The girl who thought she knew love. The thought of getting close to someone was ever present in her heart. That was because her home felt cold.
Her parents were rarely around. And if they happened to be, their words were mostly disciplinary and distant at best. Like a teacher reprimanding a student or a caretaker obligated to check in on her, Saki grew up lacking what it meant to feel close to someone.
That was why her first friend, Rika, had been so important to her. The mere feeling of having someone appreciate her company was the sunny contrast to her musty life, one spent in her room watching anime.
And after she died, after Saki realized that it was her fault, hiding back in that room under the covers was all she felt like she deserved. Even in this new world, she was merely exploited when venturing outside.
But one voice continued to holler from the other side of her door.
The man named Claude Evers.
After what those boys tried to do to her, an utter fear of men clouded her mind. Even if she overwhelmed them, brutalized them, and became the very symbol of power, that didn’t change. The trauma didn’t go away so easily just because she had the upper hand.
And so, the simple act of befriending another man and holding feelings for him felt contrary to what her instincts told. Every word she spoke to him was full of gratitude for saving her, but also laced with a tone of caution. Each time she reached out to touch him, her hand froze, recalling what it meant to be touched by another man.
‘Would it be a cue for him to become closer? Would he think dirty thoughts about her? Would he take advantage of her?’
The negative expectations swirled around her head like a brewing storm whenever he got close. Even though she knew that he wasn’t such a person, that didn’t stop a feeling of dread. Her desire to befriend him for all that she liked fought to outweigh the misconceptions that she couldn’t shake off.
That was why she forced herself upon him. She felt like she had to do away with those thoughts. Using Eryn as an excuse, she used her obligations to push herself to the next step.
Unwilling to change. Refusing to accept. Same old Saki.
But with Claude, she felt like she could change. If it was him, she could finally push through those clouds and find some light. And for once, maybe she wouldn’t feel so bad about herself.
And even if she couldn’t, and ended up falling further into the darkness, having someone else to fall with her wouldn’t be so terrible…
I struggled to hold back Saki’s advances. My hands held her wrists as her head bobbed to and fro for an opening.
“Oy! Saki! I know I said that I prefer girls that have some initiative, but this isn’t what I mean at all!”
I knew how much Saki held back when she was around me. How could I miss it? A gaze shot in another direction, the recoil of her body, and the annoyance in her tone at times. She felt obligated to help me as her savior. She pushed herself for my sake as a friend. She held onto me as her pillar.
That was how it felt like to be around her. And all I thought was how ‘cute’ she had become. I felt disgusted with myself, leading her on like that.
Even when she tried something on me that one time, I could feel that she was forcing herself. Fighting to be someone that she wasn’t. Pretending to have feelings just because the two of us were lonely.
Perhaps, it was that loneliness that created Saki’s feelings for me. Emotions sprung forth to repress her own insecurities. They burst out when all barriers were removed. They pinned me to the bed. The strength of her fight was no less than it was when she had her mallets. I couldn’t just play off this level of seriousness.
I had to fight back.
Suddenly, I let go of her. A look of surprise bloomed on her face as she fell forward on top of me. Wrapping my arms around her, there was only one attack that was reliable in this situation.
“Soul Rending Strike – Zero Point!”
And then, I felt her go limp against me. The breath that I was holding was all expelled in that attack. With a deep draw, I tried to calm my furiously beating heart, now the only sound that echoed deafeningly.
Slowly, I rolled the two of us, flipping her onto the bed, now with me on top. The sight of her, unable to move and clothing scandalously revealing, made me turn red, but I had to keep looking at her. If I turned away, then I would be dodging her once again. I had to know what it was that she truly wanted.
Reaching up to her neck, I gently tapped a pressure point that unlocked movement for her head and allowed her to talk.
“Will you not give me comfort?”
“In what way?”
“Sleep with me. Erase my doubts of the touch of men, even if you have to force it upon me. I am tired of being afraid. I don’t want my fear and anger to be my strength anymore. It makes me worry that I’ll eventually destroy anyone that I touch.”
Saki the Destroyer. Anyone that came close to her had to fear being crushed by her extreme power. That made it difficult to approach her, like an egg resting against a bowling ball. Similar to how I was now feared for being able to slice things into smithereens, she had carried that title since she arrived on this world.
Even in my presence, I had regarded her with care. Too much care, like handling fragile porcelain. But part of that was me, my fear of breaking things due to my critical attacks. The sight of breakable people in my purple eyes was my greatest darkness. The one power that I hated using.
The two of us were peas in a pod.
Always hesitant to move forward, unless it was for the sake of others. All the while, afraid that what we would do would hurt others. That was what made us easy targets to become demons. And Eryn knew that was the case.
As demons, we wouldn’t have to worry anymore. We could live how we wanted, in the care of each other, no longer hurt by society.
I reached down and stroked the side of Saki’s cheek. She shivered from the touch, but then, nuzzled against it. My head bent down, down, until our eyes met. Closing her own, she brought her lips forward in anticipation. But then…
An acute pain struck against our foreheads. Saki especially was surprised, opening one eye while wincing. Her arms merely twitched, still too paralyzed to reach up and rub the sore spot, like what I was doing.
“OWWWW, what was that for?!” she cried out instead.
