The first thing Fuyuna had noticed about Akari was how vivid her eyes were.
Akari's eyes were a bright, warm red, unlike any shade Fuyuna had ever seen before, and they shined like gems or a gentle fire. Fuyuna's mother once remarked Akari had her mother's eyes, and Akari smiled brightly. Fuyuna later found old family photographs and discovered her late great-grandmother - hers and Akari's mothers' grandmother - had eyes that same shade of red too.
As Fuyuna and Akari shared a bed - Akari had another nightmare of blood and monsters, so she had asked to share Fuyuna's bed - Fuyuna touched Akari's hair, and even in this darkness it seemed to shine like fire.
Akari stirred, and her red eyes opened. "That tickles," she said softly.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," Fuyuna mumbled.
Akari shook her head. "It's fine. I keep dreaming of my mother. She has a burning sword, but the monsters keep coming, and she's hurt and bleeding."
"It's just a nightmare." Fuyuna tried to smile; she couldn't remember much of Akari's mother, and when she had asked her parents about Akari's father, they had answered they never met him. "You're safe here."
Akari took Fuyuna's hand into hers. "I'm glad."
Fuyuna's breath caught in her throat. When Akari stared with those bright eyes of hers, how was Fuyuna supposed to feel? They had lived together for over two years and were more like sisters than cousins, but lately Fuyuna could barely meet Akari's gaze.
She put her arm around Akari's waist and lowered her face to Akari's shoulder. "Sweet dreams," she said, and she hoped Akari couldn't hear her pounding heart.
Akari was loved. She could see into the hearts of others with those bright eyes of hers and read their fortunes with the strange cards she had received from her mother. Almost every day classmates flocked around her desk, and today was no different. How could someone whose fortunes were so suspiciously accurate be so oblivious?
Fuyuna rested her chin in her hand as she tapped her pencil against the blank page that mocked her, and she stared at the group of girls that surrounded Akari's desk, and Akari was as blissfully ignorant as always.
"Oh, the Sun!" Akari exclaimed as she turned over a card. "That's a strong, positive sign, so your victory looks hopeful!"
"That's wonderful!" the girls squealed. "We'll win for sure thanks to you!"
Fuyuna clenched her teeth. It was just a random fortune. It didn't mean anything. All the sun did was hang in the sky and provide warmth and light because it couldn't do anything else, and these days the sun felt too strong, too bright.
Why couldn't those girls leave Akari alone? But she was too nice, always looking at everyone the same way with those red eyes. Always the same, even toward Fuyuna, as if she was the same as those girls and all the others that bothered Akari for fortunes.
Everyone was the same to her. She'd even risk her life for someone she didn't know, because she was that stupidly kind and reckless. Fuyuna's chest tightened; why couldn't Akari ever think of those she'd be leaving behind?
But it was with that impulsive kindness Akari's red eyes shined, and Fuyuna couldn't look away.
Eventually the bell rang, and Akari clutched Fuyuna's arm as they left the classroom. "Let's walk home together!" she exclaimed.
"We usually do," Fuyuna said, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes.
Akari let out an awkward giggle. "We haven't lately, though."
As they walked, Akari held Fuyuna's hand tightly, almost too tightly, and she seemed oddly distracted, more than usual. Was it because the anniversary of her mother's death was fast approaching? But her cheeks carried a persistent blush, and she kept staring at Fuyuna out of the corner of her eye, and she quickly looked away every time Fuyuna noticed.
Akari always seemed to stare at her lately. Fuyuna wasn't sure if she minded or not. They were family, after all. That was all they could ever be.
Akari's fingers tensed. "Um, have you written anything new lately?"
"Why are you asking so suddenly?"
"Well, um, I saw you staring really hard at your notebook earlier." Akari's blush deepened. "So I was just wondering. I miss reading your stories."
Fuyuna frowned as she adjusted her glasses. "You said you didn't understand them."
"But I still liked them! Is it writer's block? Maybe I can read your fortune-"
"Don't you ever think about anything other than your stupid cards?" Fuyuna snapped as she jerked her hand out of Akari's.
