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Chapter 199: Crossed Paths
「*sigh* Finally, I’m home.」
The girl murmured to herself as she stepped foot into the entranceway of her apartment. Long black hair that was as smooth as silk energetically swayed in the air behind her, similarly expressing joy as it had returned to the place that they could call home.
Needless to say, the one that had stepped through the door of the condo’s apartment number 6 was none other than one of its occupants: Miyazawa Mana.
After a night in the hospital, she had recovered enough to the point where a single diagnosis allowed her to be discharged immediately. Although she was still in shock over the events that led up to her being hospitalised, she thought it best to wait until the other party involved—the injured 〚Lion〛—also recuperated so that they could discuss the matter together.
And so, after being discharged from the hospital, the first thing that the girl wanted to do was go home and see her brother. After all, considering that the assailant looked so much like her one and only remaining blood connection, it made sense that the jet-black beauty wanted to confirm her sibling’s condition and put her worries to rest.
Of course, Mana also asked her best friend Shiori if she wanted to tag along, but she said that it would be best if someone stayed by the unconscious Masaru’s side, and so declined the offer. Naturally, Mana also felt bad about abandoning the delinquent, especially when she caught sight of the terrible wounds he had sustained in his efforts to protect her. Still, as there was very little she could do to help him at the current time, the girl chose to return home whilst swearing to herself that she needed to come back and visit with a proper gift.
「Aniki! I’m home!」
As she took off her shoes and closed the door behind her, Mana allowed her voice to ring clearly throughout the cosy apartment that looked as still as could be. Even at her prompting, however, there was not even a stir as her call was met with complete and utter silence.
Suddenly, a disconcerting thought flashed across the little sister’s mind. What if the one that attacked her had gotten to her brother as well? Maybe he had been whisked away by the assailant?
Or maybe……maybe he really was the one who attacked them and had just disappeared?
As though desperately trying to push away such a notion from her mind, Mana rushed through the corridors of her abode, caring little for the clamour that was made in her wake as she hastily approached the room belonging to her one and only brother.
And then, upon swinging the door wide open, she saw-
-a large lump the size of a human being planted atop the bed, covered completely underneath the sheets as it snoozed away without a care in the world.
「G-Geez……don’t scare me like that.」
Mana muttered to herself, heaving a sigh of relief as she directed an accusatory glare to the still-snoring mound. Of course, upon realising she had no one to blame but herself for getting so worked up, this gaze softened as a wry smile spread across her lips.
Though, just as the jet-black maiden was beginning to indulge in the comforting sense of relief that coursed through her body-
*Beep* *Beep* *Beep*
-the sudden blaring of Junichi’s phone alarm nearly caused her to jump out of her skin as her lungs instinctively compressed, resulting in an adorable squeal being squeezed out of her lips.
「O-Oh, so it was just his alarm.」
Mana murmured to herself as she looked at her brother’s bedside table, the eye-catching blue flip phone vibrating atop it as the rattling and buzzing created an indescribable audio annoyance. It was only then that she realised that, despite everything that happened to them the day prior, the world was blissfully ignorant about their plight as time continued to march on.
In other words, today was a day like any other. A day where both Mana and Junichi had to go to school.
That was what the alarm on her brother’s phone was for, after all. To wake him up so that he could prepare for his commute.
And, in response to the alarm that had diligently performed its duties–
–the dark-haired teenager’s rugged hand slammed the bedside table, searching for the source of the grating tone before fiddling with the phone and shutting off the persistent alarm.
Upon seeing the habitually sinful act of her brother immediately returning back under the sheets after having dealt with the nuisance, Mana didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as she stood stock still with rounded eyes.
Yet, when she had finally regained her senses, the mischievous side of her blood that she shared with her dark-haired sibling began to boil as a cheeky grin flashed across her face.
And then, without any hesitation whatsoever, the young maiden moved in an instant, not realising that she was currently replicating one of her past mistakes.
