Chapter 7:

half-step forward

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

Things go mostly back to normal after that.

But it’s a different kind of normal, a different kind of beat. Shun finds his old uniform at the back of his closet on the weekend, and begs his sister to help him iron out the creases. When he tries it on, it feels like it’s shrunk a little since he wore it last time. Or maybe he’s just gotten taller.

He shows up to aikido practice the following week, much to Jinpachi’s delight. The feeling of reconnecting with some of his old clubmates is bittersweet, because none of them welcome him back. They act as if he never left, and he thinks that suits him better.

That same week, Hiro returns the borrowed notebook, thanking him profusely for trading notes. Shun offers to lend it to him again in the future—all he has to do is ask. That’s what friends are for, right? Hiro tears up a little, because of course he does.

At school, Shun falls into a comfortable rhythm, grateful to Saori for allowing him to awaken from a long and aimless dream. Until one day, without warning, she tears down the wall she put up between them with her own hands.

“Takeuchi!” she calls to him at lunch, catching him completely off guard. “Hey! Shun!

That’s even worse, because now people are staring. Hiro, in particular, whose eyes go wide and round as Saori approaches their desk.

“Um, hi.” Shun has no idea what else to say. Can’t she see the utter panic flashing across his expression? But she doesn’t seem to notice, or worse, she doesn’t care at all.

“You’re not busy, are you?” she says, her voice dripping with saccharine sweetness so thick it has to be fake. “Let’s eat lunch together.”


“Quit making that face,” Saori says serenely. “Let’s go eat. I’m hungry.”


“Do you,” Shun asks in a whisper, bracing himself for an angry retort, “uh, sorry this is kind of rude. But do you not have any other friends?”

“What do you mean?” Saori asks. Her tone is perfectly even, which is kind of scary. She’s picking at her bento, which is what she’s been doing since they sat down in the hallway together.

Initially Shun thought she brought him out here to talk or to kill him or maybe even both, but now he isn’t so sure. She’s neither initiating a conversation nor engaging in violence. She is just sitting next to him, eating lunch.

So he tries again. “What I meant to say is, um, did you need something from me?”

“Do friends need a reason to eat lunch together?”

He gapes at her. He’s actually, finally lost it this time, hasn’t he?

Seemingly completely unaware of his struggles, Saori pops a tiny piece of broccoli into her mouth and chews quietly. Shun doesn’t want to keep staring at her, so he looks down at the floor.

The hallway isn’t empty, but there’s only one other group of students eating lunch here in the east wing. He thinks they might be from kendo, but he isn’t too sure.

“You aren’t going to eat?”

Shun swallows the lump in his throat. “Oh. Right. I should eat lunch.”

He fumbles with the zipper of his bag. It takes three tries to open, because his hands are shaking too much.

Next to him, the faint sound of rustling fabric is followed by the lightest sensation of wind on his cheek. A hand touches his shoulder, and Saori’s voice hisses into his ear, low and vicious.

“Seriously, can’t you try any harder to seem more natural?”

It’s funny how Shun’s almost glad to hear those words. Even if she’s scary, it means she’s back to normal.

“Uh,” he says, blanking out. “Um, well—is your lunch any good…friend?”

That’s when he makes the mistake of looking up. The next five seconds are the longest five seconds of his entire life, as they stare at each other in complete silence.

And then unexpectedly, Saori bursts into laughter. She’s laughing so hard that her shoulders are shaking, and Shun has absolutely no idea what to do at that moment. He waits until her laughter subsides, until she’s wiping a tear from the corner of her eye and clearing her throat.

“Okay, that should be enough,” she says quietly. Her eyes dart across the hallway like she’s searching for something between the shadows. “Look, this would’ve been so much easier if you cooperated.”

Shun only has so much patience in him, even if the girl beside him has the capability to slit his throat with a sword.

“Then maybe you should explain what’s going on first!” he hisses under his breath.

Saori blinks. “Ah.”

“What do you mean, ah?!”

Her eyes dart around furtively again, and then she heaves a sigh. “Okay. We’re in the clear for now. You know the class president?”


“Yeah him,” she says. “I found out this morning that he’s being possessed by a high-level demon, and I’m trying to lure it out.”



Her words are…a lot to take in.

The thing is, Shun wasn’t aware that demons could possess people until now. Finding out about that is slightly more alarming than the invisible monsters he watched Saori fight last week. The explanation he got about exorcists and demons was about as concise as Hiro’s notes, which is to say she barely told him anything at all.

So he stares and he stares, and he tries to swallow the lump forming in his throat.

“What do you…need from me?” Shun manages, finally finding his voice. His throat feels dry and scratchy. Kaito, the class president, his classmate, is possessed by a demonic creature so why the hell is Saori’s voice so calm—

“Bait,” she states. There is no hint of malice in her gold eyes, but there is no remorse in there either. Somehow, that’s even more terrifying. She’s using him as bait. Is she even human?

“Where…um, where is he—it?—now?” Shun whispers. His heartbeat is rattling an off-kilter beat in his chest, drowning out the faint sounds of the other students across the hall. All of a sudden, he’s very aware that the walls might have ears.

“Not here,” is Saori’s reply. It’s not particularly comforting.

“What do we do?” Shun croaks.

There’s a smile in her voice. “We wait.”