The Time of Isolation Hath Come

VIII


Romani considered this to be a suitable reward for himself.

Even if he hadn't actually done anything yet, by the end of the day he would be bound to have done something to justify a reward like this. Also he owed Koneko something for not blurting out what he had done to Sona, so that was also the reason for him being here.

Was it bribery?

…He wasn't going to answer that, it weighed less heavily on his mind that way.

His fingers flickered across the shelves as he glanced through packet after packet of sweet and candy.

There was choice aplenty and with parents day today, he did not doubt he would need every last one of them to make it through it.

Once again, he tried not to think of how that made it sound. Like he was an addict with an obsession to feed. He just had a sweet tooth and needed something for when he got a little stressed, that was all this was. He wasn't much good at interacting with the parents of the children which was why he had been able to avoid it.

Though he wouldn't be able to this time around.

His fingers slipped around the next packet, gummy bears of varying flavours that he knew nothing about.

Sour apple gummy bears?

That sounded as though it would have been a unique experience.

…Why not.

Into his basket they went, he hummed to himself as he walked further along the aisle and glanced up and down, searching for anything else that would suit his tastes. Be they more adventurous or otherwise. It was only when he rounded himself into the next aisle that he noticed that he was not alone in the shop.

He paused, staring down at the other man not a few metres from him, but then quickly turned his attention away from them and focused on his own shopping. The one thing that had barely stood out was that the man was blonde and with long hair, that was about the extent of it.

Romani found his mind moving beyond the shop and the allure of sweets as he stood there, eyes fixed on the array before him.

His thoughts dwelt on the others and everything that had happened with them recently, as well as the fact that some of them didn't really have guardians to visit them. Or if they did, then said guardians were currently not in the best position for it or would otherwise be believed to be hostile.

Namely in the case of Xenovia.

He felt a bit responsible for her, especially as it had been his words which cemented what happened.

It wasn't that he regretted it, regardless of what his own opinion on the matter was when it came to becoming a Devil. The girl was able to make her own choices and, by her own implication, she had been left with no other choice but to turn to the Devils. She was stubborn enough that he knew it was a losing battle when he saw it.

So he had just pointed her away and she seemed to be doing well enough.

As for her current position in the school…

…She could probably do with someone to check up on her academic progress and at least be there for her on the day when all the other parents would be there. Romani did not want to assume, but the idea of being alone while all your classmates got to show off to their families might make Xenovia feel a bit bad.

Regardless of what had been said about the Peerage being a family.

Families took time and a chess piece didn't suddenly build bonds, those had to be made slowly and carefully.

…Asia notwithstanding, the girl had hardly been shown an ounce of kindness in her life and she had clung to those who had shown her good will like she was a drowned man in the ocean being thrown a lifeline.

Perhaps there was more truth to that comparison than he ever wanted to admit.

Still, he had wanted to go and visit Xenovia during the class anyway, and he was sure that Asia would have asked it of him.

Just a small visit to see how she was getting on and to let her know that he hadn't completely thrown off all the responsibility he felt.

She had come to him when she needed help and he wasn't about to let her forget that.

He was still there to help people, even if not in the way he had ever really expected.

Or in a way that he was actually good at.

He was sure that if Lev knew what he was doing, the man would have been smirking at him with that knowing look in his eyes. Then he would probably drop some little hints about the average length of time it takes to become a teacher and all the hoops and hurdles that someone would need to go through to finish the course.

Romani knew how the man worked.

A quiet sigh came out from between his lips, his focus returned to the present as he came to a stop in front of the fizzy drinks and brought up his hand. Dancing his fingers across them before he selected a couple of them - one was mango flavour and one was cherry flavour - and then deposited them into the basket.

Turning, he made to walk past the blonde man in the aisle but his curiosity got the better of him.

Especially when he noticed that, like him, they were not Japanese.

He stopped walking and glanced at what the fellow customer was looking at, then he internally winced as he saw them go for a packet of crisps.

It wasn't so much the snack as much as it was that specific brand.

They weren't good value for money, especially when there were better not far from-

The blonde man turned and looked down at him, Romani froze on the spot and found himself rooted with a sudden case of awkwardness. Immediately he looked away and started to walk, but it seemed as though the world had decided that it was going to ruin his day.

Barely a few steps later, he heard the crisp voice of the man call out.

"Hey."

The urge to keep on walking and ignore the man was strong, but that would have been a bit rude.

And there was something else in the way the man spoke, it was like when he spoke with the headmaster on some occasion. That weird sense of authority in the words shackled around his legs and prevented him from taking another step.

His tongue darting out, wetting his dry lips, he turned back around slowly and offered a nervous smile. "Y-yes?"

If the blonde man noticed his unease, he didn't bother to address it.

It was also the first time Romani got a good look at him, bleached white shirt with a leather jacket over the top, tight jeans and - weirdly enough - aviator sunglasses with a pale yellow lens to them. The man looked at him for a moment and took a short sniff, then turned his head away and waved a hand towards the shelves, soon sheathing his hands into his pockets and frowning, a disgruntled look on his face.

"I'm gonna ask you something and I'd like it if you answer."

Romani rolled his jaw from side to side, there was unease about this conversation but not one that he could immediately see. "...Okay."

"You've been here before, yeah?"

"Yep."