「Wake up, Baka Aniki!」
The girl shouted at her lazy older brother, firmly gripping the fabric of his bed covers with both hands before yanking the sheet backwards. Due to the forceful nature of her pull, the blanket billowed upwards, gracefully floating aloft in the air before making its gentle descent towards the ground.
As it did, the falling sheet that obstructed Mana’s vision slowly gave way as it revealed the sleeping man underneath. The man with dark hair and a lean figure whom she undoubtedly recognised as her brother. Even if he wasn’t wearing any clothes, there was no way that the little sister could mistake the bare teenager who was lying there before her.
That being said, it was a completely different story for the other individual that had also come into view. This unknown figure, that was indubitably feminine in nature, also possessed a few features that could be said to resemble Mana’s brother, even if not a perfect facsimile.
To name a few of these similarities, the individual’s snowy frame was just as slender as Junichi’s, though her unblemished skin was a stark contrast to the scars and scratches that could be noted on the young man’s torso. Additionally, she possessed short, neatly-trimmed bobbed hair that hung just below her shoulders (which contrasted with the brother’s unkempt above-shoulders style), and obsidian locks whose shade was but a smidge different than Junichi’s dark hair.
The most notable similarity between the two that Mana caught, however, was also the one that caused her the most confusion: both of the dark-haired figures were stripped nude. Completely stark naked.
「Wha-wha-? WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON HEEEEERE!?」
Mana shouted—nay, screamed to the heavens as her eyes were already spinning so fast that they looked like spinning tops. But then, really, who could blame her? She had just discovered a clothless stranger cosying together with her older brother in bed: anyone in such a situation would freak out.
Though, thanks to her freaking out, the triggers for her episode—namely the two sleeping teenagers—began to gently stir as they were roused from their slumber.
「*yawn*……gimme 5 more minutes……」
The unnamed girl purred in drowsy delirium, coiling her limbs even tighter around Junichi’s arm in her state of half-sleep as she buried her head deeper into the man’s chest. And, while the gesture was quite an adorable one, Mana couldn’t help but grow livid at the sight as she had never seen anyone get so intimate with her older brother before now.
Yet, as she was still reeling from the shock of it all, the little sister had yet to make a move, petrified as her inaction allowed the two unsuspecting teenagers to gradually wake up by themselves, starting with the very same girl that was clinging onto her older brother.
As her eyelids fluttered, the obsidian girl removed one of her clinging arms, using the back of her free hand to rub her eyes as she began to take in the surroundings. And as she questioned her current location while fighting the drowsiness that threatened to suck her back into slumber, she realised that the dark-haired youth was incredibly close by her side, causing her to snap awake as a streak of deep pink flashed across her cheeks.
But then again, who could blame the innocent girl for showing such an embarrassing reaction. After all, she had just awoken to realise that not only was she stark naked, but she had wrapped herself around the bare body of the opposite sex. This situation had no doubt caused her a great amount of confusion and shame which caused her to blush furiously.
And, upon receiving this overload of embarrassment, the obsidian girl’s eyes darted all over the room in a panic before eventually resting upon the figure of one stunned Miyazawa Mana.
Unable to contain herself after realising that this compromising side of herself had been seen, the humiliated maiden let loose a shriek that was in no way inferior in volume to Mana’s earlier scream. At the same time, the girl immediately latched onto a corner of the yanked bed sheet that was still in reach, pulling it over her with movements so agile that they could barely be registered with the naked eye as she used the blanket to cover herself up into a ball of shame.
Now, if Mana was in her normal state of mind, then she might have even regarded such a gesture as overwhelmingly cute, as one could see the girl quivering like a small animal even when buried in layer after layer of bed sheets. That being said, her brain had practically stalled at this point, and so all that the trembling sack did was evoke even more confusion and anger from her.
Which is probably why it was a good thing that the one who could help her resolve some of her questions and stress—Saito Junichi—was once again roused by the sharp screech and vigorous movements.
