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Mending Friendships

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Gen sat hunched over their sewing machine, doing their best to ignore the soreness starting to creep its way up their spine. They wiped away the sweat beading their brow, the little lamp they used to light their work, casting the room in a calming amber, proving almost unbearably warm when combined with the heat from their apartment.

They lowered their foot just a little on the pedal, the machine softly whirring to life as the needle went up and down, up and down, tracing a neat stitch with thin, white thread against delicate, white fabric. Slowly, they fed the machine more cloth, pausing every so often to make sure everything was still even and that the machine hadn’t missed a stitch. For as trusty of a friend it had proved to be through countless outfits and accessories, there was no denying that was slipping past its prime.

As they reached the end of their stitch, Gen let out a sigh of relief, happy that their old workhorse had made it to the end of another project.

“Finally!” they cried out, carefully pulling the fabric off the machine and standing up. They worked a kink out of their shoulder as they sharply flapped the fruits of their labor, sending small, cut threads flying and working out some wrinkles while they looked at the rest of the outfit spread out on their bed.

“Ahaha, this was a total all-nighter, but it was absolutely worth it! No way I coulda just stopped in the middle, not on something this exciting!” they gushed to themselves, laying the dress they’d been sewing in the middle of a pair of white thigh high socks and lacy white armbands adorned with large black ribbons.

“Not the most elaborate maid outfit, but stuff like that’s far too gauche! Definitely best to keep it simple and keep it classy!” Gen boasted, looking over the ensemble and smiling. “Mmm, not a full dress, so it’s not too stuffy and formal, and not so over-designed that you can’t appreciate the wearer. It’s perfect and trendy! Hahaha, this little number’s gonna do great at the next Aniket!”

“Still, I didn’t make it too short, did I?” Gen asked, straightening the skirt a little and admiring their stitching. A worried frown spread across their face as they picked up the dress and walked over to the mirror, holding it up against their slight frame, still markedly boyish despite them being in college.

“Hmm…” they hummed, flattening it against them. “That’s, what, a little bit above mid-thigh? Ah, that should be fine. I’ll just need to wear something good enough to put on a little show that isn’t too revealing. Shouldn’t be too hard to whip up a pair of underwear to fit that.”

“Oooh, but maybe that ruffly white pair would work,” Gen murmured to themselves as they laid the dress back down, their eyes going wide as they glanced at the clock over on their nightstand.

“Ah, fuck! Is it really that late?!” they yelled, practically tripping over themselves as they ran to to their closet, pushing aside a thick stack of cosplay outfits, and pulling out a puffy, greyish-blue coat. They flicked off the small lamp, griping to themselves about its all-metal construction as they nearly burned their finger, then threw their jacket on their shoulders as they made their way out the door, still slipping into their shoes as they locked it.

They let out a sigh as they waited for the elevator, impatiently tapping their foot and eying the stairwell as it took its time reaching their floor.

“Come on, I so don’t have time for this. I’ll probably get flunked outta this class if I’m late again…”

Gen dug into their pockets, and then their coat pockets, trying to find their phone to see just how little time they had to deal with the long wait.

“Dammit!”

They swore again, glad no one was around them, as they quickly turned on their heels, sprinting back towards their apartment as a bell rang behind them and the elevator’s doors finally opened. They unlocked their door, not even closing it as they rushed in, pocketed their cell phone, and shot out, locking the door and practically sliding into the elevator before the doors could close, tapping at the button for the ground floor before flopping against the metal handrail on the back wall.

“Shit, that was close,” they panted, their bony chest rising and falling underneath their coat. They pulled their phone out and checked the time, their face contorting somewhere between a frown and a smirk.

Well, I might be able to make it, they thought, leaving the elevator as soon as the doors had opened and breaking out into a jog the second they left the lobby. Won’t be easy, but there’s still a chance! I can probably get there in ten minutes and not totally fail the class…

Gen picked up the pace, their feet pounding against the sidewalk as they rushed through Onimichi, block by block.

