rui's intense gaze.

"Tsukasa becomes rude when he's scared. It's cute," Coming from anyone else it would seem mocking, but Rui seemed genuinely charmed.

"S-sorry," Tsukasa apologized, still tensed up.

“Do you trust me, Tsukasa?” Rui asked, skimming his hand down Tsukasa’s arm until their fingers met and could interlock.

Tsukasa allowed himself to feel encouraged. “I do.”

“Thank you,” Rui said, his smile heartfelt. “If you wish not to look, please look at me instead.”

Tsukasa followed Rui’s direction, looking up to stare at Rui’s face. Rui was wholly focused on his newly-appointed task, bringing Tsukasa’s interlocked hand to his lap. He took the time to massage Tsukasa’s hand with both of his, rubbing at the center of Tsukasa’s palm with his thumbs and then kneading each segment of Tsukasa’s fingers. The massage seemed to only emphasize how long Rui's own fingers were in comparison to his.

“Tsukasa’s fingers are very pretty. There’s not much callous at your pads, but they seem nimble. Do you play an instrument?”

“P-piano?” Tsukasa stuttered, not able to recall at the moment whether Book Tsukasa could even play or if it was just him.

“Mm, that makes sense. Tsukasa’s fingernails are all pink and nicely trimmed. Have you never bitten them?”

“I’m not much of a nail-biter,” Tsukasa answered, a bit put out. Was this Rui’s attempt at bedside manner?

Rui hummed. “Will you bite if I ask you to, Tsukasa?”

“Bite what?”

Rui paused to consider Tsukasa’s question. “Like me?”

"WHAT? I wouldn't hurt you, Rui!"

"Even if I asked you to?"

"Why would you even want me to do that?"

“Let’s call it a thought experiment,” Rui quipped. “But maybe that’d be too much for you? Would it be better if I bit you instead?”

“What do you mean by ‘too much for me’?” Tsukasa asked against his better judgment, feeling oddly provoked.

“Obviously I don’t mean the bite itself-” Was that meant to be obvious? Tsukasa pondered to himself. “But the exchange of our bodily fluids may cause a severe effect on you. The disparity in our mana capacities is probably as great as they come, so if you were to ingest my blood, so to speak, it could prove fatal.”

“That is not reassuring in the least,” Tsukasa did a poor job of concealing his horror.

“Salivary secretions may be diluted enough for you to tolerate,” Rui added.

“Oh, great, so that’s what you mean when you say it’d be better if you were the one biting?” Tsukasa shook his head. So basically Tsukasa taking in Rui’s OP blood would be the equivalent of contracting a fatal blood-borne disease?

Rui patted Tsukasa’s hand. “Not to worry, Tsukasa. This is mostly all theory and I’d rather die than allow anything to happen to you. You’re all done.”

“You don’t have to go that far…Wait you’re what?”

“Painless, right?”

Rui lifted Tsukasa’s unblemished hand up, alongside the mana core necklace. It didn’t look any different, but Tsukasa doubted there was much his mana-deprived blood could do to a core made with Rui’s own.

“Impressive as always, Rui. I didn’t even notice,” Tsukasa said in awe.

Rui basked in the praise. “Tsukasa was a brave boy, I’m very proud.”

“Alright, no need to get cheeky,” Tsukasa muttered, unable to hold back his blush.

“I meant every word I said. May I put this on for you?” Rui asked, holding up the finished necklace. Tsukasa agreed without a fuss. It was only fair with how hard Rui had worked on it for him, although Rui probably went through more effort getting Tsukasa to actually accept said gift.

Rui pulled Tsukasa in close, maneuvering him until he sat in the other’s lap and his back laid against Rui’s chest. Tsukasa allowed it all, too tired to argue. Rui directed him to lean forward just enough for Rui to loop the chain around his neck and clasp it at the back. Then Rui adjusted him to lean back against Rui's chest again. Tsukasa's head fit snugly where Rui's shoulder and clavicle met.

"Would you like to try it out?"

Tsukasa let out a questioning noise and Rui tapped on the sunset-colored core that now hung against Tsukasa’s chest. "Tsukasa should practice using the core to see if he can perform magic now."

That's right, the purpose of the core was to allow him to use magic! Tsukasa sat up in excitement but then hesitated.

“What should I do?” Tsukasa asked. Should he do something with his hands? The prospect of being able to perform magic was as exciting as it was daunting. What if he blew his hands off? Would Rui even be able to heal something if it no longer existed?

“I can hear you thinking,” Rui said, nuzzling his head against Tsukasa’s cheek. “Don’t be so concerned, Tsukasa. I’m here.”

Tsukasa knew he couldn't expect Rui to know that not only has he never performed magic before, but that he's never even seen magic performed before his very eyes until just a couple weeks ago.

“Rui, I hope you fully grasp this, but I am a complete and utter beginner. I need you to guide me through this as though I’ve never even seen magic before,” Tsukasa emphasized, hoping Rui got the gist.

“Okay,” Rui said, then encased each of Tsukasa’s hands with his larger ones. How were his hands already so big at his age? “Good, you’re already focusing on my hands.”

Tsukasa choked but kept himself from launching into a coughing fit. He could feel Rui’s smile against his cheek.

“Following what our professor said, you should attempt to direct your flow of mana to a point. The center of your palm should work,” Rui guided. Now that Tsukasa was actually attempting it, the advice seemed incredibly obtuse. Direct what? Feel what? Tsukasa felt exactly the same as he usually did, he just happened to be wearing jewelry and sitting in his friend’s lap. Maybe if he closed his eyes he’d get a feel for it.


“I have no idea what I’m doing,” Tsukasa stated truthfully. “Can you explain it more thoroughly? What do you do, Rui?”

Rui squeezed Tsukasa’s hands as he ruminated. “I’m not sure how to explain it. I don’t really think about it?”

Right, Rui was a prodigy. Using magic was instinctual for him. Would he even be able to get a comprehensive explanation that a beginner could follow from someone who had mastered the craft since sentience?

“Then why doesn’t Tsukasa practice with this?” Rui asked, pulling out a familiar sliced piece of parchment paper from his pocket.

“Did you steal this from me during class?”

“Is it stealing when it’s something Tsukasa wouldn’t miss?” Rui pouted. “Wouldn’t have Tsukasa just thrown it away if he had realized he kept it?”

Tsukasa wasn’t sure what to say about Rui’s kleptomania tendencies, but he couldn’t help but admit they came in useful. As Tsukasa reflected, something else clicked for him.

“You healed McGailan’s hand when we were in disciplinary office, didn’t you?”

Rui smiled innocently. “I wouldn’t allow Tsukasa to take the fall for any of my actions.”

Rui was sometimes too talented for his own good. Tsukasa suspected that Rui had stolen an opportunity to heal McGailan’s hand, right under everyone’s nose. Only Rui was capable of healing such a mutilated hand to the point that it looked as though it was never injured to begin with. Tsukasa had to admit, it was a clever way of getting them out of that messy affair.

Bringing back his focus to the current situation, Tsukasa begrudgingly accepted the parchment paper and cupped it with his hands, which were still intertwined with Rui’s. At least he felt reassured that Rui was close by to intervene if anything went wrong. Tsukasa figured it wouldn’t hurt to do some image training, thus he started by imagining the paper sliced up.

Tsukasa closed his eyes, hoping against all his common sense that the paper would have a new cut in it once he opened them again. He tried to imagine that he was directing some foreign, mysterious force to his palms, while trying not to cringe at how close his thoughts were aligning with “eighth grader syndrome”. Was this some sort of Peter Pan situation where if Tsukasa didn’t believe he could perform magic then he’d never be able to achieve it?

Tsukasa was startled when he was suddenly grabbed around his middle and heaved over a shoulder. What in the world!?

“Tsukasa’s thinking too hard again, we should eat dinner first,” Rui said cheerily, standing up with Tsukasa still over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. How was this teenager manhandling him so easily? Tsukasa barely held back from flailing, not a fan of getting dropped by Rui.

“Rui, you can put me down! You’re not planning to carry me all the way to the kitchen, are you?”

Rui hummed playfully, then used his free hand to slip Tsukasa’s necklace underneath his shirt for him. "I would like to hold Tsukasa for as long as he allows it."

Tsukasa debated if he should ask Rui to put him down now or wait until they reached the kitchens. He looked at how utterly content Rui seemed to be just from carrying Tsukasa like a sack of potatoes.

“You could at least carry me more comfortably-”

As though Rui was just waiting for permission, Tsukasa couldn’t stop his shriek as he was dropped from Rui’s shoulder and pulled into the others’ arms. One of Rui’s arms supported Tsukasa’s legs while the other rested on his back, in a perfectly-executed princess carry. Tsukasa wondered if he should feel more emasculated than he actually did.

Tsukasa had to ask. “Are you using magic to lift me like Tom did before?”

“Tsukasa’s not that heavy. Besides, I enjoy feeling the full weight of Tsukasa’s body, without magical interference.”

Tsukasa sighed. Leave it to Rui to be not only magically powerful but physically as well.

Once they left their room, Tsukasa may have turned his head into Rui’s chest to keep from making eye contact with other students in the hallway. Wasn’t it shameful to allow himself, a teenager fully capable of walking to the kitchen on his own, to be toted around by his younger compatriot? Rui, of course, had no qualms with flaunting Tsukasa in his hold.

“Saki’s brother?”

Tsukasa’s head swiveled around at the sound of Saki’s name. Standing in the hallway was a girl with short, silver hair and an utterly baffled look on her face. Oh no, Book Tsukasa should be expected to know her name, right? Tsukasa inadvertently clutched at the front of Rui’s uniform, which caused the other boy to tense. Down, Rui, Tsukasa wasn’t in distress! His memory was just testing him right now!

“L-lady Hinomori?” Tsukasa went with to be safe.

“It’s been a while. You can still call me Shiho,” Shiho Hinomori greeted, then murmured, “Lady Hinomori just reminds me of my sister…”

Relief washed over Tsukasa as Shiho confirmed her own identity. Rui seemed to relax once he sensed that Tsukasa was no longer apprehensive.

Shiho Hinomori was a skilled knight who was on the fast track of becoming part of the Royal Guard. However, in the novel she changed her tune upon hearing about the death of Saki Tenma. Once she graduated she decided upon moving to an outpost near Saki’s old academy, which was eventually ravaged by Rui’s army. Tsukasa wondered if the grief from Saki’s death had kept Shiho from sticking with her original goal.

“It’s good to meet you again, Shiho! I know Saki’s been missing you, especially since you’ve decided to apply for the Royal Academy!” Tsukasa bullsh*tted, deciding it was likely true enough.

“Right, I haven’t spoken to her in a while,” Shiho said, regret tinting her voice. “How are you, Tsukasa? Er, are you injured, is that why you’re…” She trailed off, resorting to just gesturing to the way Rui was carrying him.

Tsukasa drew a blank on how to explain his current predicament. Instead, Rui chipped in.

“Tsukasa was kind enough to help me with getting in some weight training before we eat dinner.”

“A-ah, right,” Shiho hesitantly accepted the explanation. “I don’t think I’ve caught your name.”

“Rui Kamishiro. I’ll be enrolling in the knight course alongside Tsukasa,” Rui briefly introduced himself.

"You're free to come visit our place anytime, I'm sure Saki would love to be able to catch up with you,” Tsukasa invited. Surely Saki would cherish an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend.

Instead, Shiho seemed to wince and looked vaguely uncomfortable. “Would she? I didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms with her and the others.”

“Of course she would!” Tsukasa cut in, fully assured in that fact. He imagined Saki sitting alone at home, aside from the maids, lonely and likely bored out of her mind. No doubt his beloved sister cherished her friends, and getting a visit from one would make her day.

Shiho was startled by Tsukasa’s animated outburst but nodded in response. “How is she doing? Is she in good health?”

“She’s great, she’ll be attending Miya Academy soon. I’ve been keeping up with her via letters, so I can let her know that you plan on visiting soon!”

“Huh?! Wait, I never agreed on-”

“Don’t be shy!” Tsukasa waved her off. Someone not wanting to partake in Saki’s company was blasphemous, especially over something as trivial as not having talked in a while. “I’ll be returning home this weekend, you’re welcome to join me if you're free.”

Shiho let out a resigned sigh. “Maybe not this weekend, I have training to attend.”

How dedicated. Tsukasa nodded in understanding, becoming a candidate for the Royal Guard required discipline. “Then does next weekend work out?”

“N-next weekend?” Shiho stuttered, bowled over by Tsukasa’s relentlessness. “I…ugh fine, I guess I’ll have time.”

“Brilliant! I’m sure Saki would love the news once I let her know!” Tsukasa said in triumph, internally patting himself on the back. Tsukasa would have to go all out on cooking when they had company over.

Shiho suddenly grabbed at the hilt of her saber, staring past Tsukasa’s head. Tsukasa looked back questioningly to see Rui’s neutral expression. Rui’s eyes met his and his expression morphed into a benign smile.

“Tsukasa and I will go eat now, have a good night Sir Hinomori,” Rui dismissed Shiho, bringing an end to their conversation.

“Right, nice meeting you, Tsukasa and Kamishiro. Thank you for the invitation,” Shiho said, shaking off her hold on her sword and then walking off.

Tsukasa couldn’t help but feel that Shiho’s dismissal was rather abrupt, but maybe Rui was short when he was hungry.

“You could have been a little less rude, Rui. That was Saki’s friend, y’know.”

Rui instead asked, "Tsukasa's home, what's it like?”

"Would you like to come and see it? The invitation is extended to you as well.”

“Really?” Rui perked up.

“Obviously. You’ll just have to put up with my cooking, though.”

“Tsukasa can cook? He really is perfect,” Rui spouted, lips curled up in glee.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Tsukasa said, swatting at Rui’s chest. Ugh, did he really have that whole conversation with Shiho while being cradled like a child? “Anyway, I’m not letting go how rude you just were, Rui!”

Rui pouted and readjusted his hold on Tsukasa by bouncing him up in his arms. Tsukasa yelped and swatted him again. “Rui!”

“It seems I became envious of how eagerly Tsukasa was inviting Hinomori to his home,” Rui admitted.

“Well, it was for Saki’s benefit. So don’t feel uneasy about something like that.”

“Then I’ll attempt to refrain from being rude like that again,” Rui said, restarting his journey to the kitchens.

Tsukasa was expecting Rui to finally place him on the ground again when they reached their destination, but instead Rui had Tom float in and load a plate with several morsels of meat.

Tsukasa watched the robot continue to evade grabbing anything green, finally letting his irritation sink in. “Rui, if you don’t grab any vegetables you can forget about getting to visit my house.”

Rui whined and nuzzled his head underneath Tsukasa’s chin. "How cruel, Tsukasa." Tom seemed to obey anyway, finally grabbing several fruits and a bowl of salad. Rui acted as though he couldn't even bear to look at the food group, keeping his forehead pressed against Tsukasa's chest.

Well, Tsukasa would not let Rui evade it this time around. Rui was going to eat a vegetable even if Tsukasa had to hand-feed it to him himself!

They returned to their room to eat, with Tsukasa not having set a single foot on the ground in the span of their excursion. Tsukasa wondered if he gave Rui too many allowances.

Rui finally set Tsukasa down on his bed while Tom floated over the pilfered food onto Tsukasa’s desk. When Mizuki had first told the two of their plan of stealing food, Tsukasa had balked. But with the justification that the food was eventually going to be eaten by students like them anyway, and to also evade the drama of Rui (and Tsukasa) getting bullied again as they ate, Tsukasa felt it was a fair enough trade-off to keep the peace.

Tsukasa thanked Tom for retrieving all the food for them with a smile and pat, then took a seat at his desk. Rui pulled up his own desk chair to eat next to him, and Tsukasa couldn’t help but wonder if this was Rui’s first time actually sitting in it.

As Tsukasa took his first bite, Rui asked, “Are you close to your sister?”

Tsukasa swallowed before responding. “I hope to be. I haven’t always been there for her so I’m trying to make up for it,” Tsukasa answered, reflecting on Book Tsukasa’s past actions. Book Tsukasa always seemed more interested in political intrigue than anything else. He never had the opportunity to graduate and follow in his father’s footsteps to take part in Royal Court, so before then he mostly resorted to cozying up with other nobility in the academy and acting intolerable as pompous rich people tended to be. If anything, Saki was the black sheep of her family, kind and valuing her family and friends over all else. Her brother should've taken a page from her book, no pun intended.

"I couldn't imagine Tsukasa being negligent."

“I can’t say I had my priorities in order when I was younger. Saki had always been far kinder than me. She’s always treated her older brother with love while I…” Tsukasa debated how to explain the situation without giving away that he was a different soul in the Tenma’s body. “I just want her to know that I’ll be there for her now.”

“I think with the way Tsukasa cares for the charm his sister gave him, she is well-cherished. She’s fortunate to have such a good brother.”

Tsukasa could feel himself blush deeply at Rui’s praise. His heart felt full of inordinate happiness.

“Thank you Rui, that means a lot to me. I’m also extremely grateful for your beautiful gift, you put a lot of thought and care into making it for me. You’ve granted me the chance to perform magic, which is something I thought I’d never be able to experience.”

Rui smiled softly at him, leaning over to clutch Tsukasa’s hand. “Tsukasa will be able to do it, I believe in him.”

Rui was just too good! Too sweet! Tsukasa could feel himself tearing up and launched himself at his best friend to wrap him in a warm hug.

Actually, the hug was incredibly warm, it was near sweltering. Tsukasa pulled back and looked up to see Rui’s fully inflamed face.

“Rui? Are you alright?” Tsukasa had a faint memory of learning, whether it was from a TV show or a nanny that his parents had hired, that one could check someone’s temperature by pressing their forehead to the other’s. He decided to rise from his chair, sliding his hand behind Rui head to guide him to meet his. Rui let out what Tsukasa could best describe as a squeak as their foreheads touched. Tsukasa couldn’t really tell, Rui was beetroot red and his cheeks were hot, but it was difficult to tell if Rui’s forehead was an abnormal temperature.

Suddenly Rui shot up out of his seat and dashed to the bathroom door, nearly chopping the already-broken door in half in his ferocity to escape.

“Rui?!” This was the second time this happened after Rui finished eating! Rui didn’t get to try any of the salad again! If only antacid medication existed in this world…

Tsukasa decided to wait on finishing his food for when Rui got back and instead started writing a letter to Saki, notifying her about his meeting with her old friend and that he had extended an invitation for Shiho to visit. Then Tsukasa figured that he should write a note to his parents as well, especially after Administrator Otori mentioned that ambiguous arrangement.

Writing to Saki was a joy, but Tsukasa was stuck on what to say to his parents. Have they ever sent a letter to check on him after he had started attending the Royal Academy? Or maybe it was his duty as the son to update his ever-busy parents about the happenings of his life. He decided to be vague, just mentioning that classes were going “fine” and that he had made friends with his roommate and a few other knights. He made zero mention of his friends’ social status, which he was sure would be his parents’ main concern, but did say that Prince Toya seemed to be doing well. Mentally Tsukasa apologized to Toya for using him as a distraction for his parents.

Eventually, Rui exited the bathroom, no longer flushed but still looking weary. Tsukasa worriedly offered to feed him but Rui smiled weakly and declined, opting to finish his plate of food in a few large bites.

Tsukasa took his time to eat, chewing his bites slower than Rui who left to grab an automaton to tinker with and sat on the ground by Tsukasa’s chair. Although Rui wasn’t planning on eating more, he still kept Tsukasa company throughout dinner. When Tsukasa reflected on his experiences now versus that of when he spent his nights by himself in the real world, he was far happier here with Rui. If there was any silver lining to the never-ending stress of living in a magical world, it was getting to meet his best friend.

Once Tsukasa had finished his meal, Tom stacked up the plates and floated them out of the room. Tsukasa stood to offer aid to the robot but Rui waved him off.

“Tom can be quite undetectable when he wants to be. He can handle bringing the dishes back to the kitchen.”

Tsukasa nodded hesitantly and smiled his thanks to the robot as it flew off.

"Then should I try one more time before we head to bed?” Tsukasa asked, pointing to where his magic amulet rested under his clothes.

Rui set down his automaton and gestured for Tsukasa to join him on the floor. Tsukasa wondered if Rui wanted him to sit in his lap again but Rui had him sit across from him instead. Rui pulled the magic-detecting parchment paper out from his pocket, which he somehow pick-pocketed from Tsukasa again, and put out his free hand in askance for Tsukasa’s own. Tsukasa laid his hand, palm-up, in Rui’s, and the paper was placed in the center of it. The whole exchange felt oddly clinical.

“There must be some kind of theory to performing magic, right?” Tsukasa asked. The issue with reading a story filled with magic-using prodigies was that there were no struggles described in casting magic. What does one do if they’re a beginner? Do they chant spells in Latin, draw magic circles, or pray to the goddess? Struggling to cast magic in front of his overly-talented best friend was a tad embarrassing.

“I haven’t studied much theory, but I could get Tsukasa some books?” Rui offered. “Most mages don’t think through a theory to perform magic, they just do it. Tsukasa can figure that there isn’t much time for a knight to think through casting during a brawl, yes?”

“But I’m not in the middle of a fight,” Tsukasa muttered. “Are you saying it has to do with adrenaline?”

“...Does Tsukasa want a simulation?”

“Huh?” Before Tsukasa could get in a word, Rui grasped both of his wrists and tipped him backward, his back landing against the ground, not forcefully but still suddenly. Rui's hand held the back of Tsukasa's head to keep it from bouncing against the ground. Tsukasa blinked from the sudden change in his body's orientation. Rui stared at him intensely as though he was expecting something.

"Rui? Uh, was something supposed to happen?"

Rui continued to loom over him silently, lifting his hand from Tsukasa's wrists to bring it up to Tsukasa's face, brushing his fingers against the fringe of his hair.

Maybe Tsukasa was supposed to focus now? Tsukasa closed his eyes, trying to muster up something. A small whirlwind! A flame? A little puddle? Sparks?

Instead, Tsukasa felt something brush against his lips, which prompted him to open his eyes. He saw Rui running his finger gently against Tsukasa’s mouth, looking troubled.


Rui snatched his finger back before it could accidentally slip inside his mouth. "Tsukasa's lack of self-preservation scares me. What if I attacked you right now?"

"For practice?"

Rui sighed so heavily Tsukasa already knew that he answered his question incorrectly. "Tsukasa is too cute for his own good. It makes me wonder how far I can push him until he breaks."

"Don't call me cute! And what do you mean break?" Tsukasa retorted, feeling as though he was definitely missing something.

"Then again, if I tried anything I'd be the one to break first," Rui said resignedly, continuing to talk to himself. "Tsukasa's obtuseness is also his strength."

"Oi Rui, I'm not sure I enjoy you talking about me like I'm not here."

"Tsukasa's really special to me," Rui proclaimed.

"You're special to me too," Tsukasa said without missing a beat, although he was curious about what Rui was getting at. Rui continued to stare at him, like he was waiting for something, then sat back up, pulling Tsukasa upright with him.

Rui plastered on his characteristic smile. “Well, that didn’t work. Why doesn’t Tsukasa try casting magic a couple more times and then we can figure it out later?”

“Right, I don’t want to keep you up because I keep failing,” Tsukasa said, discontent with his lack of progress.

“I would never be disappointed with Tsukasa for that,” Rui said resolutely. “Tsukasa will be able to use magic, I believe in you. And if not, I’ll just stick with Tsukasa forever and be the one to protect you for the rest of our lives.”

Tsukasa laughed, cheering up instantly as he patted Rui’s head. “Thanks Rui, you’re the best friend I could ever ask for.”

Rui smiled back patiently.


Rui: Maybe if I get really close I can get Tsukasa to blush or panic or something
Tsukasa: Wow my best friend is so nice and silly, our skinship is so normal

Sorry for the slow chapter, maybe ill get the ball rolling in the next one and you know what that means (timeskip lol)

and check out Sow a seed in the ground and let it know it's something special she just uploaded a new chapter make sure to kudos comment subscribe and bookmark and tell her shes pretty

Chapter 10


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

It seemed as though Tsukasa couldn’t wake up to an uneventful morning anymore. After trying several more times, unsuccessfully, to cast magic, he eventually gave up and went to bed. Tsukasa’s initial trepidations for sleeping with a bed mate were starting to come to fruition. Once Tsukasa had roused from his sleep that morning, he nearly had an aneurysm when he found Rui’s body, rather than its typical sweltering body temperature, completely cold like that of a corpse. Rui woke soon after and had to reassure him, laughing off that he had merely “experimented with slowing his heartbeat to a crawl in order to limit blood circulation to certain appendages.” Whatever the reason was, Tsukasa ordered him not to do it again, doubting that any practical benefits outweighed the health risks of keeping his heart from beating.

After they had both finally rose from bed, Rui found his new class schedule delivered to his desk by mail. Rui nearly burst into tears upon finding that not only his and Tsukasa’s dueling classes were different, but that all the students would need to pick elective classes. Rui was adamant about enrolling in the same elective as Tsukasa, but Tsukasa had 0 interest in watering enchanted flowers and being at an increased risk of running into otherworldly bugs. Tsukasa knew observing nature was one of Rui’s favorite pastimes and he wasn’t about to take away one of the boy’s few pleasures in life. Besides, it would likely do Rui some good not to have Tsukasa monopolizing all his free time. As the saying goes, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Apparently it was also a saying Rui had never heard of. Despite all of Tsukasa’s sound reasoning, Rui wasn’t having it. Akito’s name came up a worrying amount of times during Rui’s broody mumblings. Tsukasa hoped the two’s strong personalities didn’t butt heads when they finally met at their upcoming study session. Akito’s death from the novel being one of the more morbid ones didn’t exactly bode well, but Tsukasa decided not to dwell on that.

“Rui, stop acting like it’s the end of the world! We still have multiple classes together now and I’ll see you in our room after elective,” Tsukasa chided, hoping to calm Rui down. Tsukasa planned on finding something calm and easy to do for elective, something like home economics or knitting or possibly even literature club. Yes, something that didn’t involve the threat of death or magic that he couldn’t cast would be perfect.

“Tsukasa wouldn’t miss me at all?” Rui warbled, seemingly close to tears once again. “I’ll be forced to say farewell to Tsukasa more often now…”

“But we’re spending more class time together!” Tsukasa’s argument fell on deaf ears. Rui prepared for class alongside Tsukasa, distraught for the entirety of it. Rui’s constant sniffling made Tsukasa grow concerned that Rui had caught the flu on top of his immense emotional turmoil from not sharing the same dueling class.

Rui’s tears didn’t keep him from reaching for Tsukasa’s hand as they prepared to head out for the day. As Tsukasa adjusted his sword at his hip, he realized they had forgotten a very crucial detail.

“Rui! You don’t have a weapon!”

Rui cut off his crying session to tilt his head in question as Tsukasa started to panic. Most knights-in-training were either nobility who had heirloom weapons to use in training, or they were able to scrounge up funds in advance to purchase a weapon before enrolling. It was the equivalent of a back-to-school basic shopping list item but for soldiers. It was rare for someone to switch vocation tracks, and it was even rarer for someone like Rui, with hardly a penny to his name, to be accepted into the academy. In any other situation, Rui would be perfectly fine in a fight without a weapon, but dueling class specifically bans the practice of magic in a duel. How would Rui be expected to fight without a way of defending himself?

“A weapon?” Rui asked.

"Have you ever used a weapon before?" Tsukasa knew Rui was versatile from the novel, coming up with innovative automatons and magic, but has he ever needed to actually engage in a knife fight? Knights were expected to be physically and magically capable, so at least Rui had his strength going for him.

"Do explosives constitute as a weapon?"

"...What? How would you even-?"

"It's quite simple!" Rui leaped onto Tsukasa's question, tears clearing out to be replaced by eager, glittering eyes. "Instead of creating a structurally sound mana core, I would just need to introduce an instability into the compounding, which would allow it to be easily set off-"

"No! That's so dangerous! And it's still far-distance combat! It wouldn’t work for dueling practice anyway!"

"Awww…" Rui wilted. “I guess Tsukasa would prefer if I just got stabbed…”

“Why is that the only other option?” Tsukasa sighed. “No, the best option would be to find an opportunity to buy you a sword before your class!”

Rui blinked at him. “You’re skipping class?”

“No! We’re grabbing a quick lunch and then sneaking out!”

Rui looked at him, alarmingly teary-eyed again. "Tsukasa is willing to break school rules for me?"

"Not so loud!" Tsukasa whisper-yelled while slapping a palm over Rui's mouth, as though there was anyone else in their room that could hear them. "And of course I am! I'm not about to let you go on a battlefield unarmed, filled with people with something to prove!"

Rui gently took Tsukasa's hand from his mouth and encased it with both his own. "And how will we obtain this weapon? Should I steal one?"

"It's concerning how quickly you offered that option. No, I think breaking one rule is enough for me today, I'm buying you one, obviously."

“Ah,” Rui said, brow wrinkling.

“What? What’s wrong with that?” Tsukasa asked, seeing the reluctance on Rui’s face.

“Tsukasa is far too generous. At this rate I’ll never pay my debt to you,” Rui said with a melancholic tone.

“Don’t think of it like that!” Tsukasa cut him off. Besides, the money he was spending technically wasn’t his either. The overabundant Tenma wealth couldn’t be put to better use than this. “It’s not like you robbed me blind just from that one time. I still have quite a few valuables that I could get a good deal on,” Not to mention Saki had forwarded him an emergency fund after he mentioned in a letter that he had used up his parent’s allowance on “someone who really needed it.” Tsukasa had tried in vain to send it back to her along with his own letters but Saki wouldn’t even open the pouch and simply return it again.

Next time you send it back I’ll immediately return it without even reading your letter! Saki had written to him this morning. Tsukasa had hollered quite loudly when he read that particular message. Rui had appeared immediately right at his side as though he had cut through time and space just to check on Tsukasa. Upon seeing Tsukasa distraught over the letter, Rui offered to bind the next letter Tsukasa wrote to the money pouch Saki had sent. “Curses aren’t my specialty, but I can make it so that your letter has a stipulation. The money pouch will be bound to Tsukasa’s letter. If your sister doesn’t open the letter and read it, then the money pouch can’t be removed from it and she won’t be able to return it to you.”

In the end, Tsukasa declined sending a cursed letter to his sister. That meant he still had the emergency fund Saki sent him. At least this particular scenario seemed to count as an emergency.

Once Tsukasa had nabbed a couple of fancy accessories that the servants packed for him, such as golden unicorn cufflinks and a ring with an ostentatiously-sized jewel, he joined Rui again at the door. Rui looked troubled as Tsukasa packed his expensive collection in a satchel, then handed it to Rui for safekeeping.

"We’ll want to be quick so we won’t have time to return here before heading out for town. You'll at least help me with sneaking out, right? We can't get caught…"

“I would be more than happy to,” Rui smiled tentatively. The two made it to their first class, but Tsukasa was too jittery to fully focus on the lecture. If they got caught sneaking out, what would happen to Rui? Sure, Tsukasa may get a slap on the wrist or a demerit, but Rui may just be kicked out of the academy altogether. Maybe it wasn’t worth trying to sneak out to get a sword. Surely the dueling instructor wouldn’t force Rui to fight with nothing but his bare hands?

“Sir Tenma?”

Tsukasa stood from his seat with a stumble as he was called upon. He flushed when he realized he had no idea what the professor had asked him for.

"Could you repeat that, sir?"

"Would you like to demonstrate some magic for us again? Maybe this time we can identify what kind of affinity you have!” The professor said, wildly optimistic. This was one of the other major concerns Tsukasa had. Tsukasa had yet to successfully cast even a single breeze, so what exactly was he supposed to demonstrate?

The professor pointed to a familiar, dreaded piece of parchment pinned to a board in the front of the classroom. They were already moving on to target practice? Wasn’t this supposed to be the “F-class”?

Tsukasa stared hard at the piece of paper as he held his hands out, hoping that something, anything, would happen to it. He really wished he took Rui up on obtaining those theory books. Or Tsukasa could have had a study session of his own and scoured the library for his own references.

Well, too little too late. Tsukasa wondered how long he would have to stand there with nothing happening until the professor took pity and moved on to the next person. He heard some students snickering from behind him, which caused Rui to bristle.

The moment Tsukasa gave up and made to sit down, the parchment was sliced in half, along with the board behind it, falling with a clatter. That instantly shut up the other giggling students. Tsukasa’s jaw dropped. Then he collapsed into his seat in order to snatch up Rui’s hand in a death grip, hidden from view by their desk. This boy needed to stop getting so carried away!

“Wow, that was incredible, Sir Tenma! It appears that you have improved by leaps and bounds!” The professor praised. Tsukasa's mouth gaped like a fish, unsure how he would explain the situation this time.

“I’m not… I don’t think that I-”

“No need to be so humble! Just keep up the good work! Your wind affinity seems to be coming right along,” The professor waved off Tsukasa’s denial, but he at least decided to continue with his lecture. Tsukasa shot a glare at Rui, who smiled back at him innocently.

Once class ended, Tsukasa immediately dragged Rui toward the kitchens.

“Tsukasa is in a hurry,” Rui remarked.

“We’ll have to grab food and eat on the way,” Tsukasa said as he pulled Rui along.

“Ah…Tom already grabbed us some,” Rui pointed up toward two floating sandwiches, with Tom diligently staying invisible while they were in public. Surprisingly no one seemed that interested in the flying food, it was good that magic could explain away certain strange phenomena.

“Thank you Tom! What would I do without you!” Tsukasa said appreciatively, wishing he could pet the robot but unfortunately they were still in the hallway.

“What about me, Tsukasa?” Rui asked, tilting his head cutely.

“You’re a troublemaker! You went overboard in class, now we’re definitely going to get caught cheating!” Tsukasa whispered furiously. "Anyway, let's head for the fields. There must be a way to town from there."

Rui pouted but followed behind obediently. "There's an underground passageway leading directly to town."

Tsukasa stopped in his tracks, nearly causing Rui to bowl him over. "How do you even know that?"

Rui smiled enigmatically. Tsukasa sighed and gestured for Rui to lead the way.

Tsukasa underestimated how much walking was involved in getting to town. Rui had guided him to a ground-level shed near the flowerbeds, disguised as a storage space but had a hidden door in the wall that connected to a tunnel. After 10 minutes of traversing endless dark winding hallways, Tsukasa gave off enough anxiety about making it back in time that Rui plucked him off his feet and started bounding toward the exit. The rest of the trip involved a lot of terrified yelling that Tsukasa made Rui swear not to recall to anyone else. Tsukasa believed he reacted appropriately to being subjected to speeds that no doubt broke the sound barrier. Rui had first asked him what constituted "breaking the sound barrier", which Tsukasa tried his best to give a cliffs notes version of, then responded that if such were true then he wouldn't have heard Tsukasa screaming in his ear the whole time. Tsukasa knew there was something wrong with that argument but didn't know enough physics to properly refute the claim.

The two of them popped out of a trap door of a narrow alleyway, inlaid with the run-down path. Rui took the lead, guiding Tsukasa through intersecting backstreets until they made it to a wide thoroughfare filled with vendors and citizens going about their day.

Tsukasa took in the busy street, nowhere near the heart of the Royal Capital but still bustling with business and affluence. Citizens of the upper-class and store owners chattered and haggled prices as they went about their day. Glittering jewelry, iridescent dresses, and the latest magical appliances were displayed in glass storefronts. The street vendors had a smaller inventory, yet no less opulent. There were even multicolored mana cores on display, although none of them compared to Rui’s craftsmanship.

"Alright, Rui, let’s make sure not to attract any attention. Since we didn’t have time to change, our uniforms are pretty recognizable, but as long as we’re quick I don’t think it will raise any alarms,” Tsukasa advised. He was sure students snuck out into town all the time, so they weren’t completely out of place.

Tsukasa started to scour the shops for weapons that were high-quality yet affordable. He doubted that the ones priced on the higher end were any more durable than those that fell in the middle-range, the extra cost coming from embellishments on the hilt and scabbard. Tsukasa didn’t even want to know how much his own sword had cost to forge.

However, as Tsukasa searched he realized he had underestimated the variety of weapons that would be in stock. The swords alone came in so many different styles. What was a claymore, and would it suit Rui? Or maybe he didn't want a sword, but something like a spear? Rui could also prefer something like throwing knives, seeing how he was a fan of long-range combat.

"Hey Rui, do you want to try out this-" Tsukasa turned to find no one behind him, save for a few walking passersby. No iconic purple and blue hair in sight.

Now was not the time to panic. Tsukasa briefly assured himself that Rui wouldn’t have had time to travel far. Then Tsukasa recalled how quickly Rui had carried him to town and he finally allowed the panic to sink in.

“Rui?! Where’d you go?” Tsukasa called out frantically, racing back to the center of the busy street. He retraced his steps to the first vendors he browsed, unsure of when he and Rui had separated. How far could he have gone?

Tsukasa walked further until he reached the winding alleyways, growing less and less confident about his ability to find his way back alone. Was it possible that Rui headed back to school without him? No, Rui wouldn't abandon him intentionally. Tsukasa had to trust that he’d find Rui soon, or they’ll be late for class!

Tsukasa heard several voices coming down an alley and rushed toward them, albeit more recklessly than he was proud of but his best friend was missing! As Tsukasa approached the voices, he slowed to peek around the corner, in case it wasn’t actually Rui but some other unsavory characters. Not much good happens in the backstreets of fantasy towns. He ended up being right on both accounts.

When Tsukasa took a glimpse around the wall he spotted not only Rui but several other suspicious-looking people surrounding him. All of them were dressed in nondescript clothing, talking down menacingly to his best friend while eyeing the bulky satchel Tsukasa had handed to him for safekeeping. And was one of them holding a knife against his throat?! Did Rui get targeted because of the valuables in his bag?

In a fit of alarm and sheer protectiveness, Tsukasa urgently wished them as far away as possible from Rui.

"Don't hurt him!"

Tsukasa felt a surging warmth, originating at the center of his chest, that pulsed outward from his limbs. The adults crowding Rui were suddenly thrown back, as though a great gust of wind sent them flying. Tsukasa raced forward, taking the opportunity to snag Rui's hand.

"Let's go!" Tsukasa said urgently. Rui looked at him in wonder, allowing himself to be pulled along without argument. They ignored the outraged shouts of the strangers behind them as they escaped deeper into the backstreets.

Once they had sufficiently run far enough to no longer hear angry shouts, Tsukasa turned to Rui, a reprimand ready on his tongue. Rui however beat him to the punch.

"Tsukasa cast magic just now!" Rui celebrated joyously.

"That's what you're most concerned about? One of those guys had a knife to your throat! Are you hurt?"

"So Tsukasa used magic on them for my sake? You really are my hero~”

Tsukasa flicked Rui’s forehead, which earned him a whine from the boy but also stopped him from derailing his questions. “I was worried, Rui!”

Rui rubbed the center of his forehead, as though he was trying to ingrain the lingering pain into his skin. “Well, after Tsukasa said not to get recognized, I tried to stick to the side shops. But wouldn’t you know it, when I turned around, Tsukasa had disappeared!”

Now that Tsukasa thought back on it, he may have rushed on ahead of Rui to look at the merchandise. He may have been a bit overzealous to see what was in stock… “Alright, I’ll take the blame for that, but why didn’t you try to defend yourself earlier? You were in danger! They targeted you because of that bag I gave you, didn’t they?” Bullies at the Academy were one thing, but potential muggers on the street were a whole other beast and sadly something Rui had experience with. Rich nobles forced you to face their wrath through systemic bias, but it was a lawless world in the streets, which allowed Rui to thrive.

Rui smiled blithely, his eyes drifting to the side. What was with this avoidant, guilty behavior? Tsukasa gasped when realization clicked. “Don’t tell me you did that on purpose?!”

Rui's brow scrunched up as he pouted. "We weren't in real danger, even if Tsukasa did fail to use magic. I would've handled them."

"That's not the point!" Tsukasa exclaimed. "You put yourself in a terrifying situation just to scare me into using magic! That's not ok!"

Rui stared at Tsukasa questioningly. "Would it have been better if I didn't and Tsukasa continued not to be able to use magic?"

"Yes!" Tsukasa was close to pulling his hair out. Rui blinked, looking taken aback by Tsukasa’s exclamation. "Rui, you keep doing these things like breaking the rules or hurting other people to help me, but I don't ever want you putting yourself in danger! You getting hurt infinitely outweighs any potential benefit I could gain in return! You're my priority, alright? I want you safe and happy, no matter what."

Rui listened quietly to Tsukasa's rant, his fists opening and closing at his sides as he seemed unable to maintain eye contact. "I…never had anyone care about my well-being like this before. I'm not sure what to do."

"That's okay," Tsukasa sighed. Such a thing should've never been the case in the first place, but Tsukasa knew better than anyone the lack of care Rui had growing up. "You work so hard to keep me safe. I know there isn't much within my power that I can do l, but I want to do the same for you."

"Tsukasa's done so much. You're everything to me," Rui said, closing the gap between them and resting his head on Tsukasa's shoulder. "I'll be good for you."

"Good boy," Tsukasa said, patting Rui's head. Rui gave a soft whine and nuzzled his face into Tsukasa’s neck. "We're running out of time to find you a weapon…" Tsukasa said regretfully, sad to cut their cuddle session short.

“I found something,” Rui said, then beckoned Tom over, who had somehow kept up with them while carrying a giant sheet of metal, likely torn from some larger, discarded piece of machinery.

"...Is that from a machine?"

"Not just any machine, a high-pressure washing machine!" Rui exclaimed gleefully. Tsukasa nodded along in response to Rui’s excitement, understanding nothing.

“It’s a very nice sheet of metal?”

Rui smiled, placing his hands where he normally rests them at Tsukasa’s waist. “It’s reinforced metal, made up of alloys with both high magical conductivity and durability. It’s perfectly suitable for forging a weapon.”

“Oh!” Tsukasa nodded along. Then Rui’s last statement sank in. “Wait, you’re going to forge your own weapon?!”

Rui shrugged nonchalantly, as though he didn’t have less than an hour to do just that. "Tsukasa said to be on the lookout for good deals. What’s a better deal than being free?"

“Ugh, while I applaud your sudden thriftiness, you know I can afford to help you get an actual weapon! You didn’t have to resort to dumpster diving…”

Rui massaged Tsukasa’s sides, humming commiseratingly. “While I understand that Tsukasa is fully capable of supporting me in purchasing a weapon, I couldn’t help but feel like showing off my own resourcefulness. And for that, would Tsukasa mind accompanying me on a quick trip?”

Tsukasa nodded skeptically and Rui took that as permission to heft him up. Tsukasa resigned himself to being toted along for the rest of their city trip, on the account of their lack of time and not wanting to lose sight of each other again.

Rui carried him around a couple of bends through the winding streets, somehow ending up at a locked, run-down shop. Tsukasa was simultaneously impressed and wary of how well Rui knew the roads. When exactly did Rui find the time to understand the paths of this city so well? And how exactly did he find that secret passageway leading from the town to the academy? If Rui already knew all these secrets when he had barely attended the academy for a couple of days, then it was obvious why the nobility was already at a strategic disadvantage when they faced off against Rui in the novel.

Rui set Tsukasa’s feet down on the ground to then walk up to the door and rest a finger against the keyhole. With the soft click of spring-loaded pins, Rui unlocked the door and unceremoniously swung it open.

“...Oi Rui, did you just lock-pick that door? Who’s shop is this?”

Rui walked in through the doorway with no shame, his boots tapping against brick flooring as he strolled through like he owned the place. “Welcome to Phoenix Blacksmithy, a traditional shop that specializes in forging humble tools. Sadly the owner is out sick so the shop is currently closed, but wouldn’t it be a waste to allow for this perfectly good forge to be out of commission as well?” Rui justified, patting his hand against the ashy forge like he was greeting an old friend. Tsukasa reluctantly stepped into the small shop, glancing around to glimpse at hanging tools such as clamps, sanders, and calipers. There was a pile of chopped wood and charcoal near the furnace, with a well-used anvil placed nearby, along with various forging hammers scattered about a table. Tom zipped in after him, floating the sheet of metal into Rui’s open hands.

“Thank you, Tom.”

Tsukasa watched on in fascination as Rui ruthlessly compressed the sheet into folds, accompanied by the quick, loud screeches of bending metal. It was like watching a demolition YouTube video on times two speed. With a snap of the fingers, the forge burned at a blazing heat, which Tom fed with blocks of chopped wood and coal. Rui stuffed the compacted metal into a ceramic crucible, then attempted to open the furnace bare-handed. Tsukasa made a loud enough noise of anguish that convinced Rui to grab a pair of tongs before attempting to place the crucible inside.

As the metal melted, Rui rummaged through a stack of molds, pulling out a long, rectangular box with a hole on the side for ventilation.

“Where’d you learn how to cast a sword?” Tsukasa looked over Rui’s shoulder, watching as Rui opened the box and revealed that it indeed held a mold for a sword inside.

“I didn’t,” Rui admitted, using one hand to hold the mold together as he extracted the red-hot crucible with his tongs. “If you pour metal into a sword mold, it should make a sword, right?”

Tsukasa sputtered as Rui fearlessly poured the molten steel into the mold. So in short there were two clueless students and a robot inside an abandoned forge messing with a blacksmith’s furnace and liquid metal? “Rui, why didn’t you say so?! Doing this with no experience is risky!”

“I wouldn’t do anything to endanger Tsukasa… Or myself,” Rui tacked on from the glare Tsukasa gave him. “How else do I gain experience? It’s not like anyone taught me magical circuitry or automaton craftsmanship.”

Rui had a point, but wasn’t that what the academy engineering classes could’ve helped him with? Instead, he was stuck messily casting a sword in a shop they broke into. Tsukasa worriedly watched as Rui pulled apart the mold and held up a crude, casted blade. The blade itself was slightly pockmarked but held its shape, which Tsukasa sighed a breath of relief at. However, Rui hummed questioningly as he tapped at the sword, which gave off a dull, ringing noise.

Rui grabbed a sanding tool hanging from the wall and took it to the blade, honing the side to a sharp edge. Despite Rui's claimed lack of experience, he seemed right at home in the shop. It made Tsukasa curious about how often Rui snuck in here to utilize the equipment.

Rui stuck the blade back into the hot coals, then walked over to a barrel drum and dunked the blade into a vat of oil to quench it, causing Tsukasa to yelp when flames burst out to lick against Rui’s arms. Rui examined the blade again, giving it a few practice swings then turned to Tsukasa.

“May I?” Rui asked, gesturing to Tsukasa’s own sheathed sword at his side. Surely Rui didn’t want to spar with him inside a shop at this very moment? Tsukasa decided to unsheathe the blade and hand the sword, handle first, to Rui instead. While Tsukasa had worries about swinging around the blade in the enclosed space, Rui had no such qualms. He took the blade from Tsukasa and slammed it down against his own newly-cast one with a shattering blow, sparks and metal shards exploding out. Tsukasa shrieked.

“Hm, this may take longer than I thought,” Rui murmured, staring at the broken blade he had spent nearly half an hour crafting. “This type of metal probably does better with being forged than cast, otherwise it’ll turn out brittle.”

“Was that really necessary?! Now you don’t even have a blade!”

“Not to worry, luckily one of those men dropped this!”

Rui brandished a familiar knife, which made Tsukasa blanch. “Why do you have the knife one of those thieves attempted to threaten you with?"

"It's a weapon, yes? It should be suitable for sparring practice," Rui wrapped the knife in a strip of cloth, then pocketed it as he handed Tsukasa back his own sword. “It’s close to our class time, let’s head back?”

Tsukasa reluctantly agreed but made sure Rui put everything back in its proper place, so as to not leave the poor shopowner’s humble establishment a mess. Rui melted the metal sword shards into a brick ingot and stored it away in Tsukasa’s satchel. He then promised Tsukasa that he’d come back at a later time to restock the wood and coal he had used for forging.

The two of them returned to the academy through the tunnels just in time for classes. Tsukasa was still reluctant to send Rui off to dueling class with a flimsy knife but saw him off with a hug anyway.

When Tsukasa turned to make his way to his own class, a voice cut through the empty flower beds. “Aren’t the two of you so bold?”

Tsukasa yelped as Mizuki phased into existence.

“Mizuki!?” Tsukasa looked at his friend in bewilderment. How did they always find him in such insinuating circ*mstances?

“Sorry, buddy. You make it too easy,” Mizuki couldn’t hold back a giggle, then waggled their eyebrows. “I see you two are still as lovey-dovey as ever. So you guys couldn’t wait until the weekend to go on a little date out to town?”

Tsukasa paled at getting caught red-handed. “Please don’t let Rui get in trouble, he needed a weapon for sparring practice and we had made a run to find one!”

“Bro relax, I’m not about to tattle about your guys’ escapades,” Mizuki waved off Tsukasa’s concerns. “I was just curious is all. Who knew there was a tunnel that led from here all the way to town?”

“Huh? You didn’t know about this either? Then how’d you know where we went?”

Mizuki laughed, “Oh goddess, you’re too pure, man. It’s ‘cuz you just confirmed it for me.”

Oh. Tsukasa needed to work on his resistance to interrogation.

Tsukasa cleared his throat. "Then where are you heading off to, Mizuki? Hopefully to your next class?"

Mizuki rolled their eyes, “You’re such a stickler for rules. Yes, have faith, I’m obediently attending my classes even though I learn nothing of value from them.”

Now Tsukasa couldn’t say he agreed, but maybe someone native to the world like Mizuki had less to gain from their magical history classes.

“What elective class are you planning on taking?” Mizuki asked him as they walked toward the fields.

“I’d prefer it if it was something easy like home economics…”

“Uwa, a housewife through and through. I bet Rui is creaming his pants about that.”


“Nothing,” Mizuki sighed. “Well, if you’re leaning toward something like that, why don’t you join the needlework one with me?”

“Needlework?” Tsukasa was familiar with patching clothes up since he preferred to spend his parents’ grocery money on actual groceries, rather than on replacements for perfectly fixable clothing. However, he’s never really delved into making his patchwork look pretty.

“It’ll be fun! We get to make all sorts of cute patterns and maybe even bedazzle our boring uniforms,” Mizuki swirled around their spotless cape for emphasis.

“I wouldn’t say our uniforms are boring,” Tsukasa quite liked the regal design.

“Yea, yea, life is about what you add to it. What do you say, Wonderboy? If you join you could probably learn to embroider some favors for your darling knight-in-training too.”

Tsukasa groaned, knowing exactly who Mizuki was referring to but that didn’t mean he had to appreciate it. Then he thought back on how Rui seemed reluctant to spend any of Tsukasa’s money on their excursion to town, even with Tsukasa’s emphasis on how important it was for him to have a weapon. Was it because it wasn’t truly Tsukasa’s money to spend? Tsukasa didn’t think Rui was so conscientious of how he threw around the overabundant Tenma wealth. That brought a different perspective to Mizuki’s suggestion. Surely if Tsukasa made something with his own hands, something that didn’t cost money but rather his time and care, Rui would accept it? Somehow the idea just made Tsukasa sound like some kind of pining maiden…

“Are you considering it now? I knew you were down bad!” Mizuki giggled while slapping Tsukasa’s back, which nearly sent him tumbling into the dirt. Tsukasa started to wonder if he should consider this a form of bullying.

Well, it didn’t mean Tsukasa couldn’t retaliate in his own way. “Don’t forget, study session tomorrow. If you’re late I’m siccing Rui on you.”

MIzuki’s lighthearted expression tightened. “Careful, you’re going to make me think I’m a bad influence on you.”

The two departed for their classes, Tsukasa finding his mind wandering to how Rui was faring with just a small knife to defend himself. Akito had no qualms about slapping his distracted sparring partner with his scabbard.

“Hey, either pay attention or don’t waste my time,” Akito scowled. His way of wielding a scabbard was just as lethal as any skilled knight with a sharpened blade.

Tsukasa had to commit his whole body to his sparring efforts, otherwise his body would get beaten to a pulp via blunt trauma.

“Your good looks are wasted on you,” Tsukasa lamented as he rubbed at a developing welt. “You’d hook all the ladies in if you were just a tad nicer…”

“Where’d that come from?” Akito stepped away, a look of disgust on his face.

"Have you not thought of anyone to court?" Tsukasa suddenly was consumed with curiosity. Akito had never taken on a romantic interest in the novel, his thoughts usually occupied solely with becoming a great knight and the desire to reconcile with Toya. Due to Tsukasa's lack of friends, he never got the full student experience of being involved with gossip and rumors about high school crushes. Maybe he wanted to live vicariously through his heart-throb juniors and see who'd they fall in love with if their world was more peaceful and allowed them to live out their full lives. At least Tsukasa would like to think he was on track for keeping Rui from falling into despair and going on a killing spree.

Akito seemed to be busying himself with wiping off imaginary dust from his scabbard, not at all intent on answering Tsukasa's question.

"Come now, don't be shy. You must have someone you fancy! Oh, don't tell me it's Shirashi's daughter! I heard she's pretty skilled with a swo-"

"If you want to keep your head, then you should think twice before finishing that sentence," Akito had his own sword halfway drawn, his blade glinting dangerously as though it knew its master's intent.

With how often Tsukasa had been subjected to Akito's intimidation, he could recognize that this wasn't an empty threat. Talk about bashful. "Alright, not An, then who else could be a possible romantic interest…” Tsukasa pondered. He didn’t know of many other female knights, Shiho being the only other one he was acquainted with. Have Shiho and Akito even had a chance to meet yet?

"Don’t you feel any shame in objectifying your fellow students?" Akito sneered.

Tsukasa felt a twinge of guilt at the statement but shrugged it off. "It's not objectifying! I'm merely engaging in the gossip of our youth."

"You nobles and your obsession with propagating," Akito shook his head in exasperation. "I have no impressive family line to maintain, alright? So there's no potential lovers or betrothed or anything of the sort."

"This is nothing so serious as that, I'm just asking for good fun," Tsukasa persisted. "You really don’t have any lady friends you’ve taken an interest in? Who are you going to bring as your plus one when Toya starts hosting his own social functions?”

“NO ONE!” Akito seethed, his irritation spiking. “Believe it or not, I have goals besides procreating and perpetuating money that I don’t have.”

“Geez, there’s more to romance than having a kid! What about the happiness from falling in love? Or finding a significant other that you would enjoy spending the rest of your life with? Do you really have no one in mind?”

A pained expression flashed on Akito’s face, so quickly Tsukasa wondered if he just imagined it. “No one that I could be with. Now I suggest you go back to your drills or I’ll make sure you’ll barely be able to drag yourself out of here.”

And boy did Akito mean it. Tom had to make Tsukasa just shy of floating in order for him to be able to make it to his next class. Well, Akito seemed set on having a miserable retirement but Tsukasa was sure there was love for the kid out there somewhere. Aren’t “bad boys who are secretly hard-working” a popular trope? Or maybe Akito is the type to actually show a soft side of himself to the person he likes. Tsukasa would pay to see that.


A hand firmly grasped Tsukasa’s shoulder, and a refreshing warmth thrummed through his overextended muscles, leaving him feeling blissfully refreshed. Tsukasa turned to greet his wonderful best friend with the power of instant pain relief.

"Oh, Rui! Thank you for that. How did your sparring class go? No cut limbs or injuries?"

"And after Tsukasa had berated me for not looking after myself," Rui gazed at him coldly, ignoring Tsukasa's question. "Why do you allow yourself to get hurt when you’re unable to heal yourself after?"

"Allow myself? I don't have a choice! Akito is a strict teacher!"

Rui's expression wiped from his face, leaving it eerily blank. He then spun on his heels, tugging Tsukasa with him into the nearest bathroom. Inside was a sole student washing his hands, who stared up at the pair curiously. Without even looking at him, Rui used his magic to force the student out the doorway, the slammed door muting out their indignant yelp. Rui then crowded Tsukasa up against the wall of the bathroom, his arms caging Tsukasa in as Rui’s hot breath fanned over his face.

"Tsukasa, I've been trying really hard to behave," Rui’s low voice had a strained quality to it. "I don't know how much longer I can hold myself back."

Tsukasa grew concerned with Rui’s sudden drop in mood. Did something happen in sparring? "You don't have to hold back with me! Let me know your grievances!" He piped up.

Rui groaned painfully, his head thunking against the wall next to Tsukasa’s.

"There's only so much I can subject you to before I lose you too."

"Try me! You won’t lose me!"

Rui’s hands slid down to wrap around Tsukasa’s back. The two of them stayed like that for several minutes, Rui silently embracing Tsukasa while breathing deeply from the crook of his neck. Tsukasa waited patiently for Rui to air his troubles.

"Alright, I think I'm good," Rui pulled back, a benign smile on his face.


"Wait, but nothing got resolved!"

“Mmm, I think I was just having Tsukasa-withdrawl~” Rui purred, motioning Tsukasa to follow him out back to class.

Tsukasa sputtered, Rui’s irrational statements always managed to take him by surprise. “We’ve barely been apart for an hour!”

“And what a painful hour it was. I nearly lodged this in someone’s eye in my sorrow,” Rui sighed, flashing his knife from his sleeve.

That’s incredibly concerning, but at least Rui had no missing limbs or anything of the sort. Tsukasa probably shouldn’t have been so worried for his formidable friend, but Rui was his precious best friend, Tsukasa had the free pass to worry as much as he wanted!

Anyways! “Rui, you’ll need a sheathe for that knife! It’s dangerous to be carrying a blade around like that!”

Rui grinned, reaching down to interlock his unarmed hand with Tsukasa’s. “I really can’t live without you, Tsukasa.”

Tsukasa smiled back, heedless of the mounting, all-encompassing burden of Rui’s deep regard.


rui, your yandere is showing...
ill start skipping around more in the story to get the ball rolling, soon, hopefully, lol, I have plansss

read Sow a seed in the ground and let it know it's something special pls and ty

Chapter 11


I set out to accomplish one (1) plot point and I did not even mention it this chapter.
I hope you all enjoy my mommykasa agenda instead.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The rest of the day went by without a hitch. Rui’s earlier sour mood from before was no where to be seen. As much as Tsukasa did not want to attribute Rui’s earlier behavior to such a ridiculous “withdrawl”, Rui was back to his normal, smiling self again. Now that Rui was on the knight track, they shared their last few classes at the end of the day. Tsukasa may had stolen a couple curious glances at Rui during class, just to see how he was faring. Somehow Rui knew the exact time Tsukasa would look at him, since he would already be staring back with a charming smile on his face. It was slightly creepy, but Tsukasa couldn’t find it in himself to reprimand him. At least Rui was facing the front of the class this time.

After classes was the elective club fair, which was surprisingly set up on the grounds like the school club fairs were in the real-world. There were multiple food stalls interspersed between the club booths, likely on the account of the event lining up with dinner time. Tsukasa strolled through the different elective exhibits alongside Rui, overhearing upperclassmen give out information about their club and explain their achievements and activities. There were quite a few interesting ones, like the fantasy-esque soccer club played with a sentient ball that randomly burst into flame. It sounded dangerous at first, but the fire wasn't supposed to burn, instead it indicated to both the players and spectators that the arena terrain would start transforming and players would be allowed the use of magic, solely to enhance their own performance. To Tsukasa, it still sounded terribly dangerous but students who used their magic to harm other players during games would be heavily penalized and have the rabid rage of spectators fall on them for throwing the game. Sport fans were passionate in every world, it seemed.