「Nnngh……what the hell, can’t a guy get some shut-eye?」
An annoyed Junichi yawned, raising his body as he greeted the peculiar sight with drowsy eyes. Putting aside the fact that his unkempt hair was more disorderly than usual, the youth seemed no different from normal as he aloofly swept his gaze upon the surroundings. That being said, upon considering the fact that Junichi was acting as though nothing was wrong despite his clothless state, one could not help but comment that his current appearance was quite the surreal sight.
One that Mana couldn’t bear to watch any longer.
「Aniki! Put those on! Also, what the heck is going on here?!」
Having hurled a pair of trousers that was lying on the floor at the youth, Mana raised her voice at the drowsy youth, spouting off her demands in a heated tone as she turned away. Needless to say, she was averting her gaze from Junichi’s general direction so as to prevent her eyes from witnessing something that she couldn’t unsee, all the while obstinately staying close enough to him so that she wouldn’t miss the explanation that she so dearly wished for.
After all, it was evident that the relationship between these two teenagers was anything but normal. Thus, Mana, as Junichi’s little sister, had a right to know what was going on. No, she had to know what was going on.
Her curiosity towards the quivering girl was so intense that she had even looked past the fact that Junichi had slept together with this unknown individual while Mana and Masaru were suffering in the hospital. Though, perhaps her consciousness did not allow it to completely escape her, as it served as fuel for her current grumpy disposition.
「What’s going on? We were sleeping, duh.」
「No, not that! I mean, in the first place, who is she?!」
Seeing her older brother’s straightforward character as both bitterly endearing and completely frustrating, Mana raised the dynamics of her shout as she sharply pointed at the lump of fabric that was quivering in the corner of the bed. As she disputed such, she noticed that the man had yet to cover his unmentionables with the trousers she had chucked at him, and so was left with no other choice but to send her piercing gaze towards the mass of layered fabric.
Of course, in the face of this questioning glare, the blanket ball jerked once, shivering no longer as the obsidian locks hesitantly peeked out from within like a tortoise coming out of its shell. Upon doing so, Mana was met with a face so indescribably familiar that she swore she had seen it all her life, despite being unable to mark its origin.
The peculiar nostalgia aside, the little sister paused slightly as she examined the revealed face of the blushing tortoise. She possessed fair skin and unremarkable features that could only be described as average. At the same time, however, the silky obsidian locks that curtained parts of her face crafted a peculiar image that suited the phrase “beauty derived from adequacy”. In fact, her visage was brimming with such natural charm that Mana couldn’t help but feel intimidated herself, even in spite of the fact that her own elegance wouldn’t lose out at all.
Though, the unexpected appeal of this unidentified intruder into her abode only served to heighten Mana’s displeasure.
「Calm down, Mana. She’s my guest.」
「G-Guest!? No, more importantly, you still haven’t answered my question! Who is she?!」
Having finally put on trousers, Junichi stood up as he circled around the bed and patted Mana’s head. Yet, while initially shaken by such a gesture, Mana regained herself as she once again reiterated her question, causing the man to let loose a deep sigh.
And then, after finally resigning himself in the face of his little sister’s insistence, Junichi gave her the answer that she wanted(?) to hear.
「This girl’s name is Karasuma Kuro. My girlfriend.」
The impact of Junichi’s declaration was so incredibly unbelievably stunning that Mana couldn’t even enunciate properly as she stammered thusly. That word continued to roll around over and over in her head, but no matter how she tried she was no closer to successfully being able to emit the words from her mouth than when she started, causing her to sound like an engine perpetually trying to start itself up.
Of course, her disorientation resulted in her also failing to catch a similar stunned expression floating across the supposed girlfriend’s face, though even if the little sister was more composed, Junichi had purposefully moved to obstruct Kuro’s visage from her line of sight.