"...Right, thought so." A mutter, the man leaned back and looked the shelves up and down, another short intake of breath before a sigh came next. His head dipped low and shook for but a moment, then came back up and focused once more on Romani. "So then, explain why you were giving such a pained look at my choice?"

Romani froze.

They saw that?

"Uhm-"

"Don't get cold feet now, I'm asking you a question." The demand came again, pinched brows from the man and a hint of iron in the voice, but laced between the words was curiosity. "I'm saying you can give me your opinion. What's the matter with the packet of crisps?"

His eyes lingered on the taller man, then darted for the packet before he found the strength to speak.

Stepping forwards, he nodded towards the shelf in question. "Those ones tend to skimp on the seasoning and the crisps inside of them are a little bit smaller than the others. You do get more but they all weigh the same in the end."

A twitch of the lips was the only indication of disapproval, but it was there.

The man looked back to the packet and leaned forwards, squinting at it, his right hand came up and pushed the underside of his glasses. With exposed eyes, he all but leered at the crisps for a few seconds before removing the hand and dropping the glasses back down onto his face.

"...Alright then. You have a recommendation?"

Somehow, this wasn't how Romani saw a conversation going when he came in here.

But if it was to help someone else out with junk food, then he could spare the time.

Especially if they were a tourist, they tended to be easy targets for that sort of thing.

Romani nodded his head, bringing up his left hand and pointing across towards the packet a bit further down.

Following his gesture, the man stepped across and looked down at it. "...Never heard of this one. Reason?"

"Smaller company." He explained, unlike the other, it wasn't really as well known and was probably more of a local thing. However he had taken that brand a couple of times in the past and of the two of them, he much preferred this one. Also the fact it was cheaper did play into his reason as well. "Not as many crisps, but they're larger and the flavour is a bit stronger. The weight is the same."

"Hmmmm."

It was a low and thoughtful hum, then the man reached forwards and shifted through the packets before grabbing on and pulling it out.

Romani did not hide his surprise at the flavour.

He'd tried the wasabi and beef once and then vowed to never do so again.

It wasn't that it tasted bad, he had rather liked it, but the spiciness was a bit too much for him.

He didn't have a lot of defence against that sort of thing.

The blonde man looked over the packet, held between his index finger and his thumb and brought up before his eyes. Turned left and right within his grasp and then lowered it back down, shooting him a measured look with a slightly narrowed gaze to it.

Romani resisted the urge to swallow, but it was difficult.

They were a rather scary person and this was coming from him, who had met actual monsters.

A stranger deciding on crisp packets shouldn't have been this intimidating, but here he was.

"...Alright then." The man spoke after a few moments, pursing his lips and as he did so, the feeling of pressure on Romani's shoulders vanished as if it had never been there in the first place. With a jerk of his shoulders, the man turned around and walked to the shelves of fizzy drinks and then nodded his head forwards. "You got anything for this as well?"

Despite the question, Romani saw the pointed look towards the basket nestled under his arm and the snacks he had procured.

With a nod of the head, he resumed telling the man all the ins and outs of deciding which of the drinks to take as well as the flavours of them. It had been one of the few little things he had done over the course of living in Kuoh. Finding the right little combination that worked with each individual snack.

Was it a great gift?

Not really, but it had always been a gut feeling.

Though sometimes these combinations worked perfectly well.

Too perfect.

It was a stray thought that entered his mind as he spoke, the brief consideration that he had somehow been using his future sight abilities to indirectly give himself the knowledge of the perfect snack combinations.

It was such a ludicrous thing that he very nearly laughed at it, but held it down.

The notion of it was as bewildering as it was silly.

More than likely there was another reason for it and he very much doubted he was getting visions of the future telling him which cake bar was going to taste the best.

Once he finished with his explanation, he was greeted by the rather bored face of the blonde man. They reached up and scratched behind their ear for a couple of seconds, rolling their jaw from side to side before letting out a short grunt.

Romani found himself under a rather odd look.

"...You put a lot of time and effort into this, don't you?"

It felt a little embarrassing to have it brought up in the open, he felt his cheeks burn and sharply he turned his head. A little laugh escaped him to cloak his nervousness, but it was a pitiful thing. His left hand scratched back and forth across his nape, soon his head was bobbing up and down.

"Yeah…I guess I do…but I take my little joys where I can get them and-"

"Right, right. You don't need to tell me." The man cut him short with a shake of the head, it sounded rude but it didn't sound as such.

He could not explain it.

The man did not care, but it was like they did not care in a nice way?

As if saying that Romani didn't have to force himself, which was a bit considerate.

Or he was misreading the situation and desperately trying to find a way to downplay the effect the man was having on him at the moment. Which was entirely possible and just as likely.

"Come on then."

Romani blinked, the man strode past him and then stopped, turning back and raising a brow.

He met the expectant look with one of bafflement. "Eh?"

"What?" The man frowned. "You think you could provide me with all this advice and then I wouldn't see what it was worth? You're coming with me and we're gonna see if I've wasted my time listening to you."

Turning once more without seemingly being interested in a reply, he brought up his free hand and waved his fingers in a beckoning motion. Despite himself, Romani was soon following after them with his own basket, sure he had finished his shopping but all the same, when did this end up happening?

It felt like he'd stepped into a river and gotten swept away in the currents, but an odd feeling emerged within him.

As though trying to get away was both impossible and rather dangerous.