Akari's face fell as she bit her lip. "I'm worried about you. You haven't been yourself lately."
Fuyuna's heart raced. Why had she said something so hurtful? But when those red eyes stared straight into her soul, she wanted to scream. Why couldn't Akari understand? Why couldn't Akari look only at her? But when Akari did, something dark filled Fuyuna instead. "You know there's been a lot of strange accidents lately," she said, finally finding her voice again. "And that one accident last winter - you were almost killed."
"But I'm safe now." Akari smiled and touched Fuyuna's face, and Fuyuna's cheek seemed to burn. "And I was able to save that child too."
"I don't want to lose you," Fuyuna said without thinking.
Akari's smile brightened, as innocent and oblivious as ever. "We'll be together," she said as she again took Fuyuna's hand into hers.
Sighing, Fuyuna only said, "Of course."
Akari rested her head against Fuyuna's shoulder as they walked, and Fuyuna's chest ached. Akari had grown far more affectionate lately, constantly clinging to Fuyuna or simply watching, like a puppy or even a girl in love. But that wasn't possible, Fuyuna told herself, no matter how much she found herself staring at Akari's lips.
Soon they reached their house, and Fuyuna's parents were out. "We have the house to ourselves!" Akari said, and her cheeks were a deep crimson. "That's great, isn't it?"
"I suppose?" Fuyuna said as she set down her schoolbag.
An odd smile came upon Akari's lips. "Can we head to my room? I want to tell you something."
Fuyuna eyed Akari suspiciously, but otherwise followed her to her bedroom. As Akari opened the door, Fuyuna hesitated. Akari's room was still filled with plants - nobody understood why, but apparently the same thing had happened to Akari's mother - and Fuyuna couldn't help but remember all those nightmares she suffered lately. As a scent like burning flowers filled her nose, she almost wanted to vomit, and she covered her mouth and looked away.
Akari blinked in confusion. "Fuyuna? What's wrong?"
"Nothing, nothing," Fuyuna mumbled as she crossed the threshold into Akari's bedroom.
They sat together on the edge of the bed, and Akari inhaled deeply. "There's something I've wanted to tell you for a long time."
Fuyuna watched Akari carefully; Akari fidgeted, but her red eyes burned with an intensity Fuyuna had never seen before. It was rare for Akari to be so contemplative and hesitant, and truth be told, it worried Fuyuna. "Akari, it's all right," she said as she laid her hand over Akari's.
Akari's eyes brightened as her fingers curled around Fuyuna's, and she smiled warmly. With her other hand she touched Fuyuna's cheek, and she leaned closer to press her lips against Fuyuna's.
Fuyuna's heart seemed to stop. Was this a dream? Akari's lips were warmer and softer than Fuyuna ever could've imagined, and a fire burned within her, one that threatened to explode. So easily could Akari do what Fuyuna could only shamefully fantasize about…!
Regaining herself, Fuyuna seized Akari's shoulders to shove her away, and she fell to the floor. "What are you doing?" Fuyuna said without thinking. "We're family, and… and we're both girls!"
"But Fuyuna, I really do lov-" Akari tried to say.
"But it's not right!" Fuyuna screamed, and her chest ached. "You're just being childish! Can't you understand that?"
Akari bit her lip as her eyes - those bright, beautiful eyes Fuyuna loved so much - watered. "I'm sorry," she said meekly.
Fuyuna stood and headed toward the door. "Let's pretend this never happened, okay?"
A pained, broken smile came upon Akari's lips. "If that's what you want."
Fuyuna left Akari's bedroom without looking back, and her eyes hurt as well.
Fuyuna eventually lost count of how many nightmares she had suffered. Ever since that day Akari had told Fuyuna about her own nightmares, each night was the same - Fuyuna strangled Akari to death as fire consumed them both, and every morning Akari acted no differently, and soon that shine of sorrow vanished from her red eyes as more and more people flocked to her for their fortunes.