It’s a Wednesday, too, so that means lunch with Leth and Zeli… Ah man, today’s gonna suck…

~~~

“Zeli, you’ve gotta try this!” the small, rambunctious angel next to Gen shouted, hopping up off the picnic blanket with a small dumpling squeezed tightly between her chopsticks.

“That’s alright, Leth! I’ve got plenty to eat alrea-!”

On Gen’s right, the sweet, perky devil’s protest was interrupted as Leth shoved the dumpling right into her open mouth, cackling loudly as Zeli panicked, then started to chew.

“So? It’s good, right?” the angel asked, innocently folding her hands behind her back, showing off the tattered t-shirt she usually wore on days off with some word in a language none of them knew faded across the chest.

“Mmm,” Leth hummed, her fingers going up to her mouth as she finished the unexpected dumpling. “It is good, but that was quite rude, Eleleth! I told you, mother packed a large lunch today.”

“Yeah? And like I told you, it’s Leth! Got it, Beelzebub?” the angel sneered, her sharp, pointy teeth forming a cocky grin as she smugly plopped down next to Gen, effectively sandwiching them between them. As soon as she was seated, she reached for another dumpling, not even bothering with a setup as she shoved it right into Gen’s mouth. Despite their surprise, they couldn’t help but let out a sight rumble of satisfaction, the rich flavors cut just a little by the greasiness.

“See, Gen gets it!” Leth cackled. Zeli leaned forward, glaring at Leth as she happily chomped down on a dumpling of her own.

“Oh? Not so funny to use someone’s full name now, is it?” the angel teased, her words muffled by the food she was chewing as a sweet, gingery smell wafted out of her mouth.

“No, I suppose it isn’t,” Zeli huffed, leaning back. “Really, though, Leth, you’re far too aggressive, even with sharing food. It’s going to get you in trouble one of these days.”

“Puhlease, Zeli, you sound just like my lame parents!”

“And they’re right!” the devil shot back, Gen’s head following the two as though they were watching a tennis match.

“If it gets me in trouble with anyone, I’ll just beat ‘em up, same as always!”

“What if it’s an adult? You know you get on the teachers’ nerves a lot, Leth…” Gen interjected, having heard their homeroom teacher lecturing her more times than they were comfortable to admit in front of her.

“I’ll beat ‘em up, too! I’ll take any and all challengers, even if they’re adults!” she boasted, popping a hot dog that had lovingly been cut to look like an octopus into her mouth.

“Leth…” Zeli started to say, pausing and hastily chewing her food once she realized she’d started to speak with her mouth full. “That’s not the answer to everything, you know. Sometimes it’s better to just not get in trouble. Isn’t the right, Gen?”

“I-I guess,” they stammered, covering their mouth as they swallowed a piece of omelette. “I haven’t been in a lot of trouble, though…”

“And that’s because we both keep our heads down and behave!” Zeli added matter-of-factly, a smug, contented look spreading across her face as her cheeks puffed slightly.

“Mmm…”

It was Leth’s turn to hum now, while Gen chewed on a piece of fried chicken, looking between the two and wondering who would break the silence first.

“Guess so! Can be kinda boring though, ya know?” Leth finally answered, closing her lunchbox and running over to the swings, hopping right on top of the seat and starting to push herself forward. “Buuut I guess it’d be pretty boring if I fought all the teachers, huh? They’d probably have to close the school cause no one could teach us, and then we wouldn’t be able to hang out as much!” she grinned.

Zeli sighed, closing her own lunch. “We’d still be able to hang out, Leth, just like we do on weekends. None of that would change. But I know at least a few of us in class would appreciate you not fighting every teacher.” She stood up, dusting off her skirt, then went over to the swings herself, sitting next to Leth. “Right, Gen?”

“Well...there are a couple you could beat up…” Gen sheepishly responded, finishing their meal and joining the others.

“Ehehe, like that punk gym teacher, right? Yeah, he’d be first on my list, for sure! Always screaming if you take even a little break on the track…”

“Mmm...he is a little irritating,” Zeli responded, her legs dangling in front of her. “Maybe beating him up wouldn’t be so bad…”

“Hahaha, even the goody-goody agrees with me on that one!” Leth cackled.

“I suppose,” the devil huffed, kicking her legs forward and finally starting to swing herself, a smile spreading on her face as she started to go higher. “After all, we are friends for a reason.”

“And nothing’s ever going to take that from us, right?” Gen added, looking over at their friends as they continued to swing, none of their paces matching in the slightest.

“Of course!”

“Definitely!”

