Tomorrow is a Long, Long Time (When You've Lost Your Way)
A Tenjou Tenge/High School DxD crossover fanfiction by Yukikaze101
Neither Tenjou Tenge nor High School DxD belong to me. My bank account would look way different if they did!
Spoilers for Tenjou Tenge, post-manga conclusion (chapter 136), and High School DxD, post-Volume 4 of the light novel.
Relevant tags: Crossover pairing (Masataka x Serafall), fluff, hurt/comfort, mild Nagi-bashing
After all was said and done, nothing had really changed. All the suffering, all the sacrifices, resulted in a situation that was very similar to the original status quo.
There was probably a lesson there, but Masataka couldn't muster the give-a-damn to take notice of it. It was as if that energy was gone forever, along with his original arm.
"I'm sorry, sempai." Madoka looked extremely crestfallen. "This isn't working, is it?" And it was only their third date, too. Somehow, though, he hadn't been fully surprised; something had been slightly off since he picked her up.
"No," Masataka agreed gently. He was fighting the urge to bury his head in his hands. Somehow, this felt like his very last chance slipping between his fingers.
"I-it's not your fault at all, sempai!" Madoka had added, and even though it had been completely sincere, it still sounded like a formula to his ears. "You're very nice, and cute, and the strongest fighter in school - "
"It's all right, Madoka-chan," he told her, smiling gently. "It's not your fault, either. Sometimes people just don't click." The words felt like nails driven into a coffin lid.
Three weeks later, Madoka took up with a first-year kyudo practitioner. Aya was effusive in her sympathy, while Nagi had just sneered, like the idea of Masataka thinking a girl could actually find him attractive was laughable. He wasn't sure which stung more.
The biggest problem with being "the reliable one," Masataka had found, was that people tended to forget that you needed support too. The squeaky wheel, after all, was the one that got the grease. The ones who quietly managed to stay on their feet tended to go unnoticed until they broke, and as often as not got yelled at for daring to demonstrate weakness.
And so it went with his tenure as head of the Juken Club… now the Executive Council.
Aya, as his second, did her best to help, but was frequently busy with her own things. The others meant well, but tended to follow rather than lead. And Nagi, well… there were times Masataka was certain he made things harder just because he could. Nagi Souichiro might have grown as a person since the moment he arrived at Toudou, but he was a delinquent through and through. His personality had never quite stopped rubbing Masataka the wrong way, and he was fairly certain that wouldn't change.
Inevitably, the next Tournament came. Masataka and Aya had spent months focusing the club of training, on teamwork, on learning to read each other. It paid off handsomely; the Juken Club mowed through the opposition like a katana slicing through chaff. The club's ascendancy was assured for another year, and all the cheering was directed at Nagi and Aya. The latter made an effort to applaud everyone in the club, including Masataka, for their efforts. Nagi hadn't even tried, content to accept the praise like a hero being paraded through his hometown.
Aya and Nagi had taken center stage during the bouts. Masataka had gotten hold of the videos of the Tournament from three years before, and the way the two of them fought and moved together reminded him uncomfortably of his brother and Maya-san. The realization left him feeling sour for the rest of the Tournament, though his focus on behind-the-scenes coordination meant that no one noticed.
"So. Graduation day, huh?" Bunshichi was wearing an ill-fitting suit, and smiled wanly around his omnipresent cigarette. His legs were as healed as they were ever going to get, and his limp was barely noticeable. Masataka didn't recognize the buxom brunette on his arm.
"Bunshichi-san…" Around them, the rest of Toudou's graduating class was surrounded by their visiting families and relatives. Bunshichi was Masataka's only guest, and even most of the Juken Club seemed in a polite rush to have things over with. Aya was already mentally trying Masataka's mantle on for size, and Nagi was all but preening as if he were the heir to the throne.
"You got the small fry through intact, kid. None of them really tried." Bunshichi slapped Masataka approvingly on the back. The younger man realized that this was as close to an atta-boy as he was gonna get from anyone.
"Thanks," he said softly, glancing around. It was almost as if the place had already moved on from him, without him.
He found himself eager to return the favor.
The minute the ceremonies were over, Masataka slipped out the gate, shouldering the large gym bag that had been packed for months. He didn't spare the campus a second glance as he left. The school had already taken its pound of flesh, and then some.
The entire taxi ride to Narita, he gripped the one-way plane ticket and his passport as if they were protective talismans.
Two months on Australia's famed Gold Coast, spent either drunk or in bed with tourists or barmaids, didn't help as much as he'd hoped.
On some level, he supposed that he no longer doubted that women could find him attractive. Hopes for more than that, though… well, he really shouldn't have expected more. He would have said he had no hopes of magically meeting Miss Right while here. He would have said that he was a fool if he expected to. But it turned out there were traces of that fool inside him anyway.
The first night had set the tone for the rest of the trip:
Masataka had been drinking in the hotel bar, and was talking to a pretty girl from San Francisco named Mindy. She'd been pleasantly surprised by his ability to speak Chinese, and by the time an hour had passed, it was pretty clear what she had in mind.
He invited her to his room, and they nearly broke the bed.
