"Would you leave her alone already? Can't you see she's pissed?"
"Hiyori? What's wrong? You look really annoyed for some reason."
Iki Hiyori gave a start, surprised to see one of her school friends standing over her and giving her a worried look.
"Yama-chan... when did you get here?" she asked, putting down her pencil. Her friend frowned.
"What are you talking about? I've been here all afternoon, just like you," Yama said, pointing at the seat across from Hiyori, where her books and bag had been left unattended. "Did you have a fit or something while I went to the bathroom?"
"For once, no," a young boy said from the seat to Hiyori's right. He had unusual blond hair and clear golden-brown eyes, but his most striking feature was the red tattoo just visible on his collarbone. Like Hiyori and Yama, he had several books stacked in front of him, a worksheet half-filled out in his hands, but unlike Hiyori, he was invisible to everyone in the library but her. "Usually you would have knocked out by now," Yukine noted without looking up, still writing diligently.
Hiyori acknowledged him with a half-smile but did not address him.
"Sorry, Yama-chan, I guess I was daydreaming," she lied sheepishly. "What time is it?"
"The spirit hour is almost upon us," a low voice spoke in Hiyori's ear. She jumped slightly and had to force herself not to react as a familiar scent wafted over her. She hoped no one could see the blush creeping up her face as she gulped and remained pointedly still.
Yama reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out her phone.
"A little over 5," she said. "I guess it's time to go home."
A thin man sat on the table next to her casually, staring out the window behind them. His brilliant blue eyes looked distant and thoughtful, completely at odds with his ratty tracksuit and somewhat suspicious aura. "Home, huh," he muttered. Yama gave no indication that she had noticed him at all.
"Get off the table, you worthless idiot," Yukine scolded, starting a loud argument that only Hiyori could hear.
"Yukine, you ungrateful brat! Don't talk to your master like that!"
"I'll talk to you however I damn well please, you're just a freeloading piece of shit walking around and calling yourself a god!"
What I wouldn't give for some peace and quiet, Hiyori sighed to herself as the argument escalated into a physical altercation.
"Ah, you go ahead, Yama-chan," she said aloud pointedly. "I just want to finish up this paper."
"You sure? You don't want me to walk home with you?"
"I'll be fine," Hiyori waved her off, somehow managing to keep her face passive as the Yato God and his Regalia struggled behind Yama.
"Just go the fuck home already!" the boy was shouting, yanking the older man down by the front of his jersey. "You've been nothing but a pain in the ass all day!"
"I have not!" Yato insisted, "You're the one who's been getting in the way, Yukine!"
Everyone froze and turned toward Hiyori, and she immediately paled.
"Enough what?" Yama asked, puzzled.
"Er... I meant... not enough... studying...?" she ventured, feeling stupid even as she said it.
In the background, Yukine took the opportunity to kick his master in the shin, eliciting a sharp yowl of pain.
"Jeez, some god you are," he scoffed irritably.
"You're really weird sometimes, Hiyori," Yama said as she packed away her things. "I'll see you tomorrow, text me when you get home."
As soon as she was gone, Hiyori rounded on the man in the tracksuit.
"I didn't do anything!" he immediately whined.
"I've had it up to here with you today!" she growled, rolling up her sleeves. "Don't you know you're supposed to be quiet in the library?! What kind of example are you setting for Yukine-kun?!"
"B-but no one even noticed me!"
"I noticed you, you jersey-wearing creep."
Yato sensed danger and hastily hid behind Yukine.
"Eeek, I'm sorry!" he shrieked, but Yukine stepped neatly out of the way as Hiyori decked him.
"Moron," he scoffed, rolling his eyes as Yato burst into dramatic tears. "Even the densest human is gonna see you if you keep making such a racket," he warned, returning to his seat and flipping open a dictionary. "I'm not sticking up for you when they kick you out. Hiyori won't either."
"That goes without saying," she huffed, turning away from Yato's pathetic expression. She glanced at the sky outside the window. It was quickly getting dark. "And here I was hoping to finish before closing time..."
"Don't worry, Hiyori. We'll walk you home," Yukine said without looking up from his work. "Just study as much as you need to."
Hiyori smiled and gave his messy hair an affectionate ruffle. "You're so dependable, Yukine-kun. Unlike someone I know."
Yukine blushed slightly but straightened up with what was unmistakably pride.
"Someone has to be," he said as Yato sniffled behind her.