“For you being a baka. Damn, that hurt me too!” I had expected it to, since it hadn’t registered as an attack, but that was the only chance to catch her by surprise and knock some sense into her. “As if sleeping with me would actually cure your trauma or something. That’s some boneheaded thinking you’ve got there!”
Saki turned her head away, pouting. “How else am I supposed to stay by your side?”
“And you actually want to? Though, I guess we are kind of like kindred spirits or something,” I teased.
“There you go again, Claude. Confusing me with the ‘close but distant’ signals.”
“Alright, alright. I guess that part IS my fault. Time to take responsibility and make up for things.”
I fell back against the bed next to Saki, before plopping her head against my chest. I gently patted her head, like I did with Ludmila, which prompted an upturned gaze at me.
“What are you doing?” she asked, confused.
“Sleeping with you. In a PG-13 kind of way. Since you’re still paralyzed and can’t hold back anything from me, it seems to be the best time for some pillow talk.”
“Oh-ho. Be prepared. By the end of this, we’ll know so much about each other that the others won’t be able to compare. It’s been a while since I could talk about random stuff from our previous world without having to explain everything! ‘Kakugo shirou!’”
Saki made a disgusted face as I tacked on broken Japanese at the end. But then, she smiled, knowing that our relationship didn’t need to be forced like how she thought.
And so, we talked about various things. About our families, our school, everything that we could think of about our lives before we came here. For the time being, we were not Electi in this world, but normal people reminiscing about where we came from.
Like estranged friends catching up on each other after a long absence, we talked about completely meaningless things.
How Saki loved to sing ani-song karaoke, even though she had long forgotten the lyrics to most of them.
About my strange encounters with customers from both the restaurant and clinic, and how I caused no shortage of trouble as a child there.
An hour passed, and then another. By then, Saki had long recovered from the shock of her mana gates shutting down. We swatted playfully at each other for the silly things done in the past. Hugs were given when we recalled something that brought us down. Hesitation was the last thing on our minds now. It had long been discarded once things began.
And before we knew it, yawns came from our mouths. Cradled against each other, Saki and I found it pointless to see each other with artificial labels. Once again, she had forgotten that ‘I was a guy.’
But that was probably for the best. Just like how she wasn’t a normal girl, but ‘Saki’, she would simply see me as ‘Claude’.
Someone irreplaceable, always on her side, and willing to fill the loneliness in her heart.
That, in a way, was a type of love, different from what Saki had grown to expect. But this was the kind that she desired most. The smile on her face as she drifted to sleep was the most telling sign of that.
And somehow, we were both too drowsy to notice that something was changing within her.
Saki found herself in a white space suddenly. The strange feeling gave her a sense of déjà vu, but last time, her surroundings were all dark save for…
The girl who was her friend in the previous world, Rika.
But was it really her? Saki didn’t think to question last time why she was there of all places. But now, she had the clarity to do so, since she wasn’t surrounded by darkness.
“Are, are you real?”
Rika placed a finger on her lips in wonder. “Hmm, who knows? Not like there is any way to prove it, since I could be just a projection of what you know about me.”
“The way you tease me is certainly Rika-like,” Saki giggled.
“Well, it seems like you’re more chipper than the last time I saw you.”
“A lot of things have happened. Good things, I guess.”
Rika bent over and whispered into Saki’s ear.
“A new love to replace me?”
Saki jumped away in surprise. Stammering to try to defend herself. “But, I- I already like- like someone, you know…”
Rika giggled, knowing exactly when Saki lied about herself.
“That one girl? She felt like more of an excuse, to fill in that hole of yours. To make it such that others wouldn’t get close to you. Isn’t that right?”
Saki couldn’t deny that. The sight of Eryn was more akin to a cute idol in one of her fandoms, rather than a realistic crush. Admiration was not far estranged from love after all.
“But Claude, huh… you have to admit that you are pretty cozy around him. Maybe it’s time to stake a claim for yourself!”
“I-…” Saki wasn’t sure how to answer that. The more that she thought about it, the nicer it sounded. But then, she smiled and shook her head.
“I like the way things are, strange as they might be. I think I understand now. Love isn’t so simple, nor can it be so clear cut. I’ll pursue it and accept it when given the chance. And even if he doesn’t love me that way, it’s okay. The kind of love he’s already offering is what I wanted all along.”
For too long, Saki believed that love had to lead to something more. She was afraid to accept it, and risk her feelings getting stuck partway. Only now, she could see her past in a different way.
She was afraid to say that the house was cold and lonely, so her parents never bothered to come home earlier. They had thought she was perfectly fine.
She didn’t want her classmates to know about her hobbies, so she never reached out. Even though, Saki caught glimpses of opportunity hidden in their day-to-day lives.
She waited and waited, for someone else to take interest in her instead. And even when she found a friend that did so, she didn’t stop to consider why she had drifted away suddenly. Everything had been seemingly all or nothing, but now, she could compromise on her feelings.
“I should have realized that something was wrong. That you wouldn’t have abandoned me so suddenly just because you were dating, Rika. None of that would have happened if I did.”
Rika went up and hugged Saki. “Then, I guess you are ready to finally step forward on your own.”
Even if she was fake, the embrace gave her a deep sense of nostalgia. Slowly, that body began to feel more and more ethereal, until her arms only felt air. But before Rika disappeared altogether, a voice drifted into her ears.
“Two existences, separated by fear, are now joined as one.”
And with that, Saki was filled with brightness.