~~~

“You’re really putting that trash in your body? You know we aren’t kids anymore, right?” Zeli chided, her face contorting into a disgusted scowl that was completely at odds with her usual bubbly demeanor as she watched Leth stuff her face with an obnoxiously large hamburger, its sauces already dripping down onto the blanket the devil had brought for them to sit on.

“That’s none of your business,” Leth shot back through a mouthful of food, her red eyes narrowing at Zeli as her blood-red nails pierced into the sesame seed bun.

Was that really that long ago? Gen wondered, watching their two friends now, already starting an argument even though they’d hardly even sat down.

“You’ll have to excuse me. After all, someone has to look out for your well being,” the devil huffed, picking at her salad.

“Yeah, and I’ve been doing just fine by myself over here!” the angel’s voice rose, her temper flaring as she took an angry bite into her burger. Though she’d calmed down a lot since her youth, she still had issues reigning in her anger, especially when Zeli was involved.

Gen simply stared in front of them, out at the swings they remembered them all liking so much when they were younger. They couldn’t help but wish that a little back-and-forth on the swings was still all it took for them to put aside their differences. That stopped being the case shortly after they’d entered middle school, though, as Zeli and Leth started clashing more and more, and the three of them hung out less and less, until, now that they were all in college, they met just once a week for lunch. They couldn’t help but wish for something better than being stuck on a blanket between them, munching away on an onigiri and melon bread from the nearby convenience store while the two started their weekly argument.

“Come on, let Leth eat what she wants,” they sighed, offering the suggestion more out of obligation than anything else, feeling as though they had to say something to at least try and diffuse the argument.

“See?! Gen gets it!” Leth boasted, wiping away at her mouth with a napkin, careful to not let anything drip onto the overly-long sleeves of her sweater. “Besides, it’s not like what they’re eating is that much better!”

“Well, poor Gen here, as you’re well away, doesn’t eat much to begin with, Leth. If anything, they could afford to eat more lavishly,” Zeli explained, slipping a small piece of grilled chicken onto Gen’s onigiri just as they were about to have a bite. “You, meanwhile, always seem to stuffing your face with something deep-fried or greasy.”

Gen nodded slightly to Zeli, just enough that Leth couldn’t see. As good as the chicken tasted, though, Gen couldn’t help but sigh, knowing that things were about to really heat up. Wanting to be anywhere else, they put their food down for the time being and pulled out their phone, wasting no time in starting up a game, determined that, if the conversation was going to be this bad, they could at least accomplish something by burning some stamina while the two argued.

“Pfft, come offa it, ya prissy little devil! We both know you only eat those salads when we have lunch together to show off!”

“Excuse me?!” Zeli shouted, Gen’s earphones doing little to dampen the sound.

“You heard me!” Leth chuckled. “You can nibble away at your greens all you want, but I’ve seen you going into fast food joints after class, same as me! Got a real sweet tooth for milkshakes, huh?”

“How dare you!” the devil screamed, springing up from her seat, her lunchbox spilling out onto the blanket. She balled her fists, thrusting her arms out to the side while her chest, tightly contained by a white blouse that wasn’t much different from their old high school uniform, stuck out slightly and her cheeks puffed in anger.

“Oh? Does Miss Goody-Goody have some fight in her?” Leth spat, tossing her burger to the ground and standing up to face her. “What happened to not getting in trouble with people, huh?”

Gen tapped away on their phone, humming along to a poppy, upbeat song.

“There’s just no helping with some people,” Zeli said, her bright, purple eyes narrowing into a glare. “They need to be put in their place.”

“Ooooh, scary… You’re really gonna make a big scene here in the park, huh? Could be kids passing by any moment now, ya know?”

“And I’ll be sure to make a fine example of you for them!”

Gen pulled out their earphones, a little surprised to see the two of them facing off against each other, their eyes going wide at the site.

“H-Hey…”

“Yeah? Gonna show those kids that busybodies can do more than just flap their gums? What an inspiration!”

“T-That’s a bit much…” Gen stammered, realizing this was far beyond their usual arguments.

“You take that back right now, Eleleth!”

“Take what back, Beelzebub?” Leth sneered.

“I’ve had it with you always calling me a busybody and a goody-goody!”

“And I’ve had it with you always being one!”