Afterwards, she rested her head on Masataka's chest, chuckling. "That was good, but it wasn't me you were fucking," she said, looking up at him knowingly. "Let's try that again. Try thinking about me..." she told him teasingly, sliding out of his arms and straddling him.
So, this time, he kept his mind on her, and her cries caused the people next door to bang on the wall angrily.
He came to slowly with the mid-morning sun shining into his eyes, and the sound of Mindy on the phone with her fiance. She was telling him that she missed him, and was looking forward to him arriving that night.
She hung up, and noticed Masataka was awake. Smiling, she said, "His flight isn't in until six. Want another go?" Just like that.
Masataka had regretted it afterwards. But that hadn't stopped him from accepting the offer. This time, Mindy didn't ask who he was "actually" fucking.
Admittedly, it took quite some time for the appeal of whiskey and easy sex to wear off completely. But, by the end of the trip, he was ready for something else. Even if he wasn't sure what that "something else" should be.
He bought a ticket back to Tokyo.
It wasn't a matter of duty, or money. His father had been restored as head of the Takayanagi family (and, considering Mitsuomi's condition, that meant he would be as well, eventually). After the mess with F and Sohaku, though, it was even money whether that would ever mean anything again. No doubt the vassal families would be just as happy to politely ignore any directives he issued, and Masataka had a hard time blaming them.
At least the remaining Takayanagi holdings were still substantial. The surviving family members had enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. (His father was likely to see that sooner than later, after all he'd done, but Masataka had a hard time summoning tears over that. Mitsuomi was a different story, but since Maya's passing he preferred to live in seclusion. Masataka had little doubt that, sooner or later, he would be the last Takayanagi. How he felt about that, and whether he wanted to take steps to counter that, were things that his mind kept shying away from.)
No, it was that he had no idea what to do next. There was literally no one waiting for him. The thought of walking the world to hone his skills had occurred to him, but he'd quickly discarded it. The Art was something he'd never be able to set aside, but he was through with it consuming his life.
During the years at Todou, all he'd wanted was a quiet life. (Well, almost all.) Now he had it, and was feeling increasingly ambivalent about it. No doubt that having no one to come home to was casting a pall. That was hardly anything new, but back then he could at least hope that, once he was free of Toudou, things would be different.
One thing he did know, though: he was going to need a degree. Even if he didn't actually need to work, virtually any job he was likely to want would require one. And, he knew, eventually he would want to work. A completely aimless and purposeless life, even one of leisure and luxury, would drive him mad.
If he weren't there already. He couldn't swear to it.
Kuoh's business and political science programs had a good reputation. Masataka's gap between graduation and application had raised some eyebrows, but his entrance exam scores were high enough to get him in. He rented a small apartment near the campus, buying some nice furniture on a whim. For the first time in years, a place felt kind of like his own, as opposed to someplace to rest his head between fights.
Walking around Kuoh Town was strange. It was far calmer and brighter than Toudou and its surrounding neighborhood. At the same time, though, there was something… odd about the place. Not malign, not really, but Masataka's ki kept pricking. There were… magicians around here, or youkai, or something else. Maybe all three. And in surprisingly noticeable numbers, for those who had the ability to take note.
He felt a little disappointed. Even after he'd left Toudou, he'd wound up somewhere else that he'd need to keep his guard up.
Masataka was only a few steps onto the campus before he realized something was a bit off. There were way more in the way of adults and little kids wandering around than he expected. He flipped through his materials quickly, and grimaced as he realized that it was class observation day. Somehow, the idea of families being here flicked him on the raw.
He closed his eyes and forced the reaction away. It was an ungracious thought. A deep breath, and he mentally reviewed the courses he needed to register for today. Turning in the direction of the registrar's office, he started to walk - and collided with someone.
"Oh, I'm sorry, excuse me!" he blurted out, looking at the person he'd walked into -
He was staring at a beautiful young woman, little older than himself (if that). She had long, lustrous black hair drawn into twintails, and big turquoise eyes. As for what she was wearing...
His first coherent thought was: Is there a cosplay event here today too? What's with the hot girl in the Milky Spiral 7 outfit?
"I'm sorry, too," she was saying, breaking him out of his quasi-ogling. "I should have been watching where I was going too…"
Serafall was boooooored.
The attention from the photographers was nice, but kept getting in the way of her getting to So-tan and Icchan. Time spent with her adorable sister, and her nearly-as-adorable future brother-in-law, was a priority! The meetings with the other Maou, and the other leaders of the Great Factions, were definitely important, but making sure her younger siblings were getting along as young lovers should was all-important for the House of Sitri.
At least the meetings were over for the day, and she was free to go visit them. Humming softly to herself, she had just worked her way through the crowd to an empty gap near the registrar's office. She grinned and prepared to dash the rest of the way - and was nearly thrown off her feet by someone colliding with her.
"Oh, I'm sorry, excuse me!" a young man's voice cried out, his tone thick with apology.
"I'm sorry, too," she started. "I should have been watching where I was going too…" She took mental stock of the young man who had almost knocked her over. He had slightly shaggy brown hair and brown eyes. His build was lean and athletic, and he wore a black windbreaker over a grey Polo shirt, blue jeans, and black sneakers.