Payment passed him by like a muted blur, his words came out as a reflex and he ran through the practice as he had done so a dozen times over. But he did make sure to smile and give his greeting to the cashier. He had met them a few times now - more than a few - and the two had some small repertoire between them.

The repertoire being that he said hello and they said it back to him.

And that suited him just fine.

Then he was outside before he even realised it, following after the blonde man with a bag in his hands as the man stopped and turned back around to face him.

A sharp look in the eyes behind the lenses, measuring once more as they looked him up and down, with pursed lips, the blonde stepped close and leaned forwards.

Instinctively leaning back, Romani could do nothing but meet the eyes of the man.

"You still sticking with your choices? Last chance to back out on this."

Why did this sound more serious than just selecting crisp packets and fizzy drinks?

"Y-yes." Despite his best efforts, his voice cracked a little.

The man sniffed once more, then leaned back and brought up the packet, "Good. I'd have been a little miffed if you backed down now. Gotta have some pride in your choices, after all. But whatever…some people are just cowards even over the smallest things."

They were still talking about junk food, right?

Cracking open the packet with a small pop, he reached in and procured a single crisp.

When he woke up this morning, this was not how Romani saw his day going.

And yet now he was watching a stranger eat a crisp with all the tension of a bomb disarming.

Slowly, the man placed it on his tongue and slipped it back, chewing loudly and keeping his expression blank. It went on for longer than Romani was comfortable with, a good ten or twelve seconds before the man finally stopped and swallowed. Rolling his jaw once more, his head angled from side to side before he gave but a single hum.

"...Alright, you pass."

A breath escaped him, though he didn't quite know why.

"Not often I ask for someone's opinion on something, so you should take some pride in that, little man."

…That was a bit mean.

"I'll be sure to remember this place when I come back here, get some more snacks." The man announced, though Romani wasn't sure he was even talking to him anymore. It didn't feel like his words were actually aimed at him.

A faint buzzing came from the man's pocket, he let out a sigh and moved the crisp packet to the other hand, taking out a phone and turning away, walking off as he started the conversation.

"What? No, I popped out for a little break." The man stopped and made a noise. "How did you know where I was-? Nevermind about that, listen. I found this nice little shop with these snacks and-no, I didn't get sushi. I got some crisps and-they're no sushi flavoured, weirdo. Yeah, I took your wallet, and? No, I was gonna but I didn't want to. There was this little guy who warned me against it-yeah?"

The blonde suddenly paused, then turned around and looked at Romani.

He found himself a bit unsettled by the look of the man.

The blonde continued to stare at him for a few seconds, then he spoke into the phone, all while maintaining eye contact. "Yeah. He's still alive. I asked him because he was looking like I was gonna take his firstborn and…is that right? You don't say…"

Swiftly turning back around, the blonde retreated from him and out of sight.

Romani blinked a few times, rather bewildered by that entire ordeal.

"...That was odd." He announced to himself, then shrugged his shoulders and walked on.

If nothing else, it would make for an amusing story he could tell to Leona when he next saw her. She would probably laugh at it.


Issei gave a light shudder and turned his head glancing all around before he felt the frown creep up his face and resume his walk through the halls.

It was as though he could not go more than a few paces without feeling a subtle danger creeping behind him. The chill was like someone pressing ice against the back of his neck and causing him to turn about and face it.

There had been nothing to follow up the sensation yet, but he was no less worried about it.

If only because of the few times he had turned around, he had seen nothing more than a couple of parents milling around in the halls. Moving between classrooms, but that was the extent of it. Nothing that should have caused him to feel that odd sense of danger.

Weird.

"Ah, Issei!"

His eyes closed and his head dropped down, as did his shoulders when the rather cheery voice reached his ears. Putting on his best smile, he turned around and slipped his right hand out of his pocket and brought it up in greeting.

Kiba smiled just a bit wider as he approached, the blonde lowering his own hand until he was walking in step with Issei. "Mrs Archaman told me that I missed yourself and Asia on your walk to school, I was a touch surprised that you were an early riser."

Issei gave a faint grunt. "Roman-sensei was ahead of even us. Asia said he went out early to the shops before he was coming here…I'd assume it was because all the teachers and stuff had to be in early for the parents day or whatever. That sounds about right…though…Not sure why that would apply to Roman-sensei…"

He found himself muttering, cupping his chin for a moment as he did so.

The nurse did not have the same sort of responsibilities as the other teachers…but then again, it was entirely possible that it was just a general thing.

Meh.

Probably wasn't all that important in the first place, he reckoned.

"Still, some of the parents seem to have been a touch over enthusiastic." Kiba remarked, keeping the conversation going as they strode through the halls, passing a couple of others as they did so.

Sure enough, Issei's worst fears came to pass.

All of the other students they passed - especially the girls - all looked at him as if the sky had just turned bright pink. A sort of dumbfounded expression that would have otherwise been cute for him…if it was not accompanied by the dark glares and muttered whispers that he was somehow blackmailing Kiba into being around him.

Issei wasn't even sure he had anything he could blackmail Kiba with in the first place.

"Yeah, but they probably have kids that are talented or something…" Issei found himself replying back before he could really stop himself. His feet suddenly felt like lead weights, his legs rooted themselves to a spot beside the window. His eyes turned and looked down, a view of the entrance to the school.