As a result of his movement, however, Mana had come face to face with her older brother’s fully exposed torso, causing her face to heat up. A heat that was caused not by her proximity with the wall of flesh before her, but by the memory of the duo’s initial state when she had first removed the bed covers.
「Eh? W-wait!? S-so that means you–with her—and—!?」
A highly unstable Mana began to stutter, seemingly hyperventilating as she failed to coherently get her point across. But of course, as she considered the implications that came with a man and woman in a relationship (she didn’t have a presence of mind to doubt Junichi’s claim) sleeping naked in the same bed, it was no wonder why she had become so flustered in trying to confirm whether or not the deed had been done.
Regardless of the reason for her excitement, however, the jet-black girl’s current state was undoubtedly precarious, disconcerting enough for her older brother to become anxious as he tried to remedy the situation.
Yet, despite his best attempts at trying to calm her down–
「Oi, Mana. Why don’t you take a few deep breaths and-」
「ANIKI YOU IDIOOOOTTT!!!」
—the overly excited Mana had already reached her own conclusions about the situation, causing her to scream whole-heartedly at her brother before running out the room and slamming the door behind her.
Which, of course, meant that the couple(?) were now together alone once again.
「E-Erm……did I……do something bad?」
The first one to break the prolonged silence was none other than the girl of obsidian: Karasuma Kuro. Of course, despite being introduced as such, it was blatantly obvious that her true identity was none other than Saito Junichi’s ［Counterpart］: 《Cross》.
Even if she was acting somewhat more timid than usual, those signature obsidian locks of hers were unmistakable, so much so that it made it fairly difficult for those who knew her to not be able to recognise her. This held true even despite the fact that, somehow, her appearance had become more feminine over the last night.
「Nah, don’t mind it. This is pretty much normal for her.」
「I…is that so……?」
As 《Cross’s》 uncertain voice echoed through the room, Junichi narrowed his eyes as he examined the minute changes that had taken place over his other self. The obsidian girl’s unkempt hair had been combed and straightened, lengthening the curly strands by about an inch as it gave her a neater appearance that bordered more on the feminine side of her overall androgynous figure.
Another transformation which had contributed to her now-maidenly appearance was her chest, whose previously flat plane had become released from the restraints of the wrappings she used to constrain them, now boasting two lumps that were neither too large nor too small.
These two changes, accompanied by the slender figure that she shared with the dark-haired youth, caused 《Cross’s》 appearance to become even more womanly. This transformation was distinct enough that only those with a keen eye would be able to identify the fact that she and Junichi both shared the same face, even if they knew who she was beforehand.
「So, um……I get that you needed to explain who I was, but……was it really ok to make me your girlfriend?」
Although somewhat pressured by the intense stare of her boyfriend, Kuro occasionally averted her gaze, blinking more frequently as she asked the youth whether the explanation he gave about their circumstances was really ok. Naturally, she understood that there was no way that the truth would be presented to the little sister, and so there was a need to fabricate a reason for the obsidian girl’s presence now that she had been discovered.
Still, the idea of her being in a relationship with Junichi made her feel……uneasy.
「What, you don’t like it?」
「N-no, I do like it, I guess…w-wait, I meant that I don’t like it! Err, I mean, I don’t not like it? But—arrgh, what am I saying…?」
「Pff. What’re you getting all flustered for? No wonder you were a virgin.」
Finding the dark-haired ［Counterpart’s］ flustered reaction to be terribly amusing, Junichi smirked at his other self, causing her to glare back in displeasure as she pouted with inflated cheeks.
In the face of this blatant annoyance, however, Junichi simply shrugged as he began to supply his justification as to why he had told Mana that they were lovers.
「The reason why I called you my girlfriend is because it’s more convenient.」
《Cross》 echoed, her expression darkening as she tasted the bitterness of the word on her lips. Although she herself wasn’t aware of it, the ominous undertones carried along with her voice clearly conveyed how appalled she was at being regarded as a convenience.