There were the other expected electives, such as cooking, newspaper, literature and fine arts clubs. Tsukasa checked out the literature one out of interest, skimming through some of the books they had stacked at their display booth. Rui, instead of picking up a book to look at on his own, stared over Tsukasa’s shoulder to read the same passages Tsukasa was scanning. Rui at least didn’t start hugging Tsukasa during their perusal of the different booths, there was only so much PDA Tsukasa could tolerate before he became too embarrassed to walk around the school anymore.

Rui perked up when they approached the gardening club. The students there had an array of colorful, potted flowers and a compendium providing the plants’ species name, attributes, required care, health benefits, and so on. Tsukasa could see where Rui’s interest in plant care could’ve stemmed from his natural insatiable curiosity, but was it specifically flowers that drew his interest? His intense observational skills were put to work when he built all those automatons mimicking alpha versions of dangerous beasts, but that was borne out of necessity from war rather than recreation.

“Do you like flowers, Rui?” Tsukasa decided to ask.

Rui hummed and held up a pot containing a multicolored flower, its petals appearing prismatic in the way they refracted light to disperse into a mesmerizing rainbow effect. “Aren’t they pretty? Almost like ephemeral performers of life’s beauty. Don’t you think their fleetingness adds to their allure?”

“I think I’d prefer fake flowers,” Tsukasa said truthfully, not expecting such a deep response.

“What a Tsukasa-esque answer,” Rui giggled, causing Tsukasa to pout. “I see the convenience, especially for people who rather not have to care for something most would consider a mere decoration. Someone could put a lot of care into preserving these flowers’ beauty, but one mistake could cause them to be unrevivable. And just like that, that transient beauty disappears. This type of beauty doesn’t last long, and can be unbelievably easy to cut short.”

“You aren’t really selling gardening to me…”

“I guess my reasons for enjoying it aren't really common,” Rui placed the prism flower back down. “However, I think the care of something beautiful that isn’t meant to last long is rewarding in its own way. How long can you support something so fragile and enjoy its beauty until you lose it forever? There's no do-overs when caring for a life." Rui paused. "Well, except for necromancy, but that's considered taboo in these parts. That's why most people go with preservation magic."

Tsukasa nodded along, trying his best to ignore the club members’ uneasy faces who overheard Rui’s explanation. He couldn’t help but feel slightly off-put himself, but Rui’s unique opinions were a part of his charm.

“Well, why don’t you put your name down for this one and we can check out the other booths!” Tsukasa decide to shift the subject. Either way, it probably wasn’t a great first impression to be talking about illegal magic methodologies in front of one’s future clubmates.

“Tsukasa really won’t join me?” Rui asked, petulant. Tsukasa patted the boy’s messy hair.

“I told you we’d meet up for dinner afterward, right? Besides, I know you want full access to the flowerbeds, and you won’t have to sneak in to get to use the gardening tools and fertilizer,” Tsukasa had attempted to whisper the last part, but now some of the club members looked pissed off. Whoops.

“I could still do that while being a part of Tsukasa’s club…”

“C’mon, Rui, I want you to be able to devote yourself to something you enjoy,” Tsukasa argued. Rui had already changed his vocational route to take the same classes as him. “And properly! That means no stealing and sneaking in to do it.”

Rui saw that Tsukasa wouldn’t budge on this fact and sighed, reluctantly inscribing his name onto the sign-up sheet and followed Tsukasa to the next club display. They paused to each grab a meat skewer from one of the food stalls, where Tsukasa was nearly tackled by an invisible force. Nearly in that Rui dropped his skewer just to bodily wrench Tsukasa out of harm’s way.

“Mizuki!” Tsukasa gasped, disoriented from suddenly finding himself locked in Rui’s arms.

“Damn, you’re too protective, Kamishiro,” Mizuki huffed. Tsukasa couldn’t see Rui’s expression from his position, but it caused Mizuki to flinch. “Alright, down, boy.”

If anything, Rui tensed even further. Tsukasa slapped Rui’s arm to get his iron-bar hold to loosen up, which the other did after a moment’s hesitation.

“It’s fine, Rui. What’s up, Mizuki?”

“You’re joining the needlework club with me, right?” Mizuki carried on like usual, not cowed for long by whatever face Rui had made.

Rui’s hold resurged, causing Tsukasa to wheeze from being squeezed again.


“Before you whine!” Tsukasa cut in, not about to hear Rui’s complaints again. “I want to develop a skillset! Needlework seems useful and I want to make stuff for you too.”

“...For me?”

Ah, he didn’t mean to say that out loud. Tsukasa felt his face heat up from the admission. “A-and for Saki. Anyway, I know you don’t like me buying stuff for you so I thought this was another way to get you a gift.”

“Oh,” Rui’s arms went limp and Tsukasa could move to see that Rui's face had turned red as well. “Thank you.”

“I haven’t even given you anything yet!” Tsukasa batted at Rui’s arm. Rui’s sincere gratitude fed into his awkward embarrassment.

“Ugh, you guys are gross,” Mizuki groaned, rubbing at their invisible gooseflesh. "So we can go now, right?"

"Wait, Rui dropped his food."

"I can share with-" Rui stopped to look down at Tsukasa's meat skewer, which already had a sizable bite taken from the top. Rui's blush intensified. "I'd like my own skewer."

He must be hungry. Tsukasa ignored Mizuki's mocking, lip-smacking noises to walk back to the stall and order another stick for Rui.

The trio then made their way to the needlework booth. There they found intricately embroidered fabrics spread out for passersby to admire.

Mizuki cooed at the floral, frilly designs, smoothing their hands across different fabrics. There were several display cards labeling the different stitches made, such as a satin stitch and chain stitch. There was even one called the “Royal Knot”, which looked an awful lot like a French Knot but France wasn’t exactly something that existed in this universe.

Tsukasa had some experience with knitting, but he wondered if he’d be able to make something so elaborate. He was really only looking to make something simple like a cap or some mittens.

“Tsukasa, look at this!” Mizuki held up a small quilt patterned with cute, small kittens, each of them curling around the other and artfully filling out the empty space with their poses. On closer inspection, Tsukasa realized that the cats were, rather than stationary, actually roaming across the fabric.

“It’s so adorable!”

“Wow, magic is amazing,” Tsukasa watched in awe as one of the cats, which seemed to notice him, actually yawned in greeting. “Incredible…”

“Are you interested in joining?” A peppy, short blond asked them, bouncing in place from excitement. “Isn't it pretty? My upperclassman made this one!”

“It’s so cool, how’d they get the cats to move without ripping the stitching?” Mizuki pondered.

The blond smiled proudly. "She imbued the fabric with mobility magic. Rather than each stitch being undone in order to move, the cloth behind it will shift around, causing the cats to look as though they’re moving!”

The small blond reminded Tsukasa of his sister, and he felt immediately endeared. "I'd love to learn how to do something like this."

"Right? You all should join!"

"Riliane, don't pressure them," A taller, pink-haired student walked up to join them. "They're allowed to look without having to sign up. That's what the samples are for."

"Awww, but Kayo!"

The student named Kayo nodded to them with a serene smile. "I'm glad you seem to enjoy our club's work. If you do plan on joining, we would love to have you."

"Kayo is the best, you'll learn how to make all sorts of things from her in no time!" Riliane added, going in for the hard sell.

"Sounds like a done deal for me. What about you, Wonderboy?”

Tsukasa’s own mind was already made up when saw the blanket with the moving cats. It was too adorable to pass up. “Where do I sign up?”

Riliane cheered loudly and held up a clipboard and pen already prepared in her hands. Kayo’s excitement was more muted, but she seemed just as happy about her club’s new members.

After signing up, Tsukasa glanced back to check on Rui, who had already chewed through his meat skewer and was gnawing on the wooden stick. Was he a beaver? Tsukasa motioned Rui over, who obediently walked up to join them at the booth.

“You finished that fast. Are you sure you don’t want mine too?” Tsukasa offered his own half-eaten food, which Rui stared at with a conflicted look.

“I’m not sure if my self-control is up to the task,” Rui said ambiguously.

“Self-control? I don’t mind if you eat the rest, I can get something else.”

“It may not be the only thing I eat,” Rui muttered under his breath.

“Hm? Could you repeat that Rui?”

“Alright, break it up. Let’s hit up the stalls for some more food and then hit the hay,” Mizuki clapped their hands to get the two’s attention. Rui, strangely enough, looked relieved at the interruption for once.

Tsukasa waved goodbye to his future club mates, Riliane waving back enthusiastically while Kayo gave a courteous bow.

Tsukasa overall enjoyed seeing all the different elective booths and how each had incorporated magic into common tasks. The trio visited a few other food stalls, grabbing turkey legs, corn on the cob, and a buttery, flakey pastry coated with sugar, reminiscent of funnel cake. The carnival-esque food really added to the atmosphere, making the night feel like a nice outing with friends. Tsukasa smiled to himself, this world had given him experiences he could've only dreamed of back in high school.

As Tsukasa went in for another bite of turkey leg, Rui wrapped an arm around his waist to pull him to the side. In an effort to keep the greasy meat from staining Rui’s uniform, Tsukasa threw his arm forward. Unfortunately, he felt the turkey leg come into contact with someone else in front of him.

"Hey, watch it!" A grating, familiar voice called out.

Tsukasa looked up to find McGailan and his entourage, angrily staring back at him. McGailan's eyes snapped to Rui and immediately paled.

“Your arm seems to be doing well. What a shame,” Rui’s smile did not reach his eyes.

McGailan did not hesitate to spin on his heels and walk off, disregarding the grease stain Tsukasa had left on the back of his uniform and leaving his confused posse scrambling to catch up with him. Tsukasa blinked at the bully’s sudden retreat, then looked to Rui for answers.

"Guess he felt shy." Rui shrugged. “Oh, don't eat the part that touched him, Tsukasa. You might catch a disease.”

"I don’t think I'd catch a disease…" Tsukasa grumbled but he did tear off the bit that bumped into McGailan’s clothes. Bacteria was probably still a thing in the magical world. "Why'd he react like that?"

Rui offered no answers. Instead, he leaned down to nuzzle his head into the crook of Tsukasa's neck. "Tsukasa~ I'm sleepy all of a sudden. When will we head back?"

Tsukasa sighed at Rui's cute whining. "You ate a lot of greasy food and must be full. We'll head back now then."

Mizuki stared at them in disbelief and shook their head. “Never a dull moment with you two. Wasn't that the guy who punched your lights out?”

Tsukasa winched from their bluntness. “Yea, but Rui healed it up as soon as it happened.”

Mizuki looked dubiously at Rui. “Geez, just how advanced is your healing magic?”

That was the ex-main antagonist for you. Tsukasa found himself puffing up proudly, "Very, Rui is an extremely talented mage!"

Mizuki rolled their eyes. "Why are you the one that's proud… You’re like his mom."

"I've never had one. I don't need one. Tsukasa is Tsukasa," Rui cut in bluntly, cradling Tsukasa to himself closer.

“Yes, yes, you have no such familial feelings for Tsukasa whatsoever. You can’t make it more obvious how available you are,” Mizuki waved off.

Tsukasa was scandalized by Mizuki’s callousness. The boy was an orphan! “Rui can see me as a parental figure if he wants to!”

“I definitely don’t.” Tsukasa could hear the pout in Rui’s voice. Tsukasa couldn't help his grin, Rui's petulant mood made Tsukasa want to tease him.

"Come now, let Daddy Tsukasa make everything better," Tsukasa simpered, patting Rui’s head which was still resting on his shoulder.

“Nah, you’re definitely more of a mom,” Mizuki snickered.

"HAH?!" Tsukasa squawked.

“...If I had to choose, Mommy seems to suit Tsukasa more," Rui agreed. Tsukasa gaped, how did this suddenly turn into teasing him?! "If Tsukasa really wants, I can give him a child. Then he'd really be a mommy. Hm, then would that make me a daddy?" For some reason, at that very moment, Rui nuzzled his head even closer and smoothed his hand over Tsukasa's stomach.

Tsukasa flushed and tried his best not to choke. What was Rui implying?! Well for someone like Rui it surely wouldn't be impossible, but why would he even offer such a thing? Or maybe Rui had the completely wrong idea about childbirth? Was Sex Ed a thing in this fantasy world?

"R-Rui! We're both too young for that! And besides, I'm a guy! It's not anatomically possible!"

Rui tilted his head in confusion. Mizuki suddenly fell to their knees, pounding the ground with their fist as they shook from lack of breath.

"Why wouldn't we be able to? If I'm technically Tom's father, and I allow you co-ownership, I could call you Tom's mother, right?"

"Hahah-help, I can't breathe, I can't breathe," Mizuki’s palm slapped against the ground as they heaved.

"Oh-h, of course, that's what you meant, right, yes," Tsukasa cleared his throat, praying that his blush would recede quickly.

Rui's piercing focus was fully set upon Tsukasa. "What did you think I meant, Tsukasa?"

Tsukasa was left floundering. He was not ready to have The Talk with Rui.

“Um, that is…well…didn’t you say you were sleepy? Let’s head back right now!” Tsukasa frantically tugged Rui behind him, stuffing the rest of the turkey leg in his mouth before he could put his own foot there.

Rui yielded and followed easily enough, while Mizuki took their time picking up the rear. Before they separated to head off to their own rooms, Mizuki snatched away Tsukasa by his shoulders, waving off an irate Rui forcefully separated from his best friend.

“Just a friendly warning to my innocent, young friend who doesn’t see the power he wields. That kid over there will hang onto every word that comes out of that big mouth of yours, so try your best to not suggest anything you’ll regret in the future.”

Tsukasa felt conflicted over how wary Mizuki appeared to be over Rui. Sure, it made sense they picked up on how powerful of a mage Rui was, but that didn’t mean he wanted Mizuki to worry about him.

“I’ll be fine, Rui’s a good kid. He won’t do anything bad.”

Mizuki breathed a heavy sigh and patted his back. “He’s an overzealous one. Those are the type of people you have to look out for, even more so than the bad eggs. Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, buddy.”

Rui took that moment to bodily sweep Tsukasa off his feet and away from Mizuki. “I’m sure Tsukasa will take the necessary precautions from me. Hope you find your way back, Akiyama. Or don’t.”

Tsukasa gaped at Rui’s rude farewell while Mizuki shrugged, unrepentant about clearly being overheard.

“See you boys tomorrow!”

Tsukasa waved over Rui’s shoulder, while Rui didn’t bother even slowing his stride. Tsukasa leaned back, tolerating being carried since most of the students were either still out wandering the elective booths or had already turned in for the day. However, it didn’t mean he tolerated Rui being rude to Mizuki.

“What happened to behaving, Rui?”

Rui huffed and buried his head into Tsukasa’s chest. “Didn’t they start it by trying to warn you away from me?”

“C’mon, you know that isn’t what they meant! Surely even you know just how carried away you get when you’re curious?”

“That just means I don’t half-ass anything,” Rui rebuked, his bottom lip sticking out cutely. Tsukasa had the weird urge to poke it back in place.

“Yes I know, I admire that about you. There’s just something else called restraint,” Tsukasa soothed his riled-up best friend. Rui went quiet, contemplating something as they approached the door to their room.

"...So Tsukasa has no intention of explaining what he thought I meant in making him a mommy?"

Argh! No! This again? Tsukasa thought he had evaded answering this earlier!

"W-well, you see, Rui…um…when a man and a woman love each other very much-" Tsukasa then took the chance to scramble out of Rui's hold and latch onto the door handle. "Oh wow, would you look at the time! It's very very late, it's time for boys like you to go to bed and rest so you can grow big and strong and be focused for tomorrow!"

Tsukasa tripped through the doorway, rushing into their room until he was met with the bathroom door, still woefully broken. Tsukasa awkwardly tried to lift the door, which wouldn’t budge from the frame it rested against. What was this door made of, solid stone? Why did any door need to be so heavy?!

Rui joined his side, watching Tsukasa struggle with the door for a few moments before picking it up with ease himself. Tsukasa muttered a quick “thank you”, avoiding eye contact with Rui’s sad kitten look as he hid away in the bathroom. A win was a win, no matter how underhanded.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t hide away in the bathroom forever. Tsukasa swore he could feel Rui's moping from through the door, which Rui had been kind enough to set back in place to give him privacy… Now that Tsukasa thought about it, why didn't Rui just fix the door himself?! Surely the genius inventor could fix a simple door hinge!

“Rui!” Tsukasa called out from behind the door, reinvigorated to face the reality of Rui’s insatiable curiosity. When no response came, Tsukasa then knocked on the door. He wouldn’t say that he’s necessarily trapped in the bathroom, but if Rui didn’t come move the door then the only way he could get out was if he bodily pushed his way out, causing the door to slam down and possibly crush the robots Rui had haphazardly laid out around the room. Even with the number of times Tsukasa ragged on him to keep the room clean, Rui always seemed to get lost in his creative state and leave a trail of half-finished inventions and tools in his wake.

Suddenly the door shifted and tottered out of the way. Or at least it looked like it did. Tsukasa’s roommate was nowhere to be seen, and the door appeared to have moved on its own, until he decided to look down. There he found a small, pink bunny plush effortlessly balancing the door on its paws. Could it be?

“Mr. Rabbit? Is that you?”

The bunny plush let out a small squeak, dropping the door in surprise. The bottom of the door met the ground with a loud thud, then clattered against the wall. Luckily the thing stayed upright, and Tsukasa breathed a sigh of relief.

“I apologize for scaring you! Did you get hurt?"

The poor thing shook, but Tsukasa wasn't sure if it meant to say no or if it was from fear. The rabbit plush was a beat-up little thing, with stuffing tearing from its seams and scuffed with dirt. Did Rui find this doll from when he went dumpster diving for the washing machine part? It was still an upgrade from the skeletal structure it was before. Tsukasa crouched down to appear smaller to the intimidated plush.

The gesture seemed to have the opposite effect since it brought Tsukasa closer to eye level with the bunny. The bunny warbled in fright and stumbled away as fast as its stubby legs could take it, which wasn’t very far. In the end, it tripped over its own feet and landed flat on its face with a small “fwomf!” When Tsukasa heard the start of stifled sobs, he hurried over to the bunny plush.

“Oh no, Honey, it’s alright! Let me see where you fell, you’ll be ok,” Tsukasa was quick to reassure, talking in as soft and comforting a voice as he could muster.

Against all odds, the cries didn’t escalate. The bunny plush adjusted its head to look up at Tsukasa with teary eyes.

“You’re not mad?”

It talked!? Well, not that it wasn’t already within Rui’s power to invent an automaton that could talk, even Tom had a high level of sentience with just his chirps and beeps. Tsukasa just never recalled the bunny plush ever speaking in the book.

Tsukasa decided to prioritize cheering up the bunny plush. “Of course not! Why would I be mad? Thank you for helping me escape from the bathroom just now, I wouldn’t have been able to get out on my own," Tsukasa risked giving the bunny a gentle pat on its head with his finger, which it seemed to tolerate.

The bunny let out a small sniffle but pulled itself together, wriggling onto its paws so it could push its body back upright.

“That’s it! Feeling better now?” Tsukasa encouraged as he watched the bunny stand back up on its legs. The bunny then hesitantly nodded.

“That’s great! Erm, do you mind if I ask you a question? Have you seen where Rui went?”

The bunny tilted its head, reminiscent of the way Rui would when he was lost in thought. Ahh, it was so cute! It would probably be rude to pick it up and pull it into a squeezing hug, right?

“He said he had a pressing concern he wanted to address and then stepped out.”

A pressing concern? Enough so that Rui didn’t even tell Tsukasa where he was going before he left?

“Is that so… Then I’ll head out for a bit to look for him,” Tsukasa had been able to convince Rui to stick to a consistent sleep schedule early on. He was not about to let the boy mess it up so soon into the school year.

“N-no! Don’t go,” The bunny cried out urgently, struggling to keep up with the few strides Tsukasa had taken toward the front door. Tsukasa stopped in order to allow the bunny to keep up, not wanting to see it trip again. The bunny latched onto the bottom of Tsukasa’s pant leg, as though the grip would keep him in place. The short distance the bunny had ran already had it gasping for breath. Ahh Rui, why’d you have to make this automaton so pitiful and cute?!

“Master said he’d be back soon! Sir doesn’t need to go look for him!”

“S-sir? You don’t need to refer to me so formally,” Tsukasa stumbled. He was used to the automatons that Rui had made later on in the novel referring to Rui as “Master”, but he wasn’t expecting it from the little bunny plush. “You can refer to me as Tsukasa, or whatever you like. Are you ok with me calling you Mr. Rabbit?”

“Mr. Rabbit is ok,” The bunny gave a small nod. Tsukasa couldn’t resist kneeling down to give it another pat. He really wanted to give the small thing a bath and stitch up its small rips. Was Mr. Rabbit waterproof? Obviously the automaton didn’t run on electronics but he’d ask Rui later just to be safe. “Then…Mama?”

MAMA?!” Oh, Tsukasa’s inner thoughts must have escaped externally. The bunny lost its footing and fell onto its bum from Tsukasa’s involuntary shout. There was no stopping the waterworks this time.

“Oh no! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to raise my voice!” Tsukasa scrambled, comforting the upset bunny with soothing pets. “Mama is fine! I was just surprised!”

“You’re not mad?” The bunny sobbed, rubbing at its adorably watery eyes. How did Rui program this exact expression onto it? The automaton resembled its master too much!

“No, you’ll never make me mad. I promise,” Deja vu, much? Tsukasa continued to pet and baby it since that seemed to do the trick. “So Rui said he will be back soon? I’ll be punishing him if he doesn’t come back to sleep properly.”

“Eep! H-he did!”

Ah, Tsukasa scared it again. He continued to comfort the automaton. When Mr. Rabbit finally appeared to have calmed down, with its small eyes even drifting shut, that’s when Rui came bursting through the door.


“Argh!” Tsukasa jumped in surprise, and the bunny was once again knocked over onto its back. “Rui! Where’d you go so late? And don’t be so loud, it’s nighttime!”

“Tsukasa~” Rui simpered, collapsing to his knees and wrapping his arms around Tsukasa from behind like the half-octopus he was, nuzzling his face into Tsukasa’s back. “I missed you, I was lonely.”

You were lonely? You were the one who ran off to do who knows what! Where’d you even go?”

“Tsukasa, are you mad? Don’t be angry,” Rui whined, staring sadly at Tsukasa.

“Don’t be angry with Master, Mama,” The bunny mirrored the pitiful expression on Rui’s face. Ugh, Tsukasa can’t deal with being attacked on both fronts like this!

“Fine! Geez, I won’t be mad! Just tell me where you went!”

As if on cue, Tom floated in through the door, carrying a stack of books with him. The stack was dropped off next to where the boys sat on the floor. Tsukasa scanned the titles and choked. Why did Rui check out The Magic of Childbirth and A Mage’s Guide to Parenthood?!

Tsukasa faced Rui with a dead-pan expression. “Do you remember what I said earlier about you getting carried away due to your curiosity?”

Rui smiled bemusedly. “Don’t worry, I understand now that parenthood is a big step to ask Tsukasa to take. I hope once I become dependable and obtain a source of reliable income, Tsukasa will consider becoming a family with me.”

Tsukasa blushed, not expecting Rui’s inquisitiveness to take him down this kind of route. “I’m not sure how far your research has taken you, but there’s more to becoming a family than that.”

Rui immediately pouted. “I thought Tsukasa had already agreed to be a mommy. He’s already allowed Mr. Rabbit to call him ‘Mama’.”

“H-h-h-how do you know about that?!”

“How do I not know about what’s going on with my darling creations?” Rui said, lifting up the bunny plush in his palm. “The caretakers in the orphanage called us all a family, even when the kids fought all the time and never knew when one of them would disappear. I don’t see why Tsukasa and I can’t be a family.”

Oh, so this was like a play family. Tsukasa was glad Rui was opening up enough to talk about his past but he couldn’t help feeling a twinge of disappointment. He offered up his hands for Rui to pass Mr. Rabbit to him. The plush obediently clambered into his hold. “Fine, I’ll be part of your family. This little one deserves a good parent.”

“Mama doesn’t think I could be a good parent too?”

“Don’t call me ‘Mama’!" Tsukasa turned his flustered face away from Rui. Ugh, he was too shameless! "And Mr. Rabbit calls you Master! What kind of parent does that?”

“I didn’t ask to be called Master, that’s just what he decided to call me when he could speak,” Rui huffed. “What do you think, Mr. Rabbit? Want to be a family with Tsukasa and me? If you do, Mama thinks you should call me something other than Master.”

“Then Master can be Papa!” The bunny concluded, arms raised in excitement.

Tom beeped loudly, bumping his body into Tsukasa's shoulder. Tsukasa smiled and patted the other robot. "Of course, Tom is a part of our family too. He's the older brother."

"Let's have a big, happy family together, Tsukasa," Rui purred happily, nuzzling his nose into the back of Tsukasa’s head. “Mama smells so nice.”

“That’s because I took a bath. It’s time for you to take one too!” Tsukasa attempted to stand to usher Rui into the bathroom.

Rui’s hold on him turned to steel, keeping Tsukasa in place. “I’m not moving until Tsukasa calls me Papa.”

How utterly shameless! Tsukasa’s face burned, and he wriggled in Rui’s hold just to check if he would be lucky enough to slip away. It’s never worked before, and it didn’t seem to be working now. Tsukasa sighed despondently. “Go to the bathroom, now. Papa.”

“Yes, Mama!” Rui responded gleefully, standing up to practically float over to the bathroom.

“We’re only doing this in our room, got it? I think I’d die from embarrassment if this got out to Mizuki…” Tsukasa shouted as Rui flicked the bathroom door aside. “I can’t believe I didn’t ask you earlier but can’t you fix that door?”

“Of course I can, Mama~” Rui giggled.

“Then fix it!” Tsukasa had never regretted a string of choices more than he had at this moment. At this rate, his face was going to have a permanent flush. Rui was too adamant about this new nickname of his for Tsukasa. “Do you really have to call me that every time? Don’t wear it out…”

“Never!” Rui grinned. “Take care of our children while I’m gone, Mama Tsukasa!”

“Unbelievable…” Tsukasa groaned as Rui hid away in the bathroom. Mr. Rabbit patted Tsukasa’s hand in a show of comfort. At least Tsukasa could count on his children to not give him a headache.


Rui at the club fair: Saw a flower today…effervescent.

Tsukasa: It’s not gay to platonically start a family with your best friend.

read Sow a seed in the ground and let it know it's something special

The gang is gonna meet next chapter at the stupid study session I promise you all

Chapter 12


The study group finally meets


I know I’ve been implying many things, but there won’t be anything sexually explicit in this fic and no mpreg (but there will be jokes about it being implied). I apologize for slacking in my content warnings lately.

The content warning for this chapter is Akitoya (aka it features Akito, ew)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Rui managed to keep from calling Tsukasa that embarrassing moniker during classes the next day, to Tsukasa's relief. After dinner, Tsukasa and Rui headed to the library together. Finally, their long-awaited study session could commence! Tsukasa took a seat at a table in a quiet corner of the library, where Rui promptly sat next to him. Tsukasa was becoming adept at picking up Rui’s shifts in mood, and found that the boy appeared restless. Was it for potentially meeting future friends?

“Not to worry, Rui! It’ll only be Mizuki and my other friends, Akito and Toya! I’m sure you’ll get along swimmingly,” Or at least Tsukasa hoped. Rui’s lack of fondness for Akito’s strict training regiment for Tsukasa kept him from holding his breath.

Rui didn’t look the least bit reassured, his face turning blank at the sound of footsteps approaching them.

“Long time no see, you guys,” Mizuki waved, taking a seat on the other side of Tsukasa. They leaned forward against the table to snatch a look at Rui’s expression. "Buddy, you don't look so good. Feeling unhappy that you have to share your beau with his other friends?"

Right on the nose. Tsukasa was hoping Rui wouldn’t see his other friends as rivals for his affection, but no amount of reassurance seemed to stop Rui from being bitter.

Tsukasa stood from his chair, pulling Rui up with him. “Excuse us for a moment, Mizuki. I’d like a word with Rui.”

Mizuki shrugged lackadaisically, giving the two of them a knowing look. “Yes, good luck, boo boo.”

Tsukasa felt a rumble vibrate up his arm. Did Rui just growl? Tsukasa swiveled his head around to look at the other, but Rui looked just as placid as before. Was it just his imagination?

Tsukasa led Rui to a corridor between a set of unoccupied bookshelves. Not that what they were about to discuss was exactly a secret, but Tsukasa was about to do something wholly embarrassing, breaking his own unsaid promise and basically resorting to bribery.

Tsukasa cleared his throat, grabbing Rui’s undivided attention. He tried his best not to blush as he offered, “If this study session goes well, I’ll make sure to do whatever you want when we get back to our room…ugh…P-papa,” Tsukasa stumbled over the nickname, but it seemed to do the trick for Rui. The boy immediately perked up, his eyes glittering as though he was offered the entirety of Santa’s Workshop for Christmas.

“Whatever Mama’s heart desires, I will make it happen,” Rui clasped Tsukasa’s hand in his own, his smile brightening up the dark bookshelf corridor. “Pamper me lots when we get back, Tsukasa~” Tsukasa nodded as he could no longer resist flushing heavily. Ugh, he really couldn’t get over being called such a thing by Rui, even if the trade-off seemed to be that it made Rui inordinately happy.

Despite the huge hit to Tsukasa’s pride, at least it was easy enough to convince Rui to behave. Tsukasa and Rui returned to their seats, Mizuki waggling their eyebrows at the two of them.

"So, done making out?"

"Mizuki!" Tsukasa cried, affronted. "We're not gay!"

Mizuki blinked, their face frozen in what appeared to be shock. "Sorry, I think I just heard something absolutely absurd. Can you repeat that?”

“We’re not gay. Tell them, Rui.”

“Whatever Tsukasa says is law,” Rui smiled beatifically. “I hope you don’t plan on spreading any such unfounded rumors, Akiyama.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it… I’m not unraveling that anytime soon,” Mizuki murmured, looking down at a textbook they had pulled out. “Mhm, yup, this is just as boring as I expected it to be.”

“Have you never looked at the textbook before, Mizuki?!”

“What’s the point if you make me go to class anyway? It's all material we already covered.”

"Self-review is important, it's part of the process of learning," Tsukasa iterated as he organized his own notes. He’s actually been doing well in keeping up with his classes. Well, besides his practical magic course, but Tsukasa’s control over magic was shaky at best.

Mizuki sighed and reached their arms out to stretch. “Where are your other friends? Misery loves company and all of that.”

“Don’t call studying miserable or it’ll come true! And Toya and Akito should be here soon.”

“Wait a minute, who?”

Mizuki stopped mid-stretch as their eyes caught on their new arrivals, who had just entered the library.

The future royal knight Akito and his “handler”, Prince Toya, approached the study group session.

“Oh no,” Mizuki was visibly frazzled, standing from their table as though to leave. Rui’s hand immediately shot out and grabbed their wrist in a bruising grip, keeping them from fully getting out of their chair. Mizuki hissed and yanked on the iron grip to no avail.


“Ugh, busted,” Mizuki groaned and sat back down. “Hey, how’s it going li’l bro?”

Akito raised an eyebrow at the inquiry. “Ena’s been asking about you,”

“Haha, I figured,” Mizuki said sheepishly. “Err, I promise I’ll talk to her soon.”

How strange, why was Mizuki already avoiding Akito’s sister? Tsukasa remembered the novel had hinted at Mizuki and Ena having a falling-out due to Mizuki having to keep some sort of secret, but how early on had that occurred? Ugh, if only the novel actually delved into Mizuki’s part in the story. Instead it was only keen on describing Rui’s suffering!

“It’s none of my business, I’m just passing on the message so she’ll stop pestering me about you,” Akito shrugged, but his eyes narrowed on Mizuki, likely due to caring more than he led on.

As Mizuki and Akito had their not-staring contest, Toya took a seat in front of Tsukasa and greeted him warmly. “Tsukasa, it’s been a while since we were last able to talk.” Tsukasa smiled in response, despite his budding anxiety. Clearly, Book Tsukasa and Toya had a close bond that the novel had, once again, failed to go in-depth about. What exactly did Book Tsukasa do for Toya to hold such a high regard for him?

“Toya, you seem to be doing well! Indeed, it’s a shame we’ve been too busy to sit down and chat. Akito mentioned how busy you are with your duties and classes. I’m glad you guys had time to join us for studying!” Tsukasa replied with enthusiasm, as Toya nodded in agreement.

“Yes, Akito and I had gone over some material together, but it always helps to have a fresh take on it.”

Ah, to finally get to interact with an earnest, hard-working student that studied of their own volition! Tsukasa nearly wiped a proud tear from his eyes. Toya was surprisingly easy to talk to, and they went back and forth about dorm life and course work.

“You entered the sorcerer course, right? How’s that been treating you?”

“Classes have been going well so far. We’re learning about magical techniques such as conjuring small magic spirits and potion-making. It’s not offensive magic that knights would eventually be trained in, but we’ve still been able to use magic in a class setting. Akito and I were both placed in the S-class magic course, so we won’t be using practical magic there until next week. I can tell some of the knight course students like Akito are getting antsy from not being able to expend mana.”

Toya was so conscientious to be thinking of his fellow classmates! It made sense for students with such a large mana reserve to get restless from not being allowed to use it. Obviously it was a precaution the Academy took to keep the innately powerful students from letting loose and leveling the school, but preventing them from getting to use any magic for over a week altogether would surely backfire.

“Hmm, then why don’t you and Akito engage in some magic sparring? That way at least Akito won’t be bursting at the seams,” And maybe that might also get Akito to take it easier on Tsukasa during dueling practice. No wonder the kid only seemed to be growing more aggressive with each session.

“What the hell are you two talking about,” Akito cut in, his tone suspicious. Rui had been intently listening to their conversation, his hand fiddling with Tsukasa’s under the table during the whole span of it. At least he never interrupted the two of them, likely keeping Tsukasa’s earlier offer in mind.

“We’re just catching up, Akito! Anyway, I’ve never introduced you two to Rui Kamishiro, my roommate!” Tsukasa gestured to Rui, patting him amicably with his free hand. Rui gave them a smile and a polite nod of greeting, all while keeping his hand interlocked with Tsukasa’s. He’s going to have to let go for Tsukasa to be able to get his textbooks out…

“Kamishiro? I’ve never heard that surname before,” Akito said as Toya greeted Rui properly.

“Oh, Rui was admitted into the Academy based on his skill, like you, Akito!”

“Huh? You’re a commoner? I guess Akiyama is too,” Akito glanced between both Rui and Mizuki, the latter looking amused at Akito’s confusion. “I’m surprised you decided that non-nobility like us was worth your time, Tenma.”

Their corner of the library suddenly got chillier with Akito’s last statement.

“Akito, I thought I told you to be polite.”

“I didn’t expect you to be so careless with your thoughts, li’l bro.”

“I don’t take kindly to people who insult Tsukasa, even if they’re his so-called ‘friends’,” Rui said coldly, more so than the mage with elemental ice magic.

“...My bad,” Akito uttered, taken aback by the sudden deluge of people coming to Tsukasa’s defense. Tsukasa was the most surprised of them all.

“Whoa, no I get it! I’ve said some regrettable things before, I apologize for not addressing them until now,” Even if they were things Tsukasa himself never said, Akito was the one who had taken the brunt of Book Tsukasa’s classist remarks earlier on. “I’ve said some ignorant things about social status that I know now are wrong. You guys shouldn’t be made to feel lesser just because you don’t come from money or your family isn’t as renowned. I hope you can forgive me!”

Tsukasa’s friends stared at him in surprise, not expecting his outburst. Akito was the first to speak up. “No, I spoke out of turn. I already figured something changed about you, Tenma.”

“Akito…” Toya breathed out, looking at the other in relief.

"Huh, so you really were a prissy uptight noble once, Wonderboy?" Mizuki glanced at Tsukasa in intrigue.

"I'm not proud of it! I have to say sorry to you too, Toya, for getting you caught in the middle of our spats."

Toya shook his head, "No, I'm glad the two of you are getting along. I hope you will continue to be good friends with Akito, Tsukasa."

"Why are you speaking like you're my caretaker?" Akito muttered.

It was good to see Akito and Toya getting along so well, bantering like this. Tsukasa relaxed as he watched Akito elbow Toya in faux irritation and the other laugh and smile. There was nothing more precious in this world than seeing good friends bonding!

"I didn't expect Ena's brother to swing that way too," Mizuki remarked under their breath, just for Tsukasa to catch. "Didn't really expect him to have an interest in anything except desserts and dwimmerball."

Dwimmerball? Was that the magical soccer knock-off from the elective fair? "Swing what way?" Tsukasa asked, to get his other question answered.

"Nothing to worry your pretty head over," Mizuki waved off. "Your roommate looks like he's about to conjure rain clouds over there."

Tsukasa turned his attention to Rui, who seemed to be struggling with not moping. His lip was trembling in an effort to keep from pouting.

"Rui? What's wrong?" Tsukasa asked urgently.

"I wish I had gotten to meet Tsukasa earlier in this life…" Rui sighed sadly.

"Trust me Rui, you don't. I wasn't the best person back then," Tsukasa urged, reluctant to even imagine the disaster that would've occurred if Book Tsukasa and Rui had interacted even earlier in the novel.

"I can't imagine, any iteration of Tsukasa is someone to be treasured," Rui refuted, squeezing Tsukasa’s hand in emphasis.

Tell that to the OG version of yourself, Tsukasa wished he could say. Then again, that wouldn’t be fair. Tsukasa was a completely different person from the original one that was killed, and Rui was nowhere near the same person that had one-shot Book Tsukasa.

Rui drooped at Tsukasa’s lack of response. “You don’t wish the same thing, Tsukasa?”

Maybe Tsukasa needed to reframe his way of considering the question. If Tsukasa had miraculously run into a lonely Rui in his own world, someone void of friends like him, could they have befriended one another?

Tsukasa squeezed Rui’s hand back, smiling back affectionately. “My life certainly would’ve been a lot more exciting if we had met back then. But I also think we met each other at just the right time.”

Rui’s lips gave a little uptick, his eyes softening. “I can settle for that. At least I’m the one closest to Tsukasa at this moment.”

Tsukasa should’ve expected that Rui wouldn’t even get over his competitive streak for being the first to meet Tsukasa, an event completely out of his control. “Alright, I think it’s about time we try to study!” Tsukasa announced, calling back the others’ attention.

The group refocused on pulling out their study materials, some more reluctantly than others. Mizuki had already started yawning the moment they flipped a page.

"Tsukasa, do you mind reopening that passage?" Rui purred, hands wrapping around his waist and his chin coming down to rest on Tsukasa's shoulder. Tsukasa belatedly realized how used to Rui's skinship he's become, only noticing after several moments passed that he was being held intimately.

"Rui! Not in public like this! And you have your own textbooks," Tsukasa slapped Rui’s chest, lightly, to get him to sit properly back in his own seat.

"Heh, then I'll embrace you back when we’re alone in the room,” Rui drawled, smoothing a finger along Tsukasa’s cheek to get him to turn his head.

While Mizuki gagged at their behavior, as usual, Akito stared at the two of them like they had both grown a second head. Even Toya seemed to do a double-take.

Tsukasa quirked an eyebrow at Rui's sudden clingy behavior and pinched the back of Rui's hand. Rui whined but pulled his hand back from Tsukasa's face.

"Behave, Rui."

"Sorry, Tsukasa," Rui nuzzled his face into Tsukasa’s shoulder in apology.

As Tsukasa tried to focus on the passage about magic theory principles, Rui sat back in his seat but kept his hands at Tsukasa's sides to massage them. Tsukasa decided to just let the boy indulge in his touch-starved ways; at least he wasn’t full-on embracing him like before. He had to admit, the way Rui’s thumbs dug into his back muscles felt very nice.

“Tenma, can I talk to you alone?” Akito suddenly stood from his seat, his expression oddly pained. Tsukasa looked up, surprised to find that neither Akito nor Toya even had their texts open.

“Sure?” Tsukasa readily agreed. It must be something concerning to keep even Toya from studying.

Akito gestured for Tsukasa to follow him. Rui let Tsukasa go without protest, a smug smile on his face like that of a cat who got the cream.

Once the two reached a secluded corner, Tsukasa asked, “What’s the matter, Akito?”

Akito sighed deeply, as though he was bracing himself. "It seems I made some assumptions about you, especially after you had asked me all those questions about who I fancy. I didn't realize you and Kamishiro would be like that? I assumed you would already be engaged to another noble but…no, never mind," Akito rubbed the back of his head as he looked away, appearing truly uncomfortable. Tsukasa's never seen the knight look so lost for words before.

"Ah! Yes, Rui and I have grown really close after becoming best friends!" Tsukasa declared proudly. Akito's gaze snapped back to him, looking somehow even more confused.

"After? Don't you have that backward? And you guys are only best friends?"

"What do you mean ‘only’? The title of best friend is the strongest bond two men can share! It's the grandest masculine relationship of trust and affection! Aren't you and Toya best friends?"

Akito sputtered indignantly. "We don't do that!"

Tsukasa tilted his head. "Do what?"

"You've got to be kidding me, you two were all over each other, aren't you guys like that?"

Akito really must be losing his ability to speak, his words were making less and less sense. "...Like what?"

Akito's mounting frustration burst out in a loud whisper, "Gay!"

“G-No! Neither I nor Rui is g-gay!” Tsukasa loudly whispered back. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” What was with Mizuki and Akito thinking that they were gay? Don’t tell him that Toya was thinking the same thing?

“...Is this some sort of cultural thing for nobles?” Akito seemed lost.

“I don’t think having a best friend is limited to only nobility?”

Akito looked straight up at the ceiling, his lips moving silently as though he was invoking some form of prayer. “I’ve decided to stop caring about this. Can you at least call off your not-gay best friend? Frankly, his aura is suffocating. I have no idea how he wasn’t placed in the S-class course.”

“His aura?”

“Don’t tell me you can’t sense it? Then again you were buddy-buddy with him this whole time without it affecting you, are you mana-blind?”

Well, seeing how Tsukasa was a normal human being with no magical ability to speak of, he might as well be. "I guess?"

Akito pinched the bridge of his nose. "Then I spoke out of turn again, ugh. Why'd you suddenly have to become a decent person?"

"Uh, thank you?"

"Don't thank me for that!"

With their conversation seemingly wrapped up due to Akito no longer willing to discuss anything further, the two of them headed back to the table. Tsukasa certainly didn’t expect the sexuality question from Akito of all people. It's not like Tsukasa ever had the opportunity to even date anyone when in the real world. He just didn’t find it likely that he was gay. Couldn’t two guys have a close skinship without it being seen as gay?

When Tsukasa took his seat again, he saw that Toya and the others were looking over practice problems. “Oh, splendid idea! Is there anything that looks like it'll be important for the quiz?”

Toya glanced up, frowning. "Does Tsukasa also just study what he thinks will be on the tests? That's the same excuse Akito would use to not review every day."

Oh no, Tsukasa's old study habits were resurfacing. He couldn’t say that he was not guilty of such a thing. He just eventually got into the habit of studying for everything when the subjects he had neglected would pop up on the tests.

"Please don't compare me to him," Akito said with a twinge of desperation.

"You're right, Toya! Everything is important so let's go over all of them!" Tsukasa sat down with a nod, ready to tackle the questions with vigor.

Unfortunately soon into the study session, Tsukasa realized he was woefully underprepared. He was fine on the arithmetic front, but subject matter like history was a whole other beast.

"Did all of you get this question right?!"

"I remember going over this with Akito," Toya explained.

"Toya kept quizzing me on this," Akito grumbled.

"It was a lucky guess!" Mizuki sing-songed, but they said that about every answer they got, which they continued to get right. Tsukasa wasn't nearly as inclined to believe them anymore.

"The professor mentioned it." Ugh, figured Rui had eidetic memory on top of being a genius inventor and mage.

So everyone except Tsukasa got the answer. Could it be, the person who needed these study sessions the most was him???

“I’m surprised you missed this one, this question relates to the Tenma line. Not up-to-date on your family’s fiefdom?” Mizuki pointed out.

Surely not! How was Tsukasa supposed to know about his family lineage when he wasn’t even an actual Tenma? There was too much to learn about in history classes. Sure it was interesting to hear about the magical advancements made throughout time, but hearing of the different nation borders formed over warfare and politics was hard to pay attention to. It was difficult enough learning about the different eras of Japan, and now he was forced to build upon historical knowledge he had never even heard of before? Couldn't it just be enough that he knew the name of the Royal nation he was meant to pledge his allegiance to? Yes, Kamiya had many alliances with different nations, but did that really matter when Rui had been able to obliterate it all on his own?

“Ah haha, must have been an oversight of mine…” Tsukasa rationalized away. What else does he say about not knowing his own family history?

“Not that I blame you, history isn’t my strong suit either,” Mizuki shrugged, even as they continued to get the answers correct.

Tsukasa painstakingly got through the next couple history questions, wracking his poor memory for answers it did not have. Was it suspicious that he couldn’t recall even the most well-known of historical events?

“The year of Kamiya’s founding wasn’t 1043, it was 1045. This question is a bit tricky, since Kamiya wasn’t established as a true nation until the borders were established and the treatise with Masuzaka was settled," Toya stated, as Tsukasa sighed and added it to his notes.

“Cheer up bud, at least you’re doing fine in your other subjects,” Mizuki tacked on as they noticed Tsukasa becoming genuinely frustrated.

“Yea, thanks. History just happens to be testing my memory right now,” Tsukasa replied. All the nation names sounded like gibberish, because they were, and the arbitrary dates just didn’t stick with him at all! The only way for him to perform well was if he actually had an eidetic memory like Rui did.

Rui hummed by his side. “There’s a learning device called mnemonics, if Tsukasa is interested.”

“Mnemonics? Don’t tell me it’s one of your inventions…”

“I can’t take credit for this one, it’s purely psychological. It's a memory device that aids in recalling larger pieces of information. An example would be remembering the word “rose” for the 4 great establishing ambassadors of Kamiya: Riley, Otori, Shigarashi and Elegant Sakurako.”

“...What’s up with “Elegant Sakurako”, why couldn’t you come up with a mnemonic that actually works?”

“But you’ll still remember it, right?” Rui pointed out cheekily. Tsukasa was disgruntled but found that he agreed. So was the key to properly learning history to come up with mnemonics for everything he needed to know? Would he even be able to remember them all?

Rui then scooted closer to whisper into his ear, "I could also hypnotize you."

Tsukasa involuntarily shivered and stared at Rui incredulously. Rui smiled back sheepishly. “Only if Tsukasa agrees to it. I learned my lesson from before.”

“Maybe at another time,” Tsukasa was going to regret not shutting the notion of hypnotism down completely. Rui chuckled at Tsukasa’s inadvertent agreement to be his guinea pig in the future.

“Then why doesn’t Tsukasa try coming up with a way to remember the noble court?”

“Uh, the courtiers? Well that involves the princes, knights, clergy, nobility, and emissaries. So that could be peck… and an n? Peck’n?”

With Rui’s poorly concealed giggle, Tsukasa huffed in faux frustration. “Alright, it’s harder than it looks.”

The two of them started engaging in who could come up with better acronyms, Rui’s being more thematic even if he had to tweak the naming conventions, while Tsukasa tried to tack on any naming convention that worked.

“The four insignias symbolizing the royal families, the rose, the tree, the arrow, and the flame.”

“How about raft! For keeping the kingdom afloat!” Tsukasa was rather proud of that one.

“Fart,” Rui said deadpan. Hearing such a crass word coming from Rui’s mouth had Tsukasa gaping, then unable to hold back his immature snort of laughter. Mizuki and the others looked over at the two of them cracking up.

“D-don’t! You can’t say that Rui, Toya is right there!”

“Tsukasa’s reprimand loses traction when he can’t keep himself from laughing,” Rui said gleefully.

“Fart? Well I won’t forget that one,” Mizuki obviously overheard the two of them.

“Nice to see you two aren’t suffering like the rest of us,” Akito muttered, waiting for Toya to look over his answers.

“It’s not for naught, Akito. Look, you got all these right! I knew you could do it,” Toya smiled widely, embodying the look of a proud parent. Akito scoffed and looked away, but not without his face flushing red.

“There’s other ways of memorizing information, besides acronyms. There’s also association,” Rui brought up.


Rui nodded, “The loci technique, or the memory palace technique, consists of associating information with a location or physical space you’re familiar with. Take the classrooms for example, history class is on the first floor and the third room, taught by professor Dao. We can relate that to the rebellion in 1313, led by anarchist, the daring Alexander Ozark.”

“You really like your adjectives.”

“They’re the spice of language. Besides I’m not sure if Tsukasa will appreciate if I show him my other methods at this moment.”

“...Other methods?” Tsukasa asked suspiciously. When Rui’s gaze roved slowly over Tsukasa’s body, Tsukasa couldn’t stop his shiver. “No funny business here, Rui!”

“Best behavior,” Rui answered automatically, a benign smile in place.

“I couldn’t help but notice how close you and Kamishiro are, Tsukasa. Have you two met before your admission into the academy?” Toya brought up, and Tsukasa was alarmingly brought back to their group study session.

“Er, no. We first met a couple days ago.”

“You two act so familiar with each other even I forget,” Mizuki commented.

“I’m glad we come off as close, Tsukasa and I just meshed well together ever since we’ve met,” Rui lied happily, causing Mizuki to snort as Toya nodded along.

Tsukasa sighed. “Ugh, Toya, he’s kidding. The two of us got off on the wrong foot in the beginning but we worked it out.”

Rui pouted and dramatically laid a hand across his forehead. “Tsukasa is so callous about bringing up our sordid past.”

“D-don’t say such misleading things!” Tsukasa screeched, which prompted the librarian to snap her head to their group with pure vitriol on her face. Tsukasa bowed his head in apology and shrunk behind Rui’s larger figure. “Anyway, why don’t we review one more time and wrap up for the day?” Tsukasa did his best to speak quietly.

Toya still seemed curious about the full story but Akito was out of patience and slammed his textbook to the page they planned on reviewing. “As much as I enjoy being subjected to watch you two flirt, I treasure my sleep even more. This one, right?”

The dumb rhymes and acronyms that Rui and he had came up with actually helped Tsukasa with remembering the dates and political figures he needed to know for the last set of questions. It’ll be a while before he’s ready to write any essays on their bureaucratic influences, but he was in a better position than earlier.

“This was a productive session, wasn’t it? I can’t wait for next week,” Tsukasa spoke up after the group had collectively achieved the same correct answer.

“We basically just went over history. What about maths?” Akito grunted.

“Oh, sorry about that. We’ll go over that next time then,” Tsukasa said sheepishly. His struggles in the subject had took over their whole period together.

“You’re only full of complaints, li’l bro. What’s got you so frustrated, huh?” Mizuki chimed in teasingly. Akito crossed his arms, narrowing his eyes rather than deigning to give any answer.

“Ah, I remembered Tsukasa had proposed that the two of us spar in our free time, Akito, since you haven’t had much chance to utilize your magic. What do you think about that idea?” Toya suggested as he packed away his materials.

“Hah?! Are you joking?” Akito looked dumbfounded.

Toya frowned, not expecting Akito to shoot down the suggestion so immediately. “Is there something in particular that you’re against? I know you have enough control to keep from hurting anyone unnecessarily. Or unless it’s about me-”

“Yes-wait no! That’s not it. Well, not entirely,” Akito stumbled, which only caused Toya to look at him with increasing worry. “Look, you have more control over your magic than I do, Toya, so obviously that’s not why I’m refusing.

“If it’s not my control then what is it?”

Tsukasa was also curious. He thought his idea was great when he had suggested it at the time, and it would be awesome to see two skilled S-class mages going toe-to-toe even if it was just a sparring match.

Akito massaged his temples as he contemplated how he’d answer. “Your control over magic is unprecedented, but your footing is…how do I say this…your athleticism…”

Toya wilted, catching on quickly. “Ah, yes, my swordsmanship needs some work. But we can work on our spellcasting together.”

Akito shook his head, somehow looking even more troubled. “It’s not that. Ugh, don’t take this the wrong way.”

Toya blinked in surprise but continued to listen closely, his focus drawn in by how distraught Akito was in trying to express his dilemma.

“Look, even if it’s just a sparring match, it doesn’t mean that neither of us won’t get hurt.”

“I’m aware, Akito. But I also think we’re both well aware of each others’ limits and can prevent any large injury from occurring. I think this will do more good than bad. Also if there are any injuries, I have been practicing my healing magic.”

“How thoughtful of you to be so cautious of possible injuries, Akito!” Tsukasa spoke up, which Akito had to consciously hold back from snarling at.

“Yes, I know. It’s not the potential injuries that I’m worried about, but I know it’s something you’ll be overly aware of, to the point that it’ll distract you. I just don’t want to be the cause of something irreparable happening to you.”

Toya’s expression turned resolute, his hand reaching out to gather one of Akito’s hands in his. “My faith in you is unwavering. Your flames listen to your heart and I know how fully committed you are to becoming a royal knight. You would never allow anything to come to harm me if it’s within your power to stop it.”

“Wha-Toya!” Akito blushed furiously, not expecting the prince to take hold of his hand and publicly recite an ode of his own loyalty. “Alright! Fine, I’ll spar with you!”

“Ah, are you sure? I don’t want to force you if you really don’t-”

“It’s fine, geez. I look forward to it,” Akito relented, his eyes staring straight at Toya and deliberately not at their joined hands. Toya beamed at his future royal knight.

“Thank you for having faith in me.”

“Don’t thank me. Can we head back now?” Akito seemed at his mental limit, unwilling to move his hand from Toya’s hold but also desperate to leave the library as soon as he could.

“Right, you work out before your morning classes.”

Oh, to be young and able to eat breakfast on time. Tsukasa’s morning usually consisted of getting Rui to rouse and get ready for class on time. “Then same time next week?”

Toya nodded in agreement, meaning Akito would be coming along too. Mizuki yawned and stood from their seat. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“You must be tired too, Mizuki. You’ve been yawning all day.”

“Oh have I?” Mizuki seemed surprised that Tsukasa took note of it. “Haha uh, I’ve been busy lately.”

Doing what, exactly? Has Mizuki already started dabbling in their secret business that led them to “betray” the kingdom in the future? Tsukasa bet that learning how to turn invisible from Tom had only sped up Mizuki’s plans, allowing them the freedom to sneak off whenever they wanted. Should he be keeping a closer eye on his friend?

“You look worried. Don’t be, I won’t let it affect my attendance.”

“I would hope not, otherwise I’d be deeply disappointed.”

“I promise, Mother dear,” Mizuki joked, which Tsukasa rolled his eyes at. It didn’t mean much when his roommate would be calling him something even more embarrassing in the foreseeable future.

The group departed from the library, Rui obediently keeping his hands to himself until they reached their room.

Tsukasa braced himself for Rui to bombard him with his indecent fantasies. Instead, Rui took a seat at the edge of his bed, the one they would be sharing that night, and waited for Tsukasa to join him.

Tsukasa took the silent yet obvious invitation and sat next to his smiling friend. “Alright, do your worst, then.”

“That’s something you shouldn’t say lightly, Mama,” Rui purred, immediately draping himself over Tsukasa. “Should we continue with a study session of our own?”


Rui gently applied pressure to Tsukasa’s chest with an arm, and both of them fell back to lie across the bed. Rui took the opportunity to snuggle in close, his exhale skimming the edge of Tsukasa’s ear as his limbs cage the other in. Tsukasa’s nose filled with the scent of burning ozone and petrichor. Rui has no reservations in gulping down Tsukasa's own scent in turn.

“Association,” Rui spoke up after a while.


Rui giggled breathily as he propped himself up on his hands to gaze down at Tsukasa beneath him. Akito’s words from earlier picked an inconvenient time to resurface in Tsukasa’s memory. Was it really that odd that Rui clung to him like this? Was it really the only conclusion that they were gay? Isn’t it more likely that Rui is just a touch-starved individual who longed for companionship? Besides, he already had a future love-interest lined up for him, Tsukasa just had to make sure Rui stayed enrolled in the Academy to get to that point.

“What has Tsukasa so distracted that he’d miss such a learning opportunity, hm?” Rui’s fingers curled gently around Tsukasa’s cheek, but his expression only seemed to harden.

“No, well, Akito told me something strange-”

“Even now, after I had been on my best behavior for Tsukasa, Tsukasa doesn’t even grant me the same courtesy with his full attention,” Rui sighed, tone light but his eyes roved Tsukasa’s body as though he were sizing it up. “How should Papa punish you?”

“P-punish? There’s no need for that, I’m listening!”

“Is that right?” Rui twirled a strand of Tsukasa’s hair around his finger, making no move to come closer or let Tsukasa back up. “Then please show me how well you take direction.”

Tsukasa stopped himself from parroting back Rui’s words in confusion.

"Learning even acronyms forthright must be difficult for Tsukasa who has a…challenged memory. Therefore I was thinking that a story of sorts could aid you further.”

Rui placed the tip of his finger at the center of Tsukasa’s forehead. Tsukasa turned crosseyed to stare at it. “The story begins with Head Royal Knight, Sir Rein Frostheart,” Rui traced the shape of a heart on his skin with an icy finger, causing Tsukasa to yelp from the shock of the temperature drop. Tsukasa’s hands instinctually shot up to grab at Rui’s hands, but an invisible force prevented them from reaching his face.

“Do you mind staying still for me as I tell my story, Tsukasa?”

“Are you going to be doing this for the whole story?!”

“I’ll stop if it’s not working. What’s the name of our intrepid hero, Tsukasa?”

“Rein Frostheart,” Tsukasa muttered, not exactly thrilled that Rui’s plan was obviously working fine so far. Rui smiled, giving Tsukasa’s cheek a proud, slightly condescending pat. Tsukasa had the immature urge to swivel his head and snap at Rui's hand like a disgruntled dog.

"Indeed. Rein Frostheart, a fearless soldier of the Kingdom of Lapis, one with many admirers and potential suitors. However he was as ruthless on the battlefield as his namesake would lead you to believe.” With this, Rui tapped at where Tsukasa usually carried his sword at his waist, then ran a hand over Tsukasa’s deep blue cape. “He ran his enemies through, quickly and precisely, a harbinger of death in stark indigo, soon dyed black with the blood of the fallen. As decisive as death, in meeting out the fates of his opponents.”

“But then he had a fated encounter of his own. If he epitomized the harshness of winters and unforgiving icy cold, then the one he met stood on the other side of that coin. Donned in white, representing the pure and gentle nature of freshly-fallen snow, Krista Nodestar was a kind and loving lady of nobility set to meet her betrothed at the upcoming ball of the winter solstice.”

Tsukasa made a pointed glance at Saki’s cloth charm on his desk at the mention of Krista Nodestar’s name. He took note of how pleased Rui was at Tsukasa making his own connections. “Good, I’m glad you’re paying such close attention now.”