Both students and parents still entering, even now.

"Something worth showing off…" His hand scratched the underside of his chin for a moment, then shook his head, eyes turning back to Kiba and noticing the way the blonde was staring at him. An expression that seemed as though the boy wanted to say something but was struggling to find the words.

Being looked at like that was a little uncomfortable for him.

"Eh, I'm used to it." With a shrug, he put on a small smile. "No one really expects me to be a genius at the end of the day and I'm fine with just being me…Though I'd hope that my parents don't catch flak over my reputation."

That was a slight problem for him.

Because it wasn't really anything to do with his parents, so he didn't want them to get dirty looks or be treated poorly because of the way he acted.

Issei was as he had always been and likely always would be.

"I'm sure that you are worried over nothing." Kiba spoke up, shaking his head and stepping forwards. "Though…would it be remiss of me to say that I am actually looking forwards to meeting your parents?"

A slow blink.

Then he furrowed his brows at the boy. "...Why?"

"Well, I would like to at least introduce myself to them." Kiba answered swiftly. "Especially given the fact we are part of the same group and you have already met Vlov."

"So is he coming here?"

Kiba looked startled by the question, opening his mouth to respond before he paused and slowly closed it again. A frown creased his face, turning his own attention towards the entrance to the school and giving a short hum.

"I truly do not know. I do not expect him to do so…but he might well do so."

Tilting his head, Issei rolled his jaw. "Really? He sort of struck me as the kind of guy that would come to something like this. If only to see how well you're doing in PE or something. Like one of those old wise Master types who stands in the corner of the room and then gives this silent nod when you've done a good job."

He had partially meant it as a joke, but he was also a bit serious.

That was the impression he had gotten from the pale devil.

They seemed the very serious type in everything they did.

Kiba was now looking at him oddly, brows raised. "I…I did not know you were quite so good at reading people, Issei."

"...He really is like that, isn't he?"

A slow nod of the head was the response he got, Kiba still maintaining an unblinking gaze upon him.

"Well…He'll probably show up." Issei continued onwards, waving a hand. "I mean, it would be weird if he didn't. He's your teacher, right? And well…eh…I've got nothing else beyond him being your teacher, to be honest."

Kiba's lip twitched upwards, his eyes turned to the window once more with a gentle look in them.

"...Your confidence is rather reassuring. I suppose it is shameful that I find myself lacking. Perhaps you would be willing to share some of that with me?"

Sunlight fell through the window as a light shower, all but drenching Kiba within the rays at just the right angle to show off every ounce of his portrait in stunning lighting. It was, without a doubt, the most picturesque thing he had ever seen.

"Can you stop doing that!" Issei blurted out, temper jerking back as Kiba jolted and turned on him in surprise, startled by the loudness of his words. "It's literally every third word or movement and you look like you were pulled from a shampoo advert. Can you stop being a handsome bastard for five minutes?"

"I-what?" Kiba looked rather lost, then winced. "I'm not trying to make you angry here-"

"Just." Holding up a hand, Issei closed his eyes and turned away, falling back and leaning against the window. "...Just give me a minute."

A minute he received as well.

When his eyes opened back up, he slowly looked to his left and found that Kiba was still posing next to the window, gazing down as if he was some sort of statue come to life.

Wow.

He really made it hard to like him, didn't he?

Smacking his lips and rolling his eyes, Issei stepped away from the window. The action earned him the notice of Kiba who turned and looked at him in silence, clearly wanting to say something but eyeing him warily. Issei figured that it was the same sort of look someone would give to a stray cat or something.

"Alright, we best be off. I'm sure you have somewhere to be and I don't need to be flayed by your fanclub."

Or worse.

Caught by the student council and found wanting.

Kiba made a strained face for a moment, then slowly nodded his head up and down in assent. "I suppose you would be quite right with that, yes. Perhaps we shall see one another later into the day? I would be quite pleased if we were to meet up."

How could someone say something like that in the open without a hint of shame?

Issei could only stare in naked horror at the boy, then gradually turned his head across the length of the hall. In a move that would have made the most poorly oiled of machines envious, his neck cracked as he turned it and scanned the faces of everyone else in the hallway.

Most of whom had long since stopped what they were doing and were now staring at himself and Kiba.

His eyes flickered towards a group of girls in the corner, near one of the classroom doors, with what appeared to be notepads in their hands and furiously scribbling down something and speaking in low mutters.

Not even his hearing told him what they were saying, other than it was swiftly spoken.

A shudder passed through his body once again, then he turned back to Kiba and grumbled, stomping past him and giving a faint grunt as a farewell. Though, for the life of him, he was sure that he might end up pulling his hair out if this carried on.

Not that he really hated Kiba anymore…but he didn't want to lose his standing with his other friends and get accused of something he wasn't and-

Someone cleared their throat.

His eyes darted up and then he blinked twice.

Huh.

Talk of the Devil.

Both Matsuda and Motohama stood before him, expressions blank and arms folded.

With a sense of relief he had not felt for a while, he dropped his shoulders and allowed a smile to form on his face. Approaching the pair of them with a raised hand of greeting, though barely able to get a word out before Matusda said anything.

"You hang out with that handsome outside of the club as well?"

It was an accusation, one accompanied with narrowed eyes from the pair.