Her first thought was: Hmm. He's cute enough, but he doesn't really stand out… Wait.
One didn't become a Maou without learning how to read people. And under that young man's placid exterior, Serafall sensed stormy depths.
She could already sense the awakened, controllable ki inside him. His body language and physique also told a tale. Combining those with the well-honed, economical grace of his movements, the equation seemed to add up to "experienced martial artist with ki manipulation ability."
Very interesting. What was someone like him doing here? She wanted to find out. There was also the knowledge that she had several unused Evil Pieces.
Today was looking up already!
The young man eyed her, apparently satisfied that she was all right. "Well, if you're all right, then…"
"Wait!" she blurted out. "What's your name?"
He blinked and stared at her, clearly surprised. After a moment, rote courtesy seemed to take over, and he offered a polite bow. "Please excuse me. I'm Takayanagi Masataka."
"Nice to meet you, Masa-chan!" she said excitedly, blowing right past his shock at the extremely familiar form of address. "I'm Serafall Leviathan. But you can call me Sera-chan!" She winked and flashed a sideways V in front of her right eye. For a moment she seemed to be surrounded by sparkles.
Masataka stared at her again for a long moment, taking her in. For a moment, there was a look in his eyes of… not-quite-recognition. More like something about her reminded him of someone else. She knew that look. Finally, he smiled, seeming to take it in stride, and said, "Nice to meet you, Sera-chan." A look of reluctance crossed his features, and he glanced at his watch.
"What are you doing right now?" Serafall asked. Strike while the iron is hot, she thought. No other reason.
"I was headed to the registrar's office," Masataka answered, his tone curious. There was a definite undercurrent of "Do you have a better idea?" She smiled inwardly; the hook was baited.
"Come have lunch with me! I was going to eat with my sister and her fiance, but you seem interesting." Serafall had long since perfected the emulation of artless charm. In this case, though, it wasn't fully an act. After several days' worth of meetings, here was someone new and genuinely interesting.
Masataka nodded, smiling gamely. "That sounds like more fun. Sure, I'm all yours, then."
"Good!" Serafall abruptly grabbed his arm and started pulling him in the direction of the school gate.
"So you're not a student, then?" Masataka said, as they worked on their lunches. They'd grabbed food from a ramen stand a few blocks from the campus, and now picnicked under a stand of trees just inside the gate.
Serafall held up a hand as she finished swallowing her bite. She washed it down with a gulp of iced tea, then shook her head. She did all of it with gusto; Masataka got the feeling that was part and parcel of her personality. "Nope! I came to see my sister. She, her fiance, and their friends all go here! They're in the high school division, though, so you probably won't run into them."
Masataka nodded in understanding. The reference to a high school engagement stung less than he'd expected. "I see, then. Ah, Sera-chan… I'm sorry, but do you work in entertainment?" He gestured awkwardly at her attire.
She laughed and shook her head again. "I'm an actual magical girl. Don't you believe me?" She looked up at Masataka, a soulful look in her turquoise eyes. He flushed, trying not to get lost in them.
Serafall laughed, a tone of good-natured teasing laced into the sound. "I'm sorry to tease, Masa-chan. I actually work for the government." She fingered the hem of her skirt. "I just enjoy dressing up in my free time."
"Good for you!" Masataka said effusively, and he meant it. He had already started getting the idea that there was more to her than her childish appearance.
For a moment, he had a mental flash of someone else that might have applied to. He shook his head, mentally shying away from the memory of Maya's sardonic smile.
"Masa-chan?" She was looking at him curiously. "Are you all right? Something wrong with the ramen?"
"No, no, I'm fine," he insisted, smiling nervously. "Sorry. Was thinking about something. You…" He rubbed at the back of his head. "You remind me a little of a friend of mine."
"Ohh?" Serafall relaxed and elbowed him playfully. "A girl?" A teasing grin blossomed on her face.
"Um, yeah," Masataka answered, feeling the bottom drop out of his stomach. "You remind me of how she was."
"How she w - " Serafall's hand quickly flew to her mouth, eyes suddenly remorseful. "Oh. Masa-chan, I'm sorry…"
Masataka raised his hands, trying to stave off her guilty reaction. "It's okay, really! I mean, there's no way you could have known. She… passed away almost two years ago."
Serafall relaxed slightly, but still looked slightly guilty. "I'm still sorry. I do understand, though. Friends of mine have died before. It's not an easy thing to deal with."
"No, it's not," he agreed, looking appraisingly at her. It occurred to him that she was probably rather older than she looked. Between the way she talked about death, and working for the government… He needed to stop underestimating this girl.
Just like Maya-san again, he thought ruefully.
Serafall's eyes were on his again, and he somehow got the feeling she could sense where his thoughts were headed. "You two must have been close," she observed.
"We went through a lot of rough times together," Masataka answered. "The school we went to… it wasn't a very nice place. People got hurt regularly. Sometimes worse than hurt. She was one of…" Stop it, you're saying too much, he told himself. Not that it mattered; after all this time, the faucet was open, if only at a trickle. "She was killed in a fight."