For some reason that caused Tsukasa’s face to heat.

“Krista was engaged to the Duke of Riverna, a man from a flourishing, prosperous land that never wanted for anything. The Duke however, desired nothing more than the heart of the fair maiden he set his sights on,” Rui thumbed the soft skin under Tsukasa’s eyes, and Tsukasa kept from rolling them at the stretch in the association. “He had sent Krista a missive that he would don a night blue suit, and they would know who each other were upon locking eyes. Poor Krista, trusting and faithful as she was, believed the Duke’s words and arrived at the ball on the lookout for said night blue suit. The Duke’s carriage was held up by a sudden snowstorm, so the man Krista was meant to find was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Krista fell in love at first sight with her polar opposite, the grim reaper of winter who happened to be dressed in his characteristic shade of blue.

Off the battlefield, Rein Frostheart was a socially awkward man, who was in attendance at the ball merely in respect for the Royal Family. When suddenly approached by the overly familiar, friendly Krista, Rein had no choice but to agree to a dance and entertain the young lady. While Krista was instantly charmed by Rein’s reserved demeanor, Rein had a difficult time understanding why such a woman would approach him in the first place. He was used to grown men cowering before him, yet this dainty maiden approached him so casually and talked to him as though he were an old friend. They danced the night away, with onlookers curious as to who had snagged the heart of the notoriously cold Royal knight in just an hour,” Rui stood from the bed, pulling Tsukasa up to stand with him. He then lifted Tsukasa’s hands, resting one on his shoulder and bringing the other at head level. Rui rested his palm at Tsukasa’s side, bringing the two of them into a mimicry of a ballroom position. “Do you know how to dance, Tsukasa?”

“I dabbled,” Tsukasa answered, thankful for the few lessons that his mother made him take in the pursuit of finding him a hobby. He was forced to stop when his father decided that fencing was a far “manlier” sport. It was probably expected for a noble like him to know of ballroom dancing anyway.

“Is that so? Then I’ll follow your lead,” Rui switched their poses so Tsukasa would be the lead, but not before giving Tsukasa’s waist a squeeze. “I’m in your capable hands, leader.”

“Wait, do you even know how to dance?”

“I’m sure Tsukasa is a great teacher.”

Of course, Rui’s classic technique of engaging something he lacks knowledge in with great confidence. Tsukasa brought his right hand to hold Rui’s shoulder blade, letting Rui’s opposing arm rest on his and bringing them into a closed dance position. Tsukasa took a step forward with his left foot, and Rui easily followed with his right. He led Rui through repeating box steps, and Rui continued his story.

“Krista led the knight into the gardens, where they discussed their dreams of the future. Krista wished for a future of prosperity for her homeland, and the coming end of the war brought hope for an era of peace. The opposite would be true for Rein, who would only lose his purpose. With the end of war would mean the end of his service, and what good would a man meant to bring about death do for a land that sought to nurture new beginnings? Krista sensed the shift in mood from Rein, asking Rein to take his mind off the question with a final dance. Rein took a hold of her to guide her through her last request of the night, when the Duke had finally made his arrival. And what an inopportune time it was. The Duke stopped their final dance short, and accused the knight of illicit intentions in soliciting the company of Lady Nodestar. Krista had realized her mistake, but it was too late for her, for she had already fallen deeply in love with the wrong man.”

Rui abruptly switched their hold, intentionally tripping Tsukasa to fall back into a dip. Tsukasa yelped and scrambled to clutch at Rui’s shoulders, even with Rui’s sturdy arms at his back. Rui’s face came close, his loose strands of hair licking at Tsukasa’s cheeks.

“Krista begged for the Duke to drop Rein’s charges in exchange for being banned from meeting with the knight ever again. Rein was dropped unceremoniously from her life as though he had never existed. Sir Frostheart was to return to war, forced to put the lady out of his mind as he fought for his country. The battles raged on, as the warring countries refused to come to an agreement. The cost of reparations became insurmountable, neither side refused to give, and soon the war encroached onto Riverna territory.”

While still holding Tsukasa in a dip, Rui’s fingers slipped under his shirt collar to tug at the chain of Tsukasa’s amulet. “Riverna was not fitted for battle, and the land easily succumbed to the enemy country’s militia. The duke could do nothing but allow for his territory to be taken over, and he and his betrothed were taken hostage. The loss of Riverna took a toll on the kingdom, for it was not only a loss of a major food resource, but the kingdom’s Head Royal Knight had given into madness at the news. Positioned elsewhere during the battle, Rein was unable to fight for Riverna and protect his dear acquaintance. Riverna was seen as a lost cause, quickly occupied by enemy soldiers and abandoned by the Kingdom of Lapis. Rein decided to abandon his station and take back Riverna on his own. He went through the enemy forces as a one-man army, cutting a pathway of blood toward the Riverna estate.”

Rui brought Tsukasa to stand back upright in order to show him his palm, cutting an imaginary slice into it with his finger. The blood used to form his amulet. The blood that could kill him if he so much as swallowed a drop.

“Rein infiltrated the estate, but the prior pandemonium he caused was not left unnoticed by the soldiers stationed there. The prisoners of the estate were brought out to face their potential savior, and Rein was left to make a choice. He was to either give up his life to save Lady Nodestar and the Duke, or fight his way through all of them. Which do you think he chose, Tsukasa?”

For a story built up like one of tragedy, Tsukasa could only assume it could end in thus. “Did Sir Frostheart give up his life only for the enemy soldiers to go back on their word?”

Rui looked at Tsukasa with an almost pitiful smile. “Does Tsukasa truly think it’d be that easy for Rein to deny his nature? A man built only to destroy giving up his whole purpose in life just to save a woman who supposedly loved him? The man did not go down without a fight and no one made it out of that estate alive.”

Tsukasa’s brow furrowed. The story ended up outdoing even his own version of a tragic ending. He should’ve expected the history of the novel he was trapped in to be angsty.

“The building is still currently frozen in time and is a popular tourist attraction in Ossidia, which is what the rebuilt territory of Riverna was named-”

“Wait, wait, wait, don’t just gloss over that ending! What exactly happened? How did Krista react? Did Rein not love her back?”

“Heh, so Tsukasa has a vested interest in the ending of the story?” Rui teased. “I wasn’t kidding about punishing you earlier, Tsukasa. I’ll tell you the ending at a later time.”


“Good things come to those who are patient, Mama~” Rui winked cheekily, opening the bathroom door that was finally fixed. What Tsukasa wouldn’t give for the door to conveniently break again, just so Rui wouldn’t look so smug in making his escape. “Would Tsukasa care to join me?”

“Go! Bathe now!”

“Mama is so bossy,” Rui sighed woefully. “I did give you a hint as to how it ended. Although no spoilers, Tom will let me know if you try to look up the ending on your own.”

“Isn’t the story in our textbook, you can’t stop me from studying!”

“It’s not, because it’s an artistic rendition of the historical event. No peeking in the library!” Rui then hid away in the bathroom as Tsukasa fell back on the bed, wondering what caused his roommate to only grow more infuriating by the day.


Tsukasa: i can't be a hom*osexual I don't know what that means

My friend Jenjen came up with another masterpiece about baby ruikasa on Tsukasa's bday, You are always with me in the life I lead

Chapter 13


Tsukasa visits Saki with some friends.


I’m doing a small segment where I mention one trivia fact about the fic. First one, Tom’s name is short for peeping Tom, thanks for coming to my TedTalk.

warning: some shiho/saki friendship, plot development, bimbo tsukasa forgetting he's in a different world

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The weekend was approaching and Tsukasa was wrapping up with packing his necessary belongings. Even if it’s only been a week since they last met, it felt far longer and Tsukasa was looking forward to seeing Saki again. Besides, there was only so much information that could be relayed through their daily letters.

Rui was sulking from the edge of his bed, watching his roommate prepare to abandon him for two days. Was this what it was like being watched by your pet when they sensed you were about to leave the house without them?

“I’m sorry, Rui. I would have liked to extend the invitation but it’s been a while since Saki’s had company and I’m sure that Shiho alone would be enough excitement for her. I don’t want to do anything to upset her health while she’s still in the process of recovering.”

Saki was set to attend school in a month once she’s fully recuperated. She was a special case, born with mana levels of a nearly A-level mage but with underdeveloped control to contain it. It resulted in an adverse reaction at a young age and weakened Saki’s constitution, like her body was fighting itself. It was an incredibly unfortunate situation where it showed even the gift of strong magic acted as a double-edged sword.

Rui was fidgeting with the pilfered knife he stubbornly continued to use in his sparring lessons. They didn't have time to sneak back out to town to use the forge between classes, so Tsukasa was secretly planning on buying Rui a sword while he had the chance. At least Rui had an actual sheath for his knife now, even if it was crudely fashioned from a leather glove.

As Tsukasa reached into his laundry hamper to fold his next shirt, Mr. Rabbit popped his head out from under the pile of clothes.

"Gah! What were you doing there?"

"It's warm and smells good in here," Mr. Rabbit reasoned, attempting to sink back into the freshly laundered clothes again. Instead, Tsukasa pulled the plush out and plopped him onto Rui's lap.

"Watch over your child, Rui! What if he had ended up in a washing machine?"

"My, Mama is so protective," Rui said as he patted Mr. Rabbit on his head. Earlier Tsukasa had taken care to gently wash Mr. Rabbit’s fur since Rui didn’t bother with even cleaning the bunny plush before integrating the automaton skeleton into it. Tsukasa didn’t know if automatons were fragile to water like electronics would be, and he had no desire to risk finding out. He had then mended the rips in the plushie with patchwork, which was meant to be a temporary fix until he could properly learn from his needlework elective.

Mr. Rabbit seemed elated at the repairs, however. Even if he did tear up from fear at first, as any child probably would at the sight of a needle, Mr. Rabbit ended up admiring the flowery patches that Tsukasa had cut from his silk handkerchiefs. Tsukasa wondered if the plush had then taken refuge in the laundry hamper to warm up after his bath.

"What is Mama doing?" The bunny plush asked innocently, joining Rui in watching Tsukasa diligently fold clothes.

"Convince Mama not to leave us, Mr. Rabbit," Rui whined sadly, doing his best to look pitiful as he clutched Mr. Rabbit to his chest. Unfortunately, he was succeeding.

"Why is Mama leaving?"

"Mama doesn't love us enough to stay," Rui fake sobbed, crocodile tears glittering in his eyes.

“Nooo, Mama, I’ll be good. I won’t sleep in the laundry again, so don’t leave…” Like inventor, like invention, the bunny plush turned on the waterworks as well. What was with this combined crying combo?! How was this fair?

“Don’t lie to him! I’m leaving to visit my sister!” Tsukasa cut in, not about to let this stand.

“And we’re not allowed to join, so technically Tsukasa is indeed abandoning us,” Rui mourned, and the pair went right back to sobbing. Tsukasa even heard somber beeping from overhead and looked up to find Tom floating listlessly. Was it even possible to float sadly?

“Only for two days! And then I’ll be right back here! Rui stop exaggerating, you’re upsetting the kids!”

Rui fell back onto the bed, kicking his feet as though to prove he was a kid himself. If only all those knights he had slaughtered in cold blood could see him now.

Clearly nothing would appease Rui short of putting him in his pocket and bringing him along, so Tsukasa pointedly did not look back at the three crying children he shared his room with as he finished his chores. He had to put his foot down, or who knew what else they could get away with with the power of their devastating tears?

“Alright, fine! Tom can come but he needs to be on his best behavior!” Tsukasa folded like wet paper. Tom beeped triumphantly and flitted excitedly overhead.

“Ehh? This is blatant favoritism!” Rui sat back up, still clutching Mr. Rabbit to his chest indignantly.

“I wanna come too, Mama!’ Mr. Rabbit called out shamelessly, waving his arms as though Tsukasa would miss his presence otherwise.

“That’s because I can trust Tom to behave,” Tsukasa put bluntly to Rui as he stuffed a change of clothes into his luggage bag. The carriage would be coming to pick up Shiho and him early tomorrow morning and he planned on having everything prepared so he wouldn’t be rushing when he woke up. And he would definitely be rushing because Rui tended to be a bed octopus that wouldn’t let him get up until the last possible minute. “Can you stay here with Rui, Mr. Rabbit? I need someone to watch over him and make sure he eats properly.”

Now Tsukasa knew that Rui was fully capable of looking after himself, but that in no way meant Tsukasa trusted that Rui would be making healthy choices. That was still a work in progress, not to mention Rui had somehow successfully evaded eating every vegetable Tsukasa had attempted to hand-feed him.

“Alright, stop sulking now, you two. Are you ready for bed?”

Mr. Rabbit didn’t seem at all appeased at being delegated as Rui’s overseer, while Rui pouted at there being a need for him to have an overseer at all. Did he really have to incentivize Rui's invention to look after his master?

"Come now, Mr. Rabbit. M-mama will make sure to get you something very tasty if you help me out!” Tsukasa bargained. He couldn’t say if this was the right way to raise a child, but no one was around to argue with his parenting.

“Tasty?” Mr. Rabbit tilted his head cutely.

“Yup, now bring Rui along, we’re going to sleep.”

“But Tsukasaaaa,” Rui moaned, but he still obediently moved when Tsukasa nudged him over to settle under the covers of the bed.

“G'night Rui, turn the lights off when you’re ready.”

Rui joined Tsukasa under the duvet and cut the lights with a snap, allowing neither action to interrupt his sob fest. Tsukasa allowed for the dramatic boy to bury his face into his neck and cling to him like the bed octopus he was, since he knew Rui would be deprived of it for the next two days.

Both Rui and Mr. Rabbit saw him off to his carriage.

“I will miss Mama,” Mr. Rabbit said sadly, his ears drooping. He was hidden in Rui’s front coat pocket, appearing innocuous enough to be perceived as a normal bunny plush.

Some servants were aiding in loading other students’ luggage into their respective carriages. Rui had kindly loaded Tsukasa’s luggage onto the back of the carriage for him, but was now holding him in a tearful embrace with no sign of intending to let Tsukasa go.

“Rui. Rui. Rui!” Tsukasa had been calling out Rui’s name for a while now, patting his back as though he were settling an upset child. Some of Rui’s shamelessness must be rubbing off on him, since Tsukasa’s stopped caring as much about the odd stares from nearby students also heading home. “You’re too old to be acting like this.”

“Don’t leave,” Rui pouted, having given up on his convoluted reasonings and resorted to bluntly begging.

“I’ll be back!” Tsukasa reassured, reiterating for the umpteenth time.

“I don’t think I’ll last if I’m away from you for long.”

“What do you mean? Don’t be dramatic, Mr. Rabbit will keep you company. Here, why don’t I send you letters like I did with Saki?”

“As long as you mail yourself here along with them.”

“What ridiculous things are you saying now?” Tsukasa looked up when he heard someone clearing their voice. “Ah, Shiho! Apologizes, how long have you been waiting for us?”

Shiho stood awkwardly while adjusting the strap of her tote bag. “It’s fine. May I load this into the back?”

Tsukasa looked to his roommate who made no move to offer to take the bag for Shiho. Rui, where is your chivalry? “Yes, of course. Should I take that for you?”

“No, I got it. You seem busy,” Shiho declined and walked toward the carriage trunk.

Ugh, it wasn’t as though Shiho hadn’t seen the two of them in a compromising position before. Their initial encounter was arguably worse.

The carriage driver then approached Tsukasa, blinking once at how he was unapologetically wrapped up in the embrace of another man. “Sir Tenma, should I prepare for departure?”

“Yes, please do!” Tsukasa wriggled out of Rui’s embrace, finally reaching his limit of brazenness. Rui let him escape, his arms not tightening in the slightest. Tsukasa wondered if Rui had his hold loose enough for Tsukasa to escape at any time, but that would bring up the question of how much of the hug was Tsukasa also not wanting to let go. Tsukasa decided not to think too deeply about it.

The driver opened the door to the carriage for Shiho to step in first. Before Tsukasa stepped on as well, Rui looped a pinky around his own.

“Tsukasa, if there was ever a time where you couldn’t come back to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to go to you instead.”

“My knight in shining armor,” Tsukasa teased, maneuvering his hand to give Rui’s a squeeze. “I’ll see you soon. Be good for me, okay?”

Rui sighed and brought Tsukasa into a full-bodied embrace. “You make it so hard to let you go.”

“Everyone’s been waiting long enough for us. At this rate the weekend will be over before we finish saying goodbye!”


Tsukasa pinched the back of Rui’s hand. “Not good!”

Rui pulled back with a wobbly smile on his face. Ugh, don’t start crying again, Tsukasa wasn’t sure he could take it! For Saki, he had to think of Saki’s health!

“Return to me,” Rui said softly, but it was as strong as any demand.

“I will.”

Tsukasa finally entered the carriage, noting Shiho had considerately stared out the window in the opposite direction for the whole duration of Rui’s heartfelt farewell.

“Sorry for the wait. Shall we set off?” Tsukasa decided to act casual.

Shiho nodded, more than happy to gloss over what had occurred, and Tsukasa gestured to the carriage driver to embark.

“How lucky that your training was delayed to next weekend! Saki is extremely excited to see you, I heard that you two started corresponding again!”

Shiho appeared slightly flustered. “Yes, the timing lined up with Sir Shiraishi’s return, so the rescheduled training session will be held with him instead. Saki immediately reached out to me once you told her that you invited me to visit. She suggested that I come by this weekend instead.”

Ah, so the knights’ sparring instructor would be arriving next week. Tsukasa wondered if class would become more or less brutal with Ken Shiraishi back. Akito would be no doubt ecstatic to have the distinguished knight’s tutelage.

"Well, I'm sure you two will have a lot to catch up on!”

Shiho glanced downward, her expression bordering on apprehensive. “We do.”

Tsukasa sensed that the other didn’t have much interest in talking further on the topic, and switched over to questioning how she was doing in classes and what elective she had chosen. Unsurprisingly enough, she had decided on a music-oriented elective. Saki had mentioned that she and some of her other friends had composed music together. Shiho was practiced in the lute, which she happened to pack with her as well.

Soon enough they reached their destination, the carriage driver opening the door for them to step out. Both of them disembarked from their ride, but Shiho seemed to hesitate by the carriage even as Tsukasa approached the door of the Tenma cottage to knock.

Saki barged out before Tsukasa’s knuckles could even rap on the door, crashing into her brother’s arms. She must have noticed the carriage arriving and raced for the door.


“Saki! Careful, careful, I missed you too,” Tsukasa returned her eager hug, setting her down after giving her a big squeeze.

Saki gave him a sweet grin before peeking over his shoulder. Shiho still lingered by the carriage, standing frozen when she made eye contact with her old friend.

“Shiho!” Saki unhesitatingly ran over to cling to the other girl’s neck, tears starting to stream down her face. “It’s been so long, I missed you dearly.”

“S-saki,” Shiho fumbled, clearly not expecting such a warm greeting. Her arms encircled Saki when she realized the other wasn’t intending on letting go anytime soon.

“C’mon Saki, let’s go inside and serve our guest some tea.”

When Saki made no move to dislodge herself, Shiho sighed and lifted Saki to carry her inside. Had Saki secretly been taking lessons from Rui on clinginess? Then again it’s been a while since the friends had been together, so Tsukasa let it go.

The three of them settled around a coffee table inside the homely cottage, Tsukasa taking a seat across the girls. A maid walked in with snacks and freshly brewed tea, likely prepared with the knowledge that company would be joining them. Saki insisted on preparing Shiho’s tea for her, pouring in what seemed to be way too much sugar into the cup and handing it over to Shiho triumphantly.

“You still like it sweet, right, Shiho?”

Shiho blushed when taking the cup, but brooked no argument as she took a sip.

“Where's Rui?” Saki asked.

“Ah, I didn't want to overstress you with too much company so I asked him to come by next time.”

“You worry too much, Brother! Aww, I really wanted to meet him!” Saki lamented. Shiho took a look at her face and offered her a sugar cookie. The girl took a bite while sulking.

It was so wholesome seeing the two of them rekindle their friendship so quickly. “Rui really made it a trial to make it here. He’s eager to meet you too.”

“Hehe, I’m sure he made it difficult for you to leave,” Saki giggled after fully chewing her bite of cookie. “It sounds like he’s really attached to you. Aren’t you worried too about leaving him by himself?”

Ugh, Saki was bringing up his late-night ramblings about Rui from their letters. Tsukasa tended to go on delirious tangents while waiting for Rui to prepare for bed and said roommate was a popular topic. “H-he’s fully capable of taking care of himself.”

“I think you were specifically worried about him getting into trouble. But then again, is it true that it was your idea to sneak into the city in between classes?”

Shiho looked taken aback by the shared piece of information. “You did? How’d you make it to town and back so quickly?”

“Er, um, well Rui knew a shortcut there. We went out to try and buy him a sword, but got into a bit of an altercation.”

Saki gasped, “Someone tried to rob you? Oh, Brother, you know you have to be careful when you go out. Don’t you remember last time?”

No, Tsukasa did not remember last time. He tried to look sufficiently reprimanded as he continued with his story. “It wasn’t me who was threatened, but Rui. He was holding my satchel for me.”

“Does your satchel have your family crest on it? Don’t you remember those kidnappers from years ago were a part of that criminal guild that targeted nobility?”

Hold on, Book Tsukasa was kidnapped when he was younger?! “Er, maybe the trauma made me forget a few details?”

Saki shook her head in dismay. “Even if you’re trained up as a great knight, it won’t be fair if you’re taken by surprise by a group of unknown assailants. Our parents had sent a bounty out for the criminal guild but no one’s been able to track them down. That's why we have wards around the house and trained servants. Please be more wary, Brother.”

Tsuaksa’s feigned guilt was becoming quite real. “Right, I’ll make sure to keep that in mind, Saki. On that note, would you and Shiho like to join me out in town tomorrow?”

Saki still looked troubled but looked to Shiho before confirming. “I’m sure it’ll be fine if we bring along Nina and Georgio,” The maid standing in the corner of the room nodded in acknowledgment.

So their servants doubled as bodyguards? Tsukasa guessed it was nice that his parents cared about their children’s safety to some extent to hire them.

“So then how did the two of you escape? Were you hurt at all?” Saki jumped back onto their tangent.

“No, we were fine. Rui is really powerful so he would’ve been able to handle the situation on his own, but I ended up, um,” Tsukasa coughed, recalling that he had panicked to an almost embarrassing extent that day, not at all used to seeing his friend being threatened. “Blowing them away with magic.”

“Wow, you fended them off with magic, Brother?” Saki jumped in excitement, fully engaged in the retelling. “I bet you were really heroic! I want to know the full story!”

Tsukasa could trust Saki to be excited about even the small daily going-ons of his school life. For the sake of his sister, he decided to start from the beginning, adding flourishes to the story that had Saki gasping and on the edge of her seat. Even Shiho seemed intrigued as Tsukasa explained how Rui had forged a sword for the first time.

“You broke into a forge?”

“Right? That boy never listens to me, my cortisol levels have never been higher.”


“I meant stress,” Oops, slip of the tongue. Tsukasa had to constantly remind himself to keep contemporary mannerisms out of his speech. “Rui ended up not making the sword durable enough and broke it.”

“That’s a shame. Are you planning on going out to buy a sword for Rui this time then?”

“Exactly. Make sure to keep this a secret from him, Rui is really against me buying things for him.”

“I want to help find gifts for the boy who’s been looking out for my brother too,” Saki grinned, pumping her fists in excitement for their future excursion. “And for Shiho too!”

“Y-you don’t have to get me anything-”

“Hush! We’re going to have lots of fun together! Let’s buy a bunch of snacks and look at all the cute clothes together. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a good enough condition to go out!”

Saki left no room for debate. Shiho accepted her fate with a resigned smile.

“It’s not like Rui can refuse a gift from his roommate’s beloved sister. Good thinking!” Tsukasa praised. “Oh, one more thing!”

Tsukasa gestured for Tom to drop his invisibility, causing Shiho to let out a noise of surprise while Saki shrieked excitedly.

“How adorable! Is that Tom?”

Tsukasa nodded in answer as Tom bobbed down to greet both girls. Shiho looked troubled by Tom’s appearance.

“I wasn’t able to sense him at all… He was also in the carriage the whole way here?”

“Oh right, sorry about that. We’ve been telling Tom to only appear if it’s only Rui or me in the room since the academy sees automatons as distractions and confiscates them. Rui built Tom with stealth in mind. He uses minimal mana to stay invisible so it’s difficult to detect him via magic use. Sometimes even I forget that he’s around,” Tsukasa explained, hoping Shiho didn’t feel too bad about her inability to detect Tom.

“I see, it looks like I have a lot to learn,” Shiho said, dissatisfied. She then stood from the settee she shared with Saki. “Do you mind sparring with me, Tsukasa?”

“M-me?” Tsukasa also stood from his seat. “I’m sure you’re leagues ahead of me, Shiho. Don’t feel too troubled about not noticing Tom, it’s also my fault for not mentioning him.”

“It’s not that, I’d just like to get some practice in,” Shiho murmured. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea to be exposed to different fighting styles, either.”

How did Tsukasa say that the best way to describe his style was “desperately not wanting to get hurt”?

Saki’s eyes flashed concern at Shiho’s shift in mood but then shot them both a reassuring smile. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea. This way you two can work up an appetite before dinner!”

Tsukasa wondered if it would be a cop-out to bring up that he had only sparred with one person who had never unsheathed their sword for any of their practices. “Please go easy on me, Shiho.”

Shiho also started to look unsure with Tsukasa’s hesitation. “If you’re really that against it, then we don’t have to.”

Argh, step up Tsukasa! For your sister’s friend! Tsukasa took a steadying breath, “No, no, you’re right. It’ll be good practice.” Tsukasa thrust a fist to the ceiling. “To not losing any limbs!”

Shiho looked the opposite of mollified but followed behind Tsukasa, who led them out to the practice field behind the cottage. Saki took her customary seat next to the window to casually watch the two of them.

Shiho approached a small shed in the corner of the field, opening the door to pull down two wooden practice swords hanging from the wall. Tsukasa’s jaw dropped.

“We had those the whole time?!”

Shiho glanced at him as though he had just appeared out of thin air like Tom just did. “...Yes? We practiced with them when we were younger?”

Tsukasa cleared his throat. “Ah, yes, of course. Must have slipped my mind since we haven’t been able to use them during sparring classes in the Academy.”

“Nothing beats getting the feel of wielding the sword that you’ll be using in the field. Besides, this is just a casual bout,” Shiho tossed Tsukasa the other practice sword and took a stance across from him. Tsukasa followed her example, standing confidently the way Akito had unrelentingly drilled into him.

Shiho took the first move, stepping forward quickly to throw an obvious swing at Tsukasa. She must be telegraphing her moves to start off easy. Tsukasa dodged so he could retaliate with a jab of his own. Akito had mentioned that it was best for Tsukasa to go on the offensive and end the battle quickly, for the sake of his pitiful endurance. He needed to rely on his speed, and one of the key elements was to dodge rather than block so his sword was free to counterattack.

Shiho easily dodged as well, taking a few steps back. “Your style changed, Tsukasa. It’s a lot faster.”

Tsukasa pushed forward, catching Shiho by surprise with several more quick jousts. She mixed in blocks with dodging the blows, likely not expecting Tsukasa to take the offensive. Shiho recovered from her shock quickly however, matching Tsukasa’s speed and then overcoming it. Tsukasa soon found himself forced to take the defensive and block the other’s swings, unable to dodge and stepping backward with each smack against his wooden sword. His arms rattled with each blow. Shiho’s power and speed were far above his league. Royal Guard candidates were no joke! Thank the goddess they weren’t using real swords right now.

When Shiho’s next attack nearly dislodged the sword from his grip, Tsukasa found himself compensating by pushing back with all his strength. And then some.

Suddenly Shiho was blown back, nearly tripping backward but stopped by slamming back-first into a tree trunk. Tsukasa dropped his sword in shock as he ran over.

“Oh Gods, Shiho! I’m sorry, are you alright?-”

“Why’d you drop your sword, we weren’t done!” Shiho raised her voice, pointing her sword at Tsukasa accusingly. She then took a breath to collect herself. “Sorry. Thank you for the fight. I concede.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to use magic there. There’s a lot of things I don’t have a handle on,” Tsukasa apologized. “You were still standing, and I tossed my sword down, I obviously conceded first.”

“You don’t need to argue logistics about the winner for this, Tsukasa. It was just practice,” Shiho sighed, walking off to grab Tsukasa’s abandoned sword. “You’ve shown me that there are several things I lack. It was a good learning experience.”

“Like what? That your opponent might cheat and use magic on you?”

Shiho was too late to muffle her scoff behind her hand. Oh, the habits of sassy teenagers. Tsukasa could at least appreciate the effort of her trying to be polite. “It’s a very real possibility in the field. There are no rules when you’re facing a monster on a mission.”

“Shiho, are you alright?!” Saki approached them at a brisk pace, likely seeing the majority of what went down from the window. She was panting as she clutched at Shiho’s arms.

“I’m fine, Saki. Sorry to worry you.”

“That scared me! Is this really what you have to go through every day at the academy?” Saki’s voice was pitched with an edge of panic. Shiho glanced over to Tsukasa in alarm, lost for words.

“Saki, calm down first! Take a breath. It’s not that bad at the academy!” A lie. “We take other precautions there so there’s no need to worry,” Omission of truth.

Saki looked between Shiho and her brother, not looking convinced but accepting Tsukasa’s excuse for now. Tsukasa counted his lucky stars that, when all else failed, Saki defaulted to trusting in her older brother’s word.

“Well, you two are on break from the academy right now, so let’s go back inside and just relax. You can practice all you want later,” Saki stated, with no objections coming from either knight-in-training.

The trio started to head back inside, but Tsukasa’s foot got caught on a root, causing him to trip with a yelp. Shiho pivoted and shot out her hands to save Tsukasa from face-planting into the dirt.

“Thank you, Shiho! I apologize, how clumsy of me-”

Suddenly Shiho swiveled her head, scanning the mass of trees surrounding their yard.

“Um, is something the matter?” Tsukasa asked, trying not to wince at his savior’s suddenly stronger grip.

“No, it may just be paranoia,” Shiho set Tsukasa back upright.

Tsukasa turned to look as well, hoping to catch whatever Shiho saw in the foliage. He had a feeling Shiho didn’t sense nothing. Tom appeared overhead, beeping excitedly as he zoomed back into the house.

“Well, Tom seems eager to get back inside. Oh, I can get started on dinner!” Tsukasa suggested. “Why don’t you and Saki take some time to catch up?”

“You can cook, Tsukasa?”

“That’s right, Shiho! Brother’s food is so tasty, you’ll love it! You can unpack all your stuff in my room and we can have a sleepover like we used to!” Saki joyously grabbed Shiho’s hand. The other girl couldn’t help her blush.

“I don’t want to intrude, I can take the guest bedroom-”

“Nonsense! No objections are being accepted at this time! Let’s go!” Saki charged forward, dragging behind her the knight-in-training who could easily overpower her but followed her whims anyway.

Tsukasa smiled at the girls' antics, and then directed himself to the kitchen. The maids took a glance at him entering and cleared out, knowing by now that Tsukasa commandeered the kitchen when he wanted to cook. It wasn't that he was bossy or made a huge mess! Well, maybe a little, but the kitchen was so big and nice! It'd be a waste to not utilize everything.

There were a surprising number of conveniences when cooking with magic. The stovetops and ovens heated instantly to the desired temperature, so Tsukasa didn't have to bother with preheating anything. Water boiled instantly, knives could chop food by themselves, and sinks could wash vegetables all on their own.

Indeed, if Tsukasa really wanted, he could just let the food cook itself without having to lift a finger. But getting to cook with his own hands that he could share and bring joy to someone precious, like Saki, was rewarding in a way he's never experienced before. He always had to cook food for himself when he lived on his own. Having this opportunity now really was a blessing in disguise. Tsukasa had experienced the full gamut of emotions while in this world, but he can say that he's never felt lonely here.

"Rui can you pass me that-" Tsukasa turned to search for a looming figure that was utterly absent. Oh, he blushed to himself. At least he slipped up in only the presence of Tom. Speaking of said robot, Tom flew over with a floating loaf of bread Tsukasa had meant to ask for.

"Thank you Tom, you're the perfect helper," Tsukasa thanked the floating robot with a smile. "You don't cling to me and keep me from working or demand that I give you attention all the time. It's very peaceful," He muttered to himself. It's only been several hours, he and Rui have been apart for longer due to classes. He can't be missing him already, that would be ridiculous.

Tsukasa refocused on cleaning and chopping the vegetables and mushrooms. He planned on making Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and broccoli, which Saki and Shiho would hopefully enjoy. He had taken the time last week to make sauces that mimicked ketchup and mustard, which he stored in jars. Tsukasa didn't think it would take so long to boil down the tomato sauce to get it to thicken into ketchup. He was lucky there was an appliance similar to a blender to help him get the smooth consistency of the sauce.

As Tsukasa formed the patties, he found his mind wandering back to Rui. He was eating now too, right? Tsukasa would've liked for Rui to try some of his home cooking too. Maybe he should bring him something to try when he went back.

After taste-testing the gravy and deeming it ready, Tsukasa plated the food. The maids came back in to help clean the kitchen and bring out the completed dishes. Tsukasa called down for Saki and Shiho to join him at the table.

"Oh, Nina and Georgio, would you like to try some as well?" Tsukasa offered to the two maids about to head out of the dining room.

"We couldn't possibly, young master," Nina shook her head. Georgio hesitated slightly before following Nina's lead in refusing.

"I see, it would be a shame if the other plates I made went to waste. Can I leave it up to you to see to them getting cleaned up before dinner ends?" Tsukasa hoped he wasn't being too subtle about wanting to share the meal. There was probably some strange rule about nobility not dining with "lowly servants" but it seemed ridiculous when none of the nobles present cared about upholding it. It would be a worse travesty if the food he cooked went cold. Tsukasa bowed a quick farewell, which left the maids in shock. Oh no, he was messing up his etiquette, wasn't he? Hoping to not make a big deal about his mishap, Tsukasa booked it to the table as the other girls arrived.

"Brother, it looks amazing!" Saki admired the set table. Before she took a seat, Shiho pulled out her chair for her. How chivalrous! Saki giggled a thank you to her friend.

Shiho mumbled a quick assent as she seated herself as well. Saki immediately dug in once her friend had joined them and made happy noises as she chewed. Shiho wasn't as eager to take the first bite, quickly glancing over at Tsukasa as she lifted a piece to her mouth. Tsukasa gave her a smile, hoping that would encourage her to eat. She placed the bite in her mouth and her face contorted into shock as she chewed. That was a strange reaction to his food.

"It's good?!"


"Shiho, why are you so surprised? I told you Brother's cooking would be good!" Saki lightly reprimanded. "It's so flavorful and savory! What kind of dish is this, Brother?"

"It's Salisbury Steak, it's from a cookbook I saw in the library," Tsukasa said on the fly.

Shiho quietly took more bites of the steak. Tsukasa took Shiho finishing her plate before even Saki did as the best compliment.

“Thank you for the meal, Tsukasa,” Shiho said once her plate was scraped clean. “It was delicious. I wouldn’t mind having it again.” It was high praise from someone as unforthcoming as her. Tsukasa nodded and promised to make it again before they headed back to the academy.

Georgio came in to clear the table as everyone stood to soon turn in for the night. “The kitchen was cleaned as well. Thank you, young master,” Georgio bowed to Tsukasa, who took it to imply that the maids were able to enjoy the plates he made for them.

“I’m glad! Thank you for taking care of that for me.”

“Of course, you’re too kind, young master,” Georgio bowed again more deeply, her voice suddenly becoming watery. “You’ve become so gracious and hard-working. There really was no need to be worried about the young master.”

“Uh right, of course. I appreciate your concern,” Tsukasa was unsure if he should console the emotional maid. “If this is about that kidnapping incident from before, I promise to be more vigilant when going out.”

Georgio shook her head, then grasped Tsukasa’s hand in hers with an earnest expression. “We will make sure that nothing bad will befall you or the young miss and her friend tomorrow! Please enjoy yourselves!”

“Thank you, Georgio. Please extend my thanks to Nina as well,” Tsukasa patted Georgio’s hands. The maid tearfully bowed several more times before letting Tsukasa go to his room. Tsukasa didn’t realize how dedicated the Tenma’s servants were to their young liege. How much stress had Book Tsukasa put them through for them to be so shocked about him cooking and being a decent host?

Tsukasa washed up and retreated to his room, Tom flying past him to check out the change in environment. His bed was larger than the one he had in his dorm, and arguably more comfortable. He flopped on, more tired than he expected from the day. He wasn’t expecting this much insight into his book-equivalent character. At least Saki seemed healthy and happy about reconnecting with Shiho.

Tom hovered over to pull the duvet over Tsukasa’s prone body. Tsukasa gave a muffled thanks that was obscured by his pillow. He missed the feeling of stretching out his limbs on the mattress. He was too used to being restricted when he was lying in bed. Surely he was in for a restful night.

Correction, he was not. Tsukasa woke up several times throughout the night, eyes blinking open to the slightest ambient sounds. Tree branches near the house scratching at the window. Nocturnal animals moving outside rustled the greenery. The hum of mana core-controlled air conditioning. Tom gave a concerned beep when Tsukasa tossed in his bed, trying to get comfortable again. He was spread-eagled and loose-limbed but never felt more constricted. Was it too cold? He rubbed at his arms that lacked goosebumps. He wasn’t cold, so what was wrong?

At some point in the night, Tsukasa finally drifted off. A familiar weight was cuddled against him, and Tsukasa found himself unconsciously moving in closer, rubbing his nose into sweet, burning petrichor.


I wonder what/who tsukasa is cuddling, a mystery

click You are always with me in the life I lead for a cute sad time
click can’t taste the bitter, the sweet, or anything for a horny R18 time

Chapter 14


The girls go shopping (Tsukasa is one of the girls)


Trivia #2: Tsukasa knows about Tom’s camera but doesn’t know that Rui looks through all the footage Tom records, religiously

warning: mentions of cannibalism

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Tsukasa woke up upon realizing that he should be alone in bed. He would have hollered if it weren’t for the broad hand resting over his mouth.

“You don’t want to wake up the whole house, do you?” Rui shushed him.

Tsukasa slapped away Rui’s hand. “How’d you get in? What about the wards?”

“There were wards?” Rui asked, faking curiosity. Leave it to him to effortlessly barge through high-end security magic. “Let me reset them for you, Tsukasa! I can reinforce them.”

“Answer my other question first!” Tsukasa angrily whispered.

“Ehh, Tsukasa doesn’t seem happy in the slightest to see me. I even snuck in here because I saw that you were having trouble falling asleep.”

Tsukasa looked around to find that both the window and door were closed. For all that Tsukasa knew, Rui could’ve just directly teleported into his bed. “How’d you even get here?”

“By foot.”

Tsukasa rolled his eyes and flipped over in the bed so he didn’t have to look at his insane friend. “I told you to stay at the academy…"

"I tried but I missed you."

“So instead you followed the carriage here?”

“I didn’t, I tried to stay in the dorm for a while!” Tsukasa could hear Rui pouting without even looking. When Tom beeped at them from the side of the bed, Tsukasa realized that Rui could’ve used the robot to trace him here at any time.

“Sir Hinomori almost noticed me,” Rui mentioned.

“You mean when I tripped? That was you? You were already here since then?”

“I got a bit riled up seeing her touch you when I couldn’t.”

“Because I tripped!”

“Console me, Tsukasa. I was lonely. I nearly hugged you when you called for me while you were cooking.”

“Rui, look. I know this is typical behavior for you, but Saki, Shiho, and the maids would freak out if they saw that you snuck in here!” Tsukasa turned back in the bed to reprimand him. Rui didn’t even bother to look pitiful, his face melting into a pure smile of joy as they were now face to face.

“I missed you, Tsukasa.”

“You’ve mentioned. Do you even understand that I’m disappointed in you?”

Rui finally looked a bit chastised. “I promise I won’t be a bother. I just want to be near you. I can stay untraceable for the rest of the weekend.”

Tsukasa sighed. “Did you get to eat dinner last night?”

“I knew Tsukasa would be upset if I didn’t eat so I brought food with me,” Rui reached for something on his side of the bed and pulled up a satchel. He then displayed the contents inside for Tsukasa to see.

“You brought Mr. Rabbit with you too?!” Said automaton was nestled at the bottom of the bag, gnawing on a stick of celery.

“Mama!” The bunny exclaimed, opening his stubby arms for Tsukasa to haul him out. Tsukasa groaned but acquiesced.

He gave Mr. Rabbit a hug as he stared at Rui with a strict expression. “You’re unbelievable. You have to go back.”

“Eh? No way! After we came all the way here to see you?” Rui sat up in dismay.

This was an issue Tsukasa had been in the process of realizing. Rui had become extremely attached to him, and Tsukasa reciprocated to an extent. However, they couldn’t be so dependent that they couldn’t even spend half a day away from each other. It wasn’t healthy! What were they going to do when they start getting sent away on missions? Besides, if Rui stayed here, how was Tsukasa going to be able to buy him a sword now?

“Haven’t you heard of the phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’?”

“That sounds like a curse,” Rui stated, perturbed.

“It’s not! Anyway, you can’t stay. I can’t just secretly feed you like you’re some stowaway on a ship, and I’m sure it would be incredibly lonely to have everyone ignoring you until nighttime when I turn in for the day.”

“I’m fine with just Tsukasa knowing that I’m here.”

“But I won’t be fine! My poker face is abysmal!”

“Poker face?”

Ugh, he slipped again. “I mean I’m bad at lying! Look, think of this as an important step in our friendship. We have to be able to live with being apart from each other. I think we’ll come out stronger if we do.”

Tsukasa had never seen Rui look more dubious of his words.

"What are we going to do when we actually have to be away from each other? And you can’t say that you’ll sneak in along with me, you have your own obligations as a student.”

“I’ll drop out.”

“NO!” Tsukasa cried out before slapping his hands over his own mouth. Even Rui seemed surprised by the outburst.

As Tsukasa feared, there was a knock on the door.

“Young master, is everything alright?”

Tsukasa looked over to where Rui sat in his bed, panicking, only for there to be no one in sight. Not even the satchel. Mr. Rabbit had buried himself underneath Tsukasa’s duvet.

“Everything’s fine, Nina! I think I was sleeptalking. Had a strange dream about…celery.”

“I see. When shall we depart for town, young master?”

“I’ll be out soon, give me half an hour!” Tsukasa answered and waited for the maid’s footsteps to leave. Rui then reappeared in front of him, contemplative.

“I wouldn’t really, Tsukasa. If I did, what would I do if you were assigned a different roommate?”

“That really shouldn’t be your first concern.”

“Tsukasa really wants me to leave?” Rui asked. Tsukasa really did feel bad about forcing Rui to leave by himself. He had helped Tsukasa to fall asleep last night. Tsukasa was even sending him off without any of his home-cooked food.

“I’m sorry Rui. I think it’s also for my own peace of mind. I need to know if you can be on your own for a bit,” Tsukasa also needed to know if he was capable of the same thing.

Rui looked at him silently, then reaches out for Tsukasa’s hand above the covers. Their fingers interlaced, and Tsukasa squeezed in silent apology.

“I will go back to the dorm if Tsukasa grants me a favor.”

Tsukasa blinked at Rui’s sudden decision to yield, then narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Rui-”

Rui held a finger in front of Tsukasa’s face, close enough that he had to cross his eyes to look at it. “I want to be allowed to hypnotize Tsukasa once. The time and place are my call. You don’t have to agree.”



Tsukasa took in a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling. In a way they were testing how much trust they had in each other. Maybe it was a terrible decision to entrust spontaneous autonomy of his body to the most powerful person on their plane of existence, but Tsukasa knew Rui would never do something to hurt him. Or at least intentionally. Tsukasa was about to regret this decision, wasn’t he?


After that, Rui set out to leave without further argument. Mr. Rabbit sobbed about having to leave Tsukasa again, but Tsukasa snuck him some fresh broccoli and carrots to munch on in Rui’s satchel. He would have to buy Mr. Rabbit a sufficient gift as well during his outing today.

Before Rui slipped out the window, he turned back to Tsukasa, a sly smile on his lips.

“Did Tsukasa miss me?”

Tsukasa sputtered at the shameless question. “What do you think?”

“Tsukasa never admitted it, but the answer is quite obvious, no? He couldn’t sleep without me and even called out my name when he knew I wasn’t with him.”

“Argh, you don’t have to repeat all of that, I know!” Tsukasa flushed, forced to reflect on the knowledge that Tom wasn’t the only one present for his faux pas.


“Yes, fine, I missed you too, you’re incorrigable!”

"I'll see you tomorrow, Tsukasa!" Rui grinned, waving as he fell backward out of the window. Tsukasa’s heart nearly leaped out of his chest. They were on the second floor! He raced to look out the window and watched Rui flip backward and land on his feet. Was he a cat?!

Rui hesitated, glancing down at the border of the house. He then looked up and gestured to it, then cupped his hands together to enclose the shape of a…heart? What was Tsukasa supposed to do? That kid was so embarrassing sometimes! Tsukasa made heart-hands back with a blush, which caused Rui to stare, and then double over in barely concealed giggles. Tsukasa could have stomped his foot in rage, didn't he just do the same thing seconds ago?

Rui then wiped imaginary tears from his eyes as he looked back up, mouthing the word "wards." Oh. Tsukasa could feel his face grow even hotter. Why didn't he just say that in the first place? That was so easy to misinterpret!

Tsukasa waved Rui on in a “go ahead” gesture. Rui nodded, pulling out his knife and making a cut along his palm. Drops of blood splashed onto the grass, activating a glowing blue array that illuminated the perimeter of the house. Tsukasa felt slightly alarmed, what if someone looked outside and saw?

Rui was quick to work, placing his hand on the spell circle that appeared, lips moving in an incantation that Tsukasa was too far away to overhear. This was one of the flashier examples of spellwork Tsukasa had been witness to during his time in this world. Hopefully the maids were too occupied with chores and rousing the girls to notice someone setting up new wards on their house. Rui worked quickly and the glow soon faded from his surroundings. He looked up at Tsukasa once he finished, an expectant look on his face. What did he want? For Tsukasa to praise him?

Rui cupped his hands again, this time clearly forming the outline of a heart. This brat!

A knock came on his door again, and Tsukasa was forced to act quickly. Tsukasa reluctantly returned the gesture with a sour look on his face, which didn’t dim Rui’s bright smile in the slightest. Rui waved goodbye and dashed off, his body flickering into thin air as though someone flipped a switch.

“Young Master?”

“Sorry for the delay, I’ll be down soon!” Tsukasa answered, scrambling for a change of clothes. Once he was washed up and dressed, he met with the others downstairs for breakfast.

“Morning! Did you two sleep well?” Tsukasa asked the girls.

“Yup, we slept great!” Saki answered, raring to go. Shiho let out a more muted hum of agreement, but she seemed palpably excited as well.

“It’s rare for you not to be the first one awake, Brother. Were you not able to fall asleep?” Saki’s expression then turned sly. “Were you up all night thinking about your roommate?”

“H-huh? What? Saki, that’s ridiculous!” Tsukasa’s voice went slightly shrill from how close to being accurate his sister was. “I just got too used to the bed I have in the dorm, is all.”

Despite Tsukasa’s denial, Saki didn’t lose her cheeky grin throughout breakfast. The three of them went outside to prepare to board the carriage, while the maids walked out in casual wear and leading horses. The maids would be riding alongside the carriage as they rode out into town.

The carriage driver opened the door for the three of them, Saki and Shiho taking one side as Tsukasa sat opposite of them.

"So what are you and Shiho interested in buying, Sister?" Tsukasa asked as Tom drifted in and landed beside him. Tsukasa let the automaton know to turn invisible once they arrived, to detract attention from themselves. They were already eye-catching enough with the flashy carriage and bodyguards.

"Shiho and I want to try out the fun pastry shop first, and then we'll look at the music store. Shiho wants to get some new strings. After that we can shop around for gifts!"

“Sounds like a plan. I think I’ll look around for Rui’s sword, I have a feeling it may take me a while. Do you want to meet up for lunch?”

“You don’t want to shop with us, Brother?”

“I’ll meet up with you later. You two have fun,” Tsukasa said in the face of Saki’s pout.

“Shouldn’t we stick together?” Shiho spoke up. “On account of security.”

“Oh, no need to worry, Georgio and Tom will accompany me. I’ll make sure to be cautious as well.” Tsukasa reassured the girls. He felt bad about them being so concerned for him, but he also wanted them to enjoy a day out together.

They arrived at a quaint, rustic town, lined with small shops and people casually browsing storefronts. There was not nearly as much glamour and liveliness as the other city Tsukasa had snuck into with Rui, but it may have also appeared that way due to him being on a time crunch. Tsukasa and the others had time to spare to shop around, so Tsukasa planned on using his time to the fullest. He parted from Saki and the others with a wave, heading to the nearest weapons shop as recommended by Georgio.

“The options may be more limited here, but the quality is unparalleled,” Georgio remarked. She was more of a weapons specialist out of the two maids and actually hid multiple armaments on her body at all times. Tsukasa was shocked when she showed him her sleeve of hidden throwing knives, only knowing about such things from spy movies and such. Tsukasa could only assume how many Georgio was hiding in total.

Georgio led to him to a well-kept shop named “Greystone”. Once Tsukasa entered, he saw a wide selection of weapons, more than he had initially expected. There were numerous blades of different sizes, shapes, and metals, such as the throwing knives Gerorgio had shown him, to huge longswords that only classic RPG characters could be able to wield. Rui was surely the type to find a way to use them, but Tsukasa decided to keep from choosing such a flashy weapon. Georgio pointed out some blades that may be good for a beginner like Rui to use, but Tsukasa didn’t know how to explain that Rui somehow became a prodigy in every field he dabbled in.

There were also atypical weapons like bows, hammers, guns, maces, gauntlets, whips, and staves. There was another section for spell-casters, who were more likely to use magic-enhancing staffs and wands. Did Rui even have use for a wand? He only needed the slightest hand gestures to perform any magic, and Tsukasa could admit it was super cool when Rui did it.

The shop owner greeted Georgio familiarly and welcomed Tsukasa to try out his wares. Tsukasa nodded appreciatively at the offer and took the opportunity to pick up a few swords. Quite a few of them were far heavier than he expected, one of the blades being so dense he could barely lift it at all. The shop owner remarked that that particular blade was forged from tungsten, which Tsukasa couldn’t imagine anyone using in a practical manner, besides a superhuman like Akito or Rui. He kept that thought to himself. There were a few other swords made from fancy, pretty materials that Tsukasa wasn’t sure was even metal. The shop owner explained that the weapons created from crystal, obsidian, and even dragon scale conducted magic, allowing wielders to add a secondary effect to the blade, such as paralysis or poison. Things really were shaping up to be like a video game now.

Georgio seemed to realize how overwhelmed Tsukasa was by his choices and motioned him over to the throwing knives again. “You mentioned your roommate is skilled in far-range combat as well, right? Why don’t you get him a sword and some knives, to strengthen his versatility?”

“Good idea, that’s very thoughtful, Georgio!” Tsukasa exclaimed. There was no need for Tsukasa to pick one perfect weapon; his family had the power to buy multiple things and Tsukasa could spoil Rui for choice!

Initially, Tsukasa had second thoughts about buying Rui a weapon behind his back. The boy had been so against Tsukasa spending money on him since he felt as though he owed Tsukasa for what he had stolen when they had first met. That occurrence had been a non-issue for Tsukasa, but maybe Rui had been wracked with guilt about it and felt determined all this time to find a way to pay him back. It would be a while before Rui would be able to graduate and earn a living, and Tsukasa didn’t want Rui harboring such a burden for the coming years until then.

But why should Tsukasa hold back if Rui wouldn’t? Rui was such a willful kid, doing whatever he wanted and never holding back in begging Tsukasa for affection. He had even followed Tsukasa all the way home because he couldn’t stand to be parted for a few hours. So what exactly was stopping Tsukasa from doing whatever he wanted? Tsukasa could buy every weapon in this particular shop if he wished because his parents were just that filthy rich. Besides, Rui could melt down every weapon Tsukasa got him and forge his own weapon from it if he wanted to. Not that Tsukasa thought he would, but Rui would surely find a use for whatever Tsukasa purchased. He wasn’t the type to let anything go to waste.

In the end, Tsukasa bought several throwing knives, a dragon scale blade, a one-handed Damascus steel sword, a standard steel longsword, and the tungsten sword, for fun. He may had gone overboard, but no one was here to argue with him against it. The shop owner thanked them profusely for their patronage and began wrapping up the weapons for them to pick up later.

The door to the weapons shop suddenly slammed open. In a flash, Georgio stepped in front of Tsukasa, her sleeves pulled down to hide that she was palming her throwing knives. Tsukasa peeked around the maid and immediately dread sunk into his stomach. The new arrival wasn’t a potential kidnapper but much worse, it was McGailan and his lackeys.

When McGailan caught sight of Tsukasa, he made a panicked glance around the store but didn’t seem to find what he was fearing. Immediately his arrogant sneer returned and he walked right up to where Tsukasa was standing.

Tsukasa was still reeling, what were they doing in this town? Granted, they weren’t very far from the academy, but what were the chances of them ending up in the same store at the same time? When McGailan actually got close enough to grab at Tsukasa’s shirt, Georgio immediately shot her hand out to slap McGailan’s hand away. McGailan let out an enraged squawk.

“What the hell, you wretched sow-”

“Please refrain from touching the young master,” Georgio stated in a low tone. Tsukasa had never seen the maid mad before, let alone so livid.

“Ha, so the great Tenma needs not only a lowly peasant but now some female servant to babysit him? How pathetic,” McGailan taunted, as though he weren’t the one unable to wander around without a hype team behind him. Some of his friends were even snickering as though he told a great joke.

Tsukasa however was pissed. He stepped around his maid and pointed angrily at McGailan, “So you think it’s ok to not only insult my best friend, but Georgio too, you classist, misogynistic, wretched excuse of a knight?”

McGailan looked befuddled at Tsukasa’s use of foreign terminology but picked up on the “wretched excuse of a knight” part of Tsukasa’s insult. “You’re so eager to pick a fight when you’re so obviously outmatched.”

Tsukasa snorted arrogantly like the rich, snobby young master he was born as, he could play this game all day. He had a knack for acting, theater being another hobby he enjoyed before he was forced to stop. “You’re right, I would just be punching down.”

“Why you F-class, weak piece of-”

Georgio wasn’t one to sit still as McGailan reached out for Tsukasa’s collar again, twisting McGailan’s arm back easily as though the boy wasn’t twice her size. “I have warned you before, Sir. Please vacate this establishment immediately.”

McGailan’s face flushed red in frustration at being bested twice by Tsukasa’s maid, wrenching his hand out of her grip. He turned as though he were making for the door, then swerved around like he was pulling some sort of feinting maneuver in football to charge at Tsukasa. Some of his friends even joined in, running toward Tsukasa as well. Georgio wasn’t having any of it, tripping the friends with quick kicks and grabbing the back of McGailan’s coat, scruffing him like an unruly cat, and then flipping him over and slamming him onto his back. Tsukasa winced at the harsh impact but he couldn’t say it wasn’t deserved.

“I’m not one to give a second warning, but I afforded you the chance as the young master’s acquaintance. However, my patience is quickly running thin." Georgio said ever so calmly.

McGailan groaned from the impact to his back, but he looked no less incensed. “You really need some servant to fight your battles for you, Tenma?

"Do I? When she's doing so well to take on a knight course student and his lackeys he can't leave home without?” Tsukasa sneered back. A small part of Tsukasa was telling him to try and make peace with the nobles, but the majority was screeching at him to be as bratty and stuck-up as possible. These were the type of people who made Rui's previous life a living hell. If Tsukasa took the brunt of it, that could be Rui's ticket to a peaceful school year. With Book Tsukasa’s frankly neglectful parents' money and status in his belt, he was already in a far better position to deal with it.

McGailan’s friends assisted him off the floor. McGailan hissed as he stood, then stared down Tsukasa with extreme animosity. Tsukasa couldn’t say he’s ever been the target of such a hateful look, but it was a small price to pay.

“I demand a duel from you, Tsukasa Tenma.” McGailan recovered his bravado.

Tsukasa huffed and crossed his arms, hoping the movement would hide his shaking. A one-on-one duel? Sure, McGailan was no match for Rui and Tsukasa’s maid, but he was still an A-class mage who was strong enough to have earned the respect of other nobles. Tsukasa was screwed. “Surely you don’t mean right now? I’m trying to actually enjoy my break, not be accosted by some ruffians.”

“Afraid now you don’t have anyone to protect you?” McGailan taunted.

“Maybe I just don’t think it’s worth my time playing around with nobles who reek of desperation.”

An angry vein throbbed from McGailan’s forehead. “Face me on the fair grounds of the academy. On my honor as a future knight, I, Forthe McGailan, demand a one-on-one duel with you, Tsukasa Tenma, no holds barred. When I emerge victorious, you will call off your damn peasant watchdog from bearing his fangs at us again.”

Hilarious that McGailan thought Tsukasa had any ability to control Rui. “How about when I win you leave us both alone?”

“We will face off in a fortnight, prepare to be humiliated,” McGailan then turned to stalk out of the shop, his entourage following behind him like little ducklings. Tsukasa let out a breath. He’s just done something incredibly stupid, hasn’t he? And why a fortnight? Doesn’t that mean two weeks from now, how was Tsukasa going to even remember that?

“Young master, if I may speak out of turn?”

Tsukasa nodded as Georgio continued, worriedly. “Those unruly children aren’t worth your time. Surely they wouldn’t uphold the rules of a duel.”

“It’s alright, Georgio, I’ll be careful. I wouldn’t be a proper knight if I didn’t accept his challenge,” But if McGailan happened to forget too, Tsukasa wasn’t keen about reminding the student about it.

“Oh, I wish I had shut down the situation sooner. If it was Nina, she wouldn’t have even bothered with a warning…” Georgio said, upset. Tsukasa was secretly glad that Georgio was the one who had accompanied him. This was likely the most peaceful outcome.

The store owner hadn’t spoken up during the dispute, likely due to not wanting to get in between two parties that were both nobility. Tsukasa apologized to the owner, who waved it off and thanked Tsukasa for finding a way to end it quickly without damage to his shop.

Tsukasa and Georgio left the shop, Georgio messaging the carriage driver to pick up the swords Tsukasa had selected through a magicked letter with wings. In order to avoid any unwanted interactions, he had Tom scope out their next destination before entering. Tsukasa decided to pick up a range of snacks and hair accessories for Saki and Shiho, candies to share with his academy friends, and a bowtie for Mr. Rabbit. Tsukasa wondered what to get for Tom, and could only think of the upgrades that Rui would want to give him. Maybe if he gave Rui money under the guise of allowance for Tom’s upgrades, Rui would accept it?