Issei felt his greeting falter a little, his arm dropped down and he exhaled. "Eh…sometimes? It's more of a recent thing, really. Honestly, his personality isn't all that bad, just that his looks are the real problem."

Neither of them said anything, rather they just turned and sent a look to the other one before their eyes fell upon Issei once more. The teen felt a bit weirded out by the movement, especially when Motohama exhaled and shook his head, pushing his glasses up and wearing what looked to be a pitying expression.

"Issei…my friend…" Stepping forwards, Motohama dropped a hand onto Issei's shoulder and wore a grimace. "...That is how it starts. Then, sooner or later, you shall be swept up along with all the others and drawn into the snare of that handsome bastard."

Gradually his brows pinched together. "Uh…I don't think it's quite that bad but-"

"It is." Matsuda jumped in from the side, looking rather desperate. "You're protected because you're a guy with an iron will, but even against the weakest rivers, mountains are worn down to nothing with the flow of time."

Issei blinked.

Motohama blinked.

They both looked at the third boy with matching expressions, Issei would have thought it less weird if he had grown a second head at that point.

Matsuda fidgeted and then stepped back. "What? I heard it on a VN and thought it sounded cool…I mean, I'm right though, aren't I?"

"...Well, yes." Motohama gave a slow response, still looking at Matsuda oddly. "However, your words are beside the point. Listen, Issei, if you ever hope to find yourself with a girl…you must avoid interacting with that man. He shall doubtless steal all the gazes away from you. That is why we band together…"

Issei could not really fault them there.

They had banded together because they wanted to form a group against Kiba…

…Also no one else wanted to hang out with them.

"Why are you guys acting as though I'm going to end up with a girlfriend?" Sharing a glance between the two of them, placing his hands upon his hips and frowning soon after.

"For that matter, if I even got a girlfriend, you'd probably accuse me of being a traitor to you and then wait outside the school gates to jump me."

As expected, neither one of them offered a response.

He'd gone through this all before with…

…He just had experience with it.

"I feel as though I should still offer advice." Motohama remarked with a shrug of the shoulders, pointedly not answering the accusation. "Especially because any of us that manage to get a girlfriend is a victory against the handsome scum of this world."

Issei raised a brow, then nodded his head up and down.

That made sense to him.

"Wait, what does that make Roman-sensei?"

A blink.

The two boys shared a glance in front of him, then turned back with bewildered expressions.

"Archaman-sensei?" Matsuda parroted with pinched brows. "What does he have to-"

Motohama raised a hand, cutting the other boy off. "No, wait."

A thoughtful look crossed the face of the boy, his hand came up and adjusted his glasses before giving out a low hum. "I heard about the foreign beauty who has visited our school in the past…but is she truly the wife of that man? That is…how did he manage that? I have never seen the woman but…I have heard talk of her. Most claim she is some avatar of beauty come to the waking world."

Issei could only shrug his shoulders. "I mean, yeah. Mrs Archaman is definitely up there in terms of hotness. I mean, given she's also the caretaker of Asia now…does that technically make her a milf?"

The three of them wore matching expressions of thoughtfulness at his words.

Matsuda pinched his brows, then scratched the top of his head. "Does it really could if it's adopted?"

"She is still registered as a mother or guardian in the school contacts, presumably." Motohama muttered, cupping his chin.

Issei nodded along with their words. "So…a mother on a technicality?"

They looked between one another.

The singular thought passed through all their minds.

"It's good enough for me."

"Me too."

"Me as well."

Silence then fell.

Issei coughed into his fist. "But…uh…I actually know Roman-sensei so it's a little weird for me…also…uh…she's scary."

Matsuda grunted and folded his arms. "Can't be any scarier than the kendo club when they get mad."

He wasn't sure what sort of face he made after that, because it certainly felt strained. Staring at the ignorance of his friend while knowing the full truth of just what the woman could probably do if push came to shove.

He did not want to get on her bad side for a very good reason.

Because he was sure she could do horrible, horrible things to him without even needing to lay a hand on him.

There was all sorts of terrible magic that she could probably do.

Terrible, terrible magic.


Some parts of school life were familiar enough to her that she could find herself comfortable with them.

The strict schedule, the adherence to authority and the constant trials.

Xenovia experienced all those but school was more tame than the Church. Though that was to be expected, she doubted very much could compare with that, yet she was surprised with how easy it was to adapt to it.

And then there was another element of school that she was coming to terms with that she already had previous experience with.

The dread of a guardian coming to observe the progress that had been made.

Evidently it was just as daunting for her peers as it was for those of the Church as well, but she was sure that the terror instilled by Griselda far surpassed whatever the parents of her fellow students could instil in them. Though that was, perhaps, because Griselda was without equal in that regard.

Or maybe it was a case of personal experience?

She could not say.

At least Griselda would not be coming here to meet with her, that was something that would inspire no small amount of dread within her. Whether it was something as simple as basic arithmetic or sword training, Griselda demanded absolute attention during the sessions and brooked very little in the way of slack for either of them.

Or any of the tasks.

In that regard…she supposed there was a similarity-

"Quarta."

She straightened at the authoritarian voice, immediately falling into attention at it before catching herself not even a moment later. She had slipped into her habits much too easily and was told that it was 'strange' to stand to attention like a soldier when the teachers called out to you.

But she wasn't to know that.

Though there was only one Teacher who spoke to her in this manner.