Serafall's eyes widened, and she sucked in a sharp breath. "That's terrible," she said softly. Her expression was angry, but on his behalf, and that made him feel a warmth that he'd forgotten the sensation of. "What about your parents, or the faculty…"
"The faculty was useless," he answered tiredly. "And our families… they were neck-deep in what was going on. It was… bad." One short word to sum up everything, from the moment a young Maya innocently let her brother touch Reiki, to the moment she'd fallen.
"Have you talked to someone about… all this?" Serafall asked with complete seriousness. It could have been a derisive comment on his mental state, but her expression and the genuine concern in her eyes told Masataka otherwise.
The first person to show him genuine compassion in months, maybe years, was an eccentric government worker who did magical girl cosplay in her free time. It was almost a cosmic joke.
But… she was kind. He could sense that much about her. When she was expressing concern, it wasn't a polite nothing. And she understood about loss.
And she was sure easy on the eyes…
No more underestimating her, he told himself.
"I haven't," he admitted, then, carefully, asked, "Are you offering?"
"You might find some of it hard to believe," he told her, then adding, "I was there, and I find it hard to believe."
"You might be surprised what I'm capable of believing," she said, a touch of dry humor entering her voice.
He chuckled softly and nodded. "Thank you." He took a deep breath before starting to speak.
Serafall listened silently as he told her everything. By his own admission, there were gaps and things that couldn't be explained, but everything he said had the ring of truth (or, at least, that he genuinely believed that those events had happened). The look in his eyes as he spoke convinced her of that.
A high school where literally everything was decided by brutal combat?
Time travel and reincarnation?
Multi-generational plots by sinister cabals and eternally-feuding families?
One person's mistake triggering a cascade of tragic events?
A ragtag bunch of misfits evolving into a pseudo-family… with all of the brokenness and virtually none of the camaraderie?
Sadly, each and every part of it was feasible to someone like Serafall Leviathan. Particularly the part about Masataka's own father adding to the whole mess, with his whole "true warrior" fixation. Oh, she could very well believe it. She'd witnessed the things that even genuinely loving parents could to to their children in the name of "the good of the family," or things even less ostensibly noble.
She studied him as he related the tale, his voice slightly hollow. She could feel him, the tight focus and control, the ability to manipulate ki, the simultaneous rage and exhaustion beneath the placid exterior. The lean, worked hardness of his body had not gone unnoticed, either.
The King in Serafall Leviathan saw the golden opportunity before her. A powerful, focused, and versatile martial artist? He would make a fine Rook, although… there was a certain appeal in the thought of him as her Knight. And he was emotionally and mentally unstable, to boot, in desperate need of a purpose and someone to pat him on the head and tell him he was a good boy. What he wasn't was a fool, but she knew the right combination of sweet talk and kept promises could win him over, and keep him won over, with ease.
The part of her that strove to be a decent person, the part that wore the Magical Girl persona, saw a sweet young boy who'd suffered numerous traumas. She wanted to hug him, take him home, and keep him wrapped in a blanket. And maybe go out and kick the asses of everyone at that school. And then visit the Underworld and wring Natsume Shin's neck, for all the good that would accomplish.
The part of her that was a woman? She was… it was hard to tell. But it was clear that this boy had made an impression on her.
She started briefly, realizing he'd reached the point where they'd met. It was as if she were so swept up in the tale that she hadn't noticed it was over. Taking a ragged breath, she looked at him with a sincerely sympathetic expression, reaching for his hand and squeezing it. "I'm sorry, Masa-chan," she said, her tone that of a mother trying to soothe away her son's bruises.
Serafall felt, rather than saw, something in him suddenly crack at her sympathetic words. A spike of guilt went through her as she realized that her words might have been the first expression of care and concern he'd received in… years, maybe? Tears started rolling down Masataka's face, and he tried to form coherent words, but instead he was gasping for air like a drowning man.
Serafall rose, enfolding him in her arms, and he buried his face in her right shoulder, his body wracked with silent sobs. She squeezed her own eyes shut. There was an odd, twisting pain inside her, a pain she somehow knew could only be eased by soothing his. Awkwardly, she rubbed his back, pressing her cheek to the side of his head.
As Masataka was telling it, he realized something. The situation had been utterly insane when he was neck-deep in it. But from an outside perspective? It was even more fucked up! How had any of them survived? Was it even a good thing he'd only spent two months in the bottle, or did that actually mean he was too stupid to know when to stay permanently high for his own peace of mind?
He didn't know the answer. It seemed increasingly unlikely that he ever would, or that he'd like the answer if he ever managed to find it.
Serafall was listening patiently, unfazed but not unmoved by his tale. He already could tell she was older, in both years and mileage, than she looked. The way she talked about loss, as something she'd experienced firsthand, made that perfectly clear. Now, though, he was getting the impression that the shit she'd seen was as bad as what he'd gone through. Maybe even worse.
And then she said the words.
"I'm sorry, Masa-chan."