Tsukasa and Georgio decided on stopping by a drink shop to pick up several tea and coffee blends when he noticed Saki and Shiho standing at their chosen meeting point. Oh, was it already time for lunch? Time flew by when Tsukasa only had to worry about shopping. He walked a bit faster to meet up with the girls, a smile on his face until he realized that the two girls were awkwardly standing with a larger-than-normal gap between them. Nina stood by Saki with a conflicted look on her face. What exactly happened while he was gone?

Tsukasa greeted the girls, wondering if there was any way he should approach the situation. Saki however greeted Tsukasa as though everything was normal, latching onto Tsukasa’s arm and nearly dragging her brother into the cafe in her haste. Shiho reluctantly followed behind them while the maids decided to stay outside.

“How was shopping, Brother? Did you find everything you were looking for?” Saki asked, obviously keen on not addressing the elephant compressing the atmosphere. Saki had Tsukasa sit next to her at the cafe table, forcing Shiho to sit on the other. Tsukasa grew only more uncomfortable with the situation.

“Y-yeah, everything worked out alright,” Tsukasa answered. The grain of the wood table was extremely interesting at the moment. Was it mahogany? Probably not, Tsukasa didn’t know much about trees. Nor much about climbing them either. Now that he thought about it, hadn’t Mizuki said that they’d teach Tsukasa how to climb one?

Tsukasa glanced up to gauge Shiho’s mood, which appeared just as sullen as before. Saki kept a smile on her face, but her hands fidgeted with a napkin under the table. Things didn’t look great.

Tsukasa and Saki carried on a strained conversation until a waitress arrived to take their order. The siblings both ordered a lunch special, then the waitress turned to get Shiho’s order.

“Just a water, I’m not that hungry,” Shiho said.

“She’ll also have the lunch special and the biggest parfait on the dessert menu afterward!” Saki interjected before the waitress could walk away.

“Saki?!” Tsukasa exclaimed. Shiho was equally shocked. Saki puffed up her cheeks in a pout and stared down Shiho, as though daring her to refuse. Shiho seemed to deliberate, but in the end, turned away, resigned. The confused waitress looked between the two girls, and Tsukasa gave her an apologetic nod to finalize their order.

The group sat in awkward silence until the waitress came back with their drinks. Tsukasa could feel himself sweating, but he had a feeling he shouldn’t intervene in the girls’ stand-off.

“Geez, Saki. Don’t waste food like that. I said I wasn't hungry,” Shiho eventually muttered.

“Why don’t you want to meet up with Hona and Ichi?!” Saki stood from her seat, slamming her hands down. The sudden movement shook the table, nearly causing their glasses to knock over. Tsukasa’s hands shot out to steady their drinks.

“We’ve been over this, Saki. I don’t want to talk to them,” Shiho shook her head, grabbing her drink to take a sip.

“Too bad, I invited the other two to come meet us at this cafe!”

Shiho immediately choked. “You did what?”

Saki stuck her tongue out. “Just kidding. Tell me what really happened.”

Shiho put her drink down, the slight shake of her hand showed that she wasn’t as calm as she pretended to be. “I told you, nothing happened.”

“The way you reacted to me inviting them tells me the opposite,” Saki crossed her arms.

Tsukasa felt like he was watching a tennis match, with how his head was swiveling back and forth.

“Did you guys fight? I don’t understand, are we all not friends anymore?” Saki sat back down, losing the wind in her sails. The rims of her eyes were flushed red in her attempt to hold back tears. “It’s because I wasn’t there for you when you needed me, isn’t it? I knew I should’ve done more to support you all.”

“Saki,” Shiho said, alarmed, reaching out for her friend.

“Sorry, Brother, I have to go to the restroom,” Saki stood again to flee from her seat. Shiho got up to follow, but paused to give Tsukasa a despairing look. Tsukasa urged her to follow his sister, which Shiho gave him an appreciative nod for. Well, waiting at the table alone was marginally better than sitting in the middle of an argument between friends.

Tsukasa zoned out, petting an invisible Tom as he waited for their food. The waitress brought out the three lunch specials, which Tsukasa thanked her for. He decided to wait for the girls to return so they could eat together. He hoped they arrived before the food went cold.

He also couldn't help but be a bit curious about Shiho's reluctance to meet with her other friends. Saki had been under medical observation for several years, so she missed a prime time of her childhood to bed rest. Something must have happened to Saki and her group of close friends during that time.

Soon enough, Shiho guided Saki back to their table, holding a tissue to her swollen eyes. Saki took her original seat next to Tsukasa again, which Shiho appeared slightly hurt by but quietly sat down as well.

Saki shook her head as though to reorient herself. “I don’t understand, still. Why do you think Ichi and Hona wouldn’t support your dream?”

“I don’t think, I know.”

“So you talked to them before?”

Shiho sighed and nodded. Saki only grew more confused.

"But clearly becoming a knight is important to you, Shiho! I'm sure if we talk to them again they'll understand!"

“They didn’t approve, they knew how dangerous becoming a knight is and tried to get me to stop.”

“Wait, but you and Brother had said earlier…”

Shiho gave Tsukasa a rueful look before turning to Saki again. “We said that to you because we didn’t want you to worry. Becoming a knight brings high prestige, but the mortality rate is rising due to increased monster attacks. Only the truly vigilant come out successful."

"I didn't know…" Saki said hesitantly. "You and Brother were working so hard and risking your lives for your goals."

"Ichika and Honami were already upset that I wouldn't be attending the same school as them. So when I told them I decided on becoming a member of the Royal Guard, they were scared for me," Shiho explained solemnly, watching Saki carefully to gauge her reaction.

"That’s not all, is it? Tell me the truth why you distanced yourself from us, Shiho."

Shiho bit her lip and leaned back in her seat. Neither girls had touched their food. Tsukasa let his go cold as well.

“You didn’t think that we’d stop caring about you if you stayed away from us, did you? We’ll worry about you no matter what, Shiho. So please,” Saki then bowed her head, causing Shiho to jolt up in her chair. “Even though I know it’s a dangerous goal, I want to support you. I’ll be there for you as you achieve your dream. I want to know what’s really going on.”

Tsukasa’s memory surged as Shiho seemed to come to a decision. Tsukasa recalled reading about Shiho’s main motivation for aiming to become a Royal Guard. In fact, it was an extremely poignant reason that could’ve been integral to the novel’s social commentary, if the author had actually stuck with it.

“Fine, you don’t need to bow. I’ll tell you,” Shiho took a breath before starting. “My sister is arranged to be wedded in a political marriage that she refuses to call off. Due to the increased monster attacks, the estate land our parents own was besieged to a point where repair costs overwhelmed our assets and plummeted us into debt. Our parents agreed to marry off Shizuku to some greasy duke in exchange for monetary stability. And she only agreed due to some stupid sense of duty. It’s disgusting,” Shiho closed her eyes as though she were reigning in her rage. “I’m not aiming to become a knight for any lofty reason, Saki. The majority of nobility sickens me, and if having money is the only way to gain any respect around here then I’m shoving it down their throats until they bow out.”

Saki looked taken aback by Shiho’s bluntness, but then gripped her hands into spirited fists. “Wow, Shiho! You’re so cool!”


“You’re not just fighting for what’s right, you’re doing this all to get back at the big man up top!” Saki said enthusiastically.

“I just dissed all of nobility, Saki. You’re nobility.”

“But you’re right about nobility, Shiho! Money shouldn’t control the respect you garner in society and marriage should be with someone you truly love. I don’t want your sister to be trapped in a loveless marriage either!” Saki leaned over the table to gather Shiho’s hands in hers. “You’re such a sweet younger sister! You’re working so hard to save Shizuku!”

“Ugh, cut it out!” Shiho blushed, but she didn’t make any moves to pull away from Saki.

“Ichi and Hona would understand your reasons, even if it is dangerous! If they don’t, well, I’ll help make them understand!” Saki announced with conviction. “I got your back, Shiho!”

“Alright, alright, just let go so we can eat now, Tsukasa looks like he’s salivating a river waiting for us.”

“Oh, sorry brother! You must be starving!” Saki turned to Tsukasa in alarm, forgetting that her elbows were nearly brushing her food platter as she held Shiho’s hands.

“I guess that was an awkward way of announcing my sister’s engagement,” Shiho directed to Tsukasa, contrite. Tsukasa shook his head. He was just relieved that the two girls had found a way to settle their dispute.

“Not at all, I‘m glad you felt comfortable sharing that with us, even if my sister was a bit willful about it,” Tsukasa glanced over at Saki, who sheepishly brought her hands back to her lap. Shiho hummed in faux agreement, which got Saki to whine back at her friend.

They finally dug into their food, which only grew slightly cold during the wait but was still savory and well-seasoned enough to make up for it. Shiho’s giant parfait then arrived, which while said future knight balked at, Saki cheered for.

Even with the three of them working on the dessert, they barely finished it. The trio then exited the cafe to reunite with the maids, Tsukasa with major brain freeze while the girls were hand-in-hand. Shiho whispered a few things to Saki, which caused her to giggle and hug her friend, replying, “That’s what friends are for, silly!”

Tsukasa’s head was still throbbing, so maybe that’s why it took him a while to realize that it wasn’t just him and the road in front of him was actually, truly spinning. He looked back to realize that he was the only one walking forward, and the rest of the group was nowhere to be found.

The town had emptied out, with a sudden fog looming in from the outskirts. The whole thing reeked of illusion magic, but Tsukasa had no means of dispelling it. Was it best for him to stay put and tide it over, or should he go looking for the edge of the mirage?

The obvious option the illusion caster wanted him to take appeared, an alleyway manifesting from the clouds of obscuring fog. Oh please, as if Tsukasa was dumb enough to wander into such an obvious trap.

It turned out the right to choose was never his to begin with, the muscles in his legs wrenching him forward, forcing him to move. Who had the means of casting this type of powerful magic on him? Was it specifically targeted at him? Surely no one keen on kidnapping him would take such a roundabout method?

At the end of the alleyway was who Tsukasa could only assume to be the spellcaster. The lack of light and a large hood concealed most of the person’s face. Tsukasa could only see lips the color of blood as he approached a small table covered by a velvet tablecloth that they sat at.

The stranger gave off the vibes of a fortune teller, clacking long nails against a deck of tarot cards. “You appear to be in need of guidance. Take a seat.”

“Well actually I was enjoying a fantastic outing with my sister and her friend and I would really appreciate it if you sent me back right about now,” Tsukasa put bluntly, not bothering to sit at the chair offered to him by the suspicious stranger.

“Please, I insist,” Tsukasa’s limbs moved on their own as he unwillingly moved forward and crumbled against the back of the chair. This isn’t creepy at all, Tsukasa definitely wasn’t panicking.

“Shall we begin?” The fortuneteller giggled, shoving the deck of cards to the side and laying their hand out as though they wanted Tsukasa to place his own there. Tsukasa would have rather been entertained by McGailan’s company again, but then his hand raised with a mind of its own, placing itself into the other’s hand. Tsukasa’s hand was laid palm-side up, and he couldn’t help but shiver as the fortune-teller traced a line there with a nail. It was like they were sizing up the quality of his skin?

“Oh, your fate has been intertwined with something dreadful. A cursed, wicked one, with inconsolable hunger.” The fortuneteller said, their lips twisting into an over-excited grin. Was it too late for Tsukasa to run from the table?

“Yes, the true definition of gluttony! The lust to feed! Enough greed to never stop consuming. Someone who wrathfully feeds on the taste of their beloved, precious one, until nothing is left!” The fortune teller’s grip grew substantially tighter, causing Tsukasa to yelp and try his best to pull away. His hand was going to get crushed!

“Sorry, Stranger Danger! I’m not interested in the word of God today!” Tsukasa panicked, attempting to stand but his disobedient muscles wouldn’t budge. The fortune teller continued on as though Tsukasa hadn’t said a word.

“Such an evil force you are plagued by, but rather than running away you continue to feed it. Like adding kindling to a raging flame. That fire will not hesitate to take everything dear to you, Tsukasa Tenma.”

Tsukasa wasn’t a betting man, but he was pretty sure this mystic, seven-deadly-sins spiel could only be about one person. “Look, there’s no one who knows how much a brat Rui can be better than me, so can we get to the point? Here, let’s start with this. You know my name, so don’t you think it’s rude that you never told me yours?”

The fortune teller doesn’t lose their smile but lets up their grip enough for Tsukasa to tear his hand back from them. They then pulled down their hood, revealing a short bob of brown hair and red eyes that matched her lips.

“Banica Conchita. It’s a pleasure.”

Tsukasa couldn’t say the same. “Lovely. Have you finished telling me about my future? Can I leave now?”

“You’re a mouthy one when nervous. Why do you not heed my warning?”

Probably because you’re freaking me out, Tsukasa didn’t say. “You’re telling me to stay away from Rui? Why should I?”

“Does one pity a tsunami when it decimates a civilization? Why do you waste your efforts on something as futile as attempting to alter fate?”

“Can you stop with the lofty talk? Rui is just a kid. Well, a really strong, overly-talented kid, but he deserves a friend. So-called fate gave him nothing and set him up for failure! Children are a product of their environment, you know!”

Banica threw her head back and cackled. “Hahaha, you’re so interesting! It makes me wonder how you’d taste,” Banica didn’t sound like she was teasing. Tsukasa realized that when she was sizing him up earlier, she may have been measuring up the quality of his “meat”. “Well, this is the most I am allowed to interfere with the trial, so sadly I must refrain.”

“Great, thank you, I appreciate the warning,” Tsukasa stood to leave. Even if he was dying to know the answers to why he was thrown into this novel, he wasn’t willing to actually die to this fortune teller clearly hinting that she was a cannibal. By hinting, he meant the neon arrow signs pointing at her consumption allegories and wanting to “taste” him. He knew the trend of these types of stories, surely there will be some otherworldly being willing to give him answers in a less threatening context later down the line.

“No matter how many notches you place in the string, it’ll still lead to the same place, Tsukasa Tenma,” Banica added airily, leaning back to inspect her nails. “Even if you are an unexpected variable, Kamishiro Rui is a constant of this universe. Destruction follows him like a shadow, including your own.”

“What, are you saying that Rui is always fated to suffer alone? Why are you so keen on all my efforts being futile? Clearly there are already events that took place that strayed from what happened in the original story! I think I’m doing just fine being Rui’s best friend!

Banica quirked her eyebrows at that. “Best friend, indeed.”

Why did no one believe him when he said he was Rui’s best friend?

“Fate works to tie the loose strings together. Even if your foreknowledge allows you to alter an event, there is always an inevitable end at the finish. I am only warning you to save your efforts, and maybe dodge your own coming end.”

Before Tsukasa could ask anything else, Banica stood and cleared the fog. “I will say however that your interference is greatly entertaining. I look forward to your next step.”

Tsukasa blinked and is nearly blinded by the return of afternoon sunlight. He didn’t realize how desaturated the colors of his surroundings were until he was abruptly returned to the town.

“Young master?”

“Brother? Why’d you stop walking?” Saki asked as she walked up to him, placing her hands on his clammy skin. “Brother? Are you alright?”

So it really was a powerful illusion. Tsukasa was returned right back to the same time and place he was taken from. Tsukasa was shaken by his recent encounter, but he put on a brave face for his sister.

“I’m fine, Saki. I think I had too much of that parfait.”

“Is your stomach alright? Are you sure you want to keep shopping?” Saki asked worriedly.

When have the tables turned that his sickly sister had to worry about whether Tsukasa was well enough to continue an outing? “Don’t worry Saki, I’m fine! We have to make sure we use this day to the fullest!” Tsukasa patted himself to show that he was still ready to go. Cannibal fortune teller was intimidating but that didn’t mean Tsukasa had to trust a word she said. Why worry about things he can’t control? One thing he could help with is to make sure Saki continued to have a lovely day of shopping with her friend.

Soon enough, Tsukasa and Shiho were back on their way to the academy. Saki had Shiho promise to visit soon, with the possibility of meeting up again with their other friends. Shiho seemed more open to the idea after their talk at the cafe and promised to continue sharing letters with her as well. As Tsukasa had promised, he sent Rui a letter last night detailing his shopping adventure, while leaving out the few hiccups that occurred. Out of sight out of mind, right? He could tell Rui the full details of the McGailan situation in person later. Banica was a different matter since she had to do with Tsukasa’s true origin of coming from a different world. Even if he trusted Rui, he can't just flat-out tell him about how he knew him as a novel character, right? That would be too easy, surely the universe has stop-gaps in place to prevent that?

“Thank you, Tsukasa. I’m glad I had the chance to meet with Saki again,” Shiho spoke up, thankfully interrupting Tsukasa’s thoughts before they could spiral.

“Of course, you’re welcome anytime!”

Shiho gave him a small yet genuine smile, something that Tsukasa usually saw directed at Saki. “You’re not so bad anymore. Do you remember you used to “go easy on me” in our practice matches because you said it was unchivalrous to go all out against a lady?”

Ugh, don’t remind him of how cringe-worthy Book Tsukasa was. That was obviously an excuse he used to save face after Shiho handed his ass to him. “I learned my lesson, Shiho. You’re as formidable as any knight vying for the position of Royal Guard.”

“You should consider figuring out how to incorporate your magic into your fighting style, to make up for your strength. Your speed isn’t bad,” Shiho said, which was probably as close to a compliment Tsukasa could get from her.

They arrived on campus, and Tsukasa didn’t even have to get out of the carriage to see Rui in the distance. The driver got out to start unloading all the different gifts and luggage Tsukasa and Shiho brought back. Tsukasa continued chatting with Shiho, wishing her good luck with classes, and turned to see Rui was far closer than he was moments before.

Rui’s fast walking pace shifted into a full-out run, and in a blink, the other boy had crashed into Tsukasa.

“OOOF! Rui! Calm down, we’ve been apart for just over a day. How has everything been? You’ve been eating properly, right?”

“You smell wrong,” Rui said into his neck. His grip tightened at Tsukasa’s hips. “I smelled it in that letter you sent too. What touched you?”

Was he a bloodhound? “What do you mean what touched me? I touched a lot of things while shopping-”

“No,” Rui’s expression twisted, then he proceeded to drag Tsukasa away from the carriage to who knows where. Shiho stared at the pair in bewilderment at their sudden retreat. “I think it’s about time we took a bath together, Tsukasa.”


The universe: Rui’s canon event is to suffer
Tsukasa: >:(

happy birthday to my favorite purple-haired boy with a chapter that hardly features him 😅

go read Sow a seed in the ground and let it know it's something special
and watch spiderverse lol

Chapter 15


Tsukasa and Rui attempt to bathe together, unsuccessfully.


Trivia: Mr. Bunny’s favorite food is any vegetable, as purposefully programmed by Rui.
Warning: Description of a brief panic attack

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Tsukasa was dumped into lukewarm water before the bath could even get hot. Rui had nearly broken the bathroom door again in his haste to throw Tsukasa in there.

Tsukasa sputtered water from his mouth before glaring at Rui. This is not really how he imagined their reunion going. “Rui, what the hell?”

“That’s what you smell like.”

Tsukasa was speechless, trying to gauge how offended he felt. Rui seemed to rewind the comment he made in his head and his brows scrunched in mortification. “That’s not-I meant if hell happened to have a smell-”

“Rui, I’m this close to blowing up on you. Think carefully about what you’re about to say next,” Tsukasa brought his hand up, his pointer finger and thumb just barely touching. Rui gulped, finally realizing how irrational his actions appeared to a person not privy to his train of thought.

“Tsukasa, did you run into a powerful magic user during your outing? That you know of?”

So Rui could still smell Banica’s magic on Tsukasa, even though their encounter occurred yesterday. There was no use in hiding it now. Tsukasa nodded.

“What was their name?”

Tsukasa opened his mouth and nothing came out. There was the stop-gap. Banica. Ba-ni-ca. Tsukasa wasn’t even allowed to mouth the syllables. Rui’s expression immediately darkened.

“A muting spell. Did someone put you under oath not to discuss this?”

Tsukasa was clueless about how to explain it. His confusion must have shown on his face, since Rui’s eyes flashed with anger.

“You would have to consent to be put under an oath. That means whoever touched you did this without any of your knowledge. Either they’re powerful enough to defy the laws of magic or the laws of magic themselves are keeping you from speaking. Neither is a good option.”

That was the brains of the quick-thinking OP antagonist. Rui was terrifyingly smart when it came to such magical dealings, deriving all this information without Tsukasa having to speak a word. He was unflinching even in the face of an otherworldly, unknown being’s magic.

Rui kneeled down in front of the bathtub, taking Tsukasa’s now-wet hand. The one Banica had squeezed the life out of. “I apologize for tossing you into the water so abruptly, Tsukasa.”

“Good, you should be,” Tsukasa could speak now with the shift in the subject matter.

A hint of Rui’s smile returned. “It’s not a curse, which is good and bad. Good in that it’s not a detriment to your health. Bad in that I can’t cast a counterspell to rid you of it.”

“So when you say I smell like hell, you mean…”

“This being’s magic is unnatural. Otherworldly. Inhuman,” Rui started digging his thumbs into the palm of Tsukasa’s hand, as though to massage it. “It lingers like tar. They marked your hand as though they were trying to provoke a reaction out of someone with a claim on you.”

“You make me sound like a tree that some dog peed on!”

“That’s essentially what they did,” Rui then goes over Tsukasa’s hand with a glowing green aura.

“Why are you healing my hand? I’m not injured?” Maybe slightly bruised but there were no cuts on his hand.

“I have to make sure none of my essence enters your bloodstream. Do you mind if I do something crude to rid you of the remnant magic? You can wash up right after.”

Tsukasa did not like the sound of that. “Rui, don’t do anything drastic-”

Rui quickly brought Tsukasa’s hand up to his mouth, licking a thick stripe from his wrist right up to the tips of his middle and ring fingers. Tsukasa did not hold back his scream.


Rui wiped off the saliva on Tsukasa’s palm with his sleeve, then dunked his hand into the water. “Sorry, it was the fastest solution I could think of. The smell was repugnant. I felt like I couldn’t think straight.”

Tsukasa could argue that the boy rarely ever did anyway. He laid a hand across his eyes, sighing deeply. “Well, did it work?”

Rui fished out Tsukasa’s besieged hand from the water to give it a sniff. Who was the inhuman one again? “It’s faded. Much better. You smell right again.”

“I smell right? Do you mean I smell like myself now?”

“You smell like you did before,” Rui smiled.

“Well good, now that this dilemma has been dealt with,” Tsukasa rounded on his willful roommate, finally displaying his full fury. "Your gracious best friend comes back to shower you with gifts and this is how you repay him? By dumping him in a bathtub with his clothes still on? Look at me Rui, I'm drenched! My clothes are gonna stretch out!"

Rui didn’t look the least bit intimidated, his smile only grew as Tsukasa continued to rant at him. What did it take to get this boy to feel chastised?

“I see, we should get you to strip, Tsukasa. That’ll make you feel better, yes?”

“No! That is not at all what I said!” Tsukasa slapped his hand against the rim of the bathtub. This boy’s selective hearing was an otherworldly force of its own.

“Don’t be shy, I’ve seen you shirtless before~” Rui cooed. Tsukasa crossed his arms over his chest in an act to keep his clothes from getting stolen, but Rui’s hands went for the hem of his own shirt. What was happening?

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, why are you the one stripping?

“I said that we should bathe together this time, didn’t I?” Rui reasoned, pulling his shirt over his head in a smooth motion that had Tsukasa short-circuiting. “You don’t take a bath with clothes on, Tsukasa, so you should strip too.”

“You-I can’t-no!” Tsukasa stood from the water, his water-laden clothes sagging heavily from his frame. Tsukasa had always been the first or last to shower in the washrooms at school after clubs, and he never bothered to use the bathhouses since his house had a working shower. He usually kept his shirt on when he went to the beach or pool, too self-conscious to go without it. It's not that he thought Rui would make fun of him, but there was just this mounting sense of trepidation about being naked in front of Rui. "Okay, hang on. I get why I should be naked, but why are you stripping too?"

"Did you miss when I said the word 'together'?" Rui teased, thumbing at his waistband to take it off next. Tsukasa didn't know where to look, the only thing his eyes tracked to when he looked forward was to Rui's pale chest. Why was it so…wide…

Tsukasa sank back into the water, still fully clothed while covering his eyes. His eyes didn’t seem to listen to him so he had to stop himself from looking altogether. He felt as though he would cross a boundary if he blatantly stared. He shouldn't, he can’t stare at his friend like this. It was wrong.

Tsukasa felt a touch on his chin, prompting him to shift a finger covering his eye just enough to be able to watch Rui bring a droplet of water to his mouth. He sucked the moisture from his finger and grinned. "Don't hog the bath. Let's share, Tsukasa," Then Rui dropped his pants, revealing cloth undergarments that barely covered anything. Tsukasa stared.

When Tsukasa had sat down, he reflexively cradled himself into one side of the tub, allowing Rui easy access to the other. Rui invited himself in, the water miraculously not spilling over as his body slunk underneath the surface. Rui gave a relaxed sigh, as though everything was right in his world when Tsukasa felt as though his was imploding. The lukewarm water suddenly became scalding.

“Tsukasa, can you wash my back?”


Tsukasa’s vision blurred from his pupils quaking. His breathing was picking up. His hands felt clammy even though they were mostly soaked from the bathwater. What was going on? Rui always invaded his personal space, but never like this. Never nearly naked, with his scent clinging to the humid air and his toned body on full display. Are teenagers supposed to even look like this? Wasn’t he malnourished just a week ago?


Tsukasa’s chest was heaving in and out. Why was Rui so close, when did it get like this? Tsukasa’s whole body was surely flushed, his heart pattering away like it was trying to fly from his chest. Why was it getting so difficult to breathe? He had to take in deeper breaths, nothing was reaching his lungs-

Tsukasa couldn’t register his body getting lifted into the air, and in a blink he was sitting on cool, stone floor, a dry towel placed around his soaked shoulders. Someone sat across from him, holding Tsukasa’s hand to a warm chest that breathed in a slow, steady rhythm, like they were guiding him to do the same. They were talking to him in a soothing voice, telling him something.

“Breathe with me. In.”

Tsukasa inhaled, refreshing oxygen finally entering his chest.


Tsukasa breathed out.

The two repeated the actions together. Tsukasa opened his eyes, not knowing when he had closed them, but vision was returning to him. Tsukasa brought the towel tighter around his drenched shirt. Now that he no longer felt overwhelmingly hot, he felt chilled from sitting on the ground with wet clothing. He looked up to find Rui staring at him, looking utterly lost. Tsukasa’s hand slipped away from Rui’s chest.


“Sorry, I’m okay.”

“Do you want me to leave?” Tsukasa’s mouth opened in surprise, not ever expecting Rui to offer to leave of his own volition.

“No, it’s okay. You can stay with me,” Tsukasa said. He had slipped into panic attacks like this before, but he’s never been helped out of them like this so quickly. Rui nodded but stood, walking back to grab his clothing, putting them back on without bothering to dry himself off. He then sat back down in front of Tsukasa, leaving a hefty amount of space between the two of them.

“It seemed I pushed you too far this time. I’m sorry, Tsukasa,” Rui’s voice never sounded so devoid of life before. Tsukasa looked up to see Rui plaster on the fakest smile he’s ever seen. “Do you want to continue bathing or go back to the room?”

“I…I think I want to lie down.”

“Understood. May I dry you off with magic? It’ll be fastest.”

Tsukasa didn’t know how to feel about Rui’s tone being so formal and detached. He nodded, feeling he had to show that he still trusted Rui. Tsukasa wasn’t mad at him, he mostly blamed himself. He couldn’t really explain why he reacted how he did when Rui got so close to him in the bath, just that he knew there would be severe consequences if he allowed the boy to get any closer. His dad wouldn’t…

Tsukasa felt like he was embraced by a cloud of warmth, moisture evaporating from his clothes instantly like it was squeegeed out. Rui didn’t even have to touch him, waving his hand to pull out the excess water. Rui then opened the bathroom door and led him to his bed, even tucking in Tsukasa under the sheets.


“Why don’t you nap, Tsukasa?” Rui stepped back, his voice the same soothing tone he used to guide Tsukasa out of his panic attack. “I have a few things I want to accomplish before I turn in for the day.

Tsukasa did feel inordinately tired. However he had several unsaid thoughts he needed to relay to Rui before he passed out. He didn’t want the boy to get the wrong idea.

“Rui-” Tsukasa stopped when he saw Rui hush him with a finger to his lips.

“You can tell me when you wake up, Tsukasa. Don’t worry.”

Tsukasa’s eyelids felt heavy. His attacks usually left him tired, and he hadn’t slept well last night without Rui’s presence and from worrying about the cannibal lady. Rui stood by his bedside like his valiant protector, and Tsukasa was pulled into a deep sleep.

Rui was avoiding him. RUI. Avoiding Tsukasa.

Once he had woken up from his nap, he found Rui absent from the room. Mr. Rabbit was resting on top of his chest, demanding hugs once Tsukasa was conscious, which Tsukasa gave freely. He asked the bunny plush where his master had gone, which the bunny seemed genuinely unsure how to answer.

Tsukasa had then tried to get Tom to track him down, but even the spy drone wasn’t able to trace Rui. It seemed the GPS tracking capabilities did not go both ways, or Rui knew a way to block Tom off from finding him.

It reached dinner time and Tsukasa had to eat alone. It’s been a while since he had so much time to himself, although he did have the company of Rui’s automatons. Tsukasa sat in his room, starting his next letter addressed to Saki as he fed Mr. Rabbit an apple Tom grabbed from the kitchen. He placed his homemade bento box on Rui’s desk, hoping the boy would eventually find and eat it before it went bad. He wanted to see Rui’s reaction when he gave him all his other gifts, but he still wanted Rui to have a sword for sparring classes tomorrow. He propped the Damascus steel sword against the desk. Surely the boy will know that the two gifts were for him. Tsukasa imagined waking up the next morning to find both the food and sword in the same place he left them and nearly physically recoiled from how annoyed he was about the potential event occurring. He left a slip of paper on top of the bento box, with a penned note that stated, in no uncertain terms, “Rui Kamishiro, If you do not eat this and take the damn sword I will never forgive you, signed Tsukasa Tenma.” He even drew a passive-aggressive smiley face on it.

Tsukasa laid back down in his bed, and found he could smell a trace of Rui’s scent in his pillow. Tsukasa had laundered his beddings before his trip, which proved that Rui had slept in his bed while Tsukasa was gone. That boy was so incredibly clingy for as long as Tsukasa had known him, but now he suddenly decided to go cold turkey with a drop of a hat? Tsukasa relaxed with the knowledge that Rui couldn’t avoid him with classes tomorrow, and that was when he would have a talk with his stubborn best friend. He should’ve known Rui would have gotten the wrong idea. What a frustrating kid.

It turned out that Rui could indeed avoid Tsukasa even with their shared classes. When Tsukasa had woken up, he had found the bento cleaned and placed on his desk, and the sword missing from Rui's desk. However, Rui ended up skipping the classes he shared with Tsukasa altogether. Tsukasa was stunned when he had to go to eat lunch by himself, numbly eating as Mizuki found his way to him.

The pink-haired knight glanced around, confused, unable to find Tsukasa’s tag-along. “Hey, you’re missing your two in your one-two combo. Is he out getting you dessert or something?”

“No, he’s avoiding me,” Tsukasa spat with no little vitriol. Mizuki looked utterly shocked.

“Who’s avoiding you? Rui Kamishiro? That’s who I meant by the way.”

“Yea, Rui’s avoiding me!” Tsukasa grumbled.

“Rui’s avoiding you? Not the other way around?”

“No! What’s so hard to understand about that?”

“Wow, you get spicy when you’re mad, don’t you, Wonder Boy? But yeah it wouldn’t work the other way around, there’s no way you’d be able to escape from him, no offense,” Mizuki said, joining Tsukasa on the bench.

“Gee, thanks. I can’t believe that kid can just get away with doing whatever he wants! Argh!” Tsukasa groaned, exasperated. Clearly Tsukasa needed to tell Rui that he wasn’t mad at him about the bathtub incident, but this avoiding shtick was about to get old real fast.

“Don’t sweat it too much, I’m sure he’ll come crawling back to you soon enough. There’s only so much that guy can stand his self-inflicted quarantine in the dog house,” Mizuki comforted Tsukasa with a pat on the shoulder.

“Thanks… We start electives today, don’t we?” Tsukasa decided to redirect the topic. Mizuki nodded eagerly, jumping on the memo. They discussed the possible articles they wanted to learn how to knit, both of them looking forward to figuring out how to sew moving animal patterns like Kayo’s.

“Those kittens were super cute! I’d like to make a summer dress with something like ducklings or turtle doves. And lots of bows and frills!” Mizuki gushed in excitement as Tsukasa hummed in agreement. He also thought he’d find enjoyment in making something cute like that, but it would have to be something he gifted to Saki or Mizuki when he was done.

“What would you want to make for yourself, Tsukasa?”

“Huh? Oh…I was really planning on making gifts for Rui and Saki-”

“Bro you’re so boring. Be selfish for once, don’t you want to make yourself a cute scarf or sweater?”

“Oh, um…Well…” Tsukasa mumbled, not really considering what else he would use his new skill set for besides fixing clothes that ripped. Even then, he was now rich enough to just buy a replacement for something that was difficult to fix. Ugh, his mindset was molding to be too much like that of a pampered noble.

“You do know it’s okay to be selfish, right? Here, I got an idea for you. I’m pretty sure your missing darling will run back even faster if you beg him to.”

“You’re joking, right? That guy never listens to me. It’s either I get mad and he cries to get out of it or he comes up with some ridiculous ultimatum,” Tsukasa sighed.

“Huh, I didn’t think you actually noticed.”

“Of course I noticed! I’m just not good at denying him!”

“Wow, you noticed that too? You’re more perceptive than I gave you credit for,” Mizuki whistled, actually looking astonished.

“Of course I know when Rui’s pulling my leg! I’m not just emptily saying I’m his best friend. It’s just easier to let him have his way most of the time,” Tsukasa admitted.

“Uh huh, I’m sure you don’t let him have his way because you enjoy it too or anything.”

“WHAT!?” Tsukasa jumped from his seat, Mizuki looking up at him with a smirk on their face. “I-I mean, of course I enjoy it, it’s just close skinship between best friends.”

“Right, keep telling yourself that,” Mizuki stretched and stood up as well. They then smiled and lifted their hand in a threatening manner. Tsukasa registered the gesture, immediately spinning around and sprinting away. He was no match for Mizuki’s speed, slapped on the back with the other knight-in-training cackling as they ran past him. “Remember my suggestion. Throw him a bone, he’ll more than likely bite! See you in needlework!” Tsukasa’s back smarted as he walked to his sparring class.

Akito had a similar reaction to Mizuki’s when Tsukasa complained about Rui to him.

“He’s avoiding you? Are you sure?” Akito looked a bit stunned.

“Yes, I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m mad at him for something but I just want to talk to him,” Tsukasa sighed. The two of them, along with the rest of the class were lined up for an announcement. Akito was attempting to appear relaxed, but Tsukasa noticed he was bouncing on his feet, fingers flexing around his sword hilt. The upcoming announcement was likely something big. The substitute instructor cleared his throat to gather everyone’s attention.

“Thank you all for your cooperation last week. I’ve seen improvement in each of your fighting styles in practice, and how you have adapted to facing off against an organic opponent learning from you. This week your true instructor is arriving and will guide your swordsmanship basics and how to optimize your abilities on the field,” The instructor nodded to them all, then stood back for a tall figure to walk up in front.

“Look at all these eager, fresh faces,” A man with brown, bedraggled hair walked forward, tawny eyes scanning the crowd of students. “I’m not really one to give long speeches, so I’ll just get into what we’ll be doing today. I’m Ken Shiraishi, I came back from a nice vacation of bashing in some monster skulls, and now I’m here to teach you little ones how to do the same thing.”

How blunt. Tsukasa wasn’t sure how ready he was for this particular change in their curriculum. Akito however looked ready to cross blades with the Royal Knight up front at any moment.

“Alright, introductions over. Now I’d like for each of you to line up in an orderly fashion and throw everything you got at me. This includes magic. Who’s first?”

There was dead silence in the crowd of students.

“Really, no one? Hm, I guess you can’t be a good knight without a healthy amount of caution. Too bad your enemy won’t let you be cautious forever,” Sir Shiraishi then unsheathed his broadsword in a large swing, kicking up a supremely powerful gale of wind that sent several students flying. Tsukasa dug his heels in, only staying put due to Akito stepping in front of him. Akito really was a decent guy!

Sir Shiraishi’s attack prompted several students to rush forward, throwing random lightning bolts, fire, and water attacks at the knight. The mana core embedded in the hilt of the knight’s broadsword glowed, and Sir Shiraishi sliced through the magical attacks like butter, diverting each of them to impact against the earth.

None of the students stepped into the swinging radius of Sir Shiraishi’s blade, which caused the knight to chuckle. “C’mon, I know I said throw everything you got at me, but is no one willing to show me what you practiced last week? Kotaro was so nice earlier about how hard you all worked.”

Sir Shiraishi was known to not have any magic, but his sword skills were so feared that no students were even willing to get close to him. The mana core embedded in his broadsword had a simple yet robust magic deflection incantation. It was reliable in doing its job, but the wielder had to be skilled enough to aim their weapon to deflect the magic attack properly. Otherwise it would be as useful as a toothpick in a gunfight. Luckily, Sir Shiraishi was just that, powerful and dexterous in swordplay, and was just as formidable in far-range combat as he was in close-range.

"Alright, I'll go easy on you guys. One swing per student. There's what, forty of you? Keep count with me," Sir Shiraishi threw out another gale of wind that sent several more students flying.

“That old man is nuts.”

Tsukasa was about to agree when he looked over to find Akito grinning like a madman. Ugh, what a dueling junkie. He took a side-step away from the kid.

But Tsukasa could understand Akito's excitement. As they watched student after student test their luck, throwing spells while swinging at random, Sir Shiraishi fended off every attack without breaking a sweat. True to his word, he only used his sword, dodging and parrying with methodical strikes, not wasting a single swing. Akito was raring to go, but what was holding him back?

Sir Shiraishi was clearly messing around, sending another gale with the power of his swing, this time directed into the thickest part of the crowd. "Hey you, no hiding behind your peers!"

Akito stepped forward to block Tsukasa from being blown away again. Oh, this kid was protecting him!

“Akito, don’t worry about me, I can take care of myself!” Tsukasa spoke up over the harsh tempest blasting at them. Akito had the gall to turn around and stare at him doubtfully.

“Don’t underestimate me! Just go! I know you want to fight him... Unless you’re really that worried about little ol’ me?” Tsukasa tried to flutter his eyes like a besotted maiden but Akito was long gone, jumping right into the fray.

And by “jumping right in”, Akito literally flew into the air with a blast of fire at his feet. He landed a few paces behind Sir Shiraishi and announced, “You’re at twenty-one swings now, right? I think I can handle the other half.”

“You’re a familiar face. Have we met?” Sir Shiraishi leisurely turned to face Akito, who unsheathed his own sword. “Oh, you’re one of An’s friends, right? You seem pretty confident!”

“Akito Shinonome,” Akito actually gave a small bow that nearly made Tsukasa laugh. The kid was so excited he was doing things like introductions out of order. Sir Shiraishi chuckled and gave a bow as well.

Akito aimed a blue flare right at Sir Shiraishi’s bowed head, a shameless grin on his face. Sir Shiraishi quickly reacted, blocking the magic with a swing of his sword. “You fight dirty!”

"What's the point if you can't use every trick in your arsenal?" Akito leaped back to dodge Sir Shiraishi’s counterattack, which blew back several students trying to sneak in an attack.

“Took the words right out of my mouth!” Sir Shiraishi called out, immediately switching up his attack pattern to be more liberal with his swings. He sent out three tempest-like slices in rapid succession at Akito, who redirected them all with his own blades of fire. Akito seemed like the impulsive type, but he was actually acting sparingly with his own magic. If he went all out right now, Sir Shiraishi would deflect everything with the numbered sword swings he had left, and Akito would be out of magic. Akito clearly wasn’t out to earn a draw, he wanted to win.

Tsukasa lost count of how many swings Sir Shiraishi had already sent out, and Akito was performing aerial acrobatics in the meantime. The rapid-fire attacks were too quick for Tsukasa to keep track of, and he had no idea how Akito was able to count while also in the midst of dodging.

“Not bad, kid! Why didn’t you step up to challenge me earlier?” Sir Shiraishi sent out another gale that Akito barely dodged, the boy grunting as he used a stream of his own fire to fling himself out of the way of the air current. Akito was powerful, but he knew he couldn’t meet Sir Shiraishi’s brunt force head-on or he’d get wiped out.

Sir Shiraishi smiled back at the crowd of onlookers, intentionally meeting eyes with Tsukasa. Oh sh*t, the knight knew why Akito was so hesitant in the beginning.

Sir Shiraishi flung a gale right at where Tsukasa was hiding in the crowd, and Akito was too far away to fly back and save him again. The knight knew all along that Akito was defending Tsukasa for the first duration of his attacks and was just leading him away!

Tsukasa knew how inconsistent his own magic was but he really needed it to kick in right about now, otherwise he was going to be made into a giant bruise. Tsukasa visualized a gale of his own, deflecting the one coming at him, or at least strong enough to push him out of the way. Flinging his hand down, Tsukasa was blown backward with his own magic, out of the stack of students who were then knocked over like a set of bowling pins. Tsukasa landed on his back with a groan. The impact hurt, but not as much as it would’ve if he was slammed into by the knight’s attack instead.

“Tsukasa!” Akito called out, and Tsukasa was surprised by the amount of concern that leached into the boy’s voice.

“Gotcha!” Sir Shiraishi called out, landing a direct blow on Akito with his diverted attention. Akito was sent flying, the knight-in-training crashing into a thicket of trees. Sir Shiraishi then turned back to the crowd of banged-up students. “Is no one else willing to try?”

The brush of trees burst into flame, Akito shooting out like some kind of burning comet of vengeance. He was bleeding from a scratch above his eyebrow, but his sharp smile hadn’t left his face. The smoke from the burning foliage reached Tsukasa’s nostrils as it flooded the training ground. “Five left!”

“At least one of you won't quit!” Sir Shiraishi acknowledged, swinging back like he was attempting to knock Akito out of the sky like a pesky fly that happened to be on fire. Akito rode the current of each blow, using the generated wind to ripple the size of his own flames even higher.

Akito launched a barrage of fireballs at Sir Shiraishi, who had to jump backward to dodge. The knight was running low on sword swings and was surely waiting for Akito to get close enough to be unable to dodge. Akito was counting on the same thing, bringing his blade up to clash with Sir Shiraishi’s in a huge CLANG that echoed throughout the grounds. Akito’s flames poured out around Sir Shiraishi, scorching the grounds surrounding the two of them and burning a deep ravine into the earth. With only two of the knight’s sword swings left, Akito chose now to go all out with his magic. He blasted a pillar of flame right at the knight, who was engulfed by the raging fire. Tsukasa watched in awe, there was no way Akito just defeated a Royal Guard just like that, is there?

Tsukasa assumed too soon, the knight emerged from the flame, slightly burnt but no worse from wear. He slashed another direct hit right at Akito, who was sent flying again and crashed against the ground like a blazing meteorite. Tsukasa held his breath, waiting to see if Akito would stand again. He nearly took all of the second wave of hits Sir Shiraishi dealt all on his own, the first direct one taken due to worrying about Tsukasa. It would only be the right thing to do to try and take a hit for Akito after he had worked so hard, right?

It was now or never then. Sir Shiraishi ambled up to the crater Akito had made, flames obscuring the current state the boy was in. Tsukasa may just be doing something in vain and was soon to be pummeled to a pulp, with no Rui around to heal him up afterward. But hasn’t he been relying too much on the others around him for his own safety? Rui had granted him a pendant to help him cast magic, he needed to at least try.

Tsukasa snuck closer, hiding behind the carnage of downed trees and crippled students. Even if Sir Shiraishi was taking it easy on the students with his “one swing per person” handicap, did he really have to smack Akito hard enough to make an imprint of him on the earth? With that in mind, Tsukasa didn’t bother feeling bad about his sneak attack. He focused on summoning a broad gust of wind, something that couldn’t be easily deflected and could displace Sir Shiraishi even just a little bit on his feet. Enough to buy Akito a sliver of time to recover.

Sir Shiraishi’s sixth sense picked up on Tsukasa’s intent however, instantly turning to face him. Tsukasa yelped, but was able to send out the zephyr he conjured, along with a load of broken branches, burnt leaves, and kicked-up dirt. The attack was enough to thwart the knight’s attention, who threw a hand up to block the debris from his eyes.

Akito took the moment to strike, diving out of the canopy of flames to dash at the distracted knight. A cloud of smoke was rippling from the edges of his mouth, like he was a wild dragon about to unleash a plume of fire right on Sir Shiraishi’s head. Sir Shiraishi raised his blade blindly, just as Akito billowed out an inferno that enveloped them both. Tsukasa was close enough to feel the lick of heat that radiated from the fire tornado of death.

Soon however, the fire magic was dispelled with a ground-shaking swing of Sir Shiraishi’s blade. The flames rose and dissipated into the air. Akito was left gasping, crouched over on the ground to catch his breath. Sir Shiraishi patted out a flame still flickering on his pauldron, before extending out a hand for Akito to grab.

Akito looked up at the knight, whose uniform was only slightly crispier than before, and sighed. He stood with the aid of the proffered hand, then was assaulted by several hearty slaps to the back. Tsukasa winced in sympathy.

“That was a good showing, kid! You saved your other classmates from half the pummeling they would've gotten, at the least,” Sir Shiraishi laughed, patting Akito on the shoulder who was using his sword to prop himself up. Akito closed his eyes as he struggled to stay standing, and Tsukasa hoped the kid wasn’t about to pass out. “What a warm-up! I guess I should continue with explaining the rest of the coursework.”

That was a warm-up? Tsukasa could have keeled over from the pressure, let alone what Akito and the others must feel from receiving direct blows from the knight.

“A few weeks from now, you all will be divided into groups and sent out on an expedition. In the field you won’t be able to pick your teammates. In a best-case scenario, you’ll be divided based on the skillset you will be able to provide, leading to a well-rounded team. But sometimes, you just need to find a way to deal with the cards you’re dealt,” Sir Shiraishi scanned the crowd of drained students, landing on Tsukasa who was the only one relatively unharmed. "Train hard so you won't be too much of a detriment to your teammates, alright? You don’t want to be the dead weight in your group, otherwise you'll be the first to be cut."

Dread sank to the bottom of Tsukasa’s gut like a stone. It was no mistake that Sir Shiraishi was referring to him. Akito may have had a chance at besting the knight if he weren't also busy protecting and worrying about Tsukasa. Sir Shiraishi then ordered everyone to stand and run through drills. Everyone groaned in pain at the order, but Tsukasa quietly lined up to do just that.

Rui wasn’t in Tsukasa’s next class either. This was getting out of hand. If Rui entered into poor standing with the academy due to wracking up absences, that was another possible way for him to get expelled. Tsukasa decided to leave another note for the defiant teen when he got back to their room. There were ways to attend class without having to see each other, even if it left a hollow in Tsukasa’s heart to think about Rui sitting away from him just to avoid him.

Mizuki rolled their eyes at Tsukasa’s moping, dragging him along even faster. “C’mon, Loverboy, this will cheer you up, let’s go.”

They entered the clubroom, which was overflowing with color and fabrics. There was a line of small tables with sewing machines placed on top, colorful textiles were folded neatly and put away on shelves, and rolls of yarn were on display against a wall. Kayo stood near a student, guiding them in a stitching pattern. Riliane noticed the two newcomers entering the room and bounded over to them.

"Yay! Welcome, welcome, you made it!" She cheered, gesturing for them to join the rest of the students working on stitches. Tsukasa felt a bit better from the warm welcome, at least someone wanted him around.

The two of them sat in open chairs, and Riliane handed them each a white cloth. A table nearby was loaded with a heart-shaped pincushion and an array of different spools of colored thread. Mizuki took a pink one while Tsukasa couldn’t resist taking the purple one.

"Let me guess, everything reminds you of him," Mizuki snickered.

"Hm?" Tsukasa hummed, only half paying attention as he attempted to thread the needle with his chosen yarn. He ended up sounding more despondent than he meant to. Mizuki sighed at Tsukasa’s lackluster response. Kayo then approached the two to greet them.

"Welcome. Right now we're just practicing some common stitches. You can use this time to experiment without any pressure to make it perfect," Kayo smiled as she gestured for the two of them to go ahead and take a look at their fabrics. There were guidelines for different hand stitches they could follow drawn onto the cloth. "You can ask me or any of the members for assistance with a stitch pattern, and once you think you got the hang of it you can try your hand at sewing a patch of your choice.”

The two of them thanked their senior and got to work following the guidelines. Tsukasa went at a moderate pace due to being practiced in a few of the basic stitches like the running stitch, but Mizuki appeared to be skillfully sewing through each of them.

“You’re quite good, Mizuki! Have you sewn things before?

“I have hobbies in following fashion trends and clothing design, I was thinking I could have a side hustle in tailoring if being a knight didn't pan out."

“That’s incredible, how’d you get into clothing design?” Tsukasa asked. He knew Mizuki had interests in fashion, but didn’t know the extent of Mizuki’s talents in the field. Mizuki’s smile slipped at the question.

“A good friend got into it with me. We couldn’t afford the clothing from high-end boutiques so we would scrounge up some fabrics and try to mimic our favorite clothes we’ve seen,” Mizuki’s expression took on a melancholic edge but they quickly recovered. “It looked pretty bad at first! We didn’t know anything about drawing clothing patterns or leaving room for the hem. Neither of us had a sewing machine and we kept tearing the sheer fabric whenever we tried to sew on frills. But it was really fun.”

A good friend… “Ena?”

Mizuki paused their reminiscing to glance at Tsukasa with surprise. “I guess it wasn’t that hard to connect the dots.”

“Sorry, am I prying? You don’t have to keep going.”

“Haha, what are you saying? It’s not like it’s a sensitive topic. We just grew apart. It was my fault anyway,” Mizuki waved off, though Tsukasa could tell that the subject hit a sore spot. “There were things I couldn’t be upfront with her about. Things she warned me not to pursue but-”

"Wow, Mizuki! You already finished?" Riliane peeked over Mizuki’s shoulder to look at their completed sewing exercise. "You're a pro just like Kayo! Did you want to try to stitch a patch onto one of the enchanted fabrics? That way they actually move!”

“Oh, thanks,” Mizuki said, seemingly relieved at being interrupted. "I think I saw a cute bunny one I wanted to try.”

Riliane guided Mizuki to a stack of patches and Tsukasa couldn’t help but deliberate on what the latter had told him. He’d never seen Mizuki be so emotional in recollecting their thoughts. Mizuki had done something to push Ena away? What could it have been? If Ena had warned them against it, then was it something dangerous or even potentially linked to their future possible "betrayal"? There had to be more to it. He had a feeling that Mizuki was going to tell him something vital before they got interrupted.

A small thought slipped in, one that Tsukasa had been trying hard to push back. What if he and Rui ended up the same way? If one bad episode was all it took for Rui to abandon him then how did Tsukasa expect himself to be capable of swaying Rui to change his fate? Was the cannibal lady right, was there no hope for him in changing anything?


Oh, that kinda hurt. Tsukasa looked down to find a sharp pain in his finger, blood welling around where he had accidentally stuck himself with a needle. He slid the needle out, wincing when he saw his blood spill over and drip onto his cloth needlework exercise. Mizuki leaned over to examine Tsukasa's injury.

"Ouch, that looks pretty deep, are you okay?"

No, he was not. "I'm fine," Tsukasa answered with a plastered smile. Mizuki frowned as they looked back down at the wound.

"My healing magic is still a work in progress, I'd feel better about taking you to the infirmary."

"It's alright, I can head there myself." Tsukasa responded, standing from his seat. Mizuki looked aghast at Tsukasa’s sudden dismissal. Riliane and Kayo turned to watch him worriedly as he left the clubroom. He felt bad about skipping out so early on his first club meeting. He felt even worse when he thought about Rui.

His feet took him to his room instead of to the infirmary. Tsukasa slammed the bedroom door closed behind him, and Tom turned visible to beep warily at him. He trudged to the bathroom in order to wash his bleeding finger under the sink, watching as the water went from pink to clear. He decided to just stick his finger in his mouth and wait for the wound to close on its own. Tsukasa flopped onto his bed, and soon Mr. Rabbit popped out from under his pillow and crawled on top of him, staring at him despondently.

“Mama, are you okay?” The bunny plush patted his chest comfortingly. The genuine concern caused Tsukasa to whimper, gathering Mr. Rabbit into his arms. As he expected, Rui wasn't in the room. How long was Rui going to avoid him for? Tsukasa suddenly recalled when Mizuki had advised him to "throw Rui a bone". It was worth a try.

"Rui! Come out here right now! Look at me, I'm injured and bleeding and you don't even care!" Tsukasa shouted in his room, kicking his feet like a child. He's never acted like this before in his life. Never raised his voice to his parents, never tried to throw a tantrum after his father had harshly reprimanded him the one time he tried, and never bothered to complain even about the small annoyances in his life. Why complain when there was no one around to listen? Why cry if all he got for it was a slap on his wrist and a demand that he shape up? Surely Rui would think he was utterly pathetic when he found that Tsukasa's "terrible" injury was just a prick from a needle he got from trying to clumsily focus in his sewing club. An injury he sustained because he felt so dreadfully lonely, even though he was surrounded by nice people and even one of his dear friends. Why did he think Rui would come running if he just sobbed like a kid and threw a fit in their room-


Tsukasa looked up, his vision slightly blurred from tears-when did he start crying?-as he looked up to find Rui crawling through the window of their bedroom. He was shoeless and his hands were caked in dirt. Had Rui already decided to give up on becoming a knight and turned to a life as a farmhand?

"Tsukasa, what's wrong?" Rui crept closer, ignoring the mess of a state he was in to look at Tsukasa worriedly.

Tsukasa set down Mr. Rabbit gently on the bed before he blew up. "Have you already given up on being a knight?! What happened to being with me forever? You-you liar! I can't believe Rui Kamishiro was one to give up so easily!" Tsukasa was blabbering, not even believing half the things he was saying, but he was just feeling so overcome from seeing Rui again. It didn't matter that it was just a day of them being apart. Tsukasa had never had a "fight" with someone so close to him before, and the worry from being unable to make up, along with the added stress of things going wrong throughout the day was just compounding the mounting burden on Tsukasa's mind. Was this all it took for Rui to let him go?

"Why did you leave? I didn't want you to go, didn't I tell you to stay with me?" Tsukasa sobbed, finally cracking as he could hear Rui pattering around him. Was he panicking? Good. He should feel just a smidge of the stress Tsukasa had to deal with all day!

Why was the clingy kid still not hugging him? Tsukasa wiped his tears to find Rui frantically moving his hands around him, yet hesitant to even touch him. What the hell?

"Why aren't you hugging me?"

Rui startled. "I-I know how much Tsukasa dislikes mess. My hands are all dirty but I don't want to leave you alone while you're so upset-"

Stupid boy. Tsukasa tugged Rui forward, ignoring the other's squeak. He squeezed his arms around the boy's solid waist, burrowing his face against Rui's chest. The comforting scent of petrichor filled his lungs and Tsukasa rubbed his tears and snot into Rui's shirt. He'll wash it all later. He did not have a single care for the dirt caking Rui's hands at the moment. The most important thing was that Rui was finally here with him.

Rui compromised by rubbing the back of his pants to rid his hands of some dirt, before squeezing Tsukasa back with desperation. "I missed Tsukasa so much. Being away from you today was far worse than before because I knew that this time you wanted me to be by your side."

"If you knew that then why did you leave?" Tsukasa pounded against Rui's back angrily, which he knew just felt like a gentle back massage to him. Rui still let out a noise of distress, nosing his face into Tsukasa’s hair.

"I'm sorry. I just felt unbearable agony being beside you at that moment. I knew I had hurt you from my actions, and I couldn't stand being the cause of your pain. It didn't seem right to be allowed to be at your side, even if you wanted me there."

So Rui's guilt caused so much pain to himself that he felt he had to quarantine himself in an act of self-flagellation?

"Where did you go? Why are you so dirty?"

"Elective. Gardening club."

At least that made sense. But, "Where are your shoes?"

"I lost them."

"What. How."

"That's not important right now, Tsukasa. Where are you injured?"

"Oh, that. Um," Tsukasa blushed, feeling embarrassed about his actions now that he was cognizant enough to reflect. "It's really nothing."

"Curing any of Tsukasa’s injuries is my top priority!" Rui declared like it was an oath he was committed to performing for the rest of his life.

"I was just complaining for the sake of it, it doesn't even hurt now."

Rui took his hands like they were something to be treasured and cared for. "Please show me anyway, Tsukasa. I don't want you to suffer from any undue harm when it's something within my power to fix."

Geez, could Rui save that kind of talk for his future love interest? If Tsukasa was a girl his heart would be pattering non-stop. As of now, it was just going at a moderately faster pace than normal, but Tsukasa attributed it to finally being reunited with Rui again.

Tsukasa sheepishly showed Rui his pricked finger, which Rui tutted at like a concerned mother hen. "Look, I was feeling emotionally compromised, okay?"

"I understand," Rui nodded, smiling dotingly at the other. “Tsukasa was very strong to bear this injury all on his own. Luckily I’m here now to make it all better.”

“You don’t have to baby me,” Tsukasa muttered, but his chest warmed at Rui’s overt cosseting.

Rui brought Tsukasa’s injured finger close to his lips, but then pressed it to the tip of his nose at the last moment. A warm green glow enveloped his finger, closing up the small wound like it was never there. Rui nosed at the healed finger as though he were giving it an Eskimo kiss, an almost worshipful look on his face as he continued to hold Tsukasa’s hand close to him.

“Thank you, Rui.”

“I am determined to care for Tsukasa as well as he had taken care of me,” Rui stated resolutely.

“Is that so… Then that means Rui is willing to listen to some of my requests as well, right?”

Rui blinked at Tsukasa’s sudden proposal but then nodded with a smile. “I will strive to perform any of Tsukasa’s requests to the best of my ability.”

“Good,” Tsukasa sprung off the bed, heading to where all of Rui’s gifts had been stashed. Saki had bought a range of apparel for Rui to wear, while Tsukasa had bought snacks, a new tool kit, and the other weapons he wanted to gift to Rui. Tsukasa demanded that Rui hold out his hands and then piled all his presents into his arms. Rui looked shocked at all the gifts Tsukasa had bestowed upon him, staring up in disbelief. Tsukasa could tell that Rui was mentally debating whether or not to beg for Tsukasa to take it all back. Tsukasa decided to ignore Rui’s silent plea.

"Put on these shoes first Rui, let's make sure all of Saki’s gifts for you fit."

"Tsukasa, this is too much. I already have the sword that you gave me."

Tsukasa pouted and gave the boy a haughty stare. "Rui, I want to ask if you're turning down my gifts because you think it's an opulent waste of money, or because you just don't think you deserve them. If it's the first one, I don't care. My family is filthy rich and I will use their money however I want. If it's the latter reason, then that one is also bullsh*t." Tsukasa deserved to be selfish after all the suffering Rui had put him through! He would not take a no for an answer.