"Mister Lainur." Turning about face, she looked up at the taller man who had managed to appear behind her without alerting her.

Hands folded behind his back, the green suited man looked down, eyes slightly opened and lips drawn thin.

"Is there something that I can assist you with?"

The man kept himself silent for a moment, a cold expression on his face.

Then it shifted and the smile returned, he leaned back and brought his hands about from behind him. "Not at all. I was merely wondering if there was something that was troubling you? After all, your transfer here was rather recent and not even a few weeks later do we have a rather…dramatic event such as this. I was just curious if you were feeling overwhelmed."

Oh, so that is what concerned him?

"I am fine, Mister Lainur." She answered with a polite nod of the head.

He kept silent, then slowly raised an eyebrow, looking as though he did not believe her.

"...If that is what you say, then I will not argue with you." He replied, shrugging his shoulders and turning away from her, stopping for a moment to send her a side eye. "Oh, I did notice that the contact detail for your guardian was the same as Miss Gremory. I was unaware that the two of you were bunking. Am I to expect her guardian to stand in for yours as well?"

She paused for a moment.

"...That is correct." A stiff nod of the head to answer his question. "I am…currently under the care of the Gremory family. I regret that my guardian will not be able to attend."

Mister Lainur regarded her for a moment, then closed his eyes, dipping his head low and shaking it.

"A pity." He lamented. "I hope that I shall eventually meet with them."

He turned and moved past her, walking towards their class and stepping through the door, cloning it behind himself.

Xenovia drew her lips thin and looked down.

She doubted he would ever meet her.

…And she doubted she would ever see them again, unless it was at the tip of a blade.

Even with all the talk of a peace going on, she doubted it would amount to much more than just a more secure ceasefire.

Closing her eyes, she shook her head and returned to her class.

Her feet carried her into the room and her eyes opened once more.

"Ah, you're back."

Xenovia blinked twice, staring in befuddlement.

"Roman-sensei?" She muttered out in surprise, taking a half-step backwards and pinching her brows for a moment, then gave a mental shake of the head to dismiss the confusion and take greater awareness of the situation.

Indeed, Nurse Archaman was currently stood at the head of the class next to her own teacher, even Mister Lainur looked moderately surprised by the turn of events, if the raised eyebrow sent towards the nurse was any indication, but it quickly shifted into something akin to understanding.

"Lev was telling me that he just saw you in the corridor." Romani explained as he approached her, giving a faint smile as he approached. "I'm Asia's guardian so I was here to check on her…"

Ah, yes.

That made sense.

Xenovia nodded her head-

"So how have you been doing?"

She blinked.

"...Excuse me?"

"Your studies?" Romani ventured further, wearing a troubled look on his face. "You came into the school at a pretty awkward time. So I was just wondering how well you were coming on with everything. Is there anything about the studies that are really troubling to you?"

Her…studies?

"I…" She furrowed her brows. "I…do not understand…are you asking on behalf of-"

"Behalf of?" The nurse's confused look ended her own words, the man tilted his head for a brief few moments before he shook it slowly. "No, I'm just asking because I'm worried. Given that…I…feel a bit responsible for you transferring to the school-"

"That was…" Xenovia rolled her jaw, "That was my own choice-"

"Yeah, but…nevermind." Romani slipped his hands into his coat pocket and smiled. "Just humour me, will you? Have you been able to make any friends? I mean…beyond the guys in the Occult Research Club, I mean…I figure you'd be a good match for the keno club as well, to be honest. They'd be happy to have you around…I think you're allowed to join more than one club at least…"

She…had no idea what was going on here.

"What…are you doing?"

Romani blinked. "Me? Am I coming across as awkward or something?"

A grimace crossed his features, pulling out his right hand and scratching behind his ear. "Sorry, this is probably a bit weird. Guess I was just blurting out whatever came into my head without really giving you time to answer them."

That was certainly one way of putting it.

But that was not an answer to her questions.

"I mean…why are you asking me all of these questions?" She queried.

"...Because I just want to make sure you aren't having any trouble in the school."

That was…an answer she was not expecting, and yet it was one that she was wholly unsurprised by.

It was a conundrum, she remained silent instead. Watching the expression of the man falter as the silence dragged on, all the while she continued to mull over her own answer.

"Your concern is…appreciated." Was how she answered after some time had passed, "I have been acclimating well to the school. I do not believe that I am experiencing any troubles. I assure you, though my education back in the Chu-back in my old school was more oriented towards physical activities. I was still taught the basics of education. I am not behind my peers when it comes to learning."

That was a suitable answer.

One that she expected he would be satisfied with, it was the answer that she was satisfied with herself.

As for the extent of it…it was true that she did receive education, but that was done at the behest of Sister Griselda, rather than anything formal. She had not paid a great deal of attention to it initially, seeing little use for such things, but given that Irina had taken an interest in her education as well…it became difficult to put off or avoid.

And Sister Griselda was a task master.

Romani looked down at her for a moment, drawing his lips thin and folding his arms over his chest.

She felt a flicker of confusion as she stared at him, noticing almost immediately the lack of comfort in his eyes.

Was there something in her answer that did not ease his concerns?

Perhaps if she answered some more of his questions?

"I have been…getting along adequately with my new peers." She continued onwards, pausing for a moment and glancing past him and towards the classroom, her eyes briefly landed upon Asia before she turned them away from the blonde and back to the nurse.