He could not, for the life of him, remember the last time anyone expressed real concern, real care, for him. Not Mitsuomi or their father. Not even Maya-san or Bunshichi-san, not with how eyes-deep they were in their own issues and traumas.
Something inside him crumbled, and he buried his face in Serafall's shoulder, shoulders heaving as he sobbed silently. He dimly felt her arms encircle him, an action more intimate than any of the trysts in the Gold Coast, and let himself mourn.
"Thank you," he said softly, sometime later. The sun hung far lower in the sky, now, and Serafall's presence was a balm to him. "I'm sorry about that."
"Don't be," she assured him. "You've been holding that in for a long time, with no one to vent to." She shook her head. "Not even your family." Her phrasing made it a statement, rather than a question.
Masataka shook his head, and added, "I went and saw them when I got back to Japan. My brother is living alone, and he's… well, he's ready. I think he thinks he'll be reunited with Maya-san and Shin-san." He smiled wanly at Serafall's skeptical expression. "Yeah, I don't know, either. As for my father, he's still living in that tiny apartment. I'm not sure he even realizes he's done anything wrong, even after everything that's happened."
"That's typical." Serafall's voice was thick with contempt. "Believe me, Masa-chan, a lot of the time, people seem to almost hate the ones who clean up their messes. They're living reminders that they're not perfect. No, they'd rather act like nothing ever happened, and pretend that the people who saved their asses don't exist."
That, Masataka thought, was a terribly cynical statement. It was also a terribly accurate one. He thought he detected some anger on his behalf in her tone, which made him feel oddly pleased. More than that, though, there was a note of personal experience in her voice, and he told her as much.
Serafall's slightly manic grin returned. "I'm not just a pretty face, Masa-chan!"
"No, you're not," he agreed, then flushed, realizing how that could be taken. "I-I mean, of course you're pretty, I'd even say beautiful, but - I mean - "
Serafall giggled, finding his reaction charming. She smacked his shoulder, and he was amazed by how much force there was behind an obviously playful punch. That felt like it was gonna leave an actual bruise.
The two of them lapsed into a companionable silence, finally broken by Serafall. "At least now you can live like you want, and study what you want to." She cocked her head thoughtfully. "What do you have in mind?"
"Probably political science or business," Masataka answered. "Kuoh's programs for those have a good reputation."
Serafall wrinkled her nose. "I suppose they do. But is that really what you want? You'll have to deal with a lot of what I just mentioned…"
"You're probably right," he agreed. "But those and martial arts are the only things I have anything resembling a background in…" He let out a bitter laugh. "I'm pretty sure there isn't a degree program for what I really want, anyway."
"And what's that?" Serafall asked curiously. "Don't worry, I won't make fun," she added before Masataka could speak. "I never criticize people's dreams."
"It's really not…" He let out a sigh. "Ever felt like some people just… stumble into what they want, without even trying? While you have to work your ass off just for something you find to be just… acceptable?"
"I think everyone does, sometimes," Serafall answered philosophically.
"Even more than that…" Another sigh, and Masataka closed his eyes, pushing the words out in a torrent. He was almost afraid that if he let himself pause, he'd lose the nerve. "I want to be loved and valued. I want to be respected and supported as a friend, instead of as an asset or tool who's discarded the moment any weakness is displayed. I want someplace to call home, and someone to love and love me and make that place home for me. Maybe with a kid someday… that part's up for debate. But, overall… yeah. That's what I want," he finished, before adding bitterly, "The things that the people I knew just tripped into without looking."
After a moment of silence, he added in a weakly joking tone, "...but there's no degree program for that, so I'll probably go poli-sci."
Serafall was silent. Her expression was hard to read. Masataka didn't get the impression that she was disgusted, or offended, but at the same time he couldn't quite figure out what she was.
He rubbed the back of his head, feeling guilty for spilling that mess of words and emotions on her. "Heh. I'm sorry. That's a lot to dump on a complete - "
She held up a hand, her face now somehow contemplative. After a moment, in a thoughtful voice, she asked, "What if I could?"
Masataka blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"What if I could offer you that?" She leaned forward, expression suddenly intense. He had to fight the urge to recoil. Those blue eyes were at once mesmerizing and inhuman. "A home. Friends and family who would have your back, no matter what. Love, and the chance for a family. What would you say if I offered you those?"
Masataka stared at her, feeling oddly like the ground was slipping out from under him. "Could you deliver?" The words came out before he could formulate a more reasoned response, and he immediately regretted saying them. Something told him Serafall didn't make offers she couldn't pay up for.
She stood, dusting herself off. All at once, gravitas settled around her like a mantle, and not even the magical girl costume could detract from that. "Masa-chan, you can use ki, right? You're aware of the supernatural?"
"Yes." Masataka stood. He was inwardly kicking himself. The idea that Serafall might be a literal magical girl had never even occurred to him. He closed his eyes briefly, reaching gently with his ki towards her. No need to be rude, a light touch would - ohh.
She was a walking wellspring of magical energy. He was a lighter flame next to a forest fire, in comparison.
Serafall smiled slightly, nodding as if having expected the gentle probing. "What do you know about gods and devils?"