“L-Let’s just calm down!” Gen yelled out, standing up between them, awkwardly spreading their arms out to try and keep them apart as they leaned closer and closer into each others’ faces.

“It’s my life! If I want a burger, I’ll have a damn burger!”

“And I can have a milkshake every now and then! It’s called a cheat day, Eleleth!” Zeli screamed back.

“Most people don’t have three of them a week, Beelzebub!”

“You rude piece of-”

“You hypocritical fu-”

“CUT IT OUT!” Gen screamed, their plea falling on deaf ears as both angel and devil unloaded a punch at each other, their fists smashing right into Gen’s cheeks, leaving them feeling like their head was suddenly stuck between a vice as they toppled to the ground.

The two women let out a gasp as they looked down at their friend on the ground, then fixed their gazes right back on the other.

“Look what you’ve done!” Zeli cried, pointing an accusatory finger at Leth.

“Me?! You punched them too, dumbass!”

“Ugh…”

“We both know you’re the only reason this came to blows!”

“Uh, excuse me?! None of this would have happened if you hadn’t gotten all up in my face about what I eat for lunch, Little Miss Milkshakes!”

“Yeah...I’m fine…thanks for asking…” Gen mumbled from the ground, rubbing at both of their cheeks as the stinging feeling turned to a gentle numbness.

“It. Was. A. Cheat. Day!”

“Whatever! Maybe today’s mine, huh? Ever think of that?!”

“I-Is it?” Zeli asked, a blush spreading through her cheeks for just a moment.

“Of course not! I wouldn’t be caught dead doing one of those stupid diets!”

Gen slowly stood up, their legs surprisingly wobbly, the two finally stopping their argument once they’d made it to their feet.

“Really appreciate the help-” Gen started to say, the sarcastic smile they tried to put on feeling strangely stiff, until Leth and Zeli both interrupted them with yells that were, for a change, not directed at each other.

“Holy shit, Gen, what happened?!”

“Gen, your cheeks!”

“You two punched me, remember?” Gen asked, their eyebrows arching in confusion at the panicked faces of their friends.

“Well, yeah, but my punches aren’t that good, Gen!”

“Your cheeks are completely blue!”

“Shit, over there, too?” Leth asked, moving over to the devil. “No friggin’ way! That’s one nasty bruise you gave them, Zeli!”

“You gave them one too, you dolt!”

“Listen-”

“STOP!” Gen yelled, swooning a little as they did, Leth and Zeli quickly moving to support them. “Don’t start fighting again, please…”

“R-right,” Leth stammered, a blush creeping into her pale cheeks. “You gonna be okay, Gen?”

“I’m a little woozy all of a sudden…”

“Come on, Leth, we should get them to the bathroom,” Zeli said in a hushed voice.

“Well, I guess they can at least clean up a little, but that’s a bit much, yeah?” Leth asked, draping one of Gen’s arms over her shoulders while Zeli took the other side.

“I’ll be okay if it’s just a bruise or two. And I’m not that dirty; I fell on the blanket. It is a little hard to talk, though…” they said, going along with their friends even as they protested, their words coming out slowly and awkwardly.

“Oh shit, no way? We didn’t knock a tooth out, did we?” Leth asked, leaning forward to get a better look at Gen’s mouth. “Wh-whoa! Zeli, you gotta see this!”

“Mmm, I already did Leth, and that’s why we’re bringing them to the bathroom.”

“Huh? What’s going on?” Gen asked while their friends shuffled them into the squat, concrete building that housed the park’s bathrooms, not even hesitating as they led them to the woman’s side. “Come on, I know I was laying it on thick back there, but you two are way too worried about me now. It’s kinda scary…”

“Well, Gen, I can’t speak for Leth, but I certainly am worried,” Zeli explained, turning Gen around to face the mirrors that lined the wall of sinks.

“Yeah, I’m with the goody-goody here, Gen. There’s no way we punched you hard enough to turn your cheeks that blue. Even if we did, nobody bruises in solid colors,” Leth said, poking at one of Gen’s cheeks, which, sure enough, looked as though someone had blotched on some dull, pastel blue paint.

“Huh...that’s kinda weird...and they’re all puffy…” Gen murmured, rubbing at them with their fingertips.

“Well, that might be because we punched you, actually,” Zeli admitted sheepishly. “But…” she paused, her hands moving up Gen