"Asia has been very…supportive of bringing our classmates to speak with me."

Romani brightened a little. "That sounds about right, she did mention something to me about getting everyone to be friends with one another…"

With a short breath, the man nodded his head once.

It was difficult to tell if he was content with her words or not, but it seemed to mark the end of the conversation between the two of them.

"Well I'll leave you to it…" He moved past her, but paused for a moment and spoke again. "But I am in the nurse's office in case you ever want someone to speak with…"

She pinched her brows and looked at him. "I was under the impression the office was only supposed to be used for those who had suffered injuries?"

The nurse looked at her, then snorted and gave a strained smile. "For everyone else, sure…but I don't think you're going to be coming in for a scraped knee or a bruise."

True.

Even before becoming a Devil, she was more resilient to physical injury than a regular human.

"I see."

It was all she could reply with, nodding her head a single time as the man walked past her and towards the door.

That was a decidedly odd encounter.

Not unpleasant, merely odd.


He was feeling a bit awkward about that encounter, fully expecting it to have gone off like that but he was certain that he had come across more like some sort of weirdo.

A grimace made its way onto his face, his eyes closed and his hand came up to cover his features as he strode down the hallway.

Romani could safely say that he was feeling a strong desire for the earth to open up wide and swallow him whole at this very moment. He felt as though it would have been a good idea at the time, but that quickly fell through.

How bad did it have to-

"Ah, Mister Archaman."

He paused, then raised his head and blinked.

A brow quickly followed as he watched a pair of crimson headed men approach him, only one of whom he sort of recognised.

With a strangled noise, he awkwardly raised his hand in greeting and waved to the approaching duo, prompting a warm smile from the one he did sort of know.

That being Sirzechs? He believed that was their name, but all he really knew about them was that they were Rias's older brother.

Also he was Lucifer.

When did his life become so complicated?

With a dark suit atop a golden waistcoat, Sirzechs approached him first and wore the same thin smile. "I am relieved to see you in better spirits than the last time we encountered one another. I can hope that this time we can actually have a pleasant enough discussion without anything unpleasant spoiling the mood."

Romani winced. "Well…the time of our first meeting was a little…"

"Of course." Understanding crossed the face of the man. "Forgive me for bringing up that unpleasant first meeting. Rather, it was not how I hoped to meet anyone but…well…we can't pick and choose our greetings all the time, can we? Regardless, I am happy to formally make your acquaintance."

With a closed eyed smile, Sirzechs extended a hand towards him. "A pleasure to meet you, Romani Archaman, and if I do not get the chance to say it later, I am very grateful for all the work you have put into helping my sister. I appreciate it."

He felt a little hot with all the praise he was receiving, taking the hand into his own, Romani used his other to scratch the back of his neck. Eyes sliding to the side as he gave a nervous laugh.

"E-eh? It's no big deal, really. I'm just doing what any proper nurse should do."

"Humble as well? I'd have advised you to boast…but then again, given my nature." A wry chuckle escaped the man as he ended the handshake. "Still, those who are as open minded as you are often hard to come by. Especially as I have heard that such kindness is extended to all those who would approach you…I understand you have some very curious friends from every faction?"

Romani blinked, not quite understanding the question.

Then he did.

And then he blanched. "U-uhhh-"

"It is not a criticism." Sirzechs probably saw his obvious discomfort, moving to put an end to it. "Given future events, I would argue that there is a strong merit for your nature. But I'll leave all of that for the future, I would hate to dampen an otherwise light visit with such heavy business."

Romani could understand that, his shoulders dropped and a relieved smile crossed his face. "Yeah. I get that."

The two of them fell into a short pause, then Sirzechs blinked and chuckled, shaking his head and taking a step to the left. "But where are my manners? I have yet to actually introduce the two of you to one another."

Romani looked to the man in the white suit, who had remained silent for the duration of the conversation. Evidently they had been pleased to watch it all play out, looking at them now he could hardly tell a difference in age between Sirzechs and the other red haired man. They looked remarkably similar, with the only real difference being a slightly more defined jaw and a small beard on the end of his chin.

"Right, yes." Clearing his throat, Romani approached the other man and offered his hand to them. "Hello. I'm Romani Archaman, nurse of Kuoh Academy…are you another of Rias's siblings?"

The man raised a brow, the smile on his face got a little wider as he chuckled and extended his own hand. "I suppose I could understand why you would think so. We do age quite a bit slower, but it is always kind to hear that I still look to be in the prime of my life. My name is Zeoticus Gremory. I am Rias and Sirzechs father."

…Seriously?

Romani stared at the man, squinting and searching for any sign of ageing on his otherwise immaculate face.

Then he looked down at the hands.

Then back to the face.

"...Is it alright that I'm a little jealous?"

A chuckle. "Perfectly. Though I must admit, I was rather eager to meet you as well. Yourself and the members of my daughter's little club."

Romani figured he was using different words to keep a low profile.

They were in public, after all.

"She writes home occasionally, but I have not had a proper chance to speak with her and her members since their previous visit. Since then, quite a few things have happened and, well, I would like to see how my daughter is doing. I suppose we can both understand that feeling, given your own relation with one of my daughters' new acquaintances?"