Rui was left speechless after Tsukasa’s vehement refusal. He swallowed his unspoken words and accepted everything with teary eyes. Tsukasa paused Rui from trying on the shoes, running to the bathroom to get a wet cloth to wipe down Rui’s feet. He instructed Rui to sit down as he went to kneel and clean the other’s dirt-clad feet, but Rui begged for the towel to do it himself, making the excuse of not wanting Tsukasa to exert himself after having his injury heal. Tsukasa sighed but allowed the blushing, fussy boy to clean himself as he pleased. Rui was weirdly shy about the strangest things.

Once Rui was done, Tsukasa watched intently as Rui slipped on a set of brown loafers, making sure that the fit was good and suited Rui. Well, Rui was the type to make anything suit him, so the shoes made him look handsome as expected. Tsukasa knelt down anyway to press at the top of the shoes, making sure that Rui’s feet weren’t compressed and were comfortably filling them out. Rui gasped, then buried his face into his hands. Tsukasa could still see his burning red ears peeking out from his hair.

“How do they feel, Rui? Any discomfort?”

Rui shook his head in response.

"They feel ok? Do you like them?"

He nodded.

"Why aren't you talking right now, did you lose your ability to speak?"

“Tsukasa is so forward right now, it leaves me confused on how to properly respond,” Rui's response came out muffled from behind his hands, staring down at Tsukasa like a bashful maiden. "Seeing Tsukasa on his knees servicing me is too stimulating."

Tsukasa stood back up to keep Rui from popping a blood vessel. This boy was too ridiculous. Was he comparing Tsukasa to an attendant servicing royalty?

“How was the bento box I made you? I saw that you ate that at least.”

Rui relaxed with Tsukasa finally back near his eye level. “Tsukasa’s food that he made for me was delicious.”

“Did you eat those vegetables I packed for you too or did you feed them to Mr. Rabbit?”

Rui was silent for a bit too long before responding. Tsukasa made sure to pinch the boy's cheek in reprimand.

"You will eat those vegetables, I promise you."

"Tsukasa is a force to be reckoned with," Rui shuddered, but he then immediately beckoned Tsukasa to sit in his lap. "Allow me my turn to truly pamper Tsukasa now."

Tsukasa rolled his eyes but obediently took a seat in Rui’s lap. It was true that he wanted to feel pampered, but his shame had taken too much of a beating for him to admit it out loud.

"I was able to watch Tsukasa casting magic to help out Shinonome earlier. You really are a natural now," Rui said proudly, patting Tsukasa’s head. Tsukasa decided not to question how Rui knew about that event, closing his eyes to focus on the other’s full affection. Besides, Rui seemed to find a way to learn about everything anyway, it came with being the all-powerful antagonist.

"Keep going."

"Fufu, Tsukasa has been so kind and giving towards me all this time, it's only fair I give back all my thanks and appreciation." Rui started to massage Tsukasa’s scalp, his chest rumbling happily against Tsukasa’s back. Rui's compliments and touches of affection made Tsukasa strangely fulfilled and warm. So warm and fluffy. "I want to move at Tsukasa’s pace. Seeing Tsukasa unduly suffer because of my overt demands was a pain I never wanted to experience. So from now on, please be as selfish as you want to be, Tsukasa.”

Tsukasa opened his eyes to look upon Rui’s indulgent smile, the boy at peace merely from being in Tsukasa’s presence and given open permission to dote on Tsukasa as much as he wanted. Has Tsukasa ever known someone to adore him to this extent? Or just someone this joyful in giving him affection? If his parents ever did then he had no waking memory of it.

Tsukasa finally recalled the dirt caked under Rui's nails, and how there were most definitely particles of it in his hair now too. It was the sacrifice he made for Rui’s immediate solace.

"Should we have that bath together now?"

Rui looked at him in shock. "Are you completely sure?"

Tsukasa pondered to himself for a bit, then nodded. "I have a few stipulations you'll need to follow. But yes we can."

Rui’s resulting smile could have outshined the sun.


I had the majority of this chapter done for a while, but then AX happened and then I started my new job 😅
AO3 being down was a rough time, put down those hackers as one of the top ten most evil anime villains

read Sow a seed in the ground and let it know it's something special and maybe op will finally upload a chapter (haha jk love u jen)

Chapter 16


They successfully bathe together, but everything else goes wrong.


It’s been over a month, whoops.
Unedited chap😢 ill read over this later

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

"Tsukasa, I think I kind of understand why you want to be blindfolded, but must I really blindfold myself as well?" Rui asked somberly.

“These are my rules! We can stop at any time, you know,” Tsukasa didn’t bend. It was easier to be strict since he couldn’t see Rui’s despondent expression. Rui sighed but brooked no further argument as he sat on a stool beside the bathtub Tsukasa was reclined in. Tsukasa had decided that yes, both of them could be in the bathroom together, but neither were to see each other naked. The best way to achieve that was to not be able to see at all, which would eliminate accidental glimpses. Surely Tsukasa wouldn’t fall into another panic attack if he got rid of the chance of seeing Rui’s naked body entirely.

Also, since Rui one-sidedly seeing Tsukasa's naked body was unfair, he wouldn’t be allowed to look either. He knew Rui wouldn't make fun of him, in fact, his reaction would likely be the polar opposite. However, Tsukasa knew he would feel too vulnerable if he allowed Rui to see himself completely naked. Besides, it’s not like Rui needed his vision to navigate his surroundings anyway.

Both of them had each taken one of Tsukasa’s many silk handkerchiefs to cover their eyes. Rui’s was tied around his head while Tsukasa had to hold his over his eyes to allow Rui access to his hair. Tsukasa could hear the clinking of a ceramic jar lid and Rui lathering his hands with shampoo, the familiar lemony scent flooding Tsukasa’s senses. Large hands gathered strands of Tsukasa’s hair onto the top of his head, held in place by soapy moisture. Rui threaded his fingers through the frothy mass, the tips gently digging into Tsukasa’s scalp. Tsukasa sighed in pleasure as Rui kneaded his head like a nursing kitten.

Eventually, they reached a point where Tsukasa was sure Rui was just playing with his hair for the fun of it. Tsukasa wouldn’t have minded but some of the soap was starting to soak his blindfold. He told Rui this much.

“Then Tsukasa should just lean back to keep it from dripping into his eyes.”

“But then you’d get wet!”

“I don’t mind, especially if it was from Tsukasa.”

Tsukasa knew Rui meant it too. He couldn’t see Tsukasa rolling his eyes from under his blindfold, so Tsukasa huffed and decided to just lean back, consideration be damned. Rui was going to have his turn in the bathtub soon anyway.

Rui continued to massage Tsukasa’s head, the repetitive shift in pressure pulling Tsukasa into a state of pure relaxation. It was only when Tsukasa nearly slipped right into the water did he realize that Rui was bearing the full weight of his head. He nearly fell asleep while under Rui’s ministrations. Rui asked Tsukasa to rinse his hair out in the water so that he could prepare the conditioner. Tsukasa obeyed on command, leaning down to dunk his hair in the water and rinse out the suds.

“Thank you, Honey.”

The act of entrusting Rui completely with the task of washing his hair flooded Tsukasa with feelings of warmth and intimacy. Tsukasa was so busy savoring the moment, he didn’t even register what Rui had called him until he repeated it in his head.


Rui’s movements immediately froze. “Have I overstepped again?”

Tsukasa knew his cheeks were burning, and was thankful once again that Rui couldn’t see him. “N-no, it’s fine. I prefer it over ‘Mama’.”

“Mr. Rabbit seemed to have claimed that pet name, anyway,” Rui chuckled, but his laugh seemed to be tinged with regret. His hands however resumed in applying conditioner to Tsukasa’s hair. Rui meticulously threaded his fingers through any of the tangles in Tsukasa’s hair and coated each strand. He had a feeling his hair would be smoother and shinier than normal once he got out of the bath. There was no way Rui even paid half this amount of attention to his own hair while bathing.

When the care was bordering on excessive yet again, Rui asked Tsukasa if he could rinse the other’s hair himself. Tsukasa agreed easily. Rui had given his hair the most luxurious service it had received in Tsukasa’s and likely Book Tsukasa’s combined years of experience.

Rui poured warm water over the back of Tsukasa’s head. The steady stream of water had to be from Rui using magic to guide the water to rinse his hair, much like a actual shower head. Rui finished up with the same spell from before that squeezed all the water out of Tsukasa’s hair.

“Your turn,” Tsukasa stood from the tub, and he could feel Rui use his magic to dry the rest of his body.

“That’s okay, I can do it myself, Tsukasa.”

“What? No! I’m washing you too!” Tsukasa turned and reached out to where he assumed Rui’s arm was. Instead, Tsukasa’s foot slipped on the slick surface of the bathtub and he fell forward. His face smacked into taut skin, and his lips brushed against something pointed yet fleshy. Tsukasa froze in place. He kept his brain from computing where he was located at that very moment. He knew exactly what he was touching, but he absolutely refused to acknowledge it.

“Tsukasa, are you alright?” Rui immediately asked in a worried panic, his hands going to Tsukasa’s shoulders in a steadying gesture. Tsukasa nodded mechanically only to realize moments later that Rui could not see his answer. And his face was still buried in…!

“S-sorry!” Tsukasa cried out, nearly slipping backward again if it weren’t for Rui’s hands still clutching him.

“Are you sure, your face felt so warm-”

“I will feel much, much better when you sit down in that tub and let me wash your hair!” Tsukasa demanded, using his bravado to hide how flustered he was.

Rui finally stepped away, only for his large palms to clutch Tsukasa’s boney hips, his thumbs smoothing over the skin of his stomach. Tsukasa couldn’t hold back his shriek.

“I’m going to lift you out so you don’t slip again, Tsukasa,” Rui stated, picking Tsukasa up like he was a bag of rice. Tsukasa really missed rice, but not as much as he missed solid ground under his bare feet at this very moment.

“Rui! This is extremely unnecessary! Put me down!”

“It is,” Rui agreed, but still did not set Tsukasa down until his feet touched the stone floor of the bathroom. Tsukasa huffed over Rui’s bout of overprotectiveness, although he still thanked the boy for his assistance. He mentally readied himself for the next challenge, which would be washing Rui’s hair while blindfolded.

"I can keep my clothes on as Tsukasa washes my hair, if you want to take off your blindfold," Rui suggested, picking up on Tsukasa’s hesitance even without having to see the other.

"What?! You can't take a bath with your clothes on!" Tsukasa instantly refuted.

"I'll take my clothes off after Tsukasa leaves and then I’ll finish my bath," Rui offered, which finally made Tsukasa realize how many accommodations Rui was making for Tsukasa’s sensibilities. The boy was offering to take an uncomfortable bath fully clothed with a blindfold on just for Tsukasa’s own comfort. Wasn’t Tsukasa being just slightly ridiculous?

“I’ll be fine Rui. Just take off your clothes and get in the bath.”

“To think, the day has come that Tsukasa demands I strip for him,” Rui spoke with a bashful voice that was obviously feigned in order to tease Tsukasa.

“Cut it out!” It was already difficult enough as it was, Tsukasa thought to himself. Would he freak out again if he exposed himself to Rui’s bare skin? “Just do as I say! You’re supposed to be making it up to me, right?”

“Indeed I am. Will me following your directions make you happy, Tsukasa?” Tsukasa faltered in snapping back an answer immediately. Rui’s question had an odd weight to it, as though he wanted Tsukasa to answer it with consideration.

“I mean, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

“Alright,” Rui answered simply, and Tsukasa heard the heft of clothes hitting the bathroom floor. Tsukasa gulped nervously, his hand trembling as he reached up for his blindfold, knowing he wouldn’t be able to wash Rui’s hair in exchange without seeing. It was on his terms this time, it’s not a big deal to see his best friend naked! Tsukasa just had to imagine he was looking inside an anatomy book, or that he was stuck in health education class. The cloth slipped from his eyes, and Tsukasa gazed on what he could only call a perfect specimen of man, if not slightly malnourished. Rui’s toned, pale back was exposed to him, somehow devoid of any scars. At least Tsukasa wasn’t freaking out or hyperventilating, even if his heartrate was faster than normal. In fact, Tsukasa had the wildest urge to reach out and touch, but quickly snapped out of his trance when he saw he had a finger nearly brushing Rui’s scapula. What was he doing?! Was he seriously about to be a hypocrite and molest his own friend's back?


“H-huh? Oh right, yes!” Tsukasa scrambled for the shampoo to start on Rui’s hair. He may have tugged harder than necessary in his rush, and Rui made it very clear with unnecessary sounds and faked whimpers of pain.

“Tsukasa is so rough~ But I don’t dislike it,” Rui moaned tremulously, which Tsukasa could only hiss at in embarrassment. He did go slower if only to keep from yanking on Rui’s hair as much. Rui was so gentle with him before, he didn’t want to cause Rui any undue pain.

Tsukasa asked to borrow Rui’s water-conjuring magic to rinse his hair, which Rui obliged with readily. Rui aimed a finger at his head to guide a stream of warm water that cascaded down over his soapy hair. Tsukasa rinsed the suds out, the dirt and dust Rui collected from working in the gardens washing out with them. Tsukasa followed with conditioner, finally allowing him to work out the mass of tangles Rui had somehow existed with in his day-to-day life. Rui’s hair was still soft and healthy, any damage that his hair withstood from neglect was fortunately fixable.

Tsukasa announced to Rui that he’s finished with the other’s hair, the awkwardness immediately settling back in once Tsukasa was no longer occupied with a task. Rui hummed in acknowledgment, and Tsukasa couldn’t help but watch as Rui’s back muscles flexed from movement. Rui, even while blindfolded, moved with a surety that confirmed that sight was an unnecessary sense for him. He confidently reached for a loofa and lathered up with a citrusy body wash. Tsukasa didn’t realize how intently he was watching until Rui made a questioning sound.

“You’re still here, Tsukasa? Did you want me to wash you too?”

“Huh? Wh-what? No!” Tsukasa abruptly stood from his seat next to the bathtub and ran out. How did he get so distracted there at the end? What was so interesting in watching his best friend rub suds all over his wet body? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Tsukasa did it all the time! In fact, Rui was terrible at it, he still rubbed way too hard at his skin, causing it to flush red after the loofa left whatever spot he was attempting to clean. Tsukasa groaned once he exited the bathroom, the fact that he even took note of that particular detail proved that he was staring way too hard. At least he didn’t pass out at the end of it.

Rui didn’t take long to follow Tsukasa out of the bathroom, both of them knew that their separation anxieties were still thrumming high. Tsukasa had taken the time Rui was gone to go through the other gifts Saki had sent along with him. Rui hovered over the other’s shoulder as Tsukasa selected what he was looking for.

"Take a look, Rui. Saki bought us some hair products as well! Here, doesn't this smell nice?" Tsukasa unscrewed the lid of a jar of hair oil and held it up to Rui to smell. "It's good to put in after bathing and drying off.”

“Alright,” Rui agreed easily, standing in place to await instruction from Tsukasa on where to sit. Tsukasa blinked, surprised that Rui wouldn’t just go ahead and take his customary spot on the carpet. Tsukasa shrugged it off however, setting a pillow on the ground in front of his bed for Rui to sit on. Rui picked up on the cue quickly and settled onto the cushion, with Tsukasa following suit, settling on the bed.

This time Tsukasa made sure to be gentle, thoroughly rubbing the scented oil into Rui’s strands. Now that Tsukasa felt composed enough to reflect, he had noticed that something felt off about Rui during the bath. It could just be Tsukasa’s imagination, but Rui felt strangely less willful? Maybe it was nothing, and it was just a result of Rui relaxing during the bath and giving in to Tsukasa’s whims instead of stating his own.

"Tsukasa, I want to thank you and your sister for all of the gifts,” Rui said gratefully, resting his back against Tsukasa’s legs. Tsukasa took a fine-tipped, ceramic comb to Rui's hair, the teeth of the comb gliding through the strand Rui had magicked dry. He grabbed a silk, baby blue ribbon and tied an artfully messy bun at the top of Rui’s head.

"Of course, you deserve nice things. Turn around for me?"

At Tsukasa’s request, Rui propped himself up to his knees, turning and balancing himself against the edge of the bed. His hands bordered the outside of Tsukasa’s thighs, Rui's face hovering mere inches from Tsukasa's.

Tsukasa heaved in a startled breath, suspiciously warm and scented with petrichor. "You don't have to be so close!"

"My apologies," Rui breathed, leaning back and giving Tsukasa a better view of his front profile. Ugh, how was he so handsome?

“Am I to Tsukasa’s satisfaction?”

“Do you really have to ask?” Tsukasa grumbled, Rui likely noticing how much Tsukasa was staring at him. He played with Rui’s bangs, arranging them with the remaining oil on his fingers. “There, decent enough.”

“I don’t want to be only decent, I want to be the best for Tsukasa,” Rui pouted predictably.

"Fine, you have the type of face that I wouldn't get tired of looking at," Tsukasa put bluntly as he patted Rui's cheek. Rui's face flushed red, but didn’t move away from Tsukasa’s touch.

…Say something, Rui! It’s embarrassing to be so blunt about finding his face admirable!

Rui finally seemed to notice he was quiet for a while, giving Tsukasa a smile that would’ve caused anyone more faint-hearted than him to pass on to their next life. Tsukasa could technically consider this world he was in to be his second life, so he was only thrown slightly off-kilter. Damn Rui and his supernatural handsome main antagonist powers!

“Shall we study and then go to sleep?” Rui suggested. Tsukasa was startled by Rui being the one to bring up studying, all of his own volition. Well, he wasn’t going to be the one to stop Rui from being a good student! Tsukasa needed the extra help in history anyway.

The week passed by quickly, classes were in full swing with future tests and projects being announced. Sir Shiraishi went into further detail about their future expedition as Tsukasa’s class went through their drills each day. It was jarring to go from a full-out fight against the skilled knight to just running practice swings, but maybe Sir Shiraishi was just impressing how important it was to know the basics.

If Tsukasa and Rui were near inseparable before then they couldn't be considered less than joined at the hip now. However, despite their lack of distance, Tsukasa couldn’t help feel as though there was an invisible barrier put up between the two of them, placed there by none other than the unlikely, clingy culprit, Rui.

Rui went along easily with any of Tsukasa's suggestions, but that was also the root of the problem. It was too easy. It wasn't as though Rui ever denied Tsukasa anything, but Rui was also a greedy kid who wasn't afraid to make demands of his own. Or at least, he used to be. Tsukasa had to go out of his way to ask if Rui desired something, be it food or even affectionate touch, but Rui had stopped asking for it himself altogether. What caused this change? Where did the overly willful Rui go?

On top of that issue, Mizuki also seemed to be pulling back from him, shying away from opening up to Tsukasa again after their previous conversation was interrupted. They still made their cursory greetings and congratulated him on making up with Rui, but never delved into what was clearly troubling them. Tsukasa didn’t want their friendship to be so one-sided, he needed to reinforce that he was there for Mizuki too!

As Tsukasa attended one of his morning classes with his two troubled friends, he tried to get a better read on Mizuki, who’s situation appeared more urgent. The novel wasn’t clear on when Mizuki begun their plans on abandoning the kingdom, and with the hints Tsukasa had it was likely that they had already started on them.

Remembering how loud even his whispering voice was, Tsukasa wrote on the corner of his notes and pushed it closer for Mizuki to read more easily.

Mizuki was immediately intrigued due to Tsukasa being the one to distract from lecture. Their eyes widened and looked up to Tsukasa in alarm and slight betrayal. Tsukasa knew he was taking a risk when he wrote, “You should talk to Ena.”

Rui watched on calmly as the other two had a stare-down. He didn’t seem to be too upset about Tsukasa giving his attention elsewhere, which was convenient for now. Maybe he actually was maturing? Tsukasa would check in with the boy later.

Mizuki however, smoothed over their distraught expression and turned back to the front of the classroom, agonizingly paying attention to the lecture rather than listen to any more of Tsukasa’s attempts at reconciling with their friend. The situation was more dire than Tsukasa anticipated if Mizuki preferred to be attentive in class than talk about Ena!

Mizuki did their damnedest to ignore Tsukasa for the rest of class, so Tsukasa decided to corner them once they were dismissed. He had a gut feeling that he needed to push the issue, Mizuki shouldn’t have to deal with whatever was plaguing them by themselves! Getting Ena involved may just be what helped Mizuki through it.

Once the professor announced the end of lecture, Mizuki launched themselves over the desk and raced toward the door. Tsukasa gaped at Mizuki’s hasty retreat, then shot out of his own seat to chase after them, in spite of the professor’s irritated demand to not race out of his classroom. However, it was as he feared once he looked around the bend of the doorway; Mizuki was long gone.

Tsukasa slapped at Rui’s shoulder urgently, who had dutifully followed him. “Don’t let Mizuki escape, Rui! I need to talk to them!”

Rui nodded obediently and held out their hand, then tugged it back as though they were pulling on a rope. Tsukasa heard a yelp from down the hallway and fist-pumped. Having Rui really was like playing on the ultimate cheat mode in this life. He praised Rui for a job well done and they headed over to their invisible escape-artist of a friend.

Rui snapped his fingers at a seemingly normal part of the wall, forcefully undoing Mizuki’s glamour. Mizuki hissed at the strong dispelling magic, like a bandaid that was ripped off too suddenly.

“You’re playing dirty, Chief.” Mizuki grumbled as Tsukasa walked up to them.

“You’re a better judge of character than I am, Mizuki. Do you really think Ena would let you down when you’re clearly troubled by something? I’m sure that even just a letter would reassure her that you’re doing okay.”

“We all have secrets that are better left unsaid, especially from that one buddy you have over there,” Mizuki gestured the best they could from where they were pinned to the wall. They yelped as their arms were compressed tighter to their body.


Mizuki took in a heavy breath as Rui lessened his hold in response to Tsukasa’s scolding tone. He didn’t have to treat this as though the were interrogating a hardened criminal, Mizuki was their friend! Albeit a supernaturally powerful one who could potentially betray them within their school career.

“However, the one with the most pressing secrets has to be you, Tsukasa.”


Tsukasa’s eyes widened in shock as he heard his name uttered from Mizuki’s mouth. He was so used to their exorbitant nicknames, it took a moment for him to even register the rest of their accusation.

“I bet it’s things you aren’t able to tell your overpowered flunkey,” Mizuki stated cruelly, which was deeply out of character for them, and yet had the blood running cold in Tsukasa’s veins. No way, did Mizuki know of his true whereabouts, even when Rui himself showed no sign of suspicions? Why else were they acting this way?

Once the doubt started to creep in, Tsukasa couldn’t contain it. Has he ever thought about the possible repercussions of what would happen if Rui were to learn all of Tsukasa’s secrets? It would only take a bit of interrogating from Rui for him to figure out that, despite Rui not sharing but the barest of details about his own childhood, Tsukasa knew about all of it. Would he also figure out that Tsukasa’s soul, body notwithstanding, had come from a different world entirely? And most importantly, that Tsukasa had not trusted Rui with any of this information, despite being each other’s so-called best friend? It called into question Tsukasa’s trustworthiness not just as a friend, but as a person.

“How about you don’t make assumptions about either Tsukasa or me, Akiyama?” Rui suggested calmly, although the veins in his outreached hand were pronounced in refraining from squeezing Mizuki like a stress ball. Oh man, Tsukasa had actually overstepped? He needed to find a way to de-escalate.

Suddenly the ground shook from a massive, far-away explosion, cutting Tsukasa off from speaking up.

“What was that?” Several people exclaimed in shock as students and professors flooded out from their respective classrooms to investigate the disruption. Mizuki took the chance to wrestle out of Rui’s hold and race toward what could only be the source of the explosion.

"Mizuki, that's dangerous! Where are you going?" Tsukasa called after them.

“That was Shinonome’s and the Prince’s magic,” Rui commented, as though it didn’t make the situation all the more dire. Tsukasa stopped hesitating and raced after Mizuki, dodging around curious students popping out of their classrooms, Rui no doubt close behind.

The pair reached the training grounds, catching up to Mizuki who stood at the forefront of a mob of riveted bystanders. One would think that people usually ran away from an explosion, rather than flock toward it! Do people have no sense of self-preservation here?

“Such explosive magical resonance!” Tsukasa looked over at the outburst to find their F-class magical instructor gawking at the carnage. Magical resonance caused this damage? The training grounds had a giant crater impact in the center, smoke billowing out and obscuring the two figures who no doubt caused it.

“Rui, are they alright? Can you see the two of them?” Tsukasa asked urgently. The crowd was blocking off a clear pathway to reach the crater, not to mention there were several professors attempting to perform damage control and keep students from getting any closer.

Rui must have took note of Tsukasa struggling to see, taking Tsukasa’s hand and parting a crowd of confused students like the Red Sea with a wave of gravity magic, wide enough for the two of them to squeeze through.

The smoke cleared enough for Tsukasa to catch sight of Akito kneeling with his head covered by his cape, with Toya protectively holding the cloth in place acting as a of shock blanket. They didn’t make any move to escape from the crater, and Tsukasa could only assume it was to keep the cape in place.

From ther corner of his eye, he noticed Mizuki taking a step back, their face morphing into horrified dread until they sped-walked back toward the academy building. Shocked by Mizuki’s sudden retreat, Tsukasa could only call out after them.

"Mizuki? Where are you going?"

"It's a curse." Rui hummed, who was still looking out toward the boys. Tsukasa whirled around to stare at Rui incredulously.

“A curse? How? Why? Who cast it?!” There was zero mention of such a curse in the novel! Did Mizuki recognize what it was too? Was that why they ran off so quickly?

“Tsukasa is expecting me to know the answer to quite a few questions,” Rui said flatly.

“Can you answer any of them, Rui? This is urgent.”

Rui sighed but nodded, gesturing Tsukasa closer to whisper into his ear. “This is a delayed curse, which is only activated when certain conditions are met. That makes it more difficult to track down who could’ve cast the curse, but it’s unlikely to be a mere student. If Shinonome is discovered to be a victim of a curse, he would either be quarantined off and placed under observance until a counter-curse is found, or, at worst, he’ll be expelled.”

“No!” Tsukasa exclaimed frantically. Akito couldn’t be expelled! He was one of the main characters, a forerunner for the new age of Royal Guards! What unknown evil could have cast such a curse on Akito?

“You seem deeply distraught,” Rui stated placidly, as though none of this concerned him.

“Of course I am, you just told me that our friend is at risk of being wrongfully expelled with no aid in curing his curse!” Tsukasa forcefully whispered back. Tsukasa really wanted to charge in and get closer to check up on his friends, but the professors were quickly forming a magical barricade around the crater. How were the two going to escape without Akito’s unfortunate curse getting discovered?

“Rui, please, do something!”

Tsukasa turned to beg his friend, whose face was frighteningly blank. The chills sent down Tsukasa’s spine upon seeing Rui’s expression only brought to mind how Rui’s alternate life of being the most feared enemy of the state wasn’t just some pipe dream.


“Saving them serves no benefit to me. In fact, in me doing nothing I can only see this as serving to drive you even closer to my side, limiting the number of people you rely on. You saw how Mizuki found it so easy to push you away and abandon the brother of their former best friend. Why should I have any stake in making sure they get out of this safely?”

Tsukasa had to remind himself that Toya was too preoccupied to be using his ice magic, with how chilled to the core he was. Rui was never more frightening than this moment. “T-they’re your friends, Rui!”

“No, they’re your friends, Tsukasa,” Rui made no move to do anything, even as several professors approached the center of the crater, surely to check on the prince. Akito was running out of time. Rui glanced over to catch the prince’s face morph into panic and had the audacity to smirk.


Tsukasa reacted rashly before he even realized what he had done. There were definitely students staring at the two of them having a dispute right in front of the crowd. Rui made no move to stop what he clearly knew was coming, turning his head back to face Tsukasa as a red heat flared on his cheek. Did Tsukasa really hit him that hard?

Tsukasa was at a loss for words but Rui didn’t need any more prompting. Rui held out a hand toward the crater the same time his expression shuttered. Tsukasa had to apologize. Why wouldn’t the apology leave his throat?

“Your Highness!” Some of the professors had reached Toya and Akito, checking for major injuries and helping the Prince to stand. Tsukasa held his breath as the cape over Akito’s head slipped, but it revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Akito only seemed slightly worse for wear, waving off offers of assistance from Toya, since none of the professors offered their own aid, surprise surprise. Was the curse supposed to make any visible changes? Or did Rui do something?

Rui started to stroll back toward the academy, but Tsukasa held him in place with a hand on his sleeve. “R-Rui, I want to apologize. Is your face alright? And thank you, you did something for them, right?”

Rui had yet to heal the red welt on his cheek he had allowed Tsukasa to give him. "You know, you only ask things of me, Tsukasa. I even stopped asking things of you, just to make sure I never overstepped boundaries with you, but I see now that I have only traded oppressors for a Master."

M-master? Is that truly what Rui thought of him?

"While I am forced to watch each step I take, pondering “When will I push it too far?”, “Is this what will finally drive him away?”, while I’m doing everything in my power to keep you at my side, you’re always the one running off to others, even when they’re the ones trying to push you away with their harsh words or actions. I see the barriers you only put up with me, Tsukasa. While you keep me at a distance, you strive to get closer to your other friends in high places. You’re craftier than others give you credit for, you have no need for noble friends with money and instead go for what you lack instead, power.

"It’s true what Mizuki said earlier, I suspected you had a greater understanding of my abilities than I have ever demonstrated in front of you. Wasn’t all your affection to appease me and sway me to your side? To keep me tamed so that I couldn’t bear to turn against you?”

Tsukasa gaped at Rui’s accusations. How did he even reply to that? Rui’s assertions were just as close to hitting the mark as they were flying off in the opposite direction of the target. In a way Tsukasa was indeed getting close to Rui in order to thwart the tragic ending for this world. Was that just using him, though? Did that disqualify all of Tsukasa’s feelings of friendship toward him and his other friends as well? Was Tsukasa in the wrong for befriending everyone under the pretense of wanting to save them all?

“R-Rui, I-”

“Your friends appear to be heading toward the infirmary. I’m guessing you want to check in on them,” In an abrupt change of topic, Rui gestured to how the two other boys were being herded back toward the academy to be more thoroughly examined. “I am unable to hold a convincing illusion when out of range of my target. We’ll want to follow them, unless you want Shinonome’s curse to be discovered.”

Tsukasa was forced to put their urgent conversation on the back burner and chase down the Prince and his knight. Luckily the crowd started to dissipate with the main attraction leaving the area, so Tsukasa and Rui hurried toward the infirmary as well. Even with the incredibly awkward atmosphere between the two of them, Rui stuck right by Tsukasa’s side like a shadow. Was Tsukasa the only one feeling discomforted? The more he thought about it, shouldn’t this a dealbreaker for Rui? Was it only a matter of time before Rui exploded from feelings of betrayal and moved up his timetable for ending the world? He had just called out his best friend for only being nice to him due to his OP-ness.

The two of them arrived to the infirmary, watching from the hallway as both Toya and Akito were checked out by the mage nurse. The professors that escorted them there shooed away the more stubborn students that had tagged along to see the commotion, except for Rui and Tsukasa. Tsukasa suspected that Rui had cast a cloaking spell on the two of them. For someone who felt so wronged earlier, he sure was being helpful right now.

The nurse miraculously found nothing out of the ordinary for the two “injured” students, although Toya was the one checked out more thoroughly. It probably wouldn’t do well for the Royal Academy to allow for one of the nation’s princes to have an untreated injury go unchecked. Toya seemed insistent on the nurse giving them space, and the nurse eventually left to do who knew what, maybe to give a report about how the royal wasn’t injured by today’s big event. Or, as Tsukasa’s magic professor had claimed, from magical resonance.

Tsukasa slipped into the room alongside Rui, and was surprised to find that Mizuki was already present as well. Rui seemed to have undone the illusion he had cast on Akito, causing Tsukasa to do a double-take when he looked upon Akito’s new features. The most notable addition was the thick, rust-colored horn jutting from the side of Akito’s head. His eyes were golden and glaring, his slitted pupils snapping each of his new visitors’ movements in a reptilian fashion.

“Well, I hate to be the one to say it but you’re in some deep sh*t now, Li’l Bro.”

“No sh*t, Akiyama,” Akito growled, literally. His worrying transformation had caused his voice to sound bass-boosted. He had fangs now too! As if Akito already didn’t look unfriendly before, all his features seemed all that much sharper now. Toya looked at the other boy worriedly, although one of his hands was hovering over Akito’s head as though he was debating whether it was wise to try and touch the other’s new appendage.

“Well it was lucky that Rui was there to keep you from getting caught! I had to run back to my room to grab this,” Mizuki waved a black square of cloth, an incantation threaded with gold into the back of it.

“What is that? You aren’t expecting me to wear that from now on, are you?”

“Oh come on, it’s either this or let everyone know that you’ve been cursed into slowly losing your mind as you devolve into a draconic eldritch being,” Mizuki said far too cheerily, causing Toya to turn several shades paler and Akito to snatch the cloth from their hand. Akito huffed and tied the bandana like a headband, which somehow magicked the horn back into his head. His other features also seemed to go back to normal, although his teeth did seem to remain pointier than normal.

“Glad you two seem fine other than this ordeal! Well, I’ll catch you all later maybe,” Mizuki tried to slip back out the entrance, if it weren’t for Tsukasa latching onto Mizuki like a stubborn leech.

“Nuh uh, start explaining! You know exactly what’s happening, dont you, Mizuki?”

“Ha ha, forgot you were also here, best buddy,” Mizuki laughed nervously. Tsukasa could only deal with so many tenuous relationships at a time, so he decided to charge on with his questions.

“You didn’t cast this curse, did you, Mizuki? How else do you have something on hand that can mask its effects?”

Mizuki smiled sheepishly. “No, I didn’t cast it. But it might as well have been my fault. I didn’t think Li’l Bro over there would’ve found a way to activate it so soon.”

“What do you mean? If you didn’t cast it then how is it your fault?” Tsukasa interjected, but Mizuki was already clamming up again. No way…Rui’s deductions about Tsukasa’s encounter with Banica came up in Tsukasa’s mind like an epiphany. “Did you take an oath to not talk about it?”

Mizuki looked at Tsukasa, simultaneously looking alarmed and impressed. That was as much confirmation as Tsukasa could probably get in this situation.

“Activate?” Akito asked gruffly, likely not enjoying people pondering about his affliction like he was some kid at a doctor’s office with his mom.

“From our magical resonance,” Toya deduced, the one physically taking the role as Akito’s acting guardian. Tsukasa wasn’t sure if either even realized it, but Toya had a hand rubbing Akito’s back like he was soothing a riled-up hound.

“Wait, wait, so you guys actually achieved magical resonance? How?” Tsukasa interrupted. Neither of them have been able to achieve such a thing until their final battle against Rui. That at least explained why Akito’s curse was never known about, because he died shortly after, which kept his curse from having time to take effect.

“We were sparring,” Like you suggested we do, Toya didn’t elaborate, since he wasn't the type to place blame, but Tsukasa could extrapolate the rest. So it was his fault that Akito’s curse emerged so suddenly. It’s barely been a week since Tsukasa made his suggestion, so it only took a few sparring sessions for them to achieve Magical Resonance? A technique revered for being powerful and difficult to achieve? Looking at the two boys, was there such a thing as getting along too well? Despite the near life-changing news of being turned into a failed science experiment from a comic book, Akito didn’t seem very distressed. In fact, Toya seemed to be the one taking the news the hardest.

“Akito, you’ll have to be vigilant about wearing Mizuki’s enchantment,” Toya couldn’t hide the urgency creeping into his tone. Akito turned around and had the audacity to ruffle the Prince’s hair, smiling as though Toya was merely nagging him about homework.

“I’ll be alright. It won’t do for me to be expelled right when I’m actually putting in an effort to join the Royal Guard as a first-year.”

As a first-year?! Akito had grown to be far more ambitious in the constant company of Toya, it seemed. It appeared having a positive influence and an aspect of his goal so nearby was doing wonders for the future Royal Guard’s motivation.

Such a thing couldn’t be said about Tsukasa though, looking over at Rui who had yet to say a word since entering the room. How royally did Tsukasa botch his chances of keeping Rui from razing the academy and the surrounding nations?

What did it say about Tsukasa’s perception of Rui that he could only imagine how the boy was going to destory the world now that he’s seen right through Tsukasa’s motivations? Tsukasa couldn’t even begin to describe the aching pain in his chest when he thought about Rui never looking favorably at him again.

“Well, seeing as I really can’t be any more helpful in this situation, I’m going to head back to class,” Mizuki waved at them all as they made a quick exit. Tsukasa didn’t even get his customary, bone-breaking slap on the back as goodbye from them. How many bridges was he going to burn today?

At least, for some inexplicable reason, Rui was still sticking around. Tsukasa was worried that Rui would pull another disappearing act that not even Tsukasa’s tears would be able to undo. Tsukasa decided to check in with Toya and Akito while he could, making sure that they were physically alright, beyond the incurable effects of Akito’s curse.

“We’ll probably get nagged at about participating in an unsanctioned sparring match with magic, but no harm no foul. I’ll see you in our next class,” Akito dismissed Tsukasa with a shooing motion, which Tsukasa sputtered at in indignation.

“It was a huge foul, if it weren’t for Rui then you could’ve been expelled on the spot!” Tsukasa blurted, which actually got Akito to look a bit contrite. Toya nodded along, not liking how lackadaisical Akito was with the situation.

“Damn, I got it already. It’s not like there was much Toya and I could’ve done about it. Our magic clashed and suddenly there was a hole in the ground. I appreciate Kamishiro’s aid, at least.”

Toya corroborated Akito’s story, adding more visual details about their spells sublimating with one another. It wasn’t at the level of a Frostflame Dragon, but it did show that they were reaching their full potential that much faster from training together.

Tsukasa found Rui to be patiently waiting by the door. Tsukasa was dying to know where they stood with each other, and gave a less than perfectly amicable farewell to his other friends. They had just been through a harrowing experience, but they had each other to rely on. Akito gave him a knowing look while Toya said his own polite goodbyes to them both. Upon seeing Tsukasa walk toward the entryway, Rui opened the door for him. Now whether the door led to reconciliation or Tsukasa’s utter demise, was completely up to Rui…


Trivia: There’s no such thing as “out of range” for Rui’s magic. He just wanted to give Tsukasa an "out" for the conversation.
Hopefully, it won't take as long for the next update

Chapter 17


Rui begins to unravel Tsukasa's secrets, leading to drastic consequences.


cw// nondescriptive references to puke and blood and temporary character death
I felt bad about how long it took for me to post the previous chapter and the subsequent cliffhanger so here's an update after just a week 😃

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The silence was borderline painful. With how hectic the situation was until that moment, Tsukasa realized that no, they did not have class since it was lunchtime and that Mizuki had lied to avoid them all. Not that Tsukasa blamed them, he's never felt more distressed in his two lives than at that very moment. Tsukasa tried to reassure himself that Rui would've ended not only his existence but the entirety of the academy by now if he really wanted to, but he hadn't. That had to count for something, right?

Tsukasa really didn't do well with silence. The two of them were heading toward their shared room, with Rui leading the way. Rui had to know about Tsukasa constantly, shamelessly, sneaking glances at him but didn't turn around even once to look at him. Rui's poker face was frighteningly effective, but Tsukasa had a feeling they should avoid discussing the elephant in the room until they actually reached a secluded area. One would think it would be insane to voluntarily be alone with one's potential murderer, but if Rui was actually determined to do such a thing then nothing on this planet had a chance of standing in his way anyway.

So against his better judgment, in an effort to fill the excruciating dead air, Tsukasa decided to bring up Akito's curse again. He knew something wasn’t adding up. Rui had immediately known that Tsukasa wasn’t cursed by Banica, but how was he able to determine that Akito’s curse had a delayed activation?

“Rui, how long have you known that Akito was cursed?”

Rui’s prolonged silence was damning. He answered without even looking over at Tsukasa. “He’s had it since we first met, and I suspect before he had even enrolled into the academy.”

Tsukasa couldn’t keep the appalled look off his face. Rui had known for weeks? “You knew for that long? Why didn’t you say anything before?!”

“Countercurses are notoriously difficult to cast, especially with no information, and I have no pressing need to assist in curing him.”

“What about out of the goodness of your own heart?”

Rui finally turned to face him, eyebrows raised in incredulity. “Was that supposed to be a joke?”


“You really think that just being nice to someone without expectation is a worthwhile endeavor? Not even you do that, Tsukasa.”

Rui didn’t even need his hands to slap Tsukasa in the face, his words alone were doing plenty. Rui then sighed, turning back to walk toward their room again, unceremoniously cutting their conversation short. Did Tsukasa even have the wherewithal to try for another discussion? Having Rui turn his sharp tongue on him felt awful. He could easily eviscerate Tsukasa with words alone.

However, Tsukasa couldn't bring himself to resume walking silently behind Rui just yet. He had to bite the bullet and ask or he’d go mad. Rui couldn’t even muster holding prolonged eye contact with him anymore, was there any point in dragging this out?

“Are we over? Do you hate me now?”

“...I don’t.”

“Huh?” Did Tsukasa hear that right?

Rui’s stoicism crumbled, and he turned to answer Tsukasa. “I could never hate you. Will you at least allow me the privacy of our room to discuss this matter or will you have me lay down my worthless grievances here and now?”

Tsukasa didn’t think he followed even half of Rui’s meaning, but he mimed zipping his lips up and gesturing for Rui to lead the way to their room. Rui didn’t hate him? Even after all this?

Rui took the cue and the pair walked silently to their room. It was only when their bedroom door shut behind the two of them did Tsukasa looked expectantly at Rui.

“You really don’t hate me?”

Rui seemed more willing to talk, now that they were in their shared safe haven. “I don’t. You assured that it wouldn't be a possibility," He sighed, sounding defeated. "I don’t know what’s worse, you getting close to me in order to use me, or you allowing me this close because you’re terrified of what I would do otherwise.”

It was such a flabbergasting claim of Rui’s, to believe that Tsukasa had only befriended Rui in order to just control him. But there were too many underlying truths tied into that statement for Tsukasa to deny it with a clear conscience. However, Tsukasa couldn’t bear how Rui was describing their friendship like it was some nefarious ploy. He “assured” that Rui wouldn't hate him? It wasn’t Tsukasa’s intention to weaponize their companionship!

Rui continued on, “You seem well-versed in the adage, ‘You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.’ Unfortunately, you were roped into dealing with something more troubling than a mere housefly.”

To anyone else, Rui would sound betrayed and wrathful. Tsukasa however could hear how self-depreciation sat heavy in his tone, all-too-familiar with the feeling himself. The boy sounded broken in a way that proved he was hurting just as much as he was aiming to hurt Tsukasa. His defense mechanism was to lash out with barbed half-truths that cut deep. Well, it was when Rui wasn't planning on eviscerating the perpetrator with his magic. The world had constantly betrayed his trust, should he be surprised that Tsukasa had done the same?

What precedent did Rui have to believe otherwise? Besides Nene, everyone had treated Rui like the dirt under their shoe. Rui had lived his life through making exchanges, nothing was ever freely given to him, especially not love. And when Rui finally stopped playing civil and forcefully took what he wanted, the only feelings the world had for him were fear and loathing. And just when Rui believed no one would ever look at him favorably, Tsukasa appeared, disrupting all his expectations. Isn’t it only logical for one to suspect that Tsukasa, rather than overturning Rui’s fact of life, had some underlying motive?

Rui’s grievances made the pit of guilt perpetually stuck at the bottom of Tsukasa’s stomach twist and grind in a way that made him want to puke. The amount of secrets Tsukasa had to withhold from everyone was overwhelming on a good day, and clearly he had failed miserably with how Rui suspected him.

This wasn't fair to Rui at all, he deserved to know everything. Tsukasa decided that he wanted to entrust all his secrets to him, whatever gods that sent Tsukasa here be damned.

Tsukasa went to open his mouth and spill his guts, only to be taken over by an actual wave of nausea. The feeling was so oppressive it caused Tsukasa’s knees to buckle and he had begun to dry-heave hunched over the ground. What was this?! This was far more severe than whenever the effects of Banica’s muting spell kicked in! It was like the universe itself was telling Tsukasa that he wasn’t allowed to spill the beans, and it did so by forcing his whole body to revolt against him.

Angry tears burst from Tsukasa, whether they were shed from the nauseating pain or the indignity of the situation was fair game. It was just now hitting Tsukasa how he'd been placed in a lose-lose situation, with all the cards stacked against him.

I want to tell Rui! I need to tell him everything!

But nothing but pathetic gasps would leave Tsukasa’s mouth. Rui surely had no idea what was going on. What if he thought that this was a manipulation ploy too, Tsukasa bursting into tears out of nowhere? It's not like Tsukasa wanted to cry right now!

“Let me say this then. You don't seem to have any hang-ups about classism, or rather than hang-ups, it's more like you'd never had to deal with the concept of it. Or at least not in the form that it exists in this society. You lack knowledge of the interworkings of high society as well, for someone who would have had private tutors to teach him about history and etiquette. With how much you emphasize the importance of studying, I doubt it’s from the lack of that."

Of course, Tsukasa’s carelessness finally arrived to bite him in the ass. Has Rui actually figured everything out?

Rui gently gathered Tsukasa’s face in his hands, his calculating eyes exuding that he knew exactly what Tsukasa was thinking.

“You’re not the Tsukasa from the house of Tenma. Who are you?”

The mad genius did it, he really figured it out! Tsukasa didn’t know whether to scream and run in terror or give Rui a congratulatory head pat. It was insane to be able to deduce such a wild conclusion from such little evidence. Or was it lack of, since he figured it out from what Tsukasa was unable to do?

Too bad the higher order wouldn’t let him answer Rui, the nausea returning with a vengeance. He’d basically figured it out, why couldn’t he just acknowledge what Rui said? Tsukasa decided that instead of answering out loud, he would fight through the pain and give a forced wooden nod. He then promptly blew chunks.


Rui sounded…concerned? All he did was puke, it’ll just be somewhat of a pain to clean up the carpet. Tsukasa looked down, and suddenly the heavy, cloying taste of iron in his mouth made much more sense.

What happened? Was all that blood from him? There was no way it was healthy for so much of it to be outside of his body. His sight was starting to go all monochromatic, the edges of his surroundings blurred along with the sound of Rui’s panicked shouting. Why did Rui sound so upset? What was going on?

His arms went and Tsukasa nearly face-planted into the pool of ichor on the ground, but sturdy arms caught him in time. His head whipped forward, his skull felt too heavy to be held up by his neck. His limbs had the structural integrity of those inflatable tube things in front of American car dealerships. It was like he was having an out-of-body experience, except it was something along the lines of his consciousness leaving his body, for good.

Pitch-black cold was invading his senses, and the only source of warmth cutting through was a steady grip on his chin, tilting his head back. Green shimmered at the edge of his vision, through the fog of black and white. Was Rui trying to heal him? But Tsukasa had a feeling it wouldn't be enough.

Was he dying? He didn't want things to end like this, with Rui having such a misconception about their friendship. Tsukasa may have been sent here for a purpose, but that didn't mean all his feelings weren't real.

His surroundings were fading to black too fast. Tsukasa could make out the panicked shout of his name through the fog before his eyes shut in his fatigue.

"You're here early. Like really early."

A feminine, soft-spoken voice roused him from his daze. Tsukasa assessed his surroundings to locate the origin of the unfamiliar voice. The black that had filled his vision was switched out for a muted grey. Tsukasa found himself in an empty plane only interrupted by interspersed metal structures. What in the world…Why were they there? They clearly weren't supporting anything. Tsukasa had to glance up, finding a girl with long grey hair tied into lopsided pigtails sitting on one of the metal frames. Was she playing with string? More specifically, Cat's Cradle?

"Um, hello?" Tsukasa went to stand but was immediately bowled over by a wave of wooziness. He decided to stay sitting right where he was.

The girl nodded in greeting and continued on playing with her string. Tsukasa took the time to gather his bearings. Clearly, he wasn't in his and Rui's bedroom anymore. How did he get here? Rui was grilling him over the coals and Tsukasa had been struggling to utter even a single answer to his questions. And then-

"Did I die?"

The girl looked away from her game to answer Tsukasa's question. "No, not exactly. You're on the cusp of it, however. Things aren't going great for that particular life of yours."

"I'm not dead yet? Then can't you send me back?" Tsukasa had to assume this was some kind of deity or magical being. She fit in too well with the aesthetic of the place for her not to be.

"You mean to your original world?"

Huh, Tsukasa didn't expect that to be a possibility. "You can do that?"

"Well, no. Did you want to be sent there?"

Tsukasa didn't even have to spare a second to think about his answer. "No! I have to set things right with Rui first." And it wasn't like he wanted to be sent back there afterward either. Tsukasa hadn't spared a thought for his old life or real parents in a long time.

The girl went back to fiddling with the string. It was like trying to hold a conversation with a kid hyper-fixated on their video game, except the kid had the secrets to the universe or whatever. "I can't send you to either world. For now, your soul is being housed here until the others determine what to do with it."

My soul? Was this not his actual body? Tsukasa glanced over himself, still dressed in his academy uniform, minus the blood. "Then why do I feel so tired?"

"You had just betrayed a mandate of the Gods. It's only reasonable that your soul would be fatigued. In fact, it's a mercy that your soul wasn't smitten on the spot. You must be looked favorably upon by someone up high," The girl stated monotonously, although she did spare a glance at Tsukasa with a pique of interest.

So some gods isekaied him here? He guessed that made sense. "I don't feel like I have much of a God's favor. You'd think they'd tell me more about what I'm supposed to be doing. Or my purpose. Or that they'd kill me if I stepped out of line!" Tsukasa ranted but stopped himself before he could take out his temper on the wrong person. "Sorry, I'm feeling kind of heated. No one told me anything, I was kinda thrown into this whole thing blind."

"I understand," The girl nodded, undisturbed. She wasn't very emotive, but Tsukasa could sense kindness in her tone. She's the first deity-aligned person who's actually been giving him some answers.

"Um, what's your name? I'm Tsukasa Tenma, but you already knew that."

"Me? I wasn't given one," The girl murmured, but she didn't seem upset by the fact. Tsukasa decided to be upset on her behalf.

"Really? Why not? Were the Gods too busy not telling me anything to not think of a name for you?"

The girl blinked and tilted her head, a questioning look in her heterochromatic eyes. "You seem mad?"

"Well yeah, that seems unfair. You're a nice person, you at least deserve a name," Tsukasa replied. "Well if you don't have an official one, is there anything you'd prefer to be referred to as?"

"I guess I can borrow the name Miku."

"Miku? Like the Vocaloid?"


The girl probably didn't have access to the internet to be able to look up songs on YouTube. The string she was playing with was probably one of the few things she could occupy her time with here. Was this place her home?

"Nevermind, it's an Earthling reference. How are you playing Cat's Cradle by yourself, Miku? I thought that was a two-player game."

"Two-player?" Miku questioned, then looked down at her design. It was a bit too far to see clearly, but it looked quite intricate.

"Did you want to play together?" It seemed like Tsukasa had nothing better to do either. Especially if his soul was on standby in this place.

The girl actually seemed to light up at the offer to play together. She stood up on the steel support structure, then jumped off, floating downward gracefully like Princess Peach would in Melee.

Miku walked over with a gentle pattering of steps, then took a seat in front of Tsukasa, holding her hands out which allowed Tsukasa to marvel at the design she weaved into the string. It was a complicated-looking spider web, quite a feat to pull off with only two hands.

"Do you know how to play?"

Surprisingly she shook her head. Tsukasa politely asked for the string, which Miku handed over with a child-like eagerness. Tsukasa smiled, his older brother instincts kicking in. He wrapped the string around each of his palms and offered the arranged string back to Miku. Once the string was back on her hands, he demonstrated how to pinch the string and slipped the game back onto his fingers. Miku caught on quickly, training a look of zealous focus onto the new game.

They played quietly for a couple of minutes, Tsukasa struggling more and more the farther they got into the game. Miku saved the round multiple times, untangling some of the strings Tsukasa had failed to grab properly and using multiple fingers to pinch certain locations together.

"Is this your home, Miku? Do you enjoy being here?" Tsukasa asked. It didn't appear as though anyone else lived here. Was Miku trapped here?

"Mm, I was born here. Sometimes I have visitors," Miku said nonchalantly. Tsukasa stared at the array of crisscrossing string, which was starting to look more like a giant knot. Miku positioned the string at Tsukasa’s fingers to indicate the best place he could grab them.

"Don't you get lonely?"

"Lonely?" Miku glanced up from the game, a contemplative look on her face. "I haven't thought much about it. I guess I'll be sad I won't be able to play this again when you leave."

"You think the big guys would let me come visit you?" Tsukasa wondered. Miku looked surprised.

"You want to come visit me?"

"Yeah of course, you're good company," Miku was the most pleasant otherworldly deity he's been acquainted with, leagues better than the cannibal lady.

Miku's lips formed a small smile, but she gave a solemn shake of her head. "It's best if you don't have a reason to come back here. This world houses undetermined souls. It's where you go when your destiny is in limbo."

"So is it likely that I'll be sent back to where Rui is?" Tsukasa asked. Miku had said he wasn't dead yet, right?

"It's unlikely for the Gods to send you back to the world you have been pulled from. But you're a unique case, as I've heard from the others.”

“But I have to make it up to Rui! He's a dear friend of mine, and yet I've been lying to him this whole time by omission. I don't want him to think everything else has been a lie."

“I hope you are given a chance to make up with your friend, Tsukasa,” Miku nodded along in commiseration.

Tsukasa suddenly felt light-headed and lurched forward, something tugging heavily at his chest. Miku sat up straighter, looking alarmed at Tsukasa’s abrupt reaction.

“What is this…urgh, this feels really weird,” Tsukasa wouldn’t necessarily say that the feeling was painful, but it felt like there was a heavy weight chained to him, pulling him into the unknown.

“It seems you’re not the only one willing to defy the will of the gods,” Miku said in awe, setting aside the tangled Cat’s Cradle to place a comforting hand over Tsukasa’s clenched fist. “Your friend is saving you.”

Rui was? He’s really going that far for him? Tsukasa clutched at his chest. Now that he knew it was from Rui, he drew more comfort from the feeling. Rui really was a miracle worker to be pulling off feats like dragging an errant soul out of purgatory. “Thank you, Miku. I don’t know if we’ll be able to see each other anytime soon but I’m glad I spent this time with you.”

“Me too, Tsukasa,” Miku’s tone turned melancholic, gazing down at the string game she had let go of.

“I hope you find another friend to play cat’s cradle with soon!”

Miku met Tsukasa’s gaze, her eyes alighted in wonder. “Another? Are we friends too, Tsukasa?”

“Of course!” Tsukasa said resolutely, clutching Miku’s hand back. “If we ever have a chance to meet again, let’s play another game.”

Miku’s small smile returned as she nodded. “Being your friend feels special, Tsukasa. I think Rui feels the same. It’s why he’s fighting so hard to keep you at his side.”

Was that true? So Rui still considered him a friend? That meant Tsukasa may still have a chance to fix things when he got back! He could feel his confidence returning. It wasn’t just for his sake that he had to set things right, it was for all his other friends too.

Tsukasa reflexively closed his eyes when he felt the tug strengthen. It was like he had been held submerged under water and was rapidly being rushed toward the surface. He blinked at Miku waving goodbye, then the next second he was staring up at his own ceiling. And he felt terrible.


Tsukasa had never heard Rui’s voice sound so despairing and worn. He flopped his head over to glance up at Rui, who was cradling him in his arms. Rui’s mouth was alarmingly smeared in blood. Tsukasa was too shell-shocked to determine whether it was his or Rui’s own.

Tsukasa wanted to say, “Rui! I’m alive! Thanks!” but coughed up a nasty wad of bloody spittle instead. At least Rui didn’t look disgusted by how much of a mess Tsukasa must be. The other looked deeply relieved, then his eyes shone with indescribable violence.

“Those sad*stic, megalomanic f*cks! This is why I was never religious,” Rui was incensed. Tsukasa would’ve jumped from the power of Rui’s vitriol, but he didn’t even have the strength to lift even a pinky at the moment. So Rui was able to deduce that Tsukasa had been accosted by gods? Was it safe for him to talk about the gods in that way? “I was careless and had assumed that this secret of yours was also covered by the same muting spell you were put under before. I didn’t think they would actually murder you instead.” Rui gritted his teeth. His hands were shaking but he still held Tsukasa like he was something precious. If Tsukasa wasn’t in his arms at that moment, Rui would surely be pacing around the room to work off the adrenaline jittering through his body.

“So…you don’t…want me dead?” Tsukasa had to pant between the words he wheezed out. Rui snapped back to him with a look of horror.

“No! Didn’t I say I would never hate you? I feel like that encompasses wanting you to stay alive.”

“That’s a…relief,” Tsukasa relaxed into Rui’s hold. It was nice to have that confirmation. “How did I live?”

“I had to use my own blood and bind myself to you,” Rui looked away, looking ashamed. “The situation was dire and you were no longer conscious, so I couldn’t really ask you for permission before I did anything. I tried to drip it into your mouth, but you wouldn’t swallow! And then you kept puking blood so I couldn’t tell whether it was yours or mine so I had to…” Rui’s face burned red, his recollection of the situation surely bringing back trauma. The poor kid had been through a lot in the past few minutes.

So he poured blood into his mouth and had to make sure that Tsukasa swallowed it? Rui basically performed the equivalent of magical CPR. “Don’t worry, Rui. It was just responding to a medical emergency. It doesn’t have to count as your first kiss,” Or Tsukasa’s, for that matter. He could wipe this particular tidbit clean from his mind and consciousness. Completely and utterly. He wasn’t even awake when it happened!

Instead of looking relieved, Rui sighed heavily, his head coming down to rest gently against Tsukasa’s chest. Was he listening for his heartbeat? “I missed this,” Rui laughed morosely. “Those past five minutes were the worst time of my life. I’m sorry Tsukasa, I was too careless.”

“It’s okay,” Tsukasa managed to muster up enough energy to pat Rui’s head. It wasn’t like Rui could’ve predicted that the gods had basically wired Tsukasa to a metaphorical bomb that would go off if he so much as hinted at his alternate existence.

"I didn't expect you to actually try to answer either. Didn't you feel the spell resisting?"

Tsukasa smiled sheepishly, unsure if this was a safe question to answer. Rui studied his face and seemed to come to the right conclusion anyway. He sighed in resignation.

"You're ridiculous. A reckless idiot."


"I'll admit I was mad at you before, I apologize if I scared you while attempting to pry answers from you. If you were under the same muting spell from before, then I just had to read your expressions and you wouldn't have been in any danger," Rui shook his head at himself after his explanation. "It was never my intention for you to get hurt."

Tsukasa nodded at the concession. There was only so much open communication they could have on the topic when otherworldly powers didn't allow Tsukasa to even speak on the matter.

"I'm sorry too," Tsukasa knew Rui would understand what he was apologizing for.