But of course, while Kuro was completely justified in being disgruntled, she had actually misinterpreted her host’s intent entirely. Though, considering that it was Junichi who had given her such a misleading idea due to his poor choice of words, the fault for the misunderstanding lay entirely with the dark-haired youth.
「That’s right. Since we’re gonna be constantly together for the foreseeable future, it’s easier if others think that we have that kind of relationship.」
Kuro raised her voice as she repeated after the youth, this time her cheeks burning a brilliant red as her previous grave countenance disappeared without a trace. It needn’t be said that the ［Counterpart］ seemed to have jumped to a different conclusion once again, though this time said misinterpretation seemed to have been shared by both teenagers as Junichi furrowed his brow.
「Of course. How else are we gonna make sure we can fight against ［Counterparts］ at any time?」
「B-But can’t I just stay inside of your ［Soul Core］ like I have been doing?」
「Well, then can you guarantee that you won’t ever be seen or caught by surprise like what happened just now?」
A defeated Kuro mumbled, hanging her head as she averted her gaze in discontent towards the dark-haired youth’s decision which she failed to contest. And then, upon recalling the desperate display she put on when trying to find an excuse to not be regarded as Junichi’s significant other, she bowed her head even lower in an attempt to hide the furious blush that surfaced upon her cheeks.
Of course, in response to his newly attained partner’s behaviour, whose uncharacteristically adorable demeanour fanned the flames of his sadistic heart-
「Well then, I’m looking forward to working with you, girlfriend.」
-Junichi snickered whilst loudly declaring thus, stressing their relationship in an obviously teasing manner.
Naturally, this caused Kuro’s countenance to be dyed in an even deeper shade of displeasure and shame, though this change in expression did not stop her from making her disapproval clearly known through the sharp glare she directed at the dark-haired youth. Her eyes were so ferocious that they resembled that of tigress about to pounce on her prey and so vicious that it looked like she was about to tear him limb from limb.
Yet, there was a reason why Junichi maintained his nonchalant demeanour despite being on the receiving of such a potent and intimidating murderous aura. And that was simply because–
「So? How long are you gonna stay all covered up like that?」
—underneath that rebellious expression was but a single young maiden, vulnerable and defenceless as she lacked but a single garment on her slender frame wrapped in a layer of blankets.
「H-Huh? I……I’m not wearing any clothes right now, you know!?」
「So? There’s only the two of us here right now, so it shouldn’t matter that much, right?」
「No, no, no! You’re the reason why I’m covering up!」
Kuro shouted, completely appalled by the dark-haired youth’s suggestion as the youth’s comment, which made her forcefully aware of her current clothless state, induced her into involuntarily tugging the sheets even tighter across her shoulders. Her tear glands had also begun to fail her as her eyes had become slightly watery, likely due to her fear of being seen.
If her current circumstances still didn’t make her want to cry, however, then that would soon change very quickly.
「Why’s that? If it’s your body, I’ve already seen pretty much everything there is to see.」
At first, Kuro had gone completely numb at Junichi’s words, her mind unable to process what it had just heard as a blank expression had flashed across her face. Her inability to understand the meaning behind the dark-haired youth’s statement was so pronounced that it completely blew away any of the shame and displeasure that previously plagued her, her countenance wiped clean as not even shock was able to display itself upon her frozen visage.
It was only after Junichi’s words had fully sunk into her brain did this momentary lapse of hers disappear, soon replaced by an overwhelmingly over-reaction as the obsidian’s girl’s features contorted into an indescribable look. Confusion, anger and embarrassment: all of these emotions clashed upon her visage as the destruction they wreaked caused her face to turn white, red, and blue all at the same time.
It was truly an amazing spectacle that Saito Junichi found terribly amusing, so much so that he dared to burn the sight into his retinas while wearing a deep grin on his face. And, upon seeing the way that his mouth was contorted into an upwards sneer, there was no doubt that the youth dabbled in his sadistic tendencies so that he could witness joyous sights such as the one that occurred before him.