I'm probably face to face with a goddess right now, Masataka thought, and he was pretty sure the thought was visible on his face. Aloud, he said, "I know some. I've seen men and women fight empowered by the gods, to the point of virtual possession. And I've seen people sell themselves to demons for power. Or vengeance." He shrugged. "I'm hardly an expert, though."
"Good. There's more, though." She cocked her head, looking at him like a teacher testing her top student. "Is a god always good, then? And, of course, is a demon… a devil always evil? Are they never capable of love?"
"I've seen gods commit cruelties," Masataka replied, a touch of sullenness entering his voice. His right arm ached, in a way that it hadn't for months. Or maybe he'd just stopped noticing the ache. "Atrocities. I can believe devils capable of compassion and love." His eyes widened, then narrowed, in realization. Of course. "Sera-chan… you're a devil. Aren't you?"
She inclined her head, saluting him for a correct answer. "Very good." A pair of ink-black, bat-like wings sprouted from her back and unfurled.
Masataka couldn't help it. A sound that could have been laughter, or crying, or both, spilled out of him, and he clutched his stomach. The first person in recent memory to demonstrate anything resembling care for him… and she was a devil. The absurdity of it was staggering, and he couldn't quite get a grip on his breathing.
Serafall looked at him, perplexed. The expression on her face was that of someone trying to decide whether or not to be offended. "Masa-chan...?" she said carefully. "Are you okay…?"
That penetrated his near-hysteria, and he started breathing again. "Sorry," he gasped, looking up to meet her eyes. He saw surprise, and exasperation, and genuine compassion.
He knew, without a doubt, that there was at least one genuinely good devil. She liked to dress like a magical girl - no, she was a magical girl, in every way that counted.
The warmth he'd felt early, when he'd seen her anger and indignation on his behalf, seemed to flare and spread inside him. Part of him said he should consider the ramifications. The rest of him didn't care anymore.
He straightened up, swiping the tears and spittle from his face with his jacket's sleeve, and looked Serafall in the eye. "If you said it, Sera-chan, I'd believe it. I'd accept. If you were the one offering."
Serafall stared at him, her cheeks pinking. For the first time in a very long time, she didn't know what to say. It wasn't from a lack of choices, though.
The King in her screamed that he was handing himself to her on a silver platter, and that she should shove an Evil Piece into his chest before anything else happened. (It was Kuoh, after all. Something else always happened. Exactly how often did So-tan and Icchan get through a date without having to throw down with someone at least once? Serafall wouldn't be an aunt for another decade, at this rate!)
The Magical Girl in her… actually agreed, but for less opportunistic reasons. (Well, less selfishly opportunistic reasons, anyway.) Something about Serafall's kindly side was finding it hard to see him as anything other than a puppy that needed a home, and a girl to take care of him, and was demanding to be that girl. (That side of her psyche was, metaphorically, picking up a chibi version of Masataka and hugging him to her chest, dancing around gleefully.)
And the Woman? She had yet to voice a coherent thought on the subject. But what Masa-chan had said he wanted, the thing his words implied he wanted most of all, were clearly resonating with her.
Serafall felt herself coming to a decision, for reasons both kind and selfish, and she couldn't tell right now which was which.
"Serafall-sama." A magical communications circle, bearing the Sitri sigil, appeared before her.
"What?!" she blurted out, frustration overcoming her momentarily. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Masataka watching her with confusion and curiosity.
"My apologies, Serafall-sama. But Azazel-sama and Michael-sama have extended an invitation to dinner, and Sirzechs-sama plans to attend as well."
Serafall let out a frustrated sigh, and nodded. "My apologies for the outburst. Thank you, and please tell the other delegates that I'll be along presently." She dismissed the circle, and turned towards Masataka with a tired half-smile. "Work," she said simply.
"I understand work," he said, his expression mirroring hers. "Um, are you on LINE?" he added, fishing out his phone.
"On - ah, yes!" Serafall produced a phone in a Miracle Levia-tan case and fiddled with it. After a moment, his contact details popped up on her screen, and she saw him nod as hers apparently did the same thing. "I'm going to be busy for most of this week, but feel free to message me, and I'll do the same to you." she informed him, and mock-waggled a finger at Masataka. "You'd better!"
"I promise I will, Sera-chan," he said, his smile seeming to brighten. He actually wore the somber look fairly well, but a smile like this one… he looked more like who he was supposed to be. Even if she - or he, for that matter - weren't sure just who that was yet.
Serafall was starting to forget how she could have looked at him and seen him as "unremarkable."
The meetings that would result in the Kuoh Treaty continued apace. Serafall hadn't been able to see Masataka again, although she kept bombarding him with stickers over LINE. He kept replying with smiley-face emojis, and telling her how his preparations for the upcoming term were going.
Her phone pinged, and she perked up as she saw the message from Masataka: Hope work is okay. :) Thought you should know, decided on different major.
Serafall nodded approvingly at that, despite the fact that he couldn't see her. She tapped out a quick answer: Great! :D What did you pick?
After a moment, his reply popped up: Education. I learned a thing or two about being a sensei, maybe I can translate that to being a teacher.