How could she still smile so easily? Even with her poor grades and childish optimism, everybody still loved her. She laughed and smiled as she slipped away from Fuyuna. When she did look at Fuyuna, all Fuyuna could imagine was wrapping her hands around Akari's slender throat, squeezing as hard as she could until that pulse beneath her hands was no more, and Akari's life truly belonged only to her.
Resting her head on her desk, Fuyuna stared at the blank notebook. Even when she tried to fantasize about holding Akari's heart, those fantasies always distorted into something darker and twisted these days. She shut her eyes tightly; why had Akari kissed her first? Why had she even taken that from Fuyuna?
How could she make Akari belong only to her and her alone?
She stood and stared out the window at the starless night sky. She was an idiot; for a brief, shining moment she had held Akari's heart and those red eyes had seen only her, and she had thrown it all away. But the world would never accept a love like theirs, and Akari was too childish to realize that.
If she was brave like Akari, she could have all of Akari for herself, body and soul. But she was a coward, and Akari would never be hers. That was how the world was, after all. Akari had to grow up and accept that.
She rested her forehead against the cool glass. But what did it matter what others thought anymore? If Akari would just look only at her…!
"If you stare at the sun too much, it'll begin to hurt."
Fuyuna blinked, and instead of her reflection, she saw a cloaked boy with pale hair, and his cold blue eyes were the exact opposite of Akari's warm red eyes. "Who are you?" she asked.
"But no matter how much it hurts, people all long for that beautiful sun." The boy smiled darkly. "You love her, don't you? A twisted, immoral love, and you want to drag her to hell with you so that she'll finally understand you. But because everyone else loves her too, you also hate her."
"She's too bright," Fuyuna muttered.
"Even the sun has its dark spots." The boy laid his hand on the glass. "Give yourself to me, and I'll grant you the power to make her completely yours."
Something dark stirred within Fuyuna, and she too touched the glass, laying her hand over the boy's. She could make Akari all hers, take that bravery and warmth for herself, and Akari would never look at anybody but her ever again. No one else could dare lay eyes on her Akari. "I accept," she said in a hollow voice. She could prove herself to Akari once and for all.
The boy's smirk darkened. "Love and hate are just two sides of the same coin, you know."
When she finally returned to Japan, Akari requested permission to visit her aunt and uncle, and Etia and Ariel had obliged. She shared a joyful dinner with her aunt and uncle, reminiscing about her mother and telling them all about her travels, and now she stood in the empty room that had once been Fuyuna's.
Akari's arms tightened around her notebook. She had once asked Etia to create some kind of grave for Fuyuna, but Etia had reluctantly refused, explaining why that simply wouldn't be possible. Akari let out a heavy sigh as she ran her fingers over the cover of the notebook, whose pages were filled with the words she had heard Daemonia speak, including Fuyuna's words she had finally heard in the Clessidra.
"Fuyuna," Akari said, trying to remember what Fuyuna's room had looked like before that fateful day. "If I had told you how I really felt, so you think things could've turned out differently?"
Everyday Akari remembered that day she had kissed Fuyuna and Fuyuna had pushed her away. She had wanted to make her feelings clear, but it had been easier to kiss Fuyuna than to speak such simple words out loud. But maybe Fuyuna could've, if Akari had simply been patient and waited.
Still Akari remembered the warmth and taste of Fuyuna's lips, and she could cherish that memory forever. She finally understood - she had fallen in love with Fuyuna, loved Fuyuna from the bottom of her heart.
At first Akari couldn't understand why she had kept staring at Fuyuna or why she felt so strongly about her cousin. But as her fantasies became clear and the more Fuyuna watched her, she finally understood. So she had mustered the courage to kiss Fuyuna, but that hadn't been enough. She hadn't understood Fuyuna's true feelings.
For Fuyuna's sake, she could keep fighting and someday find a way to save those possessed by Daemonia.
"I finally heard your voice, Fuyuna," Akari said as she brushed her lips against the notebook. "And I love you too."