"But... I just wanted to go on a date with you, Hiyoriiii," Yato whined, tugging at the back of her blazer. "I haven't seen you in days!"
Hiyori felt her cheeks redden but pointedly refused to look at him.
"And whose fault is that?" she huffed. "You can't just show up out of nowhere and demand I go on a date with you! I have things to do too!"
"You're my girlfriend aren't you?!"
Hiyori's heart skipped a beat despite herself.
Yukine gave an exasperated sigh.
"I have no idea what you see in that, Hiyori," he said, shaking his head. "You know you're way too good for him."
"Th-that's not true!" they both said at the same time.
"Yeah, yeah," Yukine said, waving them off. "Go be disgusting where you're not bothering anyone else, you damned idiot couple," he scoffed.
Hiyori and Yato both flushed.
Kobayashi Yasumi knew she was in trouble the moment she stepped into her house and she smelled the incense lingering in the air.
"Oh, crap!" she cursed, unceremoniously dropping her school bag and shoes in the entrance way. She had no time to grab her slippers as she rushed toward the parlor and threw the screen door open.
"You're late!" her mother snapped, looking up from the tatami in front of the family shrine. "I told you you had to be back before 5!"
"I know, I'm sorry, I totally forgot!" Yasumi said, clapping her hands together in apology. Her mother regarded her messy short hair and hiked up skirt with irritation and sighed.
"Hurry and get dressed, before the sun sets."
"Yes, Mom," she said, hurrying up the stairs toward her room, unbuttoning her school blazer as she went. She'd stayed behind after school with some friends, which in and of itself wasn't unusual. Yasumi's mother, Kobayashi Hana, was a single working parent and normally quite lax about her daughter's activities and hours. She trusted Yasumi to be independent and look after herself, and Yasumi had never given her a reason to think otherwise. Hana had put her through a rigorous self-defense program as a child, so whenever she did find herself in trouble, Yasumi took care of it on her own just fine. To any outsiders, Hana seemed like a typical, if somewhat carefree, parent; only Yasumi knew that her mother's casual approach to her daughter's life was less of a gift and more of an apology, tied with a bevy of hidden obligations.
"Should've come home right after class ended," she mumbled to herself as she undressed in front of her mirror. An awkward, gangling girl in the midst of puberty stared back at her. She ran a hand absentmindedly through her boyish hair, tugging at the black strands slightly.
"I guess I cut it a bit too much," she mused, angling her face to get a better look. She paused, appraising her reflection. She was no beauty, but she supposed she was cute in her own, plain sort of way. Her eyes were dark brown and almond shaped, and her face was rounded and soft. She looked perhaps a bit young for her age, and she grimaced as she cast an eye over her lack of curves. There was nothing of her long-deceased father's handsome looks, or her mother's wide, strikingly clear eyes. From the tips of her fingers to every strand of hair, Yasumi was as average a 15 year old girl as she could possibly get.
Normal as dirt, she thought dully, touching the mirror with her fingertips. That was both her blessing and her curse, and the reason she was allowed to get away with as much as she did.
Sighing, she reached for the ceremonial robe draped over her chair and tugged it on over her bra.
"Huh, you're new."
Startled by the unfamiliar voice, Yasumi shrieked and tripped over her own feet, nearly bringing the mirror crashing down off the wall. She whipped around, expecting to find an intruder in her bedroom, but it was empty. Pulling the robe firmly closed over her chest, she nervously inched toward the open window and peered out into the garden.
The afternoon light was taking on a ruddy color, casting long shadows over the plants and the magnolia tree in the center, but she couldn't see anyone or anything out of the ordinary in the shadows.
"Yasumi? Are you alright up there?" her mother's voice called.
"Y-yeah, I'm fine! I just tripped!" she shouted back into the house. Frowning to herself, she cast one last look out the open window and shook her head. "Relax, you're imagining things, Yasumi," she told herself. "It's not like anything will have changed just 'cause it's your birthday."
If it were that simple, she'd never have worried about it in the first place.
In the shadows of the street below, a hooded figure watched the fluttering fabric of Yasumi's open window with practiced nonchalance. The evening sun glinted off the glass, casting a blinding reflection and forcing a group of passing students to shade their eyes as they walked, laughing at some joke only they understood. The figure did not make any move to get out of their way, but the students automatically walked around without so much as a glance in their direction. The figure watched them go for a moment in silence, then shoved their hands deep into their pockets and leaned back against a street pole lazily.
"Kobayashi, huh..." the figure said thoughtfully. "Man... What a pain."