Serafall stared at her phone, a bright and trembling smile bursting out across her face. Like So-tan… She thought. Yes, she could see him thriving as a teacher.
After a moment, another message from him popped up: That makes sense, right?
Serafall all but stumbled over herself to tap out the reply: Definitely! My sister wants to teach too. I think both of you will be great at it! She started to add that he should look So-tan up, but… No, that would look way too weird, a college student wanting to meet with a high school student. Especially to Icchan! A sigh escaped her lips. It was probably time she made sure of things...
She scratched at the back of her head, and composed a group message to two other recipients: Hiiii! Can you two do me a favor?
Three days (and several dozen rounds of exchanged stickers, emojis, and YouTube links with Masataka) later, Serafall had the information she'd asked So-tan and Rias to provide. The latter's hikikomori vampire, Gasper, was a whiz with computers. He had spent almost 50 hours carefully compiling and annotating electronically-gathered reports from Toudou High and the surrounding area. Icchan had more brazenly gone in claiming to be a "prefectural computer security inspector." Several hours later, he'd walked out with a gym bag full of VHS tapes, as well as a portable hard drive full of video files, internal reports and memoranda.
(The latter part had actually sparked a minor argument between So-tan and Icchan about what precisely constituted "hacking," and whether hacking would be considered a permissible task for a summoner.)
Serafall settled in to watch the tapes in chronological order. She started with "Election Tournament 2014." That didn't sound particularly reassuring. And after she watched it, she was particularly unreassured. This was what passed for student elections at Masa-chan's old alma mater? It said things for his fortitude, considering his mention of having been on the Student Council, but…
There were disciplinary reports for the Juken Club, and his name was listed. (Somehow, Serafall wasn't surprised to see grade reports attached, or that Masataka was the only one of the members to have a consistently high deviation value.) Injury reports, too. The newspaper reports that the hikikomori had gathered detailed a large number of officially unexplained injuries and deaths in the area on a regular basis, and the Takayanagi family name seemed to carry both weight and distrust in the area.
The video footage was from a skirmish in a bowling alley that ended up wrecking the building and sending a bunch of people to the hospital, and the brutal free-for-all that had been the 2016 Election Tournament. The 2017 one, for all its violence, was comparatively controlled and sedate. Throughout the events of 2016-2017, Masataka stood out as a central figure, a one-man weapon of mass destruction. And, oddly enough, also as someone who was constantly overlooked and discounted despite the fact.
The thought of what he could do when backed by demonic power flickered through her mind, making the King in her shudder pleasurably.
It was dawn before Serafall switched off the TV, ejecting the last tape. Letting out a long sigh, she sank back against her couch, thinking. Masa-chan… how did you survive that without becoming a monster? How did any of you?
Of course, she'd already made up her mind. This had just driven the point home.
The King and the Magical Girl had already made up their mind about him. And the Woman had finally issued her opinion, which took theirs a step further: He's too good for the name "Takayanagi." Give him a worthier one. Make him a Sitri.
Clearly, that side of her wanted to wrap herself up in that blanket with him.
Serafall's cheeks were cherry-pink at the thought. She was no virgin, but her one serious lover had perished during the war against the Old Satan Faction. Since, there had been quiet liaisons and discreet friendships-with-benefits aplenty. Even those had dwindled since her elevation to Leviathan, though. It had been a very long time, her adoration of So-tan notwithstanding, since thoughts of something serious had occurred to her.
Make him a Sitri. The thought rang through her head again. That part could, and should, wait a while… not that she disagreed with the sentiment. The warmth with which she had started thinking of Masataka only reinforced that.
But as for the rest… yes.
Serafall opened the intricately-crafted box that held her Evil Pieces, and plucked her unused Rook from it. She turned it over in her hands thoughtfully, a smile playing across her lips as she contemplated the person she would offer it to.
Masataka's heart had been racing, just a little, since he saw the LINE message from Serafall. The message had been timestamped around dawn and read: I'm back in town! Let's have lunch, I'll be waiting at the courtyard at 16:00! That was followed by a flurry of stickers, most of them involving sparkling hearts and improbably cute baby animals.
He was excited to see her. How long had it been since he'd felt this way? Aya, it must have been Aya... He drew a slightly shaky breath as he stepped into the courtyard, suddenly self-conscious about the khakis and black Oxford shirt he wore. The dressiest clothing he still had, and he still might be overdressed...
Masataka was a little afraid, even after everything he'd been through, to put what he was thinking and feeling into precise words. Just for now. But the warmth Serafall had started sparking inside him felt like a blazing hearth on a winter's night.
For now, he would be content to call it that.
"Masa-chan!" Serafall was waiting for him in the courtyard, waving excitedly, and the sight of her almost made him stumble. She wore a red and purple kimono, and her hair was arranged into a thick sidebun framing the left side of her face, and artfully disarrayed locks framing the right side. She was stunning, and the smile she gave him was a sunrise after a long, bad night. "I'm baaack!"
"Sera-chan!" Masataka felt his lips forming a grin at the sight of her, and he walked up to greet her at a rapid, ground-eating pace. "Welcome back," he said. "I'm glad to see you." Part of him, even now, had been afraid that his little breakdown had driven her away completely. This, despite the evidence to the contrary. What a fucked-up thing the human mind is, he thought wryly.