In fact, he was quite tempted to tease the distraught maiden even further, the only thing stopping him being that there was something about Kuro’s reaction to his words that bothered him.
「W-W-W-W-Wha!? When!? How?!? Why!?!」
「What? Don’t tell me you don’t remember what happened?」
Upon seeing the absolutely clueless expression plastered upon Kuro’s face, the dark-haired youth suddenly sank into silence, narrowing his eyes as he peered deep into the girl’s visage as though trying to glean something from her features dyed in confusion. And, after a few seconds of being exposed to such an intense gaze, the inexperienced girl began to squirm under the pressure of his look.
At some point, however, she swallowed before nervously staring back into the man’s eyes, causing her own to widen slightly as she found his pupils absolutely mesmerising. She couldn’t explain why, but the gravitas in his soft irises caused her to be filled with a peculiarly warm sensation. And then, before she realised it, Kuro found herself being sucked into the emerald vortexes of his pupils.
「Hmmm…..alright. What can you remember about what happened last night?」
「E-Eh? E-Erm, last night, is it? Um……I……we……huh?」
After jumping slightly as she realised how she had lost herself completely in the young man’s gaze, Kuro quickly averted her face as she scrambled to gather the last vestiges of her rationality before searching her memories. Yet, no matter how hard she tried to think, her mind continued to draw blanks as it was incapable of filling the void in her memory of the time before she woke up in Junichi’s bed.
「*sigh* Nothing, huh? Then maybe this will remind you.」
Junichi heaved a sigh, shrugging his shoulders as he approached his other self silently. Despite his casual stride, the man expended practically no time or effort in closing the distance between himself and Kuro as he reached out and gently pulled the girl’s chin towards him.
And then, before she could react-
-the lips of the dark-haired couple overlapped as Junichi and Kuro shared an unexpected kiss, the familiar sensation of warmth against her numbed tongue triggering a flood of memories to return to the obsidian entity as tears flowed unstoppably down her cheeks.
–The previous night–
When she came to, it was the dead of night. Her eyelids fluttered once, then twice, then twice more before the sight before her very eyes changed from ‘completely dark’ to ‘very dark’. Yet, even though visibility was limited, the light of the full moon filtered into the room in tiny strips, illuminating parts of the surroundings with a gentle, almost maternal radiance.
Blinking several more times in an attempt to fight against the drowsiness that assailed her, the girl used her half-asleep eyes to examine the surroundings. First, she noticed the dark ceiling that sheltered her unconscious body. Then it was the bed that her sluggish body was laying on. The pillow that supported her head was after that, soon followed by the sheets that covered her slender frame.
And then, after turning her head to the side, her eyes fell upon a familiar sleeping figure. A figure whose dark hair curtained his features as though they were wispy strands of shadows cast by the moon’s subtle lustre.
「Oh, you’re awake, huh?」
Immediately after the youth’s name passed across 《Cross’s》 lips, said teenager responded as he looked down at the girl resting against his chest, his hair shifting as the eyes that the obsidian entity initially believed to be closed in restful respite were revealed to have been wide awake this entire time.
Naturally, upon craning her head upwards to gaze at the immaculately sculpted emeralds that were embedded into the man’s face, 《Cross》 became increasingly aware of how close the two of them were. And the embarrassment induced by such awareness had overshadowed even her earlier doubts as to why she stopped herself from addressing Junichi with her usual ‘partner’ and chose to refer to him by name instead.
With that being said, 《Cross》 couldn’t bring herself to separate from the warmth of the dark-haired youth’s chest, even if the shame that assailed her was so potent that it caused her face to burn with a deep shade of crimson. And so, with the side of her head still buried into the man’s chest, the abashed (and still half-asleep) ［Counterpart］ raised her voice.