"It's best if you never directly reference or answer a question related to your secret. Don't try to respond even with gestures. You were at great risk of death, but the muting spell went easy on you this time. I doubt it'll happen again."

"Okay," It was upsetting that Tsukasa couldn’t tell Rui about his true origins, but Rui didn't seem discouraged in the least.

"You should rest Tsukasa. I can clean you up," Rui offered, lifting Tsukasa up to carry him to the bathroom.

"What…about class?"

Rui stared at Tsukasa like he'd grown a second head. Tsukasa should've expected the reaction.

"You're not going. And I'm staying to monitor you. The blood bond may have tied your life force to mine, but I’m not running the risk of leaving you alone."

"A blood bond?"

"Your magic knowledge is incredibly lacking as well. I don't know who you were trying to fool," Rui sighed, shaking his head. He had a tired yet fond look on his face. Tsukasa really had no chance of keeping everything all a secret, did he?

Tsukasa was placed in the tub fully clothed. Rui needed his sight to gauge Tsukasa’s reactions to his responses so that Tsukasa wouldn't accidentally trigger the muting spell from trying to answer a question. Tsukasa also wasn't keen on trying to wash himself at the moment. He could feel dry blood flaking in his hair and other locations he had no idea how it reached. His clothes needed a deep clean too.

"A blood bond isn't exactly legal magic, but it leans more toward an oath than a curse. You ingested my blood while only I had the intention of forming the bond, so the bond was one-sidedly established on my side. It should grant you survival as long as I also continue to survive."

"I recall that you said that an oath requires consent from both sides?" Tsukasa remembered. He didn't really know what to think of the blood bond. It seemed like a powerful type of magic, and it wasn't too surprising that Rui knew of it.

"It does, which is why it's only partially an oath. You can still theoretically make it work with only one person tying their lifespan with another's. Well, I guess since I had just proven it to work, it's no longer a theory. I can see why it's illegal magic. It can be easily exploited to grant someone immortality. Force someone to grant you their life force, and when they die you move onto the next one," Rui rambled as he rubbed a warm, wet cloth at Tsukasa's blood-stained face. "It was originally used by ancient warriors who claimed each other to be blood brothers in war. They'd bond their lives to each other, causing one warrior to be unkillable while the other lived. It meant the only way to cut them down was to kill them both simultaneously."

"So I can't die if you're alive. But if you die-"

"It should have no effect on you," Rui said nonchalantly. He wrung the bloodied washcloth out and continued on to wipe down Tsukasa's hands.

"Then there's no benefit to you! Why would you use an illegal technique to save me?"

Rui didn't bother with glancing away from Tsukasa’s fingers, meticulously cleaning away the dried blood caked under his nails. "My, are you worried about me, Tsukasa? I'll be fine as long as you don't plan on trying anything reckless again."

Tsukasa resented that. Rui was the one who did reckless things like cast illegal spells! "I thought you said I'd die if I ingested your blood."

"That was another risk I was running. At the time, you also just happened to be suffering from severe mana depletion, and that was saying a lot with the paltry amount you have. The deficit offset the amount of magic I was forced to feed you to form the bond," Rui’s lips curled into a wicked smile. "Ironically, those fools who put this lethal muting spell on you also gave me the one opportunity to keep you out of their grasp."

Maybe don't poke the bear like that. Tsukasa thought to himself while giving Rui a disapproving stare. Rui was untroubled, looking relaxed as though he were the one receiving the spa treatment as he cleaned Tsukasa’s fingernails.

“I do want to make it clear, Tsukasa, that it truly doesn’t matter to me that our relationship was built upon false pretenses.”

Tsukasa knew, since Rui’s behavior had only proven the fact, but it was still surprising to have it be put to words. Rui didn’t seem ashamed of admitting to it, focusing on the menial task of bathing Tsukasa to give him time to process.

“Thank you, Rui. I don’t think I thanked you earlier for saving me, either. I guess I owe you one, right?”

Rui froze, then let go of Tsukasa’s hand to allow it to return to his lap. “Tsukasa, I’ve been thinking about what you said about doing things for the sake of others. I’m not sure if that’s a concept I’ll ever be comfortable with implementing. But I think I could do it if it’s for you. I saved you because I wanted to, Tsukasa. You don’t owe me anything.”

Tsukasa was taken aback but he sadly understood Rui’s reasoning. Rui had been burned too many times while growing up. When Rui was younger, he’d show off the small inventions he made from scraps and either the older kids would destroy them in a pitiful bullying attempt or the orphanage caretakers would sell them behind Rui’s back. When he was living on the streets, vendors would try to shortchange him for the inventions he was selling, finding a young kid like him easy to exploit. It caused him to grow up too quickly and taught him that relying on anyone other than himself was a fool’s game. It had been ingrained into Rui to protect what little resources he had. Showing someone your cards gave them an edge over you. It was nothing short of a miracle how highly Rui had come to regard Tsukasa, that he’d even go back on his life principles in order to be considerate to Tsukasa's morality.

“I appreciate your honesty, Rui. I want to do the same for you. But I’ll argue that you have been able to do good things for others. You were the one who helped out Akito and Toya today.”

“I wouldn’t have done it if you didn’t ask,” Rui admitted.

“And that’s okay too! It’s progress!” Tsukasa said encouragingly. “I’ve also been thinking about the things you had said earlier. I really wish I could just tell you everything.”

Rui laughed dryly. “I know, you made that clear when you nearly died. My desire to know is not nearly as urgent as my desire for you to live.”

Among the many things Rui was, one of them was surprisingly being patient. In the novel, he hadn’t taken immediate revenge on the people who wronged him. Instead of getting his hands dirty, he meticulously raised an army, discerning the military’s weaknesses before he trampled them all in a humiliating, soul-crushing defeat. Rui had liked to act all needy with Tsukasa, but he has shown that he was more keen on keeping Tsukasa safe and happy over getting what he wanted.

Tsukasa knew they had much left to discuss but his eyes were drooping from fatigue setting in. Rui took notice and lifted Tsukasa out of the bathtub, clean of any flaking blood. His clothes were dried magically although still stained but that would be an issue dealt with later. Rui brought him out to the bedroom, floating the covers up to set Tsukasa on the mattress.

"Rui, I'm feeling fine now. I think you should go to class at least," Tsukasa mentioned, not wanting to contribute to his absences. Sadly his professors would likely only overlook any of Tsukasa’s absences due to his nobility status.

Rui tucked Tsukasa into bed with a thoughtful expression. “Is there a reason why you stress attending class and studying so often to me and your other friends? Is it because of “the secret”? Or is it because you hold the belief that a good education typically results in a good future?”

Tsukasa wondered if the spell would allow him to speak on this one, especially since Rui had bracketed it with another question. “...Yes?”

Rui gave an answering hum, then stepped back to actually grab an unblemished uniform jacket. “I’ll go and inform you professors that you’re convalescing from a sudden illness. I’d rather not cause you undue stress with truancy.”

That was incredibly thoughtful of Rui. He knew Rui was likely trying his best to mask his true feelings in order to keep Tsukasa from also becoming concerned, but he could tell the boy was anxious. Rui had put in a lot of effort to keep Tsukasa alive and made it no secret that he wanted to observe Tsukasa until he recovered fully.

“Promise you won’t overexert yourself while I’m gone. Please just rest,” Rui ordered as he slipped on the jacket over his slightly dirtied clothes, which at least was enough to hide the bloodstains. Tsukasa wasn’t expecting mother hen Rui today, but he didn’t expect a lot of the things that occurred within just the past hour.

Something plopped onto Tsukasa’s chest, and he looked down to find a warbling plushie kneading at him like a needy child.

“Mama~” Mr. Rabbit sobbed, latching onto the sheets like the world was ending. Tsukasa didn’t know what to do besides pat the automaton while shushing him soothingly.

“Mr. Rabbit will monitor your condition. I'll be back," Rui nodded goodbye and quickly walked out of the room, as though he knew it would be harder to leave the more he lingered.

Tsukasa waved goodbye to Rui’s retreating figure, then turned his attention to the lamenting plushie. "Where did you even come from? You don’t need to cry like I died.”

“But you almost did. Your heart stopped beating,” Mr. Rabbit cried out. That was unsettling to think about, Rui really did save him from the brink of death.

“Sorry about that, we must have scared you,” There was so much going on that he didn’t even notice Mr. Rabbit was watching them. Mr. Rabbit seemed keen on not moving from his spot on Tsukasa’s chest, lying directly over his heart. Did he have a built-in biometric monitoring system? He wouldn’t put it past Rui to somehow invent one.

“Mama should try to get some rest,” Mr. Rabbit nagged just like Rui did. Tsukasa huffed and closed his eyes, deciding that there was some sense in following their request. He couldn’t do much at the moment anyway, since Rui was gone and he was essentially sentenced to bed rest. He wondered how Mizuki was doing. There was no way they were okay, being under an oath of silence as well. The oath likely kept Mizuki from being able to talk about Akito’s curse, which they certainly knew more about than they let on. It had to be dangerous too. Why else would Mizuki be so keen about keeping everyone else out of the loop about it? Akito didn’t seem all that surprised about the curse either, with Toya doing most of the panicking. There were too many mysteries going on with his friends.

And was Rui really, truly okay with sussing out Tsukasa as an imposter of the original Tenma, yet treating everything the same? Granted, Rui didn’t know anything about the original Tsukasa Tenma, so he probably didn’t see anything wrong with Tsukasa taking his place. Tsukasa did have to admit that it was a relief to have Rui beholden to his secret, a weight off his shoulders that at least one person knew and accepted him anyway.

Tsukasa was brought out of his reverie at the sound of a very familiar tune being hummed.

“I didn’t know you could sing, Mr. Rabbit.”

“I’m trying to lull Mama to sleep, it’s a lullaby!” Mr. Rabbit stated determinedly, beating his paws against Tsukasa’s chest, which he could hardly feel through the covers. “Mama’s still not resting, even though I asked him to, wah~”

“Alright! I’m sorry! Don’t cry!” Tsukasa cut him off. Was it weird that the song was causing Tsukasa to tense up? Rui had to have sung the song a couple of times for Mr. Rabbit to have picked up on it too. Did Rui draw comfort from recalling Nene as he hummed it?

Soft paws landed right over Tsukasa’s eyelids, interrupting his thoughts. “Sleep, Mama.”

Tsukasa was bewildered when he felt a wave of lethargy overcome him. Did the plushie really just cast a sleep spell on him? Rui, what have you been teaching your child?!

He didn’t last much longer than that, his consciousness fading to slumber.


Tsukasa begins his arduous quest to turn Rui from chaotic neutral to chaotic good, let's hope he's successful lol

For clarification about the magic in this world:
Spell - No special requirements to cast, as long as you’re powerful enough to provide the mana for it.
Oath - A powerful spell that requires all the parties involved to consent to the casting
Curse - A powerful spell that inflicts a condition on a victim that is only reversible with a countercurse

(Thank you for your patience in sticking with me this far, I know that Rui and Tsukasa have a lot to sort out in their relationship. There’s still quite a few important misunderstandings between the two of them that need to be addressed. Without giving anything away, I hope to give them a satisfying development!)

Chapter 18


Tsukasa starts his recovery after his near-death incident.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Tsukasa roused at what appeared to be nighttime. Dim sunset lighting filtered in through the window. Memories of his hectic day trickled back into his brain, and he scanned the room as he gathered his bearings. It was difficult to see in the near-pitch darkness, but Tsukasa could observe Rui’s outline in the middle of the carpet, with the boy’s back to him. However, instead of the familiar sound of clinking metal, he could hear the sound of ripping fabric coming from
Rui’s direction.


“...Oh, finally awake?” Rui didn’t even turn around to address Tsukasa, continuing with whatever task he was focused on.

“Rui, what are you doing?” Tsukasa had the strangest sense of foreboding. Why was Rui not looking at him?

Instead of answering, Rui’s movements became more forceful, his arms swinging back with full, jagged motions. Tsukasa saw the glint of Rui’s stolen knife and wrested himself away from his bed covers.

“Rui!” Tsukasa staggered over to where Rui was still tearing into whatever he was violently mauling and nearly stepped back in horror. It was Mr. Rabbit.

"Rui, what? Why are you-" Tsukasa shuddered, staring at the carnage with terror clawing at his heart. Mr. Rabbit's inner metal skeleton was exposed, his limbs and loose inner cotton littering the ground. Rui finally looked up, just as he brought his knife down to stab into Mr. Rabbit’s chest, right where his heart would be. Rui’s eyes looked unambiguously remorseless.

“You keep forming unnecessary bonds, Tsukasa. It makes me lonely,” Rui rose from the butchered remains of his automaton, tossing the knife and Mr. Rabbit’s corpse away like they were rubbish. He stalked toward Tsukasa, which forced Tsukasa to retreat backward. Could Tsukasa run away? Would he even be able to make it to the door before he was caught?

He took too long to make his choice. The back of Tsukasa’s knees hit the edge of the bed, and he toppled backward onto the mattress. Rui closed in on him with slow, deliberate steps, assured that Tsukasa knew there was no chance of escape. Tsukasa’s pulse thundered in his ears as Rui loomed over him like a harbinger of death.

“When will you realize that the only person you need is me?” Rui crooned, digging his hands into the bedsheets at Tsukasa’s sides. He blocked Tsukasa from sitting up, closing the distance between their bodies. Rui's lips hovered dangerously close to his own. “Do I need to make the decision for you?

Tsukasa felt a mess of emotions, fear, confusion, anger, mourning, and somehow, captivation. Rui had never failed to capture his attention, even when terrorizing fellow students. However, Rui always had a reason for the things he did. Destroying one of his own treasured inventions? Where was the logic behind that, how was that going to cause Tsukasa to depend on him more? Tsukasa stared into eyes that he didn’t recognize.

Rui’s tone took on a soft, titillating lilt. “Look at only me. Think of only me. Allow your thoughts of me to become unsavory and decrepit.”


Tsukasa inhaled sharply as Rui reached down to run a finger across his bottom lip. Rui’s pink tongue flicked out to mirror the motion, licking at his own. Tsukasa was unable to tear his eyes away from the moistened skin, only glancing down when he felt Rui’s knee brushing the inside of his thigh as he inched closer. Tsukasa was unable to lean farther away from Rui with the bed against his back.

“You want me to kiss you again, don’t you, Tsukasa?”

Tsukasa woke with a yell this time, startling Mr. Rabbit from his peaceful nap on Tsukasa’s chest.

That was a nightmare, right? It took an extremely strange turn at the end there. His fear of Rui’s unpredictability felt like it combined with something incredibly absurd.

“Mama?” Mr. Rabbit squirmed forward, rubbing his eyes like an actual child waking up from slumber. It was as adorable as it was jarring. Mr. Rabbit’s behavior was scarily sentient, and Tsukasa’s blooming attachment to Rui’s automatons grew all the stronger for it. If something were to happen to them…

Rui would never harm any of his creations, but that didn’t account for the wildly jealous nobles who took note of Rui’s talent. With Rui regularly attending classes, his excellent performance on exams and demonstrations stood out among his peers. There were some like their F-class magic professor who praised Rui for his work, but there were also a fair amount of their more prejudiced professors who begrudgingly gave Rui the marks he deserved. And this didn’t even account for the innumerable other students who envied Rui’s success and were vying for ways to sabotage him. What if one of their grudges went too far and they ransacked their room, like in the novel? Tsukasa and Rui had yet to step back into the cafeteria again for this very reason.

Rui should be heading back to their room soon. Classes must be wrapping up, judging by what time it was. Tsukasa could be normal by the time Rui came back. He just had to calm down.

“Mama, your heart is beating so quickly. Are you alright?” Mr. Rabbit nuzzled against Tsukasa’s cheek, grabbing his attention. Tsukasa petted the plushie, in response, and for reassurance.

“Yes, I’m fine. However, I will be having a word with your father about teaching you sleeping spells,” Tsukasa said, recalling what had so suddenly sent him off to dreamland in the first place.

“Papa said to make sure you have sufficient bed rest by any means necessary,” Mr. Rabbit uttered matter-of-factly like he had no qualms over having to do it again. It appeared Rui held more authority over his automatons than Tsukasa, which made sense but didn’t mean Tsukasa had to like it.

By the time Rui returned to the room, Mr. Rabbit had fetched Tsukasa a book and some snacks since the latter wasn’t allowed to leave the bed. Rui arrived with dinner and had actually brought Tsukasa a salad with his soup. It must be a concession for keeping Tsukasa from returning to classes today.

Rui wordlessly set the tray of food on Tsukasa’s desk, his face blank save for a slightly furrowed brow. Tsukasa’s dream flashed back to his mind with terrible timing, and he found that he couldn’t keep eye contact with Rui before it started drifting to his mouth. Stupid nightmare. How was it that he could get over Rui tearing apart his automaton but not the accusation that he wanted to kiss Rui?

It’s because of the plausability, some part of Tsukasa’s brain sing-songed before he could cease thinking. Why could nothing be easy? Rui was going to get suspicious if Tsukasa couldn’t even look at him, he was going to get the wrong idea!

Rui seemed to notice anyway, bringing the food closer and pulling a chair up to sit at Tsukasa’s bedside. “Do you want me to feed you or would you rather do it yourself?”

“I can feed myself,” Tsukasa fumbled for the utensil that Rui easily proffered. Usually, Rui would have tried to wheedle Tsukasa into allowing the other to spoonfeed him, but Rui seemed uncharacteristically withdrawn. He must have sensed Tsukasa’s tenseness. Was he really that easy to read?

The soup was a warm chicken broth with bread on this side, the closest this world would probably get to chicken noodle soup. Rui had kept the food hated as he brought it to the room, even the bread was toasty. He floated the tray of food over Tsukasa’s lap for easy consumption. Tsukasa had skipped lunch and was starving, he could have cried as the seasoned soup met his tongue.

“Do I scare you now, Tsukasa?”

Tsukasa nearly choked from the blunt question. Rui looked at Tsukasa with a melancholic stare. Yep, he definitely noticed Tsukasa not being able to make eye contact with him.

“W-what do you mean? Everything is just fine, you're fine,” Tsukasa mumbled over his spoon. Rui regarded Tsukasa with a dubious stare, telling Tsukasa exactly how much he believed that statement.

“You’re overthinking everything now, aren’t you? Can you even relax around me anymore?” Rui reached over toward him, causing Tsukasa to flinch violently. He didn’t mean to do that.

Rui looked at him condemningly, then continued to move and plucked Mr. Rabbit from Tsukasa’s side. Tsukasa wavered between wanting to apologize and asking Rui what he was planning on doing with Mr. Rabbit. Guess he wasn’t exactly over that part of his nightmare either.

"...Would it make it easier if I erased your memory? If I made you forget what I had said up to now?"

What? Did Rui seriously just ask him that?

“No, of course not! What would that accomplish? That would mean you would just have to keep pretending that you never knew anything.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Rui admitted, leaving Tsukasa dumbfounded.

“How long have you suspected that I…” If Rui ended up saying that he had known since the beginning then, well, that meant Rui had been pretending Tsukasa was normal since they'd met.

Rui smiled ruefully, taking his time to answer by propping Mr. Rabbit up on his shoulder. “Your lack of history and magical knowledge were a dead giveaway for a noble like you. You have no qualms with fraternizing with someone considered less than a commoner, basically the bottom of the barrel of society. Not to mention you don’t seem phased by what I’m capable of. That alone is suspicious enough without all the anachronisms you mention at random.”

Busted. However, Rui didn’t seem that affected by knowing Tsukasa was a complete hoax. It seemed he had come to terms with this knowledge for a while now. Tsukasa felt the abnormal burning at his throat, telling him he would be treading on dangerous territory if he tried to talk. Rui gave him a knowing look while lifting a finger to his lips, indicating to keep quiet so as to not activate the muting spell.

“Even if you’re not the real Tsukasa Tenma, you seem to be doing an acceptable job as him anyway. I doubt I would’ve liked the genuine one as much as I like you,” Rui said in an upbeat way, which did the trick of easing Tsukasa’s mind slightly. “So I ask again, do you want your memory wiped?”

“And you’d be completely fine with knowing about everything while keeping it a secret from me?” Tsukasa countered. That just meant things would go back to the way they were before until Tsukasa inevitably slipped up again!

“I’ve been doing well so far. I can just do it right now,” Rui’s hand reached out menacingly toward Tsukasa. Tsukasa had the inexplicable urge to clamp his teeth right onto his fingers.

“If you really wanted to, then you would have done it already! It’s because you knew that you confronted me about it during the debacle with Akito’s curse, right? And you have that one free pass with the hypnotism, so you could have taken the opportunity to do it anytime since, but you didn’t,” Tsukasa objected, pointing accusingly right back at Rui. “You don’t want to be the only one who knows, and I don’t either. We can figure it out together, right? Or at least we don’t have to bear it all alone.”

Rui was shocked by Tsukasa’s perceptiveness, pulling back his hand. “I find I can’t deny your assertions. You’re right, I did snap from you constantly seeking to aid other people when you can barely look out for yourself. Is it to stay on their good side? Or is it “out of the goodness of your heart?” You do seem sincere in aiding them, even if I can’t ascertain your true intentions for it.”

Tsukasa sighed heavily, knowing he couldn’t really prove whether or not he was genuine in his feelings for wanting to help his friends. It’s far more difficult to prove something isn’t true when the seed of doubt has already been planted. It’s like serving someone food and expecting them to still eat it after you say, “Aren’t you glad I didn’t spit in it? Enjoy!” It would be ludicrous to expect Rui to trust him based on no evidence. Rui, who had never had the chance to trust someone before, was burned the one time he did. Tsukasa just needed to resolve in proving himself with his actions.

“It would be difficult to be the only one to know the full truth, but it’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before. It’s better than losing my best friend,” Rui admitted, staring right at Tsukasa. Tsukasa found that he was meeting Rui’s eyes again and nodded.

“As long as you’ll have me, you’ll never lose me, Rui,” Tsukasa asserted with as much conviction as he could muster. He stared right back at Rui with confidence, the weird hang-ups he had over his nightmare shoved away in the face of proving his devotion to their friendship.

Rui's lips quirked into a neutral smile. He pointed at the chicken soup that Tsukasa had completely forgotten about. “I’ll let you finish eating. I don’t want you to faint from lack of sustenance.”

Tsukasa grumbled as he spooned the food into his mouth. He didn’t let it slip by him how Rui had dismissed his statement. Rui wasn’t going to make things easy for him.

After he finished up his food, Rui took the tray from him and addressed him again. “Tsukasa, you may need to delay visiting your sister. It won’t be good to overexert yourself while you’re still recovering.”

Oh, that’s right, it was the weekend tomorrow. “I can’t cancel so suddenly, Saki will be expecting me,” Tsukasa made to get out of bed when Rui hovered over him in less than a blink, blocking him in.

“Tsukasa, you may have been resuscitated, but you were dead in my arms for several seconds. If there were trained medical professionals around, most of them would have declared you dead the moment they realized the kind of spell you were afflicted by,” Rui stated, uncompromising. “I do not mean it lightly when I say that you need bed rest.”

Tsukasa could only nod in answer to Rui’s austere warning. Miku had told him that he nearly died, but he didn’t really stop to consider how the event had affected, and likely traumatized, Rui. He was already off to a bad start in proving how good of a friend he could be. Tsukasa leaned back in bed and tried not to mope too much.

The same tray from before was floated back in front of Tsukasa, cleared of dishes and instead containing a feather pen and the paper he used for housing his letters. Rui was so attentive it made Tsukasa’s heart ache.

He quickly penned a letter to Saki to apologize and explain that he was feeling under the weather and to hold off on sending a carriage to fetch him. Once he folded up the letter and sent it off to his sister, he turned his attention back to Rui, who was crouched on the ground. Rui was studying the dried pool of blood still staining the carpet. Oh boy, that was still there? It was bigger than Tsukasa had remembered. It looked like a scene from Saw.

“Uhh, what are you doing?”

“Cleaning spells are not my forte. I’d prefer to just incinerate the carpet and ask for new flooring at this rate,” Rui hovered his hand over the giant stain like he were about to do just that.

“No, don’t! That’ll be about as suspicious to explain as a giant bloodstain!”

“We can just pass it off as a spell accident.”

“But neither of us are supposed to know fire magic!” Tsukasa hissed. It was extremely rare for a person to have the ability to use more than one magical element, let alone Rui who somehow gained mastery over all of them. “Do you know what cornstarch is? If you can find some, we could make a paste and treat the stain with that.”

Rui tilted his head in confusion. What did Tsukasa expect from someone who never had the chance to cook for himself before? “I don’t suppose you know where to get carpet cleaner then, do you?”

“I do have an invention in the works for cleaning,” Rui said a bit hesitantly. Tsukasa wondered why, there was no way Rui was feeling insecure about an invention of his, was he?

“Does it work? I’d love to see it!” Tsukasa decided to be supportive. Any invention of Rui’s was a masterpiece, even if it didn't work perfectly.

Rui was still wavering but made his decision based on Tsukasa’s enthusiasm. He walked over to the stack of knick knacks he kept on his side of the room, digging out a clunky, rectangular robot.

It was a dragon.

The robot was a colorful sight and not one he recognized from the novel. It was peak dramatic irony that Rui had made a replica of one of the most feared, destructive creatures and tasked it to do something as menial as cleaning. It was a cute little thing too, with large eyes and a big, grinning mouth. It was all mouth, actually. When the automaton rattled awake, it was able to unhinge its huge jaws like a snake and threw itself out of Rui's hands.

"GWAAAA!" Tsukasa shrieked when the robot charged right at his face. The dragon was halted inches away from clamping its maw right over his head, wriggling where it hovered mid-air. Rui had a resigned look on his face as he floated his invention back into his arms.

“He gets…very excitable,” Rui ascribed to the dragon squirming in his hold. “He isn’t the best at discerning what he should clean.”

Did that mean Rui’s invention considered Tsukasa to be in need of cleaning? Did he just get dissed by the robot?

At the slightly offended look on Tsukasa’s face, Rui explained, “He leans more towards ‘purifying’ rather than ‘cleaning’. I built it with the purpose of refining the mana crystals I create. If I can industrialize the process of removing impurities from cores, then I can make them more rapidly at a higher quality. It keeps me from having to replace them.”

“You replace them? When do you do that?” Tsukasa interrupted, aghast. Well, Rui did constantly make improvements to Tom and his other automatons. Was that when he switched out the cores for new ones?

“Whenever their mana is running low,” Rui said, gesturing to Mr. Rabbit lounging languidly on his shoulder. Now that Tsukasa was paying attention, the plushie did seem a bit lethargic. Was it from monitoring Tsukasa’s health as he napped?

Rui then set the dragon robot down near the large stain on the carpet. The robot's giant tongue lolled out in response, then disturbingly started to lick it?!

“That’s so unsanitary! What is he doing-”

“Tsukasa, he’s not an organic living being. He focuses mana into a solvent that lifts contaminants from a substance, or in this case, a surface.”

And strangely enough, it seemed to be working, the spot the dragon robot was licking away at looked cleaner than before. Tsukasa tried to keep the disgust off his face. Just imagine it was a sentient wet dry vacuum, he told himself.

Tsukasa heard a snort and saw Rui had turned away from him, hiding his chuckles. “Your expressions are immaculate, Tsukasa. You’re too easy to read.”

The robot was chugging away, appearing to have forgotten wanting to take a chomp from Tsukasa’s head for the more pressing matter of cleaning the carpet. “Well, it’s my blood. Isn’t it weird to watch something just…eating it?”

“Is it really that strange? Frankly, I’m jealous.”

Tsukasa’s head snapped around, staring at Rui digging through his pockets now that his hands were free. “You’re what?”

Instead of answering, Rui whipped out a blood core from his jacket, holding it over Mr. Rabbit's small mouth. The bunny opened up and swallowed the core whole like a pill. Tsukasa’s jaw dropped.

"You feed the core to them?!"

"It's better than having to cut Mr. Rabbit open to insert a new one, wouldn't you say?" Rui showed where Tsukasa himself had handily stitched Mr. Rabbit up with decorative patches and all. "I'd hate to ruin your craftsmanship."

So it's partially Tsukasa’s fault that Mr. Rabbit had to eat Rui's crystallized blood. The bunny made a cute, scrunched face upon taking the core, but he did seem more energized than before.

Tsukasa glanced back at the dragon robot, which had made a surprising amount of progress with the stain on the carpet. Not to besmirch Rui’s capabilities, but he wasn’t exactly the cleanest person around. Rui was at least considerate enough to contain his mess to his side of the room. So, despite doing a great job at it, it was unlikely that the robot was built with the main function of cleaning in mind. Rui had no reason to be working on mass-producing a robot army, so what was the purpose of building a robot for refining cores?

"It tastes bad…" Mr. Rabbit whined. Rui petted the plushie to soothe it from its misery. It was like seeing a child deal with taking medicine. It was probably worse for the herbivore to be forced to feed on his master’s blood in order to operate.

"...Did you invent the dragon automaton so that Mr. Rabbit didn't have to suffer taking cores?” Tsukasa asked. Rui glanced up in befuddlement, as though he didn’t expect Tsukasa to reach such a conclusion.

“Am I that easy to read as well?”

“Not at all,” Tsukasa said with a straight face. Rui’s scrunched face matched the bunny plush so well, that Tsukasa couldn’t help but giggle. "You're just the doting type.”


Don’t tell him that Rui didn’t even realize it himself. Even with his automatons, he kept up with their maintenance and constantly sought ways to improve their functions. Tom and Mr. Rabbit were always appreciative of their upgrades, but Rui just saw it as a responsibility as their creator. The two sets of parents Tsukasa had didn’t even put in half the effort that Rui did with their own children. Rui, however, didn’t seem to agree at all, staring back at Tsukasa doubtfully.

“You’re a very thoughtful person, it comes out in how you treat things you care about, like the gardens and your automatons.” And me, Tsukasa wanted to say, but he didn’t know how he would feel if Rui were to deny caring about him.

“It’s only right that I take care of what belongs to me. I water the flowers if they need to be but I focus most of my attention on what I’ve planted myself,” Rui tried to refute. He was oddly modest about his goodwill. “Tsukasa should wash up and rest soon, it’s late.”

“Oh, am I allowed to leave my bed now?” Tsukasa grumbled as he stood from his comfy prison. It was unfortunate timing, however, since that was the moment the robot dragon had finished with the carpet and shifted its attention to Tsukasa.

Tsukasa yelped as the blocky robot toppled him over. He was caught before he landed hard on his back, Rui propped him up as his automaton gnawed at his head.

“Rui!” Tsukasa tugged at the robot latched onto his head. It didn’t hurt exactly, but it was wet! And he couldn’t see!

“He seems to be having a grand time,” Rui noted, doing nothing to help remove his robot from Tsukasa’s head.

“That’s great, can you help me?!”

“What was that one saying you said before, ‘no pain no gain’?” Rui pondered, still not aiding Tsukasa with the robot face hugger.

“That doesn’t apply at all in this situation!” It was a proverb Tsukasa applied to studying, not to this! What exactly was he gaining?

Rui finally plucked the robot from Tsukasa’s head and allowed him to go to the bathroom unhindered. As Tsukasa was free to walk past, Rui stared at him as though he was expecting something. Tsukasa stared right back now that his sight was freed from its hostage situation, unamused as he wiped the slobbery gunk off his face.

“Rui, what in the world.”

“How do you feel?” Rui asked nonsensically. Tsukasa stared at him with his feelings clear on his face. How exactly did he expect him to feel after that?

Rui examined how Tsukasa looked back at him skeptically and shook his head. “Never mind.”

It was never just ‘never mind’ with Rui, but Tsukasa was growing too tired to wrestle a real answer from him. It seemed Rui’s concerns over Tsukasa needing bedrest weren’t unfounded after all.

Tsukasa washed up with less difficulty than he expected, thankful that the exciting events from earlier didn't have any lasting effects on his physicality. The exertion from standing did wear on him quickly, however, and Tsukasa did not take any detours on his way back. Rui didn't look anywhere near ready for bed, having actually opened up the dragon robot to fiddle with something.

“What are you working on? Your robot did a good job cleaning earlier, by the way. Well, besides jumping my face.”

“I’m attempting to improve his purification process," Rui answered. Tsukasa waited for him to say more but Rui didn't elaborate further.

"What's his name?" Tsukasa decided to ask as he collapsed back onto the bed.

"He doesn't have one yet."

"You aren't going with Mr. Dragon?"

"I didn’t think you were so attached to that naming scheme.”

"I can be more creative than that! How's… Sir Chompers?"

Rui let out an undignified snort at Tsukasa’s suggested name. What, he thought it was cute and accurate!

“What do you think?” Rui directed at the dragon robot. The dragon robot was still responsive in its state of being upgraded, his mouth snapping energetically in answer. “He likes it.”

“See!” Rui glanced over at Tsukasa, who had yet to snuggle back under the covers of the bed. Fatigue had set in too quickly into Tsukasa’s limbs, rendering them paralyzed. His head was smushed carelessly at an uncomfortable angle where the pillow met the mattress but he didn’t feel like summoning the strength to adjust his extremities. Rui shut the open panel on Sir Chompers’ back and moved to stand. “Done already?”

“Hardly,” Rui stood, lifting the dragon robot and setting him back on a shelf by his other unfinished automatons. He then sat back down in the chair left next to Tsukasa’s bed. “I don't think I ever finished that story for you, Tsukasa.”

Tsukasa blinked from the non sequitur. What story? Was it the one they had danced to? That particular event felt like eons ago, even if it was just a few weeks. Also, Tsukasa was in no shape to do another dance.

“How much do you recall?” Rui asked.

Right, the whole point of the dancing was to work as a mnemonic device so Tsukasa would remember the story better. However, what stuck out the most from that time was how Rui’s hands felt against his waist as they stepped together in tandem. He blushed. What was wrong with him?

“Um, Reinhart and Kristy something-star, was it?”

“Rein Frostheart and Krista Nodestar,” Rui nodded, not showing any disappointment in how far off Tsukasa was with their names. “Do you remember where we left off? Rein had cut his way to the Riverna estate in order to save his beloved. He was forced to face an ultimatum of either sacrificing himself or risking everything by playing to his strengths. Do you remember your prediction?”

Ah that’s right, Tsukasa had guessed that Rein would capitulate to the enemy's demands and still end up betrayed by the captors. He nodded.

"Do you also recall how I mentioned that they all had died? It is not a happy ending by traditional norms."

"Maybe not…but I'd at least like to know what they did in their last moments."

"You don't think it's better off not knowing?" Rui leaned over to manually place Tsukasa’s head onto the pillow. Tsukasa grunted in appreciation.

"You're getting philosophical now."

"Humor me."

Rui and his thought experiments. Tsukasa just wanted to know the ending. But there was a reason why Rui was the one always several steps ahead of everyone else.

"Well, I guess passing on while knowing the person you love does love you back is comforting."

"And how does one prove that? Is the only way if Frostheart had sacrificed himself without putting up a fight?"

"I," Tsukasa paused. Putting your life on the line for the helpless maiden was considered the selfless, heroic option. But was it the best option?

"Frostheart was a creature of habit. He let his sword talk for him when he himself couldn't find the words. When faced with losing one of the only people that made his heart beat, he raged uncontrollably. His beloved, however, did not see her savior, but a monster."

Tsukasa now understood what Rui meant by "better off not knowing".

"Krista had never been privy to such bloodshed and the horrors of war. When forced to face that her beloved was right at home in a brutal realm that she had never stepped foot in before, she broke. A kind and sheltered soul like hers couldn't withstand such atrocities. When Frostheart reached her, bloodied with gore from the slaughter, she had already forsaken her life."


"The only hostage alive in the end was the Duke of Riverna, who spat vitriol at the knight for forcing Krista to witness such an awful sight. It was a thankless deed the knight had performed, doing more damage than good-"

"Wait, wait, wait, you can't be serious." Tsukasa cut in. "Krista passes away from seeing too much violence? What was the point of Rein fighting so hard then?"

"Sometimes you may think you love someone without truly knowing them. Seeing the real Frostheart was too much for her."

"This was a terrible bedtime story, Rui," Tsukasa sighed, disturbed not by Rein's brutality, but Krista's weak constitution. "Can she really be kind, to not even try to understand how hard Rein had worked to save her?"

"My, not even a spare thought to the poor soldiers cut down in the process?"

“Don’t derail this! There’s no justifying casualties in war. I just thought, no matter how sheltered Krista was, that she would at least try to sympathize with the one she supposedly loved. Not just keel over and die. Just how delicate were her sensibilities?”

“People have died from worse things,” Rui said pointedly. Tsukasa had a feeling that Rui wasn’t going to let go of Tsukasa's temporary death anytime soon. “Anyway, Tsukasa, this is just a famous retelling of the story. There’s no telling what actually happened. It’s assumed that the overwhelming grief consumed Frostheart to the point where he lost control over his ice magic, consuming the estate.“

“So it’s possible that Krista died for a different reason, right?”

“If we’re entering the realm of conjecture, Krista could have merely fainted but Frostheart had unleashed his magic too early, killing them all anyway.”

“Rui, what exactly was the point of this story?” Tsukasa sighed.

“If you’re asking about a takeaway or moral, there isn’t much of one to be gained from our mythology. Most folklore are merely tales passed on to describe the origins of predominant landmarks.”

“But what’s your reason? I’m sure there’s a purpose to you telling me all this.”

“I thought I’d find your take on this story to be intriguing,” Rui said simply, tugging the blanket over Tsukasa’s prone form. “You insist that if Krista actually loved Frostheart, then that would have urged her to accept him despite his sins. You also believe that if Frostheart had enough love for Krista, then he would have surrendered his life instead of attempting to fight. So if they had loved each other enough, would they have had a happy ending?”

“This is a very intense thought experiment for someone you’re tucking into bed, Rui,” Tsukasa yawned involuntarily while his mind mulled over the tragic couple’s situation. "They both could have loved each other, the circ*mstances just weren't in their favor."

"So their love amounted to them dying in vain," Rui said somberly, patting Tsukasa's chest as though he were putting a child to sleep. “The fates are quite cruel. So did you enjoy learning the full story, Tsukasa?”

"Not really," Tsukasa muttered. "If this is an origin story then someone should really revise it. It's not like anyone lived to tell the true tale, so why not just make it a happy ending?"

"Sometimes people find catharsis in tragedy."

Tsukasa bit his lip, feeling his throat itch uncomfortably. Rui smiled down at him inanely, standing from his chair and walking toward his side of the room.

"Rui, where are you going?"

Rui turned back, looking at him inquisitively. "To bed."

"Come back here, I won't sleep well without you," Tsukasa demanded tiredly, his hand beckoning Rui over. Rui's fake facade of a smile wavered just enough for Tsukasa to catch. Rui obediently walked over, but then pressed a hand over Tsukasa’s eyes. Tsukasa made a sound in question.


This brat! Tsukasa thought angrily as consciousness left him once again. He was going have a stern talking to both Rui and Mr. Rabbit tomorrow.

When Tsukasa woke again, the sun was shining brightly and the room was missing his unruly roommate. His sleep was devoid of any dreams this time, but that didn't mean Tsukasa felt great. His roommate had clearly entered his rebellious phase. Had Rui used his bed for the first time last night, or did he forgo sleeping altogether? Tsukasa hadn't even repaired Rui's bedsheet, the fabric finding a new rip every other day, to the point where it had become useless strips of cloth. Tsukasa was sure that Rui had been tearing the covers to the point of disrepair, just to spite him.

Tsukasa felt well enough to head out on his own, not in any mood to stay cooped up in the empty room. At least he had an idea of where Rui would be. When Tsukasa nearly stumbled on his way outside, Tom hovered under his hand, acting as a makeshift walking stick. At least one of Rui's children hadn't abandoned him.

The gardens were a lush, vibrant mix of colorful flowers and foliage. The sweet perfume of honeyed blossoms was thick even with the onset of fall, likely due to some fancy charm that worked to keep the air humid and warm akin to that of a greenhouse. Tsukasa had made it a habit to eat out here almost every day with Rui, but he never noticed how far the gardens extended. Did Rui help tend to all the plant beds? Where did he find the time?

Some more foreign blooms towered over the walkways, creating the illusion of Tsukasa wandering a cornfield. He wasn’t tall enough to look over the stalks, making his search for Rui slower than expected.

“Oh wait, Tom! Can you go find Rui for me?” The presence of Tsukasa’s constant companion nearly slipped his mind. Tom chirped in assent and zipped off above the flora to find his missing master. Tsukasa decided to continue wandering around the paths, admiring the variety of the plant life. With this many species of flowers on display, there had to be a ton of work put into maintaining them. Which meant not only dedicated gardeners but also-

“GWAA!” Tsukasa shrieked as a multicolored insect with too many legs landed right on his shoulder. He nearly jumped out of his skin, swatting at his uniform in case there were any other winged creepy crawlies latched onto him. “Tom, Tom, come back! L-let’s look for him together! OOF!”

In Tsukasa’s rush to catch up to the automaton, he turned a corner and bumped into someone of much shorter stature than Rui.

“My apologies! Are you alright?” Tsukasa rushed out, secretly thankful that he wasn’t alone anymore.

He looked down to find that he had knocked the other to the ground, a boy with bright blond hair wearing overalls scuffed with dirt. Tsukasa quickly offered his hand to the shorter boy, who looked alarmed at the identity of his assailant.

“I’m terribly sorry! I’ll get out of your way!” The boy scrambled to his feet on his own and immediately started bowing apologetically.

“Huh? What? No, I was the one who bumped into you! You don’t have to do that,” Tsukasa argued, perturbed by how quick the smaller boy was to apologize. “Are you alright? I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“N-no, I’m alright,” The blond calmed down a bit at seeing how Tsukasa had no interest in blaming him.

“It’s nice to meet you, I’m Tsukasa Tenma. Can I assume you help out with maintaining the flowers here? I have to say, I appreciate your work,” The boy’s eyes seemed to widen in recognition at hearing Tsukasa’s name.

“Really? Rui mentioned you! I’m Allen, but I also go by Len,” Len introduced himself energetically, his personality doing a 180 at the mention of Tsukasa’s identity.

“You know who Rui is? Have you seen him?”

“Yeah! Follow me!” Len replied eagerly, gesturing to Tsukasa to follow him. “He just joined me in caring for the flower beds! Rui helps out the most out of all the students in the gardening club, and he’s really smart too!”

Tsukasa nodded along, not at all surprised at Rui being knowledgeable about the local flora. What he had the hardest time processing was the amount of esteem the small blond seemed to hold for his roommate. Tsukasa knew that Rui was kinder than he believed himself to be, but he had never expected Rui to have an admirer that he had never heard of before. Gardening was one of Rui’s few reprieves in the novel, but he never befriended anyone from the gardening club or even joined the club for that matter, sticking to sneaking into the storage areas to care for the foliage whenever the whim came to him.

Sure enough, Len guided Tsukasa out of the flower field maze and to a large, wooden storage shed. Thankfully it wasn’t the underground one that they had used to sneak out into town weeks ago. Tsukasa soon caught sight of a familiar head of purple and picked up his pace, but Len beat him to it.

“RUI! Look who I found!” Len waved down the other enthusiastically, running over and gesturing to Tsukasa as though Rui wouldn’t notice him without aid. Rui had already found himself covered in dirt as well, acknowledging Len with a smile. He pulled off his gloves to give Len a pat on the head in familiarity, the gesture pulling something at Tsukasa’s chest.

“Thank you, Len. Tsukasa,” Rui nodded at Tsukasa as though he were a passing acquaintance rather than his best friend. Tsukasa clenched his teeth to keep from exploding his thoughts in front of Len.

“I just finished laying out fertilizer for the wisteria beds. What are you working on now?” Len asked curiously, peeking around Rui with zero hesitation. Was the lack of fear due to not being able to detect Rui’s mana levels? Or because Rui was a commoner just like him? Either way, it was clear to see that there were more shared points of camaraderie between them than there were between Rui and Tsukasa, who were as different as could be. It left Tsukasa feeling strangely bereft.

“I’m currently replanting the saplings that sprouted in the Moonblossom beds, they tend to overcrowd one another,” Rui readjusted his gloves, kneeling down in front of the flower bed he was tending to. There were white flower buds, tightly closed and crowded like sardines in the dirt patch. Rui gently dug around the roots of a stem, then carefully transplanted the flower into its own small pot to be relocated later.

Tsukasa watched as Len continued to chat casually with Rui, feeling oddly ill at ease with how close they were to one another. Why was Tsukasa thinking this way? He should be celebrating that Rui had made a friend all on his own. It’s not like his best friend title was in jeopardy, right? Then again, the two of them had just hit a rough spot with Tsukasa’s unexplainable dimension-traveling secret. No matter how much Tsukasa wanted to deny it, things have changed between the two of them.

Tsukasa’s eyes wandered, not having much to do besides listen in on the two plant enthusiasts' conversation. The two were chattering about the best method of transplanting the flowers. Since Moonblossoms were sensitive to magic, it was vital to do most of it manually, Rui was explaining. Tom beeped quietly in his return to Tsukasa’s side, sidling right back under Tsukasa’s hand. The movement made Tsukasa look down, catching sight of Len’s familiar-looking shoes. Were those…Rui’s old boots? The ones that went missing? They were shrunken in size to fit the much smaller boy's feet, but Tsukasa couldn’t mistake the scuff marks on them.

Before he knew it, Tsukasa’s feet were walking back toward the flower maze. He normally enjoyed Rui’s ramblings, but at that moment it was becoming increasingly difficult to pay attention. Tsukasa sighed. He just sounded pathetic to himself, wallowing in his loneliness. It wasn’t like the feeling was anything new for him. Being on his own had been his norm for the majority of his life.

At some point, however, Tsukasa was sure that he had looped back to the same tall rainbow flower thrice now. There’s no way that he’s gotten lost, right? How large could this flower maze be?

"Tom, can you go look over the hedge?" Tsukasa sent the automaton to scope out the surroundings. Tom beeped in agreement, zipping upward only to bump against an invisible ceiling with an unnatural-sounding thud. The robot beeped angrily at the sky, knocking against the barrier again.

"Never mind, Tom. It's okay. I think that's the greenhouse spell," Tsukasa called the robot back. Well, if he sticks to just turning right, surely he'll eventually find his way out. He wasn't too keen on going straight through the flowers. He may not be as passionate as Rui was about them, but that didn’t mean he wanted to trample the flowers in his efforts to escape. Tsukasa continued to wander farther in, feeling more and more winded with most of his energy focused on taking his next step. He wasn’t sure how Tom was able to make his beeps inflect concern, but the robot was nearly levitating Tsukasa’s body after a few minutes passed.

“Tom, can you put me down? I think I just want to take a short nap,” Tsukasa murmured, feeling faint. Being levitated was a nauseating feeling. It had taken both Mr. Rabbit and Rui to put him to bed with sleeping spells yesterday, but the warm atmosphere and the strain from walking aimlessly in the relentless sun was taking a toll on Tsukasa’s ability to stay awake. Tsukasa was only going to take a short, uncomfortable nap. Sweat was making his thick uniform clothes cling to him.


Tsukasa grumbled sleepily as a much-too-warm hand pressed against his cheek, followed by a refreshing cool breeze suffusing his body. He sighed in pleasure.

“I take my eyes off you for a minute and you somehow end up with heatstroke.”

“Nuh-uh, it was way longer than that,” Tsukasa almost felt drugged with how good the cold felt against his face. What a nice hand. Rui could frolic into the sunset with his gardening buddies for all he cared, Mr. Hand was his best friend now.

“Tsukasa, I meant it when I said I wanted you to rest."

Tsukasa blinked and found Rui staring at him with a resigned look. Oh, he was here too then. “Why didn’t you tell me about Len? He’s a nice kid, I’m glad you made a friend.”

“Len?” Rui paused, a contemplative look on his face. A startled chuckle then left him. “Maybe you have some understanding of what I feel on a daily basis, now.”

Tsukasa felt strong limbs lifting him up into the air, the cooling magic being maintained as he was carried back out of the maze. He was set on a cold marble bench, where he sprawled out blissfully. Tsukasa beckoned for his reluctant savior to join him, but Rui stubbornly stayed put.

"Sit with me."

"There's nowhere to sit. You're lying down." Rui added, as though Tsukasa wasn't aware.

"There’s room. Join me," Tsukasa's nonsensical demand was muffled from the way his cheek was squished against the stone. The bench was indeed too short to prop up his whole body, his feet dangling off the other end of the surface, but surely Rui would be the one to find a way to make it work.

Rui sighed heavily, kneeling down to Tsukasa's eye level. "I'm trying to get you to rest. Why do you have to make it so difficult?"

"Fine, then leave me here and go take care of your flowers. I'm sure Len will be a lot less trouble to deal with, he seems like a helpful guy," Tsukasa was cringing from his own words but he felt too petty to stop. “He’d probably make a better best friend too.”


Rui's hands clamped down onto the back of Tsukasa’s knees, causing Tsukasa to yelp from the firm, unexpected touch.

“I don't think you understand what I meant by ‘difficult’. I could have easily restrained you to your bed or even allowed you to go back home so that your sister and maids could attend to you. Instead, I’m allowing you to trudge behind me like an abandoned puppy because it pains me to be parted from you for even a moment,” Rui's hands slid up, squeezing at the upper section of Tsukasa’s thighs, dangerously close to his butt. Tsukasa shivered, feeling a flash of warmth that wasn’t just from heatstroke. “I’m trying my best to give you distance so that you can heal, but you’re so insistent on keeping me close and knowing my whereabouts.”

Rui's face was suddenly right next to Tsukasa’s. Warm breath fluttered against the back of his ear as Rui's voice pitched to a deep tone Tsukasa didn't know how to interpret. "Will you return to our room like a good little boy or do I have to make you?"

"I-I'm going!" Tsukasa squeaked, nearly slipping off the bench in his haste. Rui pulled back, a benign smile on his face, absent of the threatening air from moments ago. Rui was just teasing him, right?

Maybe Tsukasa was a little afraid of Rui after all.


Is Tsukasa able to stay in bed for more than an hour? Find out next month

Also Ritk insist on making their relationship confusing, including to me, the author

Chapter 19


Rui keeps pulling back so Tsukasa starts to gather his resolve.


shorter chapter, this is prep work, let me cook (oh no it's burning)

Chapter Text

Rui insisted on tucking Tsukasa into bed, but Tsukasa had a suspicion it was to also make sure that he didn't take any detours. Tsukasa decided it was best not to fight him on it. Rui was holding Tsukasa in his typical princess carry, an occasion that happened so often that Tsukasa had to tag on a descriptor such as "typical". The two stopped by where Len was hard at work to give their temporary goodbyes. Len paused in uprooting Moonblossoms to express a fair amount of concern and well wishes for Tsukasa to recover from his "illness", which only worked to fill Tsukasa with guilt over his earlier jealousy.

Rui marched Tsukasa right into their room, taking a seat in his bedside chair to oversee Tsukasa falling asleep himself. Tsukasa had given him a piece of his mind about his unsolicited sleep spells, so Rui thought up this compromise instead.

“If sleep spells aren’t allowed anymore, maybe I should build an automaton to induce sleep,” Rui contemplated out loud.

“How is that any different?” Tsukasa grumbled. God forbid if Rui ever learned about anesthesia. “And I thought you wanted me to sleep. Why do you keep talking?”

Rui’s teeth clicked shut. Tsukasa sighed deeply.

“You know I sleep best when you’re in bed with me. Why won’t you join me?”

Rui shook his head stubbornly, keeping quiet. Well, he was listening to at least one thing Tsukasa said.

"Fine," Tsukasa huffed and rolled over in bed. He could still feel Rui's eyes on him as he moped. He shut his eyes, knowing Rui had a point about his need for sleep. The faster he got better, the faster he could go back to worrying about classes and his friends.

A humming started, so soft Tsukasa almost couldn't differentiate it from the room ambiance. He flipped over to find that Rui had shut his eyes, humming to himself with his chin rested on a hand. Tsukasa listened to the melody, but it was not one he recognized. Was it another one of Nene's? It was just one more thing Tsukasa didn't know about Rui. He may know the layout of Rui's life from the novel, but this Rui had so many hidden facets of himself. He always seemed to find a way to take Tsukasa off-guard. He was someone compassionate enough to make a friend on his own and to take care of someone as troublesome as Tsukasa. He sighed again, causing Rui to flutter his eyes open.

Tsukasa silently put out his hand in askance. One compromise begets another, or something like that. Rui blinked at Tsukasa’s hand. Several inexplicable emotions pass over Rui's face, but they don't stop Rui from reaching down and intertwining Tsukasa’s hand with his own. Rui was putting a barrier between the two of them, but it was obvious he still cared about Tsukasa. Why else would he do all these insanely varying gestures, from bringing him a salad to tying their lifespans with illegal blood magic?

Rui resumed his humming and Tsukasa closed his eyes again, this time his mind settling down. He can't say he understood Rui's mind, but he trusted him.

Soon enough, he was lulled to sleep.

Over the weekend, Tsukasa spent the majority of time in bed, with Rui and Mr. Rabbit tag-teaming as his loyal, bedside assistants. Whenever Rui pulled out that unique melody of his, it would be followed by Tsukasa’s head hitting the pillow and drifting back off to dreamland. Tsukasa had questioned him about foul play with the song, but Rui insisted there was no magic being used, just Rui’s dulcet tones, and that he’d take it as a compliment to his lovely singing voice. Whether it was true or not, Tsukasa didn’t feel the grogginess from post-sleeping spell wakefulness.

Soon enough the weekend was over, with Tsukasa feeling well-rested and back to full health. As they attended classes, Rui stuck by Tsukasa’s side but notably didn't initiate any physical contact. Classes were absent of any hand-holding under desks. Tsukasa may have to get used to this new norm.

However, what was more worryingly absent was Mizuki from their shared classes. Were they skipping just to avoid Tsukasa after their falling out? Tsukasa had already learned his lesson after their disastrous talk, which felt like eons ago. He would rather not bring up the subject of Ena to them again so bluntly. Would the best method be to go to the source directly instead? Sending a letter to Ena may bring about better results, but he also didn’t want to go behind Mizuki’s back. It wasn't a good look to appear as though he was sticking his nose into business that didn’t pertain to him.

He tried his best to focus in class with their constant stream of assignments. Their magic class would have a practical, which Tsukasa was a bit concerned about. The last instance of Tsukasa successfully utilizing his magic was when he participated in that off-the-cuff practice spar with Sir Shiraishi, not counting his accidental bout of magic against Shiho.

Speaking of the senior knight, he was picking up their training with sparring mobile opponents. Tsukasa had overcome some of his fear of losing a finger with the purchase of cut-resistant gloves, but he still erred on the side of caution. Akito seemed to be holding up well at least, with the enchanted black bandana wrapped tightly around his head. When Tsukasa needled him about his condition, Akito mentioned that the bandana was coated with heavy illusion magic, and the cloth itself would appear invisible to those who didn’t know about its existence. To others, he wasn't wearing anything on his head, which was good for keeping others from thinking he was a rebellious student with a strange fashion sense to top it off. His standoffish attitude alone did that well enough.

Sir Shiraishi had advanced the class to fighting the same automatons that they had faced off against in their entrance exams. Nothing alarming like a dragon was used, but rather more common encounters like wild boars, wolves, and orcs were selected. Tsukasa was seeing improvement with his swordwork, fending off the training dummies with less difficulty each time.

When the class moved on to sparring against each other, however, was when Tsukasa started to get nervous. He was separated from Akito and paired off with another student, some other noble he never bothered to learn the name of.

Tsukasa decided it was only proper to introduce himself, even if his opponent was giving him an off-putting smirk.

“Oh, don’t worry, Tenma. You’re quite infamous already,” The guy flipped his overly-long bang that promptly fell back into place. How much hair gel did the guy use? “You’re the noble with that street urchin following him around. Is he your lackey? Surely you can do better than that.”

Tsukasa’s mood immediately worsened. Of course this was the type of opponent he was stuck with. He shouldn’t let his words get to him.

Before they broke off into their pairs, Sir Shiraishi had given them a few words of advice. “There's a difference between battling an intelligent opponent versus a wild beast. The mind game is half the battle." It’s possible that the guy was just saying all this stuff to psych him out.

“Look, I know you’re taking Sir Shiraishi’s advice to heart, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take offense to my friend’s name being tarnished,” Tsukasa shot back, taking his stance.

The incredulous look on the other student’s face warped into bewildered laughter. “Ha, your friend? Do you mean that peasant? He’s just some no-name orphan who lived on the streets and snuck his way in here.”

What was this guy saying, he knew that their instructor, a renowned royal knight, was technically a peasant too, right? And so what if Rui was? He entered this academy with his talent and hard work alone, which Tsukasa doubted someone born with a silver spoon in their mouth would understand.

“Anyone who actively spreads such foul slander about my friend will have to answer to me! Pursuing friendship with non-nobility isn’t something to be ashamed of!” Tsukasa denounced, daring his opponent to disagree. “And it’s rude to not introduce yourself!”

His opponent took on an offended look. “You don’t recall my name? My father is the Marquis of Alberta!”

“I didn’t ask for your father’s name, I asked for yours,” Tsukasa said arrogantly, although he was sweating bullets internally. Was he supposed to know this guy’s name? He said it like it was supposed to be common knowledge…

“Marquess of Alberta, Remond Basil,” The noble harrumphed, crossing his arms in anger. Well, all was fair in love and war. Tsukasa drew his saber and lunged at the guy, who yelped at the sudden attack.

“H-have you no chivalry?”

“You denounced that the moment you spoke badly of my friend,” Tsukasa argued, readying himself for another charge. He made sure to use the blunt length of his jousting blade to smack at his opponent’s vulnerabilities. Remond screeched in pain when the flexible metal met his side, the contact was bound to at least cause a bruise.

“Why you-” Remond finally unsheathed his own sword. His swings were wild and enraged, which meant his movements were easy to read. Tsukasa didn’t realize how effective Sir Shiraishi’s advice would be. Tsukasa dodged each of his opponent’s swings easily, the guy’s speed having nothing on Akito’s. He retaliated after each careless attack, more often than not landing a hit.

"Dammit!" Remond snarled and raised his free hand up, causing Tsukasa to immediately back away. They were told not to use magic, but Tsukasa doubted that would stop the Marquess. As he predicted, lightning manifested from Remond's palm and rained amok down on the field.

"Hey, that's dangerous!" Tsukasa yelled as he saw the other's magic nearly strike nearby students. Maybe he did too well with instigating his opponent.

"Should've thought of that before you tried to make a fool of me, Tenma!" Remond shot back. Tsukasa didn't know how long he could outrun lightning, so he had to act fast. His dumbass of an opponent had dropped his sword to fully focus on aiming lightning at Tsukasa, so he had a small window to subdue him. Tsukasa aimed a sharp gust at the ground near Remond, enough to cause his felled sword to swiftly slide back and sweep Remond off his feet. Remond stumbled with a shout, and Tsukasa closed the distance. He kicked Remond right in the chest to keep him down, aiming the point of his sword at the other's face.


Remond's face burned red in anger, but he didn't make any move to strike back.