"Of course I'm back, silly," she said, almost as if she could read his mind. At this point, it wouldn't have surprised him. "I have a question for you."
"Go ahead," he told her.
Her expression became serious and intense. It felt like what she was about to ask was of great importance to her…
Is this what it feels like to be proposed to? the idle thought occurred, and his cheeks heated at the very idea.
"Did you mean what you said, the other day?" she asked, her tone one of utter gravity.
"Yes," Masataka said positively. It wasn't that he was free of trepidation, but he was sure about her. "And what about you, Sera-chan? Did you? Will you?"
He hadn't thought the wattage of her smile could be turned up. Boy, was he wrong. "Yes! Yes, to both!"
Masataka's eyes widened. He paused, gathering his thoughts, before asking, "All of it?" His emphasis made it clear what he was really, albeit obliquely, asking.
It was Serafall's turn to pause before answering. When she did, though, her voice was rock steady, and so was the look in her eyes. "All of it. I promise you, Masa-chan. The last may take time, but that's all it will take..."
(Much, much later, it would occur to them exactly what their exchange would have sounded like to an outside observer.)
Masataka's heart skipped a beat, and then another. Inwardly, he laughed. Yeah. This is what that must feel like… He closed his eyes, silently committing himself. When he opened them, they returned Serafall's steady, fearless regard. "Then I'm all yours, Sera-chan." He offered his left hand to her.
Serafall grabbed his hand eagerly, tugging him in the direction of the campus gate. As they moved, she slid her hand up his arm, and brought her other one up to join it. There was something decidedly proprietary about the action, and Masataka didn't object to that at all.
"Now what?" he asked as they walked.
"Now," she told him with a mischievous grin. "We talk details. How familiar are you with chess…?"
Every time I have a Tenjou Tenge fic idea, it obsesses me until I've pounded it out. This was no exception. (Yes, I know, it's time and past time there was a sequel to Fumbling Towards Clarity. I'm trying to come up with ideas. ;) ) I would like to make this the starting point of a series, but need help with ideas (well, ideas that don't veer right into lemon territory. I think you guys would get real tired, real quick, of a story that was nothing but Masataka and Serafall banging on every available surface!). The only ideas I have for the next installment is a driving date (either in the Underworld or along Japan's eastern coast), and Masataka somehow having a Nissan Skyline R33.
For those seeking an exact timeframe: this fic begins immediately after the end of Tenjou Tenge. Masataka and Serafall encountering each other takes place during Volume 4 of the DxD light novels… though not in canon continuity. This is an oblique sequel to my fanfic Digital x Dragon: Final Patch (which is itself a sequel to a fic by KurobaraIto), and takes place concurrent with my Digital x Dragon: DLC stories. (Said stories exist mostly as loosely connected scenes in a Google Doc… and as lemon scenes in my head. Not to give spoilers, but you've probably already guessed the identity of the "future brother-in-law" Serafall mentions.) For the sake of simplicity, I am assuming the events of Tenjou Tenge's first flashback arc to take place in 2014.
This was originally intended to be a Masataka/Akeno fic. I still intend to write that, but it didn't really work out for the fic's timeline.
The selection of Serafall stems from the similarities between her and Maya. I'm a MayaTaka shipper (years and years ago, I wrote the first such story under my old account), not so much in a "they're clearly together despite canon!" sense, so much as in an "under the right circumstances, their personalities would be complementary, and they would have a good shot at a stable relationship" sense. It's true that Serafall-to-Maya is an imperfect analogy (Maya's childish facade falls away pretty quickly, whereas Serafall's is less facade and more a combination of actual personality trait and safety valve for her job's stresses), but the similarities are noticeable. And it just reinforced my opinion that a relationship between Masataka and someone like Maya (sans her baggage, stresses, and the little problem of being dead) would work rather well. (Sideways shoutout to Xenriel and gunman, two other fanfic writers who try and cut Masataka a decent deal, often as not with a MayaTaka pairing.)
It's probably painfully clear that I don't like Nagi Souichiro. I won't apologize for that. From word one, he hit every "Do Not Like" button of mine, took far too long to start developing sympathetic traits, and kept stealing the spotlight from characters with greater complexity and depth (Masataka, certainly, but also Aya, Bob, and Bunshichi). If I ever write something that features him in a greater role, be prepared for him to suffer like he's a Madoka Magica character.
1) The fic's title is taken from Phoenix's "Lasso," which was looped continuously during its writing.
2) Serafall's appearance during the last scene is taken wholly from her appearance during the Kyoto arc of High School DxD Hero (and if someone knows a better way to verbally describe the hairstyle she has there, please, for the love of God, tell me!).
3) The term "deviation value," in this context, refers to academic performance. As with GPA, the higher, the better. Masataka's would be 73 (70+ is really good).
4) Masataka becoming a Rook actually has some meta support for it! In Volume 12 of the manga, Bunshichi uses a Rook piece to represent Masataka in his chessboard-based strategy.