「Where are we? We……were in my 【Spiritual Zone】, right?」
「We’re in my room. As for how we got here, well……that’s a long story.」
The dark-haired youth muttered, stroking the soft strands of 《Cross’s》 obsidian hair as he began to fill the girl in on what happened after they had fallen asleep in the entity’s 【Spiritual Zone】.
Essentially, when the youth came to, he found himself already back in his own body, roused awake by a worried Rin whose normally stoic facade appeared to be on the verge of tears. As for Sora, she also expressed similar concern for Junichi in her usual lackadaisical manner, though she maintained a constant watchful eye at the enemy who wouldn’t let go of their collapsed comrade.
Apparently, while he was unconscious, the two girls tried to separate the dark-haired duo, only to find themselves at a loss as 《Cross’s》 grip proved too strong for them to handle. As a result, they were left with no choice but to roll Junichi onto his back and wait for him to wake up before dealing with the peculiar situation.
Though, there was really no need for the drama considering that the obsidian entity was no longer their enemy.
Having declared that the fight was over, Junichi relayed to the two girls what had happened inside of 《Cross’s》 【Spiritual Zone】 as they walked back to the abandoned construction site they used to enter the 【Alter Field】. All the while, he had to support the unconscious entity that clung onto him like a stubborn koala, creating the bizarre spectacle of a matured adolescent woman being hauled around like a pile of luggage.
The only saving grace for the unconscious girl was that the dark-haired youth had somehow coaxed her into wrapping her arms around his neck, allowing him to reposition himself so that he carried her on his back. And so, while piggybacking the obsidian entity, the group reached the portal that was connected to reality—the one and the same lavender vortex that Rin had created earlier during their infiltration.
Of course, after having returned to reality through the portal with 3 women in tow, Junichi then decided that it would be best for the group to disperse. After all, since the girls were each eye-catching in their own way, having all of them together wandering around the streets in the middle of the night was just asking for trouble, even if they were wearing outfits that concealed their figures.
Now, one might think that the order to scatter would not apply to Rin, as she now lived in the same complex as the dark-haired youth. However, since Junichi asked her to inform those at the hospital of the situation, the ponytailed girl could only nod her head as she, as well as the cerulean-haired athlete, said their farewells.
And so, left with the obsidian entity who was resting peacefully against his back, Junichi made the trek back home as he—along with the girl who wouldn’t let go of him—got into bed and fell asleep.
「I……see. So we returned safely.」
The dark-haired youth murmured, watchfully observing 《Cross》 with narrowed eyes. After having learned of what happened, the obsidian maiden buried her head even deeper into his chest, as though doing her best to press her face against the exposed flesh of his torso.
Yet, Junichi did not dare make the mistake of thinking that this was an affectionate gesture, even if she had practically glued her body to his. After all, he could feel the girl’s entire frame shivering ever so subtly, though the fact that said sensation was transmitted through his bare skin emphasised this trembling even more.
It was evident that there was something on the entity’s mind. However, Junichi purposefully withheld his voice, refraining from disturbing 《Cross》 until she was truly ready to speak her mind.
And then, after a few deep breaths, she finally spoke up with quivering lips.
「Why? Why did you save me?」
As 《Cross’s》 pensive voice echoed plainly throughout the room shrouded in darkness, the dark-haired recipient of this question made no attempts to speak. The reticence that followed was so ear-ringing one would think he was purposefully ignoring her were it not for the fact that his emerald eyes continued to remain locked onto the questioner’s trembling visage.
「It was my fault, you know! It was because of my recklessness that I ended up hurting your sister!」
Faced with such a clear gaze, the puzzled lass was at a loss as to what to do, and so could only resort to squeezing out another confession of her wrongdoings in her fluster. Yet, even though the girl’s features had become crooked with a smile of despair and self-ridicule, the dark-haired boy still refused to speak up as he continued to observe the girl with potent patience.