"It's…different." Romani replied slowly, understanding where the man was going. "I haven't tried to think about it too often but…Asia is surprisingly independent with most things, but that's not really…I'm not exactly thrilled about that. She's still pretty young. But yeah, she's had nothing but praise for Rias."

The man beamed at the praise.

"A delight to hear. Though, if you are willing, I would be more than interested to hear about your interactions with her as well. I'd like to know all about what she's like at school."

"That's…" He trailed off, then furrowed his brows and cupped his chin. "I suppose…Well, Levi-tan asked me something similar-"

A strangled snort from the side, he turned and saw Sirzechs with his hand covering his mouth and clearing his throat. But there was no disguising the fact the man had just muffled a laugh with that attempt. The fact his eyes were practically glowing with mirth hardly helped matters much either.

Zeoticus merely inclined his head and closed his eyes, with a good natured smile he shook his head. "Goodness me. To think there would be some fans up here as well. Then again, given how popular the show is…well, if Lady Leviathan has already interrogated you, then I suppose I should do much the same? That wouldn't be unfair, would it?"

"I guess not?" Romani ventured, "Nothing, you know…really personal…but I can probably tell you the sort of stuff you're going to find out anyway."

"That is perfectly acceptable." A nod of the head from the man. "Do you mind if we walk and talk at the same time?"

Romani shook his head. "Not at all. Though, there is somewhere I would like to stop by first…if that's alright with you?"

"You should be careful about making a deal with the Devil."

Silence.

Then the man let out another faint laugh.

"I jest. I am but a visitor here and you are the staff member…"

There was a twinkle in the eyes of the man that was a little bit strange, as though he was in on some joke that Romani wasn't privy to.

"Is Mrs Archaman not here yet?"

Romani shook his head at the question. "She will be here later though, she said she had some work to tie up first at home before she came in. Though I doubt she'll be long in making herself known…she's not one for subtlety."

Zeoticus smiled. "I gathered as much, I also have been meaning to thank her for the rating game. Though I realise it would look a touch…insincere, given that I was more or less the cause for it in the first place but…no, this is hardly the time for such things."

He had no idea what they were talking about.

Still, he nodded as though he did.

Then started walking.

If he recalled correctly, the direction to the class was this way.


Parents were already filing into the room.

She could hear the hushed whispers behind her, as well as from all around her from the many students who were inwardly - and outwardly - cringing at suddenly having their parents mentally loom over their shoulders and talk about them to the other parents.

If Rias father did indeed show up, she suspected she had spied some red hair in the crowds, then it would not be long until he came into the room and, like Lord Lucifer, he was not one to be silent in regards to praising his daughter.

Oh, Rias could try and disguise it all she liked.

But Akeno knew.

She knew that her friend would be practically dreading it.

Perhaps not to the same extent as Sona would be if Lady Leviathan showed up, but it would certainly be at a close second and-

"Nurse Archaman?"

Her mind ground to a halt at the surprised exclamation from her teacher.

Akeno blinked and turned towards the door, her brows raised as the nurse stepped into the room-

She fought back a smirk but immediately turned her eyes to her friend as she watched two distinct figures step in the door after the nurse, flanking him either side and immediately sweeping their eyes across the classroom. Within mere seconds, both Sirzechs Lucifer and Lord Gremory were staring at Rias with beaming smiles and waving towards her.

She was surprised they didn't just shout out her childhood nicknames.

"Is there something the matter, Nurse Archaman?"

Her eyes drifted back to the nurse, temporarily forgetting the smile of her friend that looked more like a trapped scream.

Romani looked rather awkward, shuffling on the spot before raising his hands and waving them from side to side. "O-oh, no. I was just walking about and thought to stop by for a little while…that's fine, right? I can just stand at the back?"

What was he doing?

Even her teacher looked a bit puzzled, the man tilted his head in confusion before shrugging his shoulders. "I…alright then, so long as you aren't away from the nurse's office in the event of an accident."

Romani looked relieved more than anything else.

But she didn't know why he was here in the first place…unless…

Ah, given his company, he must have been ambushed in the halls and pulled along with the pair of them. Given the rather docile nature of the nurse, he was probably left unable to defend himself and just rolled over for their demands.

Romani looked across the room, then made eye contact with her.

…He didn't look surprised to see her.

Then he smiled and nodded his head once, he and the two devils moved to the back of the room with the other parents.

Akeno remained stationary.

…Wait.

What?

Dismissing the odd encounter from her mind, she returned to enjoying her friend as they heard the hushed whispers once more.

Though this time, they were decidedly from a specific source.

She could tell that each praise delivered by either Sirzechs or Lord Gremory was having an effect, the face of Rias turned more and more panicked as time went on. The girl shifting in her chair and twisting her head back and forth, at one point Akeno assumed she was going to stand up and demand that her father and brother leave.

Yet there was something else.

Tickling the back of her neck, she could feel another stare as the time went on.

Slowly, she turned her head towards it.

She made eye contact with Romani once again.

The nurse continued to give her a gentle, almost encouraging smile.

Then he gave her a thumbs up.

She stared at him for a few moments before slowly turning around.

…He wouldn't have.

There was no way he would have-

Akeno stopped and considered all she knew about the nurse.

Her lips rolled inwards and her eyes dipped onto the table.

Yes he would.

He would absolutely do something like that.

…Because he really was the sort of idiot who would care about someone like her, wasn't he?