"Alright, not bad. I did say magic was banned for this spar, so turnabout is fair play," Sir Shiraishi appeared suddenly, hauling Remond up by the scruff of his jacket. "No magic, I mean it guys, or I'll deal with the next rulebreaker myself."

There was a collective pause of apprehension as all the other students took in the warning. Sir Shiraishi set Remond on his feet and went back to overseeing the class with a yawn. The knight's casual attitude wasn't fooling anyone.

"My father will hear of this. How dare you kick me," Remond hissed, brushing at the dirt stain on his jacket. That was Tsukasa's bad, but that didn't mean he actually felt bad.

"What's a Marquess to a Lord? My father is a Duke and has close ties to royalty. Are you sure you want to play this game?" Tsukasa countered. Hopefully he inserted enough buzzwords to sound like the uppity noble he needed to pose as. "Now, I'd appreciate it if you and whoever else is responsible for spreading such reprehensible rumors would cease."

Remond only scoffed, shooting Tsukasa a glare. "Like I need to hear that from a noble stuck in F-class magic. Do you think that fluke of a win proves anything? You wouldn't be able to pull off anything like that in the field!"

"You'd be dead if we were out in the field," Tsukasa said under his breath. He said instead, "I'm pretty sure my father has been investing in some major Albertian businesses. I've heard that the dwarf steel industry has been skyrocketing, I'm thinking about sending him a letter to transfer his sponsorship there instead."

As if Tsukasa had any influence over his father's assets. After Rui had pointed out his lack of knowledge of his own family history, Tsukasa decided to do some digging. At least it was enough to cause Remond to pale.

"You wouldn't!"

"I will ruin any of you that try to badmouth my friends," Tsukasa threatened. Might as well go all the way with his bluff. People like Remond were walking clichés, all talk and herd mentality.

Has the Tsukasa from the novel ever tried his hand at diplomacy with these types of people? One of the few things Tsukasa did know about him was that he loved to rub his riches and influence in other people's faces, and how he had the potential to spread his generosity to those who became his comrades. Was that his way of trying to make friends? He knew it worked in getting him some lackeys, but Tsukasa himself had 0 interest in coddling these types of people.

Besides, wasn’t it kind of ridiculous to accommodate all these bullies by eating outside every day? Sure the view was nice, but the weather was getting chillier and Tsukasa didn't want to treat Rui like a convenient, portable AC unit by forcing him to cast warming spells each time. And Tsukasa wanted to be able to browse the lunch menu in person!

Tsukasa readied his blade again, causing the other guy to flinch.

"Ahhh, I'm not dealing with this, I'm heading to the nurse," Remond huffed as he walked out, leaving Tsukasa high and dry. It wasn’t like Tsukasa was wanted the guy to stay, even if it meant he was without a sparring partner for the rest of class.

Tsukasa doubted that Remond planned on keeping his lips shut about his threats. If those nobles didn’t plan on stopping their bullying, Tsukasa could at least shift their ire onto himself instead of at Rui. There would be too many consequences if Rui tried to stand up for himself, but Tsukasa had the power of status on his side.

“You lost your guy too?” Akito’s voice cut in, and Tsukasa turned to find the other strolling over with his devil-may-care attitude.

"What happened to yours?"

"What do you think, he ran with his tail between his legs when he found out he was my opponent," Akito shrugged. The guy kept twirling his broadsword like a baton, how was anyone supposed to not be intimidated? His attitude and his close relationship to Toya certainly kept most of the lower-status nobles from bullying him.

"What's he so scared of, we're not even using magic," Akito grumbled, like he was actually wondering why people with self-preservation were opposed to fighting him.

"The guy just had common sense," Tsukasa stated plainly. He sidled up closer to Akito to ask in a low voice, "Do you really not feel different after your curse activated?"

Akito huffed, scratching under his bandana where one of his horns would be. "Not much, I like my steak rarer? Then what about you, how come you weren't able to make classes last week after you left the nurse's office? You didn't seem sick."

Akito stared at Tsukasa suspiciously, leaving him floundering on how to explain. There's no way he can mention to Akito that he died temporarily without activating his deadly muting spell in some way.

"Um, well, Rui and I had a bit of an argument. I ended up straining myself afterward…" Tsukasa explained, keeping the details broad. "I ended up needing time to recover. Rui basically kept me bound to the bed the whole weekend. I even had to lie to Saki about it to keep her from worrying too much!"

For some reason, Akito's face contorted into a mix of dread, disgust, and mortification. It flip-flopped between paling white and burning red, reminding Tsukasa of a barber pole.

"Y-you guys did that in broad daylight? Right after leaving the nurse's office? Of course that demon was okay right after…" Akito muttered the last statement to himself, but Tsukasa was close enough to hear it.

"Don't call Rui that! I mean we argued for a while before the whole mess, I don't know if Rui is actually okay with how things resolved but-"

In an out-of-character gesture, Akito placed a firm hand on Tsukasa’s shoulder. "Look, that guy obviously has no limits, so you need to speak up for yourself. Don't let him drag you along at his pace all the time."

It was nice of Akito to be looking after him, but Tsukasa had a feeling he was misunderstanding something. Still, this was probably better than trying to explain his complicated condition.

“So does that you came over here to check up on me? I’m so touched, Akito!”

“I asked ‘cuz Toya was worried when he heard you had skipped class twice!” Akito took a step back, recoiling as though being mistaken for being capable of sympathy was enough to inflict physical damage. "Looks like you're fine now. At least that guy knows some aftercare."


"And that's my cue to stop talking," Akito massaged at his temples with a pained expression. “Forget it, just as long as he doesn’t mess you up so badly that you can’t attend classes.”

“Rui wouldn’t do that on purpose! He’s actually really considerate of me!”

“Gods, stop talking,” Akito shuddered, looking nauseous.

“Uh, do you need to go to the nurse too?”

“No, it’s just discussing this topic with you makes me feel ill. Spar with me,” Akito really wasn’t one to mince words. Tsukasa shrugged and matched Akito’s stance. It looked like it was back to their old routine again.

Once the end of class approached, Sir Shiraishi clapped his hands together to gather everyone’s attention.

“I’m a firm believer in the power of hands-on experience!” Sir Shiraishi announced to the class upfront. “That’s why I moved up our first excursion to next week.”

Already? Did the excursions start this early on in the novel?

Tsukasa looked over to express his concerns to Akito, only to witness a near-manic look of glee on the other’s face. Why did he think an adrenaline junkie like Akito would share any of his reservations?

"Finally, someone is speaking my language."

What, homicide?

“We will be subduing a monster surgence that has been reported around Ossidia.”

Ossidia? That sounded vaguely familiar to Tsukasa.

“I’ll have your team assignments drafted by the end of this week. You’ll be expected to work well with your allies, putting aside any of your differences. So make sure you train hard now so we have an easy time next week!” Sir Shiraishi eyed Tsukasa in particular during his statement. Why was Tsukasa the one being singled out when his opponent had been the one bad-mouthing people?

Tsukasa met back up with Rui after classes and decided to bring up his new conviction of going back to the cafeteria to eat. He was ready to debate his point, determined to protect Rui by flaunting his status if it came down to it. Rui, however, didn’t seem to have any opinion about where they would eat dinner, and wordlessly turned to the cafeteria. Tsukasa actually had to jog a bit to catch up with the other’s longer stride. It was worrying how little Rui seemed to be confiding in him recently, but forcing the boy to talk to him didn’t seem right either. Their relationship had been muddled with ambiguity, and Tsukasa didn’t know the best way to clear it up.

It’s been a hot minute since Tsukasa had last set foot in the cafeteria. Finally, he could peruse the food buffet without having Rui’s dietary filter eliminating everything that contained the color green.

Tsukasa glanced over at Rui’s tray, finding that the other barely placed anything on his plate save for a turkey leg. What was up with him? What caused him to lose his appetite? Tsukasa loaded non-vegetable sides onto Rui’s tray, looking at Rui pleadingly. One of them already had experienced being bedridden for several days, they didn’t need the same occurring to the other. Rui accepted the food without argument.

Tsukasa didn’t really know what to do about Rui’s sudden vow of silence, sighing and leading him to an empty table. Rui obediently sat down by his side, taking nibbles of his food every now and then to give off the illusion of eating. He was doing more tearing at his food than actual consumption of it. Tsukasa was starting to get really worried, asking Rui to face him and holding a hand to the other’s forehead. Instead of the blistering hot temperature Rui always ran at, the skin felt cold. Rui’s whole body felt freezing. Tsukasa stood up in shock.

“Rui, we need to go to the nurse.”

“Why? I’m fine, Tsukasa,” Rui opposed, the first words Tsukasa had heard the other utter all night.

“There’s no way you’re fine! You’re freezing!”

Tsukasa was distracted from his concern with a sudden thwack against the table.

“You two really came back here?” A very unwelcome voice interrupted Tsukasa’s very important deliberation over Rui’s health. Were they really in an elite school for nobility? It felt more like a school for teenage delinquents with the number of people wanting to pick unsanctioned fights. The one brawl-o-holic he knew was civil enough to not incite fights like this.

Tsukasa looked up to find his old friend Windsor, which he had nearly forgotten about. Was he waiting all this time for him and Rui to show up again or something? He was accompanied by some other nameless nobles because none of them were able to bully people without a mob to support them. He spotted his runaway opponent from sparring class in the crowd too. What was his name, Rhubarb?

“Yes, we came here to enjoy a nice dinner. May I help you?” Tsukasa’s smile was all teeth.

“Ha, so you share a table with your pet dog? That’s adorable.”

“What’s adorable is you and your entourage, Sir Windsor. Is that Rhubarb? I believe I already warned you once about belittling my friends,” Tsukasa said with fake cheer.

“Rhubarb?!” Rhubarb spluttered. Did he think he was safe if he tried to blend in with the crowd of nobles in order to confront Tsukasa?

“Anyway, my companion is unwell so we will be going to the infirmary. Don’t wait up,” Tsukasa tried to excuse himself, carefully taking Rui’s arm and guiding him out of his seat. Windsor immediately stood in their way, crossing his arms and keeping them from leaving.

“Hello good sir, you don’t mind standing a couple meters to the left of here instead, do you?” Or even a couple kilometers away, Tsukasa wasn’t picky.

“Before you go, I have an inquiry for you, Sir Tenma. Is it true that Sir McGailan had challenged you to a duel? You do know he’s the best fighter of our year, don’t you?”

“Really? He could have fooled me,” Tsukasa could easily recall the student getting bodied by his maid just a week ago. Not to mention the multiple times Rui had shut McGailan down with just a glance. And the best fighter of their year? They were just going to count Akito out like that?

“A duel?” Rui spoke up, as though he’s been snapped out of a trance. His neutral eyes suddenly flashed and the air around them crackled. Tsukasa even felt his own hair standing on end. All the nobles around them simultaneously took a step back as the cafeteria was thrown into stark silence.

“That parasite challenged my Tsukasa to a duel?” Rui’s smile was downright vicious. “If he had such an urgent death wish, then I’m more than happy to grant it to him-”

“Oh Rui! You must be starving, to be acting so out of character right now! You’re just not yourself when you’re hungry, y’know,” Tsukasa chimed in, stuffing half a baguette into Rui’s mouth. “Chew, please.”

Rui chewed. It was a good sign that Rui had enough wits about him if he was willing to listen to Tsukasa.

"Great talking to you, gentlemen, we must be off," Tsukasa led Rui out, thankfully no one was dumb enough to try and stop them this time. Tsukasa still counted this as 0-3 for peaceful meals in the cafeteria.

When they stepped out, Tsukasa whirled on his roommate. “Okay, Rui, let’s go to the infirmary.”

“No,” Rui shook his head. “I’m fine, Tsukasa. Let’s head back to the room.

“You are absolutely not fine!” Tsukasa refuted. Rui would have never been so reckless with his magic if he were in his right mind. "It's obvious that you're feeling unwell. Your body temperature is freezing."

“They won’t be able to do anything for me. Besides, if we go and they examine me, they’ll have to do a mana capacity assessment. They’ll end up transferring me to the S-class at best or kick me out for some made-up reason such as being a hazard to the academy."

Tsukasa couldn't refute the possibility, but still bit his lip in frustration. "It's not a bad thing to be transferred to the S-class. That's where you belong, anyway."

"I'd rather not risk being separated from you more than I have to. Let’s head back to the room for now, please," Rui's face had returned to the pallid expression he had maintained all day. Unable to drop his worry, Tsukasa took Rui's hand, holding it firmly in hopes of somehow warming it up with his own body heat.

Despite Rui's sudden indifference, it seemed he didn't want to necessarily be away from Tsukasa either. When they returned to their room, Tsukasa ushered Rui to his bed. The boy sat on the mattress but didn't lie down, stating he did not feel sleepy. Leaving Rui's symptoms undiagnosed only ramped up Tsukasa’s anxiety.

With Rui refusing to acknowledge that anything was wrong, Tsukasa decided to keep his mind occupied by going over his homework and addressing his letters from his sister. Saki had sent multiple letters of concern and threats to visit the academy herself if Tsukasa didn't explain further. Tsukasa was a bit ashamed by how curt his initial letter was, drafting one that mentioned that his "illness" had left him fatigued and bedridden, but that he was feeling much better. His lies with his sister were piling up, but it wouldn't be right to bother her with concerns from someone only posing as her brother.

While Tsukasa kept busy, Rui had left his bed to tinker with a new invention. This one was also one never mentioned in the novel, looking purely utilitarian. The contraption had a leather arm band attached to a glass container, with a metal, ambiguous-looking cap on top. What purpose did it serve? Tsukasa was always curious about Rui’s inventions.

When Tsukasa stood from his desk, Rui immediately stopped fiddling with the contraption and slipped it into his sleeve. Alright then…Was it okay for Tsukasa to ask about it? He didn’t want to look as though he were suspicious of Rui. The balancing act of wanting to show that he trusted Rui while being concerned about their tenuous relationship felt like he’d been walking a tightrope lately.

Tsukasa decided to not ask and retreated to his bed, only to find that Rui had not followed him. Rui had watched Tsukasa climb into bed and then walked away to his own.

"Wait, you're not sleeping with me tonight either?” Tsukasa blurted, watching Rui about to climb onto the mattress on the other side of the room. He had thought they were just sleeping separately so that Tsukasa could focus on recovering over the weekend. This was a permanent thing now?

Rui shook his head.

Well, that was…okay. Rui could have decided it was for the best. The shift in their relationship could have meant a shift in boundaries as well. It was weird for friends to sleep together every night anyway, right?

But we're best friends. The needling voice in his head emphasized unnecessarily.

"I see… goodnight then," Tsukasa murmured, staring at the ceiling well into the night.

Tsukasa awoke the next day sleep-deprived and anxious. Nothing was being resolved and Tsukasa felt as though he and Rui were drifting ever further apart. Who did he ask about troubles in his friendship? His first choice would be Mizuki, but they were actively avoiding him and happened to be dealing with a relationship issue of their own. So that left Akito. At least he seemed to be hitting it off quite well with Toya these days. The mood around him was a moderate grouchiness rather than the chronic bitterness that radiated off him when they had first met during entrance exams.

At the start of sparring lessons, Tsukasa greeted his friend and launched right into his concerns. "Rui won't sleep with me anymore-"

Akito spluttered water out his mouth, looking like he nearly drowned himself with his canteen. Classic fire mage things. "Can't you warn a guy? Are you sure you want to be saying this here?"

"Mizuki is avoiding me and you have experience too! Please Akito, grant me your guidance!"

"Alright, stop shouting. Look, Toya and my relationship is completely platonic so I don't know how much help I can be."

"Rui and mine is too?" Tsukasa said, wondering why Akito added that particular descriptor.

Akito paused to stare at Tsukasa over his bottle. "Right," He said dubiously.

"So what exactly did you notice is wrong?"

"Rui hasn't been confiding in me lately, he's actually been oddly quiet and not really acting himself. He won't go see the nurse because of reasons and I'm concerned about him."

"Hmph, that sounds annoying," Akito grunted.

"What if he's really sick?"

"Then he’s probably faking it. A guy with as much highly concentrated mana as him has too toxic of an internal environment for any kind of illness to survive. He can’t get sick.”

Tsukasa was left dumbfounded. Now that he thought about it, during whatever the novel had covered about Rui’s childhood, Rui had only felt weak from hunger but had never been struck with illness. Tsukasa had just ascribed it to being the one mercy the gods had granted Rui, but it appeared as though he was physically incapable of contracting disease all along.

“But then…Does that mean he’s doing it to himself? Why would he do that?”

“Like I would know how that guy’s head works. Ask him yourself.”

“But he won’t tell me anything!”

Akito tsked and stabbed Tsukasa’s chest with a finger. “Then figure. It. Out.” Akito waved his hand casually like it was an easy affair. “Snoop through his stuff. Spy on him. He’d probably allow it since it’s you.”

“What?! No!” Tsukasa shut Akito’s suggestion down vehemently. “I’m not going to invade his privacy!”

“Then guess you’ll never know. Geez, the guy basically gave you all the tools for it too. You got that flying spy automaton and you share a room with him.”

Maybe Tsukasa shouldn’t have mentioned Tom’s existence to Akito, if he was going to use Tom against him like this.

“A lot happened between Rui and I the past weekend. I basically did something that upset him and I’m trying to gain back his trust right now. It wouldn’t be right for me to do something like that,” Tsukasa shook his head, resolute in his decision.

“So Kamishiro won’t tell you what’s wrong with him, and you won’t use any other methods to find out? You guys really are a match made in heaven,” Akito muttered, rubbing the back of his head.

“Have you and Toya gotten into a disagreement recently?” One that Book Tsukasa hadn’t been the source of, anyway. “What do you do to resolve it?”

Akito narrowed his eyes at Tsukasa’s attempt to shift the topic, but answered anyway. “We just talk it out. Toya had been upset that I never mentioned my curse to him. He thought I was dying when the curse activated after that magical resonance incident. I ended up promising that I would tell him first thing if anything else came up, even if I felt it was insignificant,” Akito mentioned as though he were talking about the weather and not a debilitating curse that would eventually take his sanity. Tsukasa was sure that Akito was leaving out the more eventful details about how things went down. Toya had looked utterly shaken afterward, his usual collected demeanor had been torn away by the severe situation affecting his friend.

That brought up another question of how much Akito knew about the origin of the curse. And how Mizuki tied into it all.

"I've been meaning to ask, did you know that you were cursed all this time? Or who did this to you?"

Akito sighed heavily, as though he'd been dreading the question. "No, I have no clue. One day I came down with an illness that lasted several days and then woke up with a curse. There's no countercurse without origin and identity of castor."

But it might as well have been my fault. Mizuki had said.

"You don't think Mizuki could have been the one to-”

Akito cut him off with a shake of his head. “They didn't cast it. Such a high-level curse had to have been cast by at least an S-class mage. Even if Ena insists that she trusts that Akiyama couldn't have cast it, Akiyama logistically couldn't have been the one to cast it either. The whole reason for their guilt is likely 'cuz they were there when my sister and I were afflicted.”

"You mean Mizuki saw who cursed you?"

"Even if they did, that wouldn't be enough to undo the curse. If they don't know the incantation of the curse or name of the caster then the countercurse can't be authored."

"So you have done some research on countercurses," Tsukasa was surprised by Akito's knowledge. So he wasn't as passive about the situation as he led others to believe.

"Obviously. It'd interfere with my plans if I turned into a dragon in the middle of training to be a knight," Akito huffed, putting away his canteen and heaving his broadsword up. "Any more questions?"

"I'm just marveling at how well you and Toya have worked out your friendship. I guess Rui and I still have a lot to improve on." Tsukasa remarked as he pulled out his own sword, readying himself for whatever sparring partner he'd be paired with today. Akito's explanation also revealed more background behind Mizuki’s avoidant behavior with Ena.

Akito seemed to be muttering to himself, looking toward the sky as though pleading to the gods for strength. “Trust me, our lines of thought are not at all unanimous. Toya and I just don’t have a good reason to fight.”

“Oh, well, I guess that’s good. Pick your battles and all that.”

“Make sure you do too. Some battles are worth fighting,” Akito remarked as he walked away, spotting a hapless student in the distance. Akito’s sparring partner probably ran off the moment they learned they were paired with him, so Akito was on the hunt to snag someone else’s. Tsukasa had received Akito’s final piece of advice loud and clear.

There was a reason Rui was pulling back from him, and it was up to Tsukasa to reach out and close the gap. How many times had it been Rui the one to initiate? With how little Tsukasa reciprocated, maybe Rui had finally decided it wasn't worth the effort anymore. Maybe, just maybe, Rui also was wrapped up in his own insecurities, like Tsukasa was, and was stuck in his head too, bringing them to this stalemate in their communication. No matter how unlikely Tsukasa's guesses were, he wouldn't know the answer until he confronted Rui for the truth. And if Tsukasa was able to wrangle a bit of Rui's trust back, he could ask him why he seemed so pale lately and refused to see the nurse. There was even an option of sneaking out and seeing a discrete healthcare professional in town. Tsukasa certainly had the hush money for it. He could do this.

Rui was worth fighting for.

Chapter 20


Tsukasa tries his hand at reconciling with Rui.


You may hold your applause, I am back (I’m so so sorry, my head has been empty for months, thank you for your wonderful comments everyone)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Mizuki did not attend elective. Riliane appeared forlorn in Mizuki's absence but still worked diligently at making sure each of the embroidery club members had the materials they needed. The members would each be working on a square patch that would be woven into a quilt, a kind of team-building project. Since imbuing fabric with magic was a delicate process, Kayo had prepared enough for everyone to use that day. Tsukasa assumed they would be learning Kayo’s imbuing technique another day.

Tsukasa took the time to take his mind off his future troubles, tracing a picture of a lazy, dozing cat onto violet, velvety fabric that he would cut out later. If Mizuki was there, they would certainly have choice words for Tsukasa’s color selection. At least they wouldn’t be able to pick on Tsukasa’s choices in yarn, sky blue and gold. At first, one would think that such wildly varying colors would clash, but Tsukasa found them to complement each other when overlaid and soothed his heart.

"What a cute kitty! I can’t wait to see how Tsukasa’s patch will turn out!” Riliane cooed at Tsukasa’s sketch. Riliane was working on her own pattern which was…creative to say the least. Her's was an intricately woven guillotine, with gaudy pink blood sewn onto the steel. Would the thing be chopping some poor, stitched person's head off when it was finished?

"I certainly haven't seen a pattern like yours before, Riliane," Tsukasa commented, morbidly impressed. Riliane giggled her thanks. She was a bit of an odd upper-classman but seemed to mean well and was enthusiastic about each activity the club engaged in.

Tsukasa was slower in his stitching than the other blond but was able to begin attaching his fabric pattern onto the patchwork square before the club started to wrap up for the day. It would be nice if he eventually became skilled enough to make something nice to gift to Rui, but patience was key in these types of projects.

Kayo made her rounds, stopping by to praise Tsukasa’s progress while giving Riliane a resigned look. Riliane took zero note of this, showing off her work proudly.

“Your stitching is coming out wonderfully, Tsukasa. You’re a quick study,” Kayo commended, looking over what Tsukasa had accomplished.

“Thank you, Kayo. I actually had some practice from mending clothes when I was younger,” Tsukasa admitted before he recalled that it was likely an odd skill for a noble to pick up. Fortunately, Kayo didn’t seem to find anything strange about some rich kid knowing how to fix up his own clothing, instead looking charmed that Tsukasa had picked up the skill on his own.

“I’m glad you found such use in sewing and decided to pursue further mastery in it. There are many different techniques that I’m sure you can use to expand your repertoire.”

"I'm fortunate to have such experienced seniors to show me the ropes," Tsukasa appreciated Kayo's guidance, who had made helpful suggestions about the best stitch Tsukasa could make to decorate his patch. She also made sure that he used a thimble for this attempt, as a preventative measure since the incident last time.

"You seem more focused this time around, but I sense something still ails you," Kayo gracefully took a seat next to Tsukasa, in an open expression that welcomed Tsukasa to confide in her.

"Ah, well I guess it's the same issue from before is still bothering me," Tsukasa said, unsure of bringing the mood down with his troubles. The situation this time around was arguably worse than before, but Tsukasa had a strange bout of budding confidence. Rui worked in extremes, but it all coincided with his own unique set of logic as well.

When Tsukasa was bed-bound and only had his own mind to occupy his time, he had contemplated why Rui had worked so hard to bring him back to health. What benefit did Rui garner for saving him, if not for the benefit being Tsukasa himself? Sure, Tsukasa had money and tenuous connections to other nobility, but what worth was that to someone who could easily take whatever he wanted at any time? Tsukasa had no illusions about Rui being bound to the law. If he wanted something, he'd steal it, no money necessary. If he wanted to rise the ranks of power, he'd easily leave Tsukasa in the dust and take the academy's advanced classes. Maybe he stuck around Tsukasa to keep an eye on him, but what could Tsukasa possibly plan that Rui couldn't immediately thwart? Tsukasa was mere cannon fodder in the original novel, barely making enough appearances to be elevated to the status of a side character. If there was any threat he could have posed, it was being a source of minor conflict or miscommunication for the actual lead cast.

Despite the minimal threat Tsukasa could pose, Rui had diligently stuck by his side like Tsukasa would disappear if Rui didn’t constantly brush against his arm. Even if there was an argument to stay by Tsukasa’s side for every waking moment, what reason was there for Rui to go out of his way to bathe and sleep with Tsukasa?

Rui had been the one to snatch Tsukasa's life from the clutches of Gods, all at the risk of his own wellbeing. And this was after he had stated his suspicions of Tsukasa's identity and motivations. What reason would Rui have to keep Tsukasa alive if he didn't at least consider Tsukasa a friend? Even if Tsukasa’s secrets posed some kind of locked-room murder mystery that Rui would love nothing more to dissect, was the challenge worth risking his life for the chance to solve? Surely if it were just to sate his touch-starved needs, Rui didn't need Tsukasa specifically to realize them. Tsukasa could confidently conclude that even if their standing with each other had been thrown into question, they still shared mutual feelings of affection for one another.

“I’m concerned about a close friend of mine. I'm hoping to ask him to confide in me tonight," Tsukasa elaborated to Kayo.

“I wish you luck. It wouldn’t do to have your loved ones taken from you, whether they be from unnatural circ*mstances or by another…” Kayo’s focus seemed to flicker into the distance but quickly returned her attention to Tsukasa. “You have a good soul, Tsukasa. I’m confident that your outcome will be favorable.”

"I appreciate it, Kayo! If you don't mind, may I ask what got you into sewing?"

Kayo smiled and nodded, explaining how she had worked as a seamstress prior to joining the academy, and how she hoped to build her skills and reputation to fund her own tailor shop in the future. Her abundant skill in sewing spoke to her experience. Tsukasa inquired her about the types of clothing and commissions she had experience with, and Kayo reminisced on some of her favorite works. Some of them extended from things as simple as repairing someone's favorite jacket to wedding garments for a rich, nameless couple she suspected was foreign royalty planning their elopement.

"What kinds of projects are you hoping to engage with in the future, Tsukasa? Is there anything in particular you want to create?"

Tsukasa hummed to himself in contemplation. Kayo’s expertise had enlightened him into other options for him to delve into, and not just limit himself to projects that were considered beginner-friendly in DIY guides. Even if he thought the task to be too complicated, there was the assistance of magic to guide his hand and perform strenuous tasks with ease. With the onset of winter, there were layers to consider now.

“Are you planning on gifting something to someone special?” Riliane cut in with a sparkle in her eyes. Tsukasa jumped from the sudden interjection and couldn’t help flushing slightly.

“H-how did you-”

“Your expression makes it suuuuper obvious, Tsukasa! So who is it for? A fiancé? A secret lover?”

“Nothing like that! I just want to make something nice for my best friend! And my sister and some other friends, if I have time,” Tsukasa tagged on sheepishly. It was a bit ambitious to think he’d be able to knit so many gifts before the chill of winter besieged them.

“Ehh? How boring,” Riliane, pouted, losing interest as quickly as she had garnered it. Kayo tutted at her like a mother would at her child acting out rudely.

“Creating a gift that will be given to friends or family is just as rewarding as it would be if it were for a lover. But I also think it wouldn’t be bad if Tsukasa thought of making something for himself as well.”

“I don’t need anything,” Tsukasa said automatically and far too quickly, seeing how Kayo gave him a somber, pitying look that had him subconsciously rubbing at his arms. “My family is well off. My efforts is better spent on others.”

“Your wealth does not speak for you, Tsukasa,” Kayo said but dropped the subject with Tsukasa’s increasing discomfort. “Regardless, I’d like to see how your skill progresses from here. Why don’t you try making smaller stitches here for the kitten's nose?”

Tsukasa didn’t mean for embroidery club to wrap up on such an awkward note, but Kayo didn’t seem to mind, seeing him off with a benign smile. Riliane didn’t seem to find anything awkward about their parting at all, eagerly waving bye to him with the same enthusiasm she had greeted him with earlier. The two upperclassman laid on opposite ends of the spectrum of decorum, but somehow still resulted in him being able to slip out of the situation painlessly. Tsukasa couldn’t be more grateful.

Rui had yet to finish up from his gardening elective, since he wasn't outside the club room to collect him. Tsukasa was fine with that since he had yet to come up with a game plan on how to actually get Rui to talk to him. He had the motivation, but not the means. Rui could be just as stubborn as he was on certain things.

Tsukasa returned to his room, only to be confused upon hearing what sounded like sniffles. Tsukasa had a good guess as to where the sounds originated from, spotting the culprit face-planted on the carpet, sobbing like his whole world was ending. Tsukasa kneeled in order to lift Mr. Rabbit into his arms and cradle him.

"What's wrong, honey?" Tsukasa asked, petting the poor plush that was whimpering like he had been torn from his parents’ hands.

Mr. Rabbit’s sobs hardly died down for him to get in a word. “M-Master is, master is-”

Tsukasa's heart froze over. “Rui? Rui is what?”

“Wahhhh!” Mr. Rabbit cried even louder. If the automaton could cry real tears, the front of Tsukasa’s jacket would’ve been soaked by now. Tsukasa could only hold the plush close to his chest in an attempt to console him. The plush’s words had become unintelligible with his downward spiral into despair.

With his inability to speak, Mr. Rabbit instead gestured to Rui’s bed. Or more specifically, beneath it. The space below the bed was hidden by the linen valance, remained untorn by Rui’s destructive whims toward his beddings.

This was a bit of a dilemma. Tsukasa had recalled telling Akito that he was opposed to snooping through Rui’s things, but when faced with something that was causing Mr. Rabbit this much distress? Mr. Rabbit wouldn’t want Tsukasa to go through Rui’s things without just cause, right? Surely Rui’s inventions would have their master’s best interests in mind?

…What if it was a bomb? What if Mr. Rabbit was crying out of pure terror right now? Tsukasa absolutely wouldn’t put it past Rui to leisurely invent a bomb in his spare time and carelessly shove it under his bed, as teenage boys tended to do to "declutter" their room.

Just to make sure, Tsukasa asked Mr. Rabbit, “Do you want me to look under Rui’s bed?”

Mr. Rabbit nodded mournfully, as though he were asking his parents to go check his bed for the scary monster lurking underneath. Tsukasa held the plush securely as he shuffled toward the bed on his knees, feeling unreasonably nervous. He reached forward and grasped the thin fabric, lifting it out of the way.

Tsukasa really wasn’t expecting a bomb. Rui seemed too invested in Tsukasa’s and his inventions’ well-being to leave something so dangerous lying around unsupervised.

So when he lifted the veil, he was taken aback by the sight. It was red. So, so red. A dangerous mass of glinting red liquid contained either in glass jars and in crystallized form. It was undoubtedly Rui’s blood, which came richly infused with mana. One misplaced explosion and it could start a chain reaction on the scale of several nuclear explosions! It could level the whole nation, the academy's magically reinforced walls stood no chance against so many of Rui's mana crystals. But why did Rui have so much of it stockpiled under his bed-


Tsukasa shrieked loudly, landing on his elbow in fright. He hissed as ripples of pain shot up his arm, but kept from dropping Mr. Rabbit.

Instead of being rightfully mad or betrayed by catching Tsukasa red-handed, Rui merely set Tsukasa back upright, not by hand but with his magic. It did not go unnoticed by Tsukasa that Rui had deliberately chosen not to touch him physically. Rui glanced over at Mr. Rabbit, who was still teary-eyed in Tsukasa’s arms.

“Don’t trouble Tsukasa, Mr. Rabbit.”

And surprisingly, the plush’s tears dried up, although he still looked distraught. However, Tsukasa was far from satisfied.

“Oi, Rui! You aren’t even going to ask Mr. Rabbit what’s wrong? He’s crying because something is troubling him!”

“Mr. Rabbit and I have already discussed whatever is upsetting him extensively,” Rui said stubbornly.

“Well, you haven’t discussed it with me! Does it have to do with all these mana cores stockpiled under your bed? How much blood do you have stored under there, it's like you're preparing to forge your own army!” Tsukasa said shakily, trying not to think of how that was a reality in another universe.

Rui didn’t seem at all phased by Tsukasa’s accusations, staring at Tsukasa with an unruffled expression. Emote, you! Tsukasa wanted to grab the boy by his shoulders and just shake. How could Rui become so frustratingly indifferent overnight?

Rui released an audible breath when he realized Tsukasa wasn’t going to let things go on without an explanation. “I’m performing an experiment of sorts, nothing Tsukasa needs to concern himself with.”

"Excuse me? All this for an experiment? What if you become anemic?"


"Yes! All that blood loss and magic usage can't be good for you!"

Tsukasa felt himself growing more and more distraught. He shouldn't be the one getting angry, he had wanted to calmly bring up whatever was troubling Rui and reassure him that Tsukasa could be confided in. Not yell at the poor guy for the impromptu blood bank he’s started in their room.

Rui seemed to grow colder as Tsukasa scrambled to keep calm. “How can Tsukasa know what’s good for me when he doesn’t know what’s good for himself?”

Tsukasa bit his lip harshly, enough that he could feel the crunch against his teeth and the sting of his skin. He didn’t bother with wiping away the blood dripping from his mouth as he rose to Rui’s eye level.

"Why are you insulting someone who's concerned for your health? How am I the one who can’t look after himself?”

“Who’s the one who nearly died a few days ago? Who’s the one who promised an unsanctioned duel with dishonorable vermin who will do anything to humiliate you?” Finally, some form of emotion was showing on Rui’s face.

“Is that why you’ve been acting this way? Have you grown tired of being my caretaker?” Tsukasa spat, giving up on staying composed. He knew not to believe his own statement, but a sizeable part of him screamed that it didn’t want to know the answer.

Rui’s eyes widened in incredulity, then took a step toward Tsukasa as though he were about to reach out and throttle him. Tsukasa may have been projecting his own intent onto Rui, but that didn’t make the closing distance between them any less threatening. Rui was far likely to be the more successful of the two of them.

As if catching himself, Rui then suddenly slapped his wrist and retreated. If Tsukasa wasn’t listening so intently, he would have missed the subtle click that came from Rui’s arm.

“What was that, what did you just do?” Tsukasa pointed accusingly at Rui’s arm. Rui’s expression had slackened and returned to indifference after his stunt.

“Tsukasa, you’re bleeding-”

“Don’t change the subject! You did plenty of bleeding yourself! Why won’t you talk to me anymore?”

Tsukasa latched onto Rui’s arm, yanking up his sleeve before Rui could attempt to pull away. There, it was that unknown contraption strapped to Rui’s wrist, steadily siphoning his blood and draining into the attached glass container.

“My, so daring,” Rui teased weakly. Tsukasa shot him a blunted glare before turning his attention to the offensive object. He stared stunned at the continuous stream of rich, dark blood slipping away from Rui, then attempted to claw at the strap.

Rui pulled away before he could undo the buckle. He then dared to reach up and touch Tsukasa's lip, but Tsukasa immediately batted his hand away.

"I keep bleeding for as long as you do," Tsukasa rebutted.

Rui broke eye contact but allowed Tsukasa to fumble at the leather strap until the invention could be ripped away. He didn’t make any move to resist as Tsukasa threw the contraption to the ground as though it burned him.

“Tsukasa is getting better at manipulation,” Rui said softly. Maybe a bit too proudly.

“Why,” Tsukasa demanded. Rui raised his hand again, placing his fingers gently against Tsukasa’s lips, healing where he had bitten through.

Rui sighed. “It was for Tsukasa’s sake.”

“You not talking to me and forming enough blood crystals to explode the whole country helps me how?” Tsukasa could have drilled holes into Rui’s head with how intensely he glared at him. With the chance to study Rui’s face, Tsukasa noted black circles under Rui’s eyes that matched his own. Rui’s eyes themselves were glazed over, nowhere near the normal, bright, riveted gaze that captured Tsukasa’s attention whenever they were together. How had Tsukasa missed the signs?

Tsukasa brought each of his hands up to cup Rui’s face, his thumbs gently pulling at Rui’s lower eyelids so he could look more closely, as though against hope he could wipe away the black eye bags himself. “You…You hypnotized yourself?!”

Rui hesitated before nodding. "I don't want to upset you again. If I don't deprive myself of mana then my body will try to fight it off."

Tsukasa was plenty upset right now, but he let Rui continue since he was finally forthcoming with answers. “What did you hypnotize yourself to do?”

Rui smiled somberly, pulling Tsukasa’s hands away from his face and guiding them back to his side. Tsukasa switched his grip to entangle his fingers with Rui's, making sure that Rui couldn’t pull away completely. Rui confessed, “To not get closer to you than necessary.”

Tsukasa was left speechless. That explained Rui’s sudden shift in behavior and yet… “Why did you have to hypnotize yourself to do that?”

“Tsukasa’s ignorance is as endearing as it is a source of frustration,” Rui said wistfully, his blue lips curling slightly. “What was it that Tsukasa called my condition? Anemia? That is certainly easier than dealing with the compulsion of wanting to touch Tsukasa.”

“You-you-” Tsukasa felt as though he was ready to explode. He’d never had this much difficulty keeping his emotions in check before, not even when his father frustratingly refused to let him have any hobby besides studying. “You did all this just so you wouldn’t touch me? Something like that was important enough to risk your health? I don’t mind you touching me, idiot!”

Rui’s eyes widened, pausing to take in Tsukasa’s response before he sighed. “Tsukasa, I have seen how far your tolerance for me lies. Do you think I’ll believe that you would willingly want to come in contact with me?”

Rui’s conclusion boggled Tsukasa. How could such a smart guy be so wrong? "What are you talking about? It's not like I'm forcing myself to touch you! I touch you all the time! I like it too!"

Rui looked as though he was about to pull away, his head shaking in disagreement. Tsukasa refused to allow Rui to continue with his misguided self-flagellation, tightening his grip to keep him from retreating. Rui could easily break away but stayed in place, as though trying to linger in the sensation while he still could. Like a person taking one last savory bite of food before they had to fast indefinitely.

Above all, Rui was a man of science. He had to have come up with this ridiculous solution in the face of empirical evidence.

“What made you think this was necessary?” Tsukasa pressed.

"The one initiating any contact has always been me, hasn’t it, Tsukasa? When we had taken that first bath together, you were so repulsed you went into shock. The more carefully I tread your boundaries, the more walls you seem to put up.”

How could Tsukasa forget? It was the one thing Rui had proven time and time again. Rui had met Tsukasa with every compromise. He had never overstepped a boundary that Tsukasa had set between them. When Tsukasa had asked that Rui never hypnotize him again, Rui had refrained from doing so. When Tsukasa had asked for Rui to leave after following him home that one weekend, Rui had promptly returned to the academy. When Tsukasa had freaked out after Rui had asked him to wash his bare back, Rui had guided him out of his panic attack and stopped touching him. Completely. Until Tsukasa reached out and begged him to touch him again.

“Tsukasa is the type to let others take advantage, to his own detriment. I’m selfish enough to do so.”

And yet when Tsukasa had set a boundary, Rui went above and beyond to meet it. Almost to the extreme.

It was as though Rui feared that if he made a mistake then Tsukasa would abandon him. But that was ridiculous, Tsukasa made mistakes all the time! Why would he think that Tsukasa would hold him to such a high standard? And if anything, Rui’s the one who’s been most conscientious of Tsukasa’s safety.

“It’s not selfish to want affection, Rui. And you’ve stopped when I’ve needed you to. You’ve even saved my life before. If there’s anyone I can entrust myself to, who else could it be but you?”

“I can be very selfish. More than you could imagine,” Rui’s tone was heavy with implication. His bleary eyes were already returning to their sharp intensity, and Tsukasa allowed relief to flood in as he focused on that observation.

“That’s fine then. Everyone can be selfish. Rich people who have more than enough have it in spades,” Tsukasa said unironically. “I trust you.”

“You shouldn’t,” Rui closed his eyes, exasperated. Tsukasa pouted, waiting for Rui to look at him again. When Rui’s eyes flicker back open, they seem to linger on Tsukasa’s pursed lips.

“If I can’t trust you, then who can I trust?”

Rui snapped his gaze away with effort. “For someone who wears all their emotions on their sleeve, you make it difficult to truly know you, Tsukasa. One moment you want me to stay with you, the next you're pushing me away, terrified of me."

“Then I promise to tell you, Rui, if I’m at my limit. Won’t you trust me too?” As soon as the words left his mouth, Tsukasa could have berated himself. Trust is something that had to be earned, and he has barely proven himself to be worthy of it to Rui.

“Does Tsukasa truly know his own limits?” Rui’s forced smirk held the edge of a grimace.

“In all honesty, no. Everything is new for me, Rui. More than you would think,” Tsukasa admitted, shame coloring his cheeks. It’s embarrassing for Tsukasa to not know himself well enough to know the cause of his own knee-jerk reactions, but being honest was important in gaining trust. “So if I react badly, I don’t want you to think it’s all your fault. If something goes wrong, I’d rather you be there with me than not.”

Rui appeared stunned at Tsukasa’s concession, as though he couldn’t wrap his head around Tsukasa deciding that his uncontrollable bouts of discomfort was a fair trade off for their continued canoodling.

Tsukasa huffed at Rui’s lack of faith in his own decision-making. “What’ll get you to believe that I am okay with this, then? How do I get used to us touching if you won’t let me practice?”

Rui shook his head, as though aghast. “That’s not… I don’t-“

It was rare to see Rui at a loss for words. Tsukasa patted his best friend’s hand consolingly. “You’ll be patient with me, won’t you? Why don’t you start us off? What would you like for us to do first?”

Rui let out a sound so soft Tsukasa couldn’t call it anything other than a whimper. Tsukasa had gone from patting to caressing Rui’s hand, waiting patiently for the boy to respond.

“Is it really okay?” Rui mumbled.

“Well, I won’t know until we try? Tell me what you have in mind,” Tsukasa angled his head closer to hear his muted friend.

“What if it’s not just one thing?”

“Ahh, I can’t underestimate Rui’s ambitiousness, can I?” Tsukasa hummed in a contemplative manner, causing Rui’s breath to hitch. As though the unnamed tasks were already too daunting that it would cause Tsukasa to backtrack. A meek Rui was more fun to tease than Tsukasa had expected, but maybe that was enough for now. “But it’ll take more than that for me to back down. I’m pretty determined on this front, y’know?”

Rui’s head dropped until it bumped gently against Tsukasa’s chest. Tsukasa moved to gently carding his fingers through the boy’s neglected locks. The gesture seemed to unlock the floodgates holding back Rui’s desires.

“I want many things, Tsukasa. I want you to hug me, pat me, praise me, sleep with me, bathe with me, touch me any chance you get. I want you to feed me my favorite foods and not stop trying to feed me despicable vegetables even if my refusal is frustrating to deal with. I want to be able to call Tsukasa any nickname I want, whether it be Honey or Darling or Mama or something equally embarrassing to Tsukasa. Even if Tsukasa has to maintain his unnecessary friendships or keep secrets from me in order to appease a higher power, or if I perform sub-optimally or not to your standards, I want to be who he returns to at the end of the day.”


Rui opened his mouth before clicking it shut in shock.

“Ok, I'll do it,” Tsukasa said resolutely. “What, you think I can’t?”

“No, I don't want Tsukasa to do it if he doesn't want to,” Rui’s face turned conflicted. “Tsukasa doesn’t have to pretend for me.”

“I think you've sorely overestimating my ability to act, Rui. Even a polished actor needs a source to pull from, and I've never felt this way about anyone before,” Tsukasa shook his head at Rui’s stubbornness. “You think you’re the only one who wants this? I missed you too, Rui.”

Rui didn’t make a move to initiate, so Tsukasa reached out instead, wrapping his arms around Rui’s broad, lanky shoulders. Rui’s frame was something he had yet to grow into. Tsukasa hoped to watch his friend grow stronger and more confident in their time together. He took in a deep breath as he nuzzled into the familiar space of his friend. Rui’s superhuman heat had yet to return, but hopefully his friend would make a full recovery from his anemia.

What Tsukasa didn’t account for was Rui to go loose in his grasp and sink to the floor.

“Rui?” Tsukasa gasped. In a bid to keep himself wrapped around him, Tsukasa followed him down, keeping his hands on Rui to steady him. “What’s wrong?”

Rui looked up, meeting his eyes. He seemed dazed, but this time from disbelief than from lack of energy. “Tsukasa really means it? Really, really?”

“Yes, really! Do I need to swear on something? I’d say on my honor as a knight but I’m still in training.”

Rui’s eyes dilated as his lingering hold on his restraint fell away. “Snap twice if you want me to stop,” Rui spoke in a low tone, dragging one of Tsukasa’s wrists to his mouth.

“Huh, what-AHHG!” Tsukasa yelped as Rui clamped his mouth down right around his wrist, mercifully without teeth. His tongue laved over Tsukasa’s skin, gnawing lightly on the bump of his ulna bone. Tsukasa’s warring emotions left him fixed in place. He should feel disgusted, shouldn’t he? He could feel Rui’s warm saliva making a circuit around his wrist, trickling down to leech into his rolled-down sleeve. The wet trails left a burning sensation on his arm, especially where the slick muscle of Rui’s tongue rubbed at where bone met skin. For some reason, fascination was winning out of all of Tsukasa’s emotions.

“R-Rui, what are you…you’re…”Tsukasa stared as Rui’s expression transformed into bliss, the stiffness in his shoulders easing as the boy essentially nursed on his wrist. Tsukasa has never met a more unpredictable person in his life. “Um, do you feel okay?”

Rui chose to sidle even closer in lieu of a response, not yet done slobbering over Tsukasa’s captive limb. Well, it wasn’t like Tsukasa was uncomfortable with the situation, seeing how Rui appeared more relaxed than he had for the past week.

“You’re not secretly a vampire, right? Or some kind of foraging animal that need to lick the salt off my skin for their sodium levels?”

“Mm, won’t bite,” Rui mumbled, still not keen on detaching himself. Tsukasa decided to settle himself in, making himself comfortable on the carpet as Rui squirmed closer. Tsukasa allowed himself to be tipped back until the back of his head was nestled in Rui’s palm and Rui’s body blanketed him like a second skin. Rui’s weight was grounding, even though Rui’s body temperature has yet to return to its normal, stifling heat.

Tsukasa closed his eyes, the situation was far from any hardship that Rui feared it to be. Rui really did just take the plunge in reinitiating their skin ship, but Tsukasa couldn’t find much to complain about, besides how wet his wrist was. Rui was firm in his decision to not bite, although the amount of drool accumulating around his mouth was slightly alarming.

It took a while for Tsukasa to realize he had nodded off, tucked into bed like a worn-out toddler. His wrist was slightly red but clean of any spit. Tsukasa hefted himself out of bed, his sight locking onto Rui who was hovering nearby with a tray of food. It looked like they missed out on eating in the cafeteria yet again, but Tsukasa decided on tackling that problem later.

Rui set the tray on Tsukasa’s lap, with a rare cast to his face. He seemed almost bashful, pink tinging the apples of his cheeks.

“Rui?” Said boy jolted at the call of his name, causing Tsukasa to stare. Was Rui, the pinnacle of shameless behavior, actually embarrassed?

“I apologize, I got carried away,” Rui seemed unable to maintain eye contact with Tsukasa. The teenage awkwardness was causing Tsukasa to burn with sympathetic shame. Rui’s uncharacteristic squirming pushed Tsukasa to want to squeal. It was really cute! But also Tsukasa really couldn’t stand not reacting to Rui’s demureness.

“You didn’t! I didn’t snap, did I? So it was fine,” Tsukasa uttered, his voice pitched an octave high. He cleared his throat, gesturing Rui closer. Rui saw his beckon from his peripheral, obediently seating himself on the bed even if he still couldn’t bring himself to look Tsukasa head-on. Tsukasa bumps a forkful of food against Rui’s lips, Rui accepting it compliantly before his face scrunched in disgust. Tsukasa couldn’t help laughing at Rui’s blatant distaste, especially when his cheeks puffed up from his refusal to chew.

“It’s fried eggplant, Rui! C’mon, it’s not even green,” Tsukasa leaned in, trying to meet Rui’s eyes but the other stubbornly refused to look at him. “Rui, please? Chew for me?”

Rui stared forlornly at the floor.

“S-sweetheart?” Tsukasa stumbled over the endearment, but Rui choked and swiveled his head, finally looking at Tsukasa with intense, intense eyes. Tsukasa’s cheeks flamed but he stared determinedly back. Rui’s extended silence caused him to start gnawing nervously at his lip.

Rui gulped and immediately choked.

Once Tsukasa finished berating Rui on the importance of chewing, he ate the rest of his dinner. Tsukasa was internally celebrating finally getting Rui to consume a vegetable, albeit with far less finesse than Rui’s customary manner. Despite getting “tricked” into eating eggplant, Rui’s pouting ended quickly and he luxuriated in Tsukasa’s presence, hugging Tsukasa from behind so that he could nose into Tsukasa’s hair and taking deep lungfuls of his scent.

There was still time before they usually turned in for the night, which left Tsukasa somewhat restless. Rui picked up on Tsukasa’s antsiness, smoothing his hands over Tsukasa’s arms.

Rui hooked his chin over Tsukasa’s shoulder, giving Tsukasa a pointed look. Clearly he knew something was nagging at Tsukasa’s mind.

“I was hoping to stop by Mizuki’s room,” Tsukasa admitted and cringed, waiting for Rui to surge with jealousy. Rui’s face stayed neutral as he nodded, then stood from the bed, consequently making Tsukasa stand with him. Then he wordlessly made toward the door.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“To Akiyama’s room.”

Just like that? With no argument? “You know where it is?” Tsukasa asked instead. He carefully examined Rui’s face, but there was no hint of jealousy or scrunched up expression of reluctance.

Rui sniffed. “Of course. I’m not happy about it, but if it’s important to Tsukasa then we’ll go. I admit I’m curious as well as to their predicament,”

With that, Rui led Tsukasa out of their room down the hallway. Mizuki’s room ended up not being too far away, several corridors down. Rui stood in front of the door like a diligent bloodhound. Tsukasa took his hand to squeeze it with gratitude, then knocked.

After several moments, a girl Tsukasa found vaguely familiar answered. She stared piercingly at the two of them, dressed in a nightgown with long, dark hair falling loosely down her back. She was clearly getting ready for bed, and Tsukasa had an apology on the tip of his tongue for the late hour. Suddenly, like flipping a switch, her expression morphed into a faux politeness as she greeted her two visitors with as much grace as one could at this time of night.

“Good evening, is there something I can help you with?”

“Ah, um, yes. Is Mizuki in there with you? May we talk with them?”

“Mizuki?” The girl glanced to the other side of the room blocked off by the partially-opened door, ostensibly having a silent stare-off with the other person residing inside. She turned to them with a polite yet unrelenting smile. “They are unavailable.”

“I see,” Tsukasa smiled back, attempting to look as non-threatening as possible. “Do you mind passing a message onto them for us? We’d really like them to join us for our next study session this week. We had a bit of a disagreement earlier and I’d like to apologize for it.”

Rui also cleared his throat from his side. “Could you also let them know that the draconian curse is tied to both blood and magical signature?”

“Hey, whoa, whoa!” Mizuki suddenly wrenched the door fully open, staring at the two of them in alarm.

“I’m not the one who took an oath to not talk about it,” Rui said, the smirk clear in his tone. Rui really was one to get results, no matter the method, wasn’t he? Tsukasa ignored Rui’s immediate glances toward him, eyes glittering with the obvious demand of “praise me!”, but still patted his hand in thanks.

Mizuki’s roommate gave an inquisitive look at Mizuki, who was gawking at Rui’s gall. Mizuki gave her a sheepish look. “Uh, thanks Mafuyu. I’ll take it from here.”

“It’s almost curfew,” Mafuyu said, instead of any other questions. It was as clear of a dismissal as any for Mizuki to deal with her acquaintances, retreating back inside the room to sit at her desk. Mizuki stepped out into the hallway, shutting the door behind them.

“You’re so persistent, boss man. Don’t you know to give a girl some space?” Mizuki sighed, trying to sound annoyed but clearly capitulating.

“You’re trying to find the cure, aren’t you? It must be a lot harder with an oath tying your hands,” Tsukasa commiserated, knowing first-hand the consequences of breaking one. Mizuki nodded with a troubled look.

“It’s late but there’s still people around, y’know?” As soon as Mizuki remarked, Rui waved his hand and a shimmery veil surrounded the three of them. It was likely the same cloaking spell he had used before.

“I hate how useful you are. Why do you know so many illusion spells? That’s supposed to be my specialty,” Mizuki grumbled before turning to Tsukasa, looking contrite. “Geez, I was trying to spare you from all of this because I knew you wouldn’t just stay out of it.”

“No need to be thankful, if there’s any way we can support you, we’ll do it,” Tsukasa nodded. Mizuki sighed heavily, toying with the ends of their hair anxiously.

“I’m sorry, Tsukasa. If there was anyone who would figure out what was going on, it’d be Kamishiro. It’s a situation where the less people know, the better.”

“So you’ve been tackling this ordeal all on your own. That’s why you had that bandana prepared for Akito, as a failsafe.”

“He wasn’t even supposed to be in trouble!’ Mizuki cut in, visibly upset. “The curse isn’t something easily activated. The true threat is from the oath itself.”

“The Resonance event Shinonome caused with His Highness, it was a clash between two S-rank magic users,” Rui hummed. “The parameters of activation are certainly rare. It may have been why he in particular was targeted with such a curse. If Shinonome fully succumbs and turns into a dragon, he’d be a walking cataclysm. However, if someone was able to neutralize him, he’d become a concentrated mana source able to power an insurgence against the king. Of course, this is all conjecture," Rui stated clinically.

Mizuki snapped, "Do you really have to go to the worst-case scenario?"

"That's hardly the worst case. I'm just mentioning the most likely one."

"Okay, let's not catastrophize," Tsukasa held his hands up in a placating gesture. Who could be a possible curse caster? There were plenty of petty nobles who would want to see Akito taken down a peg, but Akito had yet to become a knight to start making a name for himself, especially at the time when he and his sister were likely afflicted. A powerful S-class mage who knew about the draconian curse. The only one capable of such a feat that he knew of was Rui. But that wasn't even in the realm of possibility. "Mizuki, you know it wasn't Rui who cast it, right? He wouldn't do such a thing. And it happened before you all entered the Academy, right?"

"I know!" Mizuki snapped, clearly worked up. "I know it's not him. I just can't help being suspicious of mages. I can't let that bastard who did it give me the slip again."

"What exactly happened? Why would someone target Akito and his sister?"

Mizuki looked tight-lipped once again, and Tsukasa stepped forward to hold their hand. "I'll take the oath too, if that'll get you to trust me."

“What?!” Mizuki was dumbstruck.

“I'll take the oath for him,” Rui stepped in front of him. “We have no intention of harming anyone, except for the perpetrator. If you can't even trust Tsukasa then your chances for finding the cure in time really will dwindle away.” Tsukasa's chest tightened, still not used to the idea of having a friend devoted enough to take an oath for him.

“I don't need you to tell me that. I…trust him,” Mizuki sounded gutted. “But my oath won’t let me share any details about what happened that day.”

Suddenly something heavy slammed against the barrier near Rui’s head. Tsukasa yelped, spinning to watch as Akito sternly stared right through the spell, pupils dilated to slits.

"Akiyama! How long have you known?!" Akito cracked the barrier of Rui's ward with an aggressive bang of his fist.

“Li’l Bro?” Mizuki took a step back, looking startled that Akito was able to detect them through the cloaking spell.

“I know you’re in there,” Akito seethed. A calming hand landed on his shoulder, belonging to none other than Toya. Somehow that was enough to get Akito to pause.

“Rui,” Tsukasa threw the other concerned look, and said boy expanded the spell to allow the two newcomers in.

Akito locked eyes with Mizuki once the three of them were visible, causing Mizuki to flinch. “When did you know?”

Mizuki collected themselves enough to ask, “What is this about?”

“Ena's in a coma. She hasn't woken up for several days!”

“She’s…No…” Mizuki stumbled back, their hand catching on the wall of the hallway before they slid to the floor.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t know,” Akito growled, looking near ready to breathe fire. “She’s been nonstop sending you letters ever since you ghosted her. Have you not been reading any of them?”

Mizuki’s remorseful silence spoke for itself.

Toya ended up having to use both hands to keep Akito from charging. Akito’s control was visibly deteriorating, his eyes gleaming an unnatural color. Mizuki paid no heed, growing pale as they held their head in their hands.

“So all of this was for nothing, huh? Breaking the oath would have caused the curse to activate. So I guess it doesn’t matter anymore,” Mizuki let out a hopeless laugh. Tsukasa crouched down to take Mizuki’s hand, knowing they needed the comfort. They smiled weakly at him.

“I’ll tell you what I can.”


Poor Mizuki, currently the most tragic character

Chapter 21


Mizuki spills their secrets, Tsukasa realizes his duel is tomorrow.

Chapter Text

The five of them relocated to Tsukasa’s room. Mizuki looked as though they were in desperate need of a chair. And some tea.

Akito gagged the moment he entered the room. “What the hell, why does it smell like a butcher shop in here?”

Could Akito smell all of Rui’s blood stored under his bed?! Then again, both Rui and Tsukasa had also bled an abnormal amount in this room.

“Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to, Sir Shinonome,” Rui said cheerily with a sly grin, being overtly ambiguous. Akito sneered and then immediately covered his nose.

“Let’s just finish this quickly,” Akito grumbled. In a practiced motion, Toya dug into his pocket and pulled out a pouch of potpourri. He handed it to Akito who accepted it begrudgingly and held it to his nose.

Mizuki took a quiet sip of the herbal tea Tsukasa had prepared. Some color had returned to their face, even if the unease had yet to leave it.

They cleared their throat. “I will start, then.

“It happened a year ago. Ena and I were on our way back from the markets. We were supposed to meet up with her little brother at a cafe when some random hooded guy bumped right into her and knocked her over. They didn't even stop to apologize, so I grabbed their stupid cloak to get them to grovel. But then Ena started screaming bloody murder and thrashing on the ground like someone was stabbing her. That bastard ended up slipping away when I was distracted. Akito ended up hearing the commotion and was running over, but he was struggling too, clutching his chest and staggering toward the two of us. He hadn't encountered the hooded guy, but he felt something was wrong, as though something was tainting his magic. Ena doesn't have much mana, so she didn’t have much way of resisting the curse's effects. Akito ended up carrying Ena home and both of them passed out from a fever that wasn't breaking.”