「And…and even if you forgive me, I’m just going to cause you and everyone more problems, you know! I could turn on you again and…and…」
「Why…? Why aren’t you saying anything?」
No longer able to take the dark-haired youth’s reticence any longer, 《Cross》 croaked out such a plea as she felt herself on the verge of tears. Unlike her previous expressions that were either filled with pent up grief or dyed with self-derision, the obsidian maiden’s current look could only be described with one word: desperation.
It was unclear as to what exactly she had become so desperate for. Perhaps she felt that she needed to be punished for her failure and wanted to know why she wasn’t, or maybe she couldn’t figure out any reason as to why the dark-haired youth would forgive her and so wanted proper justification.
Whatever the case may be, it was clear that 《Cross》 was in dire need of convincing. Even as she sank her head back down in despondency, her want for an answer was all too clear.
Thus, it was only after waiting for the maiden’s questioning to come to an end did Junichi give her what she wanted.
「Why did I save you? It’s because we’re the same.」
At these words, the youth felt 《Cross》 jerk in his embrace, unable to conceal her shock as she practically jolted out of her skin. Yet, despite the sharp gasp that escaped her throat, the obsidian entity showed no signs of trying to interject, and so Junichi continued with his explanation.
「Just as you’re willing to do whatever it takes to protect your important family, I would also delve into the depths of hell to protect mine.」
Indeed. Although the end results of their choices varied, the motivations that drove both of these dark-haired individuals into making those choices were fundamentally the same: a shared desired to shelter those precious to them.
Which is why, even though her actions had endangered Junichi’s family, the young man could not deny that he was capable of empathising with her. He knew what it meant to disregard the risk to oneself in order to obtain the power necessary to defend one’s loved ones all too well.
Yet, as she failed to see how such a sentiment would explain the youth’s choice to save her, 《Cross》 couldn’t help but furrow her brow as she asked for further clarification.
「I’m saying that I understand you. That’s enough for me to consider you as someone important.」
The youth declared, spelling things out plain and simple.
Junichi was able to understand 《Cross》.
Although their time together was short, Junichi did not regard his contracted ［Counterpart］ as a bad person. Even if he didn’t truly trust her, he was at least able to grasp that 《Cross》 had the best of intentions. That was why, despite her mistake in concealing her assimilations from him, Junichi simply warned the entity instead of outright ending her life.
And, while his claim of 《Cross’s》 significance was not made completely based on his emotions, as the calculative gains involved with her presence could not be disregarded in its entirety, Junichi’s heart coincided with his assertion that the ［Counterpart］ was someone who he should regard with great importance.
Someone who he should regard as family.
「That’s why it no longer matters what you think. I’ve decided that I’m going to protect you, so resign yourself, idiot.」
At this statement, Junichi lightly patted the obsidian girl’s hair, the rugged contours of his palm gently stroking against her skull as she flinched at his touch. Yet, despite the roughness of his hand, the warmth transmitted through her cranium caused her unaccepting heart to waver as a flood of emotions forced tears to fall from her trembling eyes.
Interestingly enough, what caused the dam that contained this wave of emotions to burst was how the hand patting her head resembled that of her deceased father’s. A rough hand, battered by the battlefield, which possessed an enigmatic strength that made one want to rely on it along with unmistakable warmth and kindness.
Hence, spurred by this nostalgic feeling of wanting to entrust herself to the owner of said reliable hand, 《Cross》 shivered in Junichi’s embrace as his warmth enveloped her in a soft and soothing darkness.
And, upon seeing the girl bawling into his chest, Junichi continued to pat her head as he reaffirmed his convictions to himself once more.
(This girl……she’s like me from back then: trying too hard to do everything by herself.)
(If I didn’t have shishou, then I might have also become like this. If I leave her alone, then……)
(……in that case, I’ll do exactly what shishou did for me. I’ll take Kuro in and be there for her.)
She will be the 《Cross》 that I shall bear.
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