Tsukasa shook his head in bewilderment. “How is it possible to cast a curse on someone just by bumping into them?”

Toya was actually the one to speak up. “There’s many ways of inflicting a curse, such as through an object, an array, an incantation, or even through physical contact.”

“The draconian curse is based in blood. It means that there had been a draconic ancestor in the Shinonome line and the curse merely awakened their latent blood,” Rui added.

“Damn old man, can’t let us off the hook even in death,” Akito’s eyes narrowed. Toya looked as though he were holding back a reprimand, instead opting to adjust his cuffs. The two of them were still dressed in their uniforms. They must have come straight to Mizuki after receiving the upsetting news.

“All of this doesn’t explain the oath, though. An oath needs to be agreed upon by both persons.” Rui pointed out, unsubtly urging for Mizuki to continue. Mizuki grimaced.

“The two of them had been in a deep fever for several days, and there was no sign of them waking up. When I grabbed that guy’s cloak, I put a tracking spell on him, one that I was working on. It led me to the outskirts of town, where that guy was waiting for me. There was no way for me to lift the curse from Ena and Akito on my own. I had my hands tied. So the guy made a deal with me. They’d halt the progression of the curse if I took an oath of silence. What pissed me off the most was that I knew the guy was taking it easy on me. They definitely weren’t human,” Mizuki looked sick and shameful as they explained. “If I tried to fight them, I wouldn’t just be killed. I’d be erased. And Ena and Akito would be left to suffer.” After a pause, Mizuki set their tea down to pull at their hair. “Ugh no, I won’t make excuses. I was terrified. That guy could’ve deactivated my tracking spell at any time but left it so that I could finally find them. They were toying with me the whole time.”

“Is he stronger than Rui?” Tsukasa couldn’t help but ask. The question got everyone in the room staring at him. Tsukasa shrunk back, but surely it wasn’t a secret at this point. Both Mizuki and Akito had pointed out to him how dangerous they thought Rui was before.

“…I can’t say,” Mizuki eventually admitted. “That guy was a full-on mystery. And so is your boyfriend. At least Kamishiro is human, or at least I think he is.”

Rui didn’t deign Mizuki’s assumption with a vocal response, rather just raising an eyebrow, as though mocking them for not knowing. Mizuki gave him a dry look.

Tsukasa found himself uneasy, thinking about an unknown person with power on the level of Rui’s. If they posed that much of a threat, how was it that they had never made an appearance in the novel?

Rui on the other hand didn’t look shaken at all. Rather, he seemed contemplative. “I’m assuming you weren’t able to assess them, then. No discernable features?”

“Their face was hidden by the damn hood. I bet it was all a glamour anyway, including their height,” Mizuki said haughtily.

“I don’t care for their appearance, Akiyama. I meant their magical signature.”

“And I told you it was all a giant question mark! Their mana was completely masked off, just like yours is. Save for whenever you do your posturing to try and scare people away from your boyfriend,” Mizuki rolled their eyes. Tsukasa looked up at Rui, who looked as unperturbed as ever. He had a feeling, however, that Rui would be pouting if it was just the two of them in the room.

Mizuki then jolted in their seat, their attention snapping down to a new presence pounding at their leg.

“Don’t be mean to master! Don’t be rude!” Mr. Rabbit cried out, making soft “ppof!’ noises as the soft fabric of his paws batted at Mizuki’s pajama-covered leg.

“Huh? What is this? It’s so cute!” Mizuki’s eyes glittered in excitement, snatching Mr. Rabbit from the ground to raise him up like he was baby Simba from the Lion King. Mr. Rabbit didn’t let the new elevation stop him from trying to lash at Mizuki with his short limbs.

“Let me go! Apologize to Master! You’re very rude!” Mr. Rabbit attacked, probably the most irate Tsukasa had ever seen him. He didn’t want to diminish Mr. Rabbit’s very valid feelings, but he really was oh so cute.

“You may want to put him down, Mizuki. Mr. Rabbit can get pretty relentless when he doesn’t get his way,” Tsukasa advised, for both their sakes.

“Ah, don’t tell me Kamishiro made this guy too?” Mizuki huffed, finally lowering Mr. Rabbit to their lap. Mr. Rabbit crossed his arms to the best of his ability and harumphed, turning their head away from their captor. “Goddess, this little guy is too adorable. Alright, I guess Kamishiro can’t be that bad if he was able to make something like you!”

What in the world. “Of all things, it’s Mr. Rabbit that changes your opinion on Rui?”

“You know the old adage? Cuteness is justice,” Mizuki said, cooing shamelessly at the grumpy bunny plush on their lap. Tsukasa had never heard of such an adage. At least their mood had shaped for the better.

“Tsukasa, I regretfully question the quality of your friends,” Rui stage-whispered to Tsukasa, not at all quiet enough to get by anyone in the room. Tsukasa pinched his cheek in admonishment, which finally had Rui caving into pouting horribly, staring back at him with forlorn, watery eyes. Rui really was just as cute as any of his inventions. Tsukasa caved all too quickly, caressing the abused cheek. Rui immediately cradled the hand held against his face, as though it were a precious treasure gifted to him by someone he worshipped devoutly.

“Alright, so we have no leads, is what you’re saying,” Akito cut in impatiently, cringing from the two different displays of doting. “I get why you weren’t able to tell either Ena or me about the curse, but why did you have to cut contact with Ena completely? She was real stressed about it, yapping at me to make sure you were doing alright at the Academy.”

Mizuki was playing with Mr. Rabbit’s paws, forcibly playing peek-a-boo with him. Mr. Rabbit was intelligent, but also very much still a baby, his prior anger giving away to disbelieving giggles as Mizuki exclaimed “where’d you go?” for the Nth time. Akito’s question however tore Mizuki’s attention away from the plush, part of their prior somber mood returning.

“I didn’t want to risk anything, but you’re right. I really screwed up. I’ll read through Ena’s letters once I go back to my room.”

“It can wait until tomorrow, Mizuki. It’s getting late. And you’ll be returning to classes next week,” Tsukasa stated, brooking no argument. Mizuki winced but yielded with a nod.

“What ended up happening to the tracker spell you put on the curse caster?” Rui questioned, still determined to eke out any relevant information while they had the chance.

“They tore it up in front of me and then disappeared, right after getting me to agree to the oath.”

“So am I to assume you’ve finally gotten around to refining your tracker spell?” Rui smiled, his words full of intent. Mizuki grimaced.

“Why ask when you already know? Of course I did,” Mizuki gave a quick glance at Tsukasa before turning their attention back to Mr. Rabbit. “Doesn’t your Master ever scare you?”

“Master is the best! He’s the scariest!” Mr. Rabbit stated proudly. Tsukasa was unsure if that was the resounding compliment that Mr. Rabbit was lauding it to be.

“So all we have is that the curse castor is an arrogant piece of sh*t and somewhere around Kamishiro’s level of mana,” Akito groaned, not at all pleased about the lack of information they had. “Is there even a way to reverse this thing? Or is Ena just gonna waste away without anyone knowing what’s wrong with her?”

“Don’t give up yet, Akito,” Toya spoke up, preventing Akito from spiraling into hopeless anger. “There had to have been a reason why they targeted you and Ena of all people. The fact that you had a chance of activating the curse, whether or not Akiyama broke the oath, couldn’t have been a mere coincidence. They knew you were of draconic descent, and that you had the ability to pull off a Resonance with someone. There’s an extremely limited number of people who are privy to such information,” Toya’s brow scrunched in thought, obviously not liking the possible suspects he was coming up with. Akito turned to study Toya’s face, his eyes shooting up as he likely came to the same conclusion.

People who had a vested interest in Akito’s ancestry? The Shinonomes may have had dragon blood from however many centuries ago, but they didn’t come from major wealth or status of any kind. Who in the world had access to this universe’s version of a 23andMe?

“Well? Don’t leave us hanging, His Highness. Not everyone has telepathy like Li’l Bro does,” Mizuki prodded.

“I’d rather not cause undue alarm, but there’s some records I like to look through before I share what I know,” Toya said resolutely, which likely meant there was extracurricular reading in Akito’s future. Akito was already blanching at the prospect, but Tsukasa doubted Akito would be abandoning Toya in his future research.

Tsukasa walked over to place a comforting hand on Mizuki’s arm. “Don’t worry, Mizuki. No one is going to abandon Ena,” Even if Tsukasa didn’t know if he could be any help at all. He was completely out of his depth. Any knowledge he had from the novel had been turned on its head, with the appearances of curses, oaths, and gods.

Tsukasa blinked.

On the off chance that Toya was unable to find anything about someone putting a hit on the Shinonomes, the interference of a god wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. Tsukasa hadn’t forgotten about Banica or Miku. But how does he share this information without setting off his own oath?

Rui had approached him sometime while Tsukasa was deeply pondering, making his presence apparent by raising a hand to Tsukasa’s face. Tsukasa felt two warm finger pads trace the crease of his lips, causing him to gasp at the unexpected touch. Tsukasa met Rui’s eyes, who gave him a knowing, gentle look. Don’t speak. Tsukasa was reading it loud and clear.

Mizuki was quite honest before about not being telepathic, clearing their throat loudly and standing to hand Mr. Rabbit off to Tsukasa. “Alright, I think we made decent headway into this. I’m feeling marginally better now that I’ve got this off my chest. I don’t suppose there’s anything I can do to help with your record searches, His Highness?”

Toya shook his head solemnly. “There’s a few documents that I could pass on, but most of the archives are restricted to use by royalty and the court. I promise I will let you know as soon as I come by something relevant to this case.”

“I appreciate it. You scored a good one, Li’l bro,” Mizuki teased Akito, jabbing him with an elbow in jest. Akito hissed and stepped away to avoid the next jab. At least Mizuki seemed to have found a way to cheer themselves up in the face of the confounding circ*mstances.

“Thanks for hearing me out, buddy,” Mizuki said light-heartedly to Tsukasa, likely to give levity to the serious mood they were dredged in for the past hour. “I guess we should all head out for the night. When should we reconvene?”

“We should schedule a study session soon, since we missed last week,” Tsukasa laughed as Mizuki immediately looked sullen at the suggestion. "Don’t think I've forgotten how many classes you’ve skipped.”

They probably made as much progress as they could have on the curse with the limited information they had. Tsukasa took it as cue to see his guests to the door.

He was startled when he turned to find Toya standing next to him, looking as though he had something to say.

“Tsukasa…Is it alright if I talk to you for a moment?”

“Sure, of course!” Tsukasa answered out of reflex, even as his mind blanked from nervousness. He never really knew what to say to Toya, one of the main characters he had spoken to the least in this world.

Rui looked at the two of them questioningly while Akito stopped near the doorway, likely due to realizing that the prince wasn’t following him.

With Toya staying quiet, Tsukasa asked the others to wait outside for them. Rui would likely still try to listen in on them, but Tsukasa still wanted to offer as much privacy as possible to Toya.

“I’ll wait outside, Toya,” Akito said unnecessarily but still as an assurance to his best friend. Rui also acquiesced easily, walking out without a word.

“Don’t eavesdrop, Rui,” Tsukasa called after him, and Rui’s shoulders immediately slumped. Mizuki rolled their eyes and closed the door behind them.

Tsukasa then faced Toya, who had an unreadable expression. He didn’t realize there was a ball of unease at the base of his stomach until it clenched.

“What’s up, Toya? Everything going well?”

“Tsukasa, I apologize for being blunt but are you avoiding me?”

The ball of unease grew heavier. What was Tsukasa supposed to say to that? Yes, but only because I don’t know how the other Tsukasa interacted with you besides instigating fights between you and Akito?

Tsukasa must have been too slow in answering. Toya reached into his pocket, pulling out a letter on familiar parchment paper. It was from Saki.

“We used to regularly send letters to one another. All three of us. When I had stopped receiving letters from you, I assumed it was due to us finally attending the academy together and that we would be seeing each other more often. Saki had been the one to tell me how she and you had been doing, and how she suspects that you may be suffering from amnesia. But is that really all there is?”

Tsukasa could only gape helplessly at Toya. Toya shook his head, as though he were mustering the will to keep going.

“You’ve forgotten your family history, geography, and politics. Your swordplay style has completely changed, as well as the way you use your magic. Your ambitions seemed to have changed overnightl. You’ve always said that you would become a prodigious member of the Royal Court like your father, but you’ve stopped making any mention of such goals,” Toya stated resolutely, with the air of royalty he had grown into.

Tsukasa was jarred with how many differences Toya had spotted just from the few interactions they had. If this is all that Toya had noticed, then how much had Saki deliberately kept quiet about?

“You’ve gotten so serious about your studies; is it because you seemed to have forgotten so much of it? Is the amnesia truly this pervasive?” Toya pressed. “Did your father notice? Has he been pressuring you again?”

“Y’know Toya, I think this is the most you’ve ever spoken at once to me,” Tsukasa said, which was true even for Book Tsukasa’s interactions with the prince. Tsukasa forced a smile. “It has nothing to do with my father. Did you know he has yet to send me a letter since the one I’ve received upon my admission here?”

Toya gave him a troubled yet unsurprised look. “Thank you for your concern,” Tsukasa said, on behalf of the person Tsukasa had displaced in his transmigration. It was clear at least some people missed him, which was disconcertingly more than Tsukasa could say about himself. “I guess that kidnapping really messed with my memory, more than I expected. I couldn’t tell you much of, well, anything since then.”

Which wasn't a lie, even if it was incomplete. However, it may have been the wrong thing to say. An expression of horror dawned on Toya’s face.

“Why haven’t you said anything about it? Saki and I would have tried to help you. Is it possible that those kidnappers toyed with some kind of memory-altering charm?”

Tsukasa didn’t know what to say in the face of such earnest worry. Toya was starting to ramble about possible causes and procedures, which was more words than Tsukasa thought the prince could ever produce. He knew Book Tsukasa and Toya were childhood friends, but they were close enough for this type of situation to elicit such concern from Toya?

“Toya,” Tsukasa decided to cut the prince off. “It’s fine. There’s not much I can do about it, and I’m not really interested in seeking treatment or anything. Besides, there’s more concerning matters as of right now,” Tsukasa said sternly, even as Toya looked more grew aghast at his dismissal of his “amnesia”. What else can Tsukasa say about recovering memories when he had no such memories to begin with? “I remember the important things, like you and Saki. So don’t sweat it.”

Toya didn’t seem at all appeased, but Tsukasa was already scurrying away toward the door. It was a tactical retreat. “Oh, um, and sorry to burden you with this, but please don’t tell Saki. I’m trying to find a way to tell her myself,” Which Tsukasa meant by never.

Toya mumbled something, which sounded oddly like, “The one burdened is you,” But Tsukasa was already swinging the door open.

The three waiting outside were standing suspiciously far away from the door, all of them turning in sync to stare him down. Even if they were his friends, it was intimidating to be faced down by the three best knight prospects of their year.

Akito broke the silence first. “You accepted a duel?! And it's in two days? Are you insane or just an idiot?” He reprimanded. "If you think you're going anywhere this weekend, think again. Your ass is gonna be stuck here training if you don’t want it handed to you.”

Did Rui really spill the beans about the duel in retaliation to Tsukasa not wanting him to eavesdrop? Tsukasa laughed sheepishly but Akito's glare didn't let up in the slightest. Mizuki whistled awkwardly as they pretended not to notice what was going down.

Traitors, the whole lot of them.

“Do you truly have no faith that I could win against such a facade of a knight?” Tsukasa huffed. The acidity of Akito's stare didn't lessen.

“Maybe in solely marital combat you would stand a chance, but I doubt an A-Rank magic user like him would let you go without shooting you with actual fire.”

“Then what are you proposing I do? I can't just surrender to this guy!”

“Why must you be the one to teach him a lesson?” Rui cut in, putting no effort into hiding his resentment for Tsukasa’s stubbornness. “This type of person had already proven he has no regard for your safety over his worthless pride.”

“It’s not just a battle of pride. Aren’t you tired of not being able to walk to class without getting harassed? Or even just going to the cafeteria without being put down? How is it fair that they can peacefully carry on with their school days while we can’t even sit for a proper meal? You and I have every right to be at this academy as they do, so why do all those nobles act like they can get away with anything?”

Rui’s eyes narrowed. “Is that solely the reason why you’re so intent on this duel?”

How did Rui keep seeing right through him? Sure, Tsukasa may not have expounded upon the bets made, but isn’t even he allowed to be reckless once in a while? What was wrong with putting a bully in his place?

“You guys can have your couple squabble later, Li’l Bro needs his sleep,” Mizuki chimed in, poking at Akito’s developing eye bags. Akito immediately swatted their hand away. “Walk the lady back to their room, Li'l Bro,” Mizuki hooked an arm over Akito, who grumbled but made no argument.

“You’re right, we should all turn in for tonight,” Tsukasa agreed, a bit put off that three of his four friends were not happy with him. Toya had quietly taken his place next to Akito, giving Tsukasa a sad, disapproving look. Who knew guilt could weigh so heavily on one’s conscience?

“Training ground, bright and early tomorrow. Don’t be late,” Akito warned, dragged off by Mizuki with Toya trailing behind. Tsukasa waved goodbye as they left, beelining for his bed while avoiding eye contact with Rui.

Please just let it go for now, Tsukasa begged internally. He buried himself under his sheets, growing antsy from wondering whether Rui would either leave or join him. Of course, a part of Tsukasa was screaming at himself for acting so petty right after the two of them had just made up, but Tsukasa didn’t want Rui to be the one fighting all his battles for him. He had to take a stand too. He couldn’t let some lower noble talk so poorly about his best friend. The least Rui would do would be to ask him to forfeit while the worst would be completely incapacitating Tsukasa’s future opponent.

Tsukasa heard the door close with a quiet click. When he felt no warm body join him for several minutes, he tried not to feel too devastated.

He jolted when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder from over the covers, which was followed by a sense of deep relief.

“Is Tsukasa truly so determined to win this duel?”

Tsukasa nodded briskly. Tsukasa’s sight was obscured by the covers, so he only had Rui’s soft sigh as an indication of his mood.

“Then I will ensure Tsukasa’s victory.”

“No cheating!” Tsukasa flipped the blanket away, only to find Rui’s eyes glittering at him affectionately.

“Ahh, such little faith in me, Tsukasa? You don’t need anything underhanded to pull a win from such vermin. However, that isn’t guaranteed to be the same for your opponent.”

Indeed, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for McGailan to cheat, even if he did have every upper hand in this fight. Rui stood from the bed, heading to the door. Tsukasa got up in alarm.

“It’s late! Where are you going?”

“Tsukasa trusts me, right?” Rui asked brightly. Tsukasa nodded, but made sure Rui saw him pouting. “I’ll be back soon! I have to grab a few things. Tsukasa should go to bed first.”

“…Don’t stay out too long. Wake me up when you’re back,” Tsukasa said as he buried himself back in his sheets. It was up in the air whether Rui would be able to wake up in morning, but it appeared Tsukasa had no choice in the matter.

“I will. Rest now,” Rui came back to tuck Tsukasa in more snugly, smoothing out the sheets as though he were trying to linger. Tsukasa was about to kick the guy out himself if he wasn’t going to hurry and leave, but then he heard the soft parting of lips before feeling a light pressure over his forehead. His face burned intensely as he tried not to squeak. Rui’s cute giggle meant that Tsukasa failed on that end.

Tsukasa rose from bed bright and early, but not without great reluctance on the part of a purple octopus intent on sleeping in. It’s the earliest Tsukasa had woken up, even for classes.

“Rui, let me go, I have to get up,” Tsukasa attempted to rouse his bedmate, patting at the iron bar arms strapping him to the bed. Rui had joined him sometime in the middle of the night, if Tsukasa’s sleepy memory was to be trusted. At least Rui had finally recovered his blisteringly high body temperature.

Rui let out a muffled gurgle, snuffling even closer into Tsukasa’s shoulder. Tsukasa sighed and called for his backup plan.

Tom floated out from under the bed.

“Please lift your Papa off of me, I need to go to practice,” Tsukasa requested. Tom beeped dutifully and attempted to lift Rui with gravity magic. Rui's brow scrunched even as he remained unconscious, before a crackling sound popped in the air and Tom was sent dizzily crashing onto the mattress.

“Oh no, Tom! Beep twice if you're okay,” Tsukasa hollered, unable to see the robot from his angle. Did his roommate seriously just use countermagic in his sleep?

“Mama!” Mr. Rabbit wiggled out from underneath their shared pillow. Mr. Rabbit was Tsukasa's plan C but did he really want another victim on his hands?

“Mr. Rabbit, I know you're quite skilled at putting people to sleep. Do you know a way to ‘un-asleep’ someone?”

“Hmm, I can try,” Mr. Rabbit said optimistically, padding over to Rui's slumbering form.

“Be careful with using spells, Rui might counter them,” Tsukasa warned. Mr. Rabbit nodded, climbing right up to Rui's ear and leaned in to whisper:

Tsukasa, Tsukasa, run away, run away!
Danger lurks in the amorphous Ether, don't be tethered by their hallowed chains.
Mortal ichor can only bind those blind to the fallacies of the patron.
Oh no, too late!
Tsukasa, Tsukasa, escape, escape-

Rui roused suddenly, shoving Mr. Rabbit back under the pillow to muffle the rest of his awful, nightmarish chant. His grip on Tsukasa tightened marginally before he relaxed, sitting them both up from bed. Tsukasa had to tilt his head back to catch Rui's expression, inscrutable and dark, before it was replaced with a bright grin.

“Good morning, Tsukasa! Shall we head out?”

Tsukasa rushed over to the training fields after Rui promised to meet up with him later. He alluded to working on some “study materials” that filled Tsukasa with morbid curiosity. What would Tsukasa need to study to help out with his upcoming fight?

Speaking of, Saki would surely reprimand him for taking on a duel, causing him to miss another visit home. The secrets were piling up.

The chances of Tsukasa keeping such secrets were greatly diminishing at the sight of a silver-haired knight trainee, already practicing at the crack of dawn as well.

“Shiho! It's good to see you,” Tsukasa called out, not letting such worries keep him from greeting his sister's close friend.

“Tsukasa?” Shiho was startled from her warm ups, not expecting company. “I've never seen you out here, especially so early.”

“There's been some extenuating circ*mstances,” Tsukasa said. Tsukasa wasn't a particularly early riser, especially with how immovable Rui was in the mornings. They usually made up for missing breakfast with a hearty lunch anyway.

Shiho raised a brow, in a silent prompt for more elaboration. Tsukasa wavered, his guilty conscience nipping at him.

“I'm sure Saki would also like to know why you weren't able to visit home again.”

Shiho really knew where to hit where it hurts.

“Please spare me, Akito had already given me the whole spiel about accepting a duel-”

“You accepted a duel? That was just stupidly reckless,” Shiho shook her head, miffed. Tsukasa rather not receive another lecture from a different junior of his, but their beratement seemed unavoidable.

“Finally here?” Tsukasa's red-head instructor called from across the field, striding to join the other two. Upon seeing that Tsukasa had company, his default disgruntled expression transformed.

“Hello, Sir Hinomori isn’t it? I hope we’re not disturbing your practice this morning,” Akito smiled cordially. Tsukasa didn’t even know that Akito’s facial muscles could contort in such a way.

“Um, not at all,” Shiho looked taken aback by Akito’s polite greeting. Not as much as Tsukasa though, who couldn’t shut his jaw from the shock.

“I’ve heard you’re quite skilled in swordplay. If you have time, would you like to join us later for sparring?”

“Of course, I’m not one to turn down a good opponent, Sir Shinonome,” Shiho nodded, looking more at ease at the mention of her comfort zone. The two of them were sparring junkies at heart.

“I see my reputation precedes me. I hope it hasn’t given you too poor of an impression of me.”

“More than anything I believe you could offer a thrilling match,” Shiho’s grin grew. The edges of Akito’s smile took on his familiar smirk.

Akito bowed in deference and spun around, dragging Tsukasa off toward a clearing. Tsukasa was too stunned to say a farewell to Shiho.

Akito started with warm-up stretches, which Tsukasa mimicked out of instinct. It was quiet for a couple of minutes until Akito sighed. “...If you want to say something just say it.”

“Who are you?”

Akito clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Even I know how to act with decorum.”

“Did Toya put you up to it?”

“I can either answer your question and then kick your ass for five hours or I make sure you won’t get your ass kicked by that asshat tomorrow. Pick your poison.”

Of course, the moment Shiho was gone, Akito reverted to his foul-mouthed self.

“Please guide me, teacher,” Tsukasa bowed immediately. Akito rolled his eyes and unsheathed his sword.

“You’ve seen Sir Shiraishi’s technique, right? He specializes in magicless swordplay,” Akito swung his blade in a forceful maneuver, kicking up a gale just like Sir Shiraishi had during their face-off in class. “It’s a technique he developed with his own power. I can mimic the motion but the effect isn’t the same.”

“Are you showing off? You’re not expecting me to mimic that are you?”

Akito angrily clicked his tongue louder, shutting Tsukasa up. “No, you fool. It’s not your style anyway, there’s no point in having someone like you make giant swings with your toothpick sword.”

Rudely put, but Akito had a point.

“You have a speed build, so the best tactic for you would be to get faster.”

“How do I accomplish that in one day?”

“You can’t.”

Akito glared at Tsukasa before he could cry out in frustration.

“You’ve been working on your technique for a good month, haven’t you? Your footwork, muscle memory, and prediction are what you rely on most to get in a hit. Play to your strengths and things will work out,” Akito took several paces back, then beckoned with his hand in a “come on” motion.

Dread weighed heavily in Tsukasa’s stomach. “Wait what? Oh no, no, no-”

“Do your best to land a hit, Tsukasa. I’ll be holding back enough to not kill you,” Akito grinned devilishly, not bothering to hide the sad*stic delight in his eyes. Tsukasa’s underclassmen were so mean!

Chapter 22


Tsukasa's training arc


I will apologize ahead of time for the amount of innuendoes and second-hand embarrassment this chapter has

Chapter Text

Tsukasa wanted to cry. Or maybe he was already crying. He couldn't distinguish whether the moisture stinging his eyes was sweat or actual tears.

Shiho had probably taken pity on him and asked Akito for a spar to give her senior a well-needed break. Tsukasa wasn't moving from his spot on the grass, content with existing as a bruised, pathetic lump on the ground.

He barely had enough energy to roll onto his side and watch the light show unfolding. Akito and Shiho were trading blows like no tomorrow, sparks shooting off their blades as they clashed at speeds faster than Tsukasa could keep track of. How was he supposed to land a hit on something that fast?


Tsukasa screeched, adrenaline startling him from his Tsukasa-shaped patch in the grass. Rui smiled at him, as though he hadn't just scared the living daylights out of him.

“A-ah, Rui, I wasn't expecting you here so soon! When did you get here? It’s dirty on the ground!”

Rui was already nestled next to Tsukasa, making himself comfortable. He must have snuck up on Tsukasa sometime while he was watching the others spar.

“I’m willing to lie by Tsukasa’s side until the end of time,” Rui said blithely, brushing back Tsukasa’s sweaty strands from his face.

“Not what I asked. So what's up, did you find the study materials?”

“I found them all last night, I took some time to read them this morning,” Rui kept wiping at the sweat cooling on Tsukasa’s forehead.

“You don't need to do that, I'm gross right now.”

“Tsukasa is never gross,” As though to prove it, Rui grabbed Tsukasa’s cheeks and angled his forehead forward, just to lick a wet stripe from the middle of Tsukasa’s brow to his hairline. Tsukasa yelped and shoved Rui’s overtly proud face away. “So sweet~”

“How was that sweet? That’s so gross! Go wash your mouth!” Tsukasa cried, his cooling face shooting back up in temperature.

“Mm, it’s salty too. Won’t Tsukasa let me taste some more?” Rui teased but easily gave as Tsukasa blocked his mouth with a gloved hand. Instead, Rui gave an audible smooch against his palm.

This kid! Tsukasa couldn’t stop growing more flustered, slapping at Rui until he backed off completely. “Stop teasing me!”

“I’m serious though,” Rui simpered, lovingly petting the hand that assaulted him moments ago. “But I guess Tsukasa wants to hear about my findings, yes?”

“If you don’t mind,” Tsukasa grunted. He conceded his hand for Rui to fiddle with mindlessly.

“I read through books covering the basic fundamentals of magic. It’s been an extremely long time since I’ve read through such material, but it helped me reach an important conclusion. Magic is ingrained in children before even birth, nurtured through mana transference between the mother and their newborn. Just like how a fetus would absorb nutrition from their mother, mana transfers the same way. The baby will get an innate grasp of magic just from being in the womb. It should be a natural instinct, just like breathing. However, Tsukasa seems to have none of that instinct driven into him. In other words, Tsukasa isn’t just bad at magic, but a complete and utter beginner at it. Tsukasa is worse than a newborn in channeling mana.”

How cruel!

“However, Tsukasa makes up for his lack of experience with his adaptability. Even without knowing how to channel mana you were able to call upon magic at certain times, yes?”

Tsukasa grunted petulantly as he nodded.

“Therefore it’s best for Tsukasa to run through the fundamentals. You currently have no groundwork, so your cast magic is extremely variable. Once you have a grasp of channeling mana, casting magic should come more naturally.”

“Do you think I can do all that in less than a day?”

Rui smiled sweetly. “No.”


“There’s the added challenge of Tsukasa having to use my mana as well. Since the mana core you’re using is a foreign entity, your body may even be resistant to casting with it. Since Tsukasa is taking a break, you can try to practice it now.”

Rui gave Tsukasa a quick rundown of the main principles, the ones that Rui had mastered on his own as a savant of a child. The core principles were something never covered in classes, since it was a given that everyone could at least channel mana. At least, it was if they were born into this world.

From the way Rui explained things, channeling mana seemed almost like a meditative process, focusing on the flow throughout the body until it became reflexive, just like breathing. Tsukasa untucked the pendant gifted to him, clasping the smooth stone with both hands. He did his best to focus, hoping that whatever ambiguous force in the stone would flow into him and channel into some form of magic. After a minute of silence, Tsukasa was overcome with the awful feeling of deja vu.

“...I don't know how to picture this at all. I'm trying, Rui, but I really don't know how to imagine being a ‘conduit’ or what I'm supposed to be channeling in the first place.”

Rui hummed in contemplation, then scooted in close. “Then I'll help you.”

He wrapped around Tsukasa from behind, enclosing Tsukasa's hands clutched around the pendant with his own. “I'll be your conduit. Relax.”

A buzzing warmth streamed in through Tsukasa's arms, which would've made him flinch back if it weren't for Rui's hold on him. It felt like being forced to hold a shock pen prank toy, and grew increasingly uncomfortable by the second.

“Rui, stop, it hurts.”

“Tsukasa’s affinity to mana is truly terrible,” Rui sighed, letting go and allowing Tsukasa to wrench his hands away from the offending source of pain. He shook his hands out to try and rid himself of the tingling shocks.

“I have to do this to cast magic?”

“Well, it's because Tsukasa clearly isn't used to it. Imagine your mana core as a water source. Your body, the conduit for mana, is like a river channel. Your ability is new and barely developed, like an extremely shallow river bed. Barely anything can flow through it, yes?”

“Then how do I make it bigger?”

“How does any wide river develop? Through constant flow. Erosion. For you, it's practice,” Rui gathered Tsukasa's hands back in place, and the unbearable shocking sensation was back. Tsukasa hissed and squirmed.

“Then can you at least go slower? It feels bad.”

“What the hell are you doing,” A disgusted voice groaned. Tsukasa swiveled his attention to Akito, who must have finished up his spar with Shiho. “Actually, don't bother explaining what you're doing. That guy healed you up, right? Get up, break time is over.”

Akito could really be a slavedriver when he wanted to be. But he was right, Tsukasa was rejuvenated enough to stand, although he felt like begging Rui to kidnap him to their room. Rui appeared to feel the same way.

“I don't like watching some other guy wear you down into a sweaty, crying mess, Tsukasa.”

Scratch that, Tsukasa was going to run off on his own.

Thus the training regiment was changed up to several minutes of whiffing a sword at Akito, then getting zapped by Rui during his much-needed breaks.

The mana channeling sessions would gradually become less painful until Rui decided to take Tsukasa's lack of cringing as a cue to amp things up. To keep Tsukasa from wriggling, Rui would even clamp Tsukasa in place with his thighs. The warmth and pressure did however help take the pain off Tsukasa's mind.

Rui tugged one of Tsukasa’s hands away from the pendant, interlacing it with one of his own. “Don't hold onto the mana or you'll explode.”


“What happens to a river when too much water rushes in? It overflows. It’s the same principle here. Tsukasa just needs to release the mana into an outlet, hence casting magic.”

“Rui, I don’t exactly know how to cast magic either.”

“How troubling. It’s quite fortunate that I’m here then, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Tsukasa agreed easily. A beat of silence passed, then Tsukasa looked up to find Rui was facing away from him, his ears tinted red.

“Tsukasa is shamelessly honest sometimes.”

“Well, it’s the truth, isn’t it? I’d be completely screwed without you. I know how burdensome I can be-”

“Never,” Rui’s grip on his hand tightened. “How can Tsukasa say such a thing?”

Tsukasa was taken aback by Rui vehemently coming to his defense.

“Don’t dwell on useless thoughts. It’s important to focus when casting,” Rui brought Tsukasa’s attention back to their main task. “Tsukasa’s element is wind, right? How about we call you ready when you’re able to shake some leaves off that tree over there?”

A simple task, if it weren’t for the fact that said tree was several dozen paces away from where they were sitting.

“How am I supposed to even tell if it’s from my magic or just the actual wind?”

“I’ll be able to tell, so no need to worry, Tsukasa,” Rui reassured.

The situation suddenly unburied a forgotten memory from Tsukasa’s earlier days at the academy. “Now that I think about it, back during the first days of classes when you faked my magic for me, how did you know what element my magic would be before I was able to cast anything?”

Rui made a questioning noise. “Whatever do you mean, Tsukasa?”

“During class, you made that special magic parchment cut for me, don’t you remember?”


“Ah! Don’t play dumb! Don’t you remember that magical aptitude chicken never assessed what my affinity was? It said I was ‘triple F-class, no affinity!’” Tsukasa remembered very vividly due to how mortifying the whole situation was.

“Tsukasa still isn’t focusing, even though I’m working so hard and have done so much research to help you out,” Rui pouted, nuzzling into Tsukasa’s back.

“Do you have better assessment skills than that chicken or something? Or was it just a lucky guess?” Wind was Book Tsukasa’s element too. Wasn’t the coincidence a bit too uncanny?

Rui stayed quiet, resting his head against Tsukasa’s shoulder. “It’s a matter of whether Tsukasa would believe me or not. If I said I just had a feeling and no other explanation, would you be able to accept that?”

“Well…Yes,” Tsukasa nodded. Rui was so remarkable, it didn’t seem much of a stretch for him to be able to decipher Tsukasa’s element just because a magic bird couldn’t.

Rui slumped against him, his stare turning conflicted. “I don’t want to lie to you, Tsukasa. I truly don’t have an explanation for why I knew which magical affinity you had. I just knew," Rui paused. "I’ve lied to you before, Tsukasa, about your mana.”


“That Brood Druid categorized you as triple F-class, due to it being unable to give you any other classification. That’s because the correct classification has never existed before. Nothing in this world is devoid of mana, and that’s due to the nature of mana itself. It saturates space imperceptibly, occupying air and solid objects. As such, your existence is an enigma. Your body seems insusceptible to mana, in fact it doesn’t have a trace of it. You’re the first mana null corporeal subject this world has encountered.”

“I, that’s,” Tsukasa’s thoughts stumbled, unable to confirm Rui’s conclusion.

“I really didn’t know what to make of you back then. You were an impossibility in every sense, in personality and existence.”

“What do you think of me now?” Tsukasa interjected. There were other urgent questions he should ask, but even if he didn’t have a muting spell holding back his words, Tsukasa felt compelled to ask his chosen question.

Rui smiled, “You’re the most special person in the world.”

Tsukasa blushed, unable to understand how Rui could say that with such conviction. Even if he was such a unique anomaly in this world, isn’t it all to his detriment? What was so special about not being able to cast magic?

“Why don’t we finish this conversation another time? Right now, we should figure out a way for you to land a hit on Sir Shinonome.”

Tsukasa had already given up all hope in achieving Akito’s stipulation for winning their spar. “You think it’s actually possible for me?”

“Under normal circ*mstances, no.”

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t get my hopes up,” Tsukasa groaned.

“You just need to tilt the scales in your favor,” Rui clarified.

Tsukasa eyed Rui skeptically. “Are you implying I use magic on him?”

“This isn't a duel. The only rule Sir Shinonome set was for you to land a hit on him, correct?”

Tsukasa gave a dubious nod.

“Even with the use of magic and the element of surprise, Sir Shinonome really is in a different realm of capability.”

Way to rub it in his face. Tsukasa sighed and nodded again in agreement.

“That's why you have to latch on to his insecurities. Destroy him mentally,” Rui said a bit too enthusiastically.

“What exactly are you implying I do to my fellow schoolmate?”

“Simple subterfuge should be enough. Just say something that gets under his skin and distracts him enough during the match for you to get in a hit.”

Something that would latch onto Akito's insecurities? No matter what he said, wouldn't it be cruel to spout words with the goal of hurting him? Especially when the guy was taking time to practice with him on the weekend?

“Don’t overthink it, Tsukasa. Why don't you ease into it by chatting about His Highness? He's looking into leads about Sir Shinonome's situation, isn't he?”

“Do you think it's that easy for me to start up a casual chat while I'm fighting for my life?” Tsukasa griped.

“Aren’t you doing well enough right now?” Rui gestured to their entwined hands. Their conversation had distracted Tsukasa from the shocks running through his arms, his palm burning as wind swept out from where they both sat.

“Tsukasa didn't even notice the wind picking up this whole time? You must have been completely mesmerized by me, fu fu.”

“I was casting magic?” Tsukasa asked in wonder. He closed his fist and watched how the winds immediately died down. When he reopened his palm, a gust blasted back out, blowing a small ravine into the clearing. Tsukasa's jaw dropped. “That was magic just now!”

“Indeed,” Rui agreed. “I guess forcibly opening your channels worked out in the end!”

“That’s what you were doing? That’s terrifying!” Tsukasa scrambled away as Rui giggled remorselessly.

“But it was the only way for Tsukasa to manage casting on his own consistently,” Rui quipped, just as quickly closing the distance Tsukasa had made between them. “C’mon, now aim for the trees over there!”

Tsukasa couldn’t stay mad, feeling too much trembling excitement at finally being able to cast magic at will. The mana must really be flowing properly inside him now, with gusts of conjured wind billowing from wherever he pointed his hand. Tsukasa still needed to focus on guiding the flow of mana, keeping his hand wrapped around the pendant, but it was no longer painful and the magic was being cast just as he had imagined it. He gathered his concentration onto the brush of trees Rui told him to target, and centered his winds at them. He did not expect an audible crackling as multiple trees were violently ripped out of the ground. Tsukasa gaped, not at all expecting the graphic display of magic. But still-!

“Rui! I did it, did you see?”

“Well done,” Rui applauded, smiling proudly.

A beat.

“Rui, it's not stopping,” Tsukasa was no longer focusing, but gusts of wind were still blowing from his palm.

“Hm, I guess that's the downside of forcing open your channels. Now they won't properly close.”

“What?!” Did that mean every time he touched the pendant, he was gonna conjure a whirlwind, intentional or not? How horribly disruptive!

Rui placed his hands over Tsukasa’s in a placating gesture. “Think of it as breaking a dam. There’s nothing stopping the flow until either the source runs out of power, or your body creates a new dam. Since this whole process is completely new for you and your body, you'll stay loose for a while. So Tsukasa just needs to be careful about letting his hands wander!”

It was a good thing Tsukasa didn't tend to fidget.

“Oi, are you here to actually practice or participate in property damage?” Akito had joined them again, looking unimpressed at the leveled trees at the edge of the field.

“My bad, I've taken enough of your break time, Tsukasa. I'll go fix them,” Rui retreated, waving back at him with a poignant look, clearly telling Tsukasa to remember to do something.

Despite being healed after every bout, Tsukasa felt bruised and battered to his soul. Still, he picked up his sword and got into position. Akito took a good look at his form before unsheathing his own.

“Are you sure you’ll be ready to fight tomorrow?”

“Rui’s been healing me every time.”

“There’s a difference between physical and mental fatigue,” Akito contended. Tsukasa shrugged and went in for the first blow. Akito usually waited for Tsukasa to make the first move, adapting his fighting style to become more defensive and reactionary. He likely did so because if he were the aggressor, the fight would end in the first ten seconds.

That brought to mind Rui’s suggestion from earlier. He wasn’t sure how the subject matter would distract Akito, but he’ll try anything at least once. “Have you gotten a chance to speak to Toya?”

Akito made a noise of confusion as he deflected each of Tsukasa’s jabs. “No, after we left your room, we went straight back to our rooms to sleep. It’s not healthy to stay up for too long.”

“You’re so diligent, Akito. I wish Rui had a healthier sleep schedule,” Tsukasa commended. “Where’s Toya? Is he busy with his duties?”

“I’m not his keeper, unlike how that guy over there treats you,” Akito grunted, nodding toward Rui who was setting the roots of the trees back into the ground.

“Rui hovers a lot, but he’s only concerned about me. I’ll admit I bit off more than I could chew this time around.”

“Damn straight, you reckless idiot.”

“Can’t you be nicer? I’m already at my limit for abuse here,” Tsukasa cried, nearly tripping and causing himself to get impaled by Akito’s counterswing.

“I’ll be nice when you don’t all but commit public suicide.”

Tsukasa didn’t realize it would be so difficult to get Akito to stay on the topic of Toya. “Ahh, I get it! It’s my bad, I’ll make sure to treat you later for all your help! Do you think Toya would want to tag along?”

“Why do you suddenly keep bringing up Toya?” Akito’s eyes narrowed, already clearly suspicious. Why did he have to catch on so quickly?

“I’m just asking, we haven’t had time to meet up recently and I miss hanging out!” Which was mostly true. Now that Toya was in on Tsukasa's nonideal situation, it ironically made him easier to approach, since Tsukasa no longer had to pretend to know their shared history. Still, lucky for Tsukasa, there were a few things he recalled from the novel that he could also bring up.

“That winter solstice ball that’s coming up, it’s an important event for the royal family, isn’t it? A bunch of nobles gather together and get to mingle to cozy up with the princes, don’t they?”

“Why are you bringing that up now? It isn’t for several months,” Akito was becoming openly irritated at Tsukasa’s chosen topic. Tsukasa couldn’t help but grow curious about why.

“Why not? Wouldn’t anyone get excited about the chance to attend one? You get to dress up super fancy and sneak in bites of even fancier hou de vours.”

“You mean Hors D'oeuvres?”

“Exactly, see, aren’t you excited? You even know what they’re called!”

“Get to the point.”

“Toya’s around the age where they would announce his betrothed there, isn’t he?”

For some inexplicable reason, Akito’s form dropped completely. Such a thing has never happened in all their days of sparring with each other, even back when Akito was taking it easy on him and fighting him with just a scabbard.

However, an opening was an opening. Tsukasa grasped his pendant and rushed in, flinging gust that disrupted Akito’s grip on his sword. Even more surprisingly, Akito let his sword slip from his hands, and Tsukasa was able to smack Akito’s wrist with the blunt edge of his saber.

Akito staggered back, staring at Tsukasa, then at his empty hands where a reddening mark was forming where he had just been hit. An awkward silence descended on the field.

Tsukasa cleared his throat. “That jealous, huh?”

Akito's face paled. “J-jealous?”

“Of Toya getting paired off. Don't worry, Akito. You're a pretty handsome guy, I doubt you'll need a betrothal to find the girl of your dreams.”

Akito wordlessly put away his sword. It was a sight Tsukasa had never expected from Akito, someone who had faced down death fearlessly in a past life. Akito ran away.

Even Shiho stopped practicing her sword forms to watch the last few moments of their spar. She stared as Akito retreated from the field, then turned to Tsukasa with an unimpressed look.

“Are all boys this dumb?”

“Tsukasa isn’t the most tactful, I’ll admit,” Rui nodded, yet he seemed oddly proud saying so. Tsukasa groaned again, unable to stomach taking another bite of his sandwich. He was ravenous during training, but his appetite had disappeared now that guilt was eating at him. His sparring trainer had disappeared on him, not to mention he was at risk of becoming an uncontrollable wind turbine if his hand slipped.

“Does Tsukasa want me to feed him?”

“I’m alright, Rui. I’m just thinking about how I can say sorry to Akito while repaying him for how he’s helped me out,” Tsukasa sighed. Something he said had clearly upset the boy. Somehow Rui had been expecting this outcome, but that didn’t mean Tsukasa intentionally wanted this conclusion to come about.

“Why don’t we look for a gift in town after your duel tomorrow then,” Rui suggested, which ripped Tsukasa from his moping.

“That’s actually not a bad idea, Rui,” Tsukasa held back from saying how surprised he was that Rui would suggest such in the first place.

“Anything to get Tsukasa out of his dour mood. I don’t like when your mind is occupied by other people,” Rui said bluntly, smiling innocently.

“How refreshingly honest,” Tsukasa huffed, but he was able to take a bite out of his food now. “Do you think I’m ready for tomorrow?”

“Does Tsukasa feel ready? Confidence also plays an important part of dueling.”

“I mean, I doubt that guy is any better than Akito is at fighting, but I still only have experience with sparring against one person. Besides that one time I sparred Shiho,”

Rui tapped his chin in contemplation. “...Then why don’t I help you?”

Tsukasa turned to stare, wondering if he heard right.

Rui pointed at himself, expression cheery. “I’m a knight in training too! Tsukasa even bought me a sword, remember?”

“I know, I just meant…I’m surprised you would want to,” The Dark Alchemist would never bother with getting his hands dirty with something like hand-to-hand combat. His magic was more than enough to get any job done, so what was the point of him learning how to spar in the first place?

Then again, the Rui he knew now was the polar opposite of himself from his past life. He was so caring and supportive and was learning how to be considerate of others. And he always sought to help Tsukasa out even when Tsukasa’s decisions were reckless and erratic.

The Rui in the novel had never practiced any sparring, or even bothered with a sword. It made Tsukasa vastly curious how much Rui had learned in his own classes.

“Of course I’d love an opportunity to cross sword with Tsukasa. I think it’d be an exciting experience together. Please go easy on me, Sir.”

Tsukasa coughed, never expecting Rui to ask for leniency. “Well, if you're that eager to help me out, how can I refuse?”

Rui bounced to his feet, joy evident in how his eyes sparkled. Tsukasa joined him, and couldn’t help feeling anticipatory himself. Did Akito’s battle-hunger somehow rub off on him?

Rui then slid out a familiar Damascus steel sword from his sleeve, against all laws of physics.

“Are you Mary Poppins?”

“I always keep Tsukasa’s precious gifts to me close by,” Rui said shamelessly. “I’m just using a simple spatial expansion spell.”

“I don’t think the word ‘simple’ should precede whatever you just said.”

“You flatter me.”

Tsukasa huffed in feigned exasperation, taking up his fighting stance that had gradually become second nature. Rui did the same. Or he had attempted to.

Except it was all. Wrong.

Tsukasa let a few moments pass, staring disbelievingly. Rui tilted his head in question, wondering why they had yet to start.

“Are you serious right now?” Tsukasa dropped his stance. He couldn’t help his stomping as he walked over.

“Is there something wrong?” Rui asked, having the gall to sound totally clueless.

What’s wrong? What wasn’t wrong? His footing was completely shaky! Why was he hunching over like someone had kicked his side? Was he trying to break his wrist with the way he was holding his sword?

“Put your feet here!” Tsukasa used his foot to slide Rui’s into the correct position, resting a hand on the boy’s back to support his balance. “Why are you holding your sword like that? Move your grip up!”

Tsukasa didn’t think the education system would fail Rui so utterly. When Tsukasa finally adjusted Rui’s stance to something satisfactory, he took a step back and encouraged Rui to make a practice swing.

He never thought he’d witness Rui make a more inelegant motion in his life. Rui made an unwieldy swing, embedding the sword in the ground, causing him to fumble over the blade and land in a heap. Tsukasa’s face went slack in disbelief.

“R-Rui! Are you alright?” Tsukasa rushed over, helping Rui up from the ground and quickly dusting off any dirt that clung to him. Rui’s eyes fluttered open, staring up at Tsukasa in wonder.

“An angel-”

“Don’t tell me you hit your head,” Tsukasa pursed his lips to hide his amusem*nt. Once Rui had made it clear he wasn’t injured, Tsukasa could barely hold back his laughter upon remembering the ridiculous maneuver. He cleared his throat.

“Um, I admire your eagerness. Do you want to try again?”

Rui grinned and immediately stood up, not at all discouraged. Tsukasa decided to show Rui the most ideal motion he should use with his particular sword. Rui observed Tsukasa’s demonstration with a thoughtful expression. He mimicked the movement slowly, yet it was a vast improvement from before.

“Good! How about you try it faster?” Tsukasa suggested. Rui obliged to the suggestion, resetting his stance to attempt just that. Except the universe seemed to have something against Rui learning how to swordfight. The moment Rui lunged forward, he stomped onto a slick leaf, causing his foot to slide out and his whole body to swerve to the side. The taller boy collided with Tsukasa.


Tsukasa crashed onto the ground on his back, the breath knocked out of him as a heavy weight pinned him there. Luckily, an arm slid behind his head to keep him from suffering a concussion.

“...I don’t know if I should be shocked or impressed,” Tsukasa eventually said, after neither of them made an effort to get up. Rui whined and nuzzled his face pitifully into Tsukasa’s chest. Was that his attempt at apologizing?

“You lot seem to be having fun rolling around in the muck,” An unpleasant, sneering voice alerted Tsukasa to unwanted company. Just as he dreaded, McGailan and his lackeys had to show their faces a day earlier than expected. McGailan didn't bother with hiding his disgust, staring at the two of them like they were sh*t stuck to his shoe. “Are you so confident in your victory tomorrow that you’re wasting your time wallowing like swine? I for one can't wait to pummel you into the ground. You can’t cower behind your dirty dog forever.”

Tsukasa gritted his teeth, ire quickly flooding his senses as McGailan babbled on. Who in their right mind forgoes any polite greeting to replace it with an insult?

Tsukasa moved to stand, but Rui, instead of letting him up, wrapped his arms around him even tighter.

“Rui, what are you-”

Instead of doing something sound-of-mind, like getting to his feet, Rui dug his heels in and moaned. It was a low, reverberating sound that got Tsukasa to lie stock-still as Rui’s warmth seeped into his skin. Rui’s head shifted until his forehead rested against the grass by the base of Tsukasa’s neck, his breath ghosting his pulse-point.

“Tsukasa, I don’t know how long I can last,” Rui spoke in a rare baritone that scratched a certain part of Tsukasa’s brain, making his limbs grow heavy and tingly. It wasn’t hypnotism, in fact it didn’t feel like magic at all. It was just Rui’s voice, but it had Tsukasa shuddering as his heart rate picked up.

Tsukasa couldn’t control what face he was making, but when he glanced up at their unfriendly guests, he found that they all looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“R-Rui, not here, get up. Please-”

“I can’t hold back for much longer,” Rui’s voice took on a strained pitch, his hands shifting to claw deep grooves into the ground. He let out a heavy exhale, then propped himself up with one arm, staring down at Tsukasa with clear, mischievous eyes. Contrary to his obvious sober state-of-mind, Rui giggled deliriously, playing up his theatrical mania. His free hand slid down, suddenly gripping the meaty underside of Tsukasa’s thigh and heaving his leg up, uncomfortably flush to his chest. Tsukasa couldn’t stop his gasp, color rising high on his cheeks.

“I’m going to take you right here in plain sight,” Rui claimed, resolutely, his grip tightening. Tsukasa could barely pay attention to the disgusted cries in the background as he stared back at Rui, his mouth agape. What in the world?

“You f*cking exhibitionist freaks!” Someone cried out hysterically as the nobles scrambled over themselves to get away, leaving the two of them alone on the ground, free of any audience. Rui hummed as he watched their retreating backs, then glanced back at Tsukasa with enigmatic expression. Rui then gave Tsukasa’s thigh a sudden squeeze. Before Tsukasa could cry out, Rui got to his feet, pulling Tsukasa up with him. Tsukasa took time to collect his racing heart. Just because he was more used to Rui’s PDA didn’t mean he was ready for whatever that was.

“I thought we were going to take each other on via a swordfight,” Tsukasa grumbled, massaging his strained thigh. A choked laugh slipped from Rui, who, now upon second assessment, didn’t look nearly as collected as he seemed before.

“I just wanted to scare off those interlopers. If it also happens to make them underestimate you, then isn’t that all the better?”

“You’re really supporting the advantage of taking people by surprise, huh?”

“It’s a tactical maneuver that can change the tide of battle. And it favors Tsukasa’s style of combat, which counts on aggressive initiation. If Tsukasa can frighten him like we did just now, then the battle is basically won.”

“Is that why you acted so weird? You scared me too, Rui. I actually thought something was wrong,” Tsukasa admitted, rubbing his warm cheeks.

“For the most part,” Rui said nonchalantly, sinking back onto the bench that they were having their lunch on. “I’m sorry I wasn’t much help in aiding Tsukasa with his swordsmanship. I seem to have wasted your time.”

“Not at all, I think you made me realize something. It was another thing you were aiming to teach me, wasn’t it?” Tsukasa declared assuredly. “You’re always helping me learn Rui, I’m really grateful. You were stumbling like that to make me more confident in myself, right? I came a long way and you wanted me to know that I have a fighting chance, even as I am now.”

“You think too much of me, Tsukasa. Swordfighting really isn't my forte,” Rui claimed, his hand raising up to rub at his face.

“Then do you want to practice some more?”

Rui's smile turned oddly strained.

“I don’t think I’m able to stand right now, Tsukasa.”

“What? Did you actually hurt yourself before?” Tsukasa quickly kneeled down in worry, sinking between Rui’s legs. The other boy made choking noises as he scooted farther back onto the bench, away from Tsukasa. “Hey, don’t move away, you could’ve pulled something-”

“Tsukasa, please, that’s not why. Besides, I’m able to heal myself,” Rui said, visibly flustered, trying to wave off Tsukasa’s concern.

A low whistle caught both of their attention. Both heads swiveled to find Mizuki staring open-mouthed at the two of them.

“To think the rumors were true. I didn’t know you had so much free time to be fooling around, Blondie.”

“Huh, Mizuki? When did you get here? What rumors?”

“That there’s two guys engaging in public indecency on the sparring field-”

“What? Now those guys are flinging around baseless rumors about me and Rui?” Tsukasa asked, justifiably enraged.

“I’m not trying to diss your lifestyle, but can’t you service your boyfriend some other time? Or in a more private location?”

“I’m not going to let Rui neglect his health, even if he thinks magic can cure everything,” Tsukasa said stubbornly. “And why do you keep calling him my boyfriend?”

Mizuki stared at them in befuddlement. “You’re not?”

“No! Not that I have anything against people with that orientation,” He leaned over to whisper to Rui. “Didn’t they already ask us this before?”

“I can hear you,” Mizuki sighed. “I thought you were just trying to be tight-lipped about it.”

“We wouldn’t be secretive about something like that, right Rui?”

Rui gave him an unshakeable smile. “Tsukasa isn’t the type of person to purposefully hide something.”

Well that was blatantly untrue. Why did Rui have to go and say something so guilt-inducing?

“As enlightening as this conversation is, I actually came here to ask about something else,” Mizuki expression turned weighty. “It’s about the guy who cast the draconic curse. I narrowed down where they are.”

“Seriously?” Tsukasa jumped up, nearly headbutting Rui, if it wasn’t for him leaning back. “I thought you couldn't track them!”

“It’s true I can’t follow the connection of the tracking spell anymore due to them severing it, but I realized there’s still a trace of it left over.”

“Mizuki, how exactly does your tracking spell work?” Tsukasa asked out of curiosity.

“Er,” Mizuki oddly glanced over at Rui before giving Tsukasa a sheepish look. “Don't get mad at me, best bud, okay?”

Tsukasa already regretted asking. “What did you do.”

“Well… Do you remember when I would slap you on the back? You know, our thing?”

“You mean when you would inflict back pain on me as a form of farewell? Yeah I haven't forgotten,” Tsukasa grimaced at the phantom pain. “Don’t tell me…”

“I may have done that in order to tag you with the tracker, teehee,” Mizuki winked while sticking their tongue out.


“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, you were just the perfect target, and it wouldn’t hurt you in any way,” Mizuki tried to defend themselves. “The tracking spell needs to attach to the target through physical contact. Once it makes contact, the spell marks them with a condensed thread of mana that I worked very hard on making undetectable to other people.”

“Must have been disappointing,” Rui snickered maliciously. Tsukasa slapped Rui's knee, causing the other to wince. Tsukasa found it odd, it wasn’t like that would hurt him.

“So whenever I tagged you with the spell, your friend with benefits over would immediately sever it. It was annoying at first because I kept having to reattach it, but then it made me realize something important.”

“Why do are you calling Rui my ‘friend with benefits’? It makes it sound like I’m just using him,” Tsukasa interrupted, sounding more upset than he meant to.

“That’s not… Do you even know what it means?” Mizuki sighed. “Anyway, will you let me finish? I’m being vulnerable by confessing the truth and asking you for help.”

“Fine, what’s the important thing that you realized?”

“I found that even with the spell severed, there was still a trace of the spell existing. Imagine it’s like the two cut ends of a thread. I can detect that the spell still exists, even if I can no longer pinpoint the location. Both you and Kamishiro at least helped me in getting a lot of practice.”

“So you did all that just to get in practice for using a spell. You basically kept trying to microchip me,” Tsukasa muttered.

“I knew you’d be upset! I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you, but the whole point of it was for you not to find out. I really appreciate our friendship!” Mizuki cried for reprieve.

“It’s fine, I’m not that mad about it, it was important to you," Tsukasa gave in. He remembered how much Rui hated when Banica had left a remnant of her magic on Tsukasa. It wasn't a surprise that Mizuki's tracking spell met the same treatment. "So is that how you kept finding us? Even that one time when we snuck out to go to town you somehow knew that we left campus.”

“Yeah, that’s when I figured out that I could detect your approximate location even with the spell severed.”

It clicked for Tsukasa. “Then that means-!”

“I know where that bastard is hiding.”

“Where? Why are you beating around the bush?”

Mizuki looked anguished. “It’s because I can barely believe it myself. The guy is here, at the Academy. He’s been hiding in plain sight.”

Help, I was Transmigrated into a Cannon Fodder Character Turned Main Villain's Romantic Interest? - Yesuna - プロジェクトセカイ カラフルステージ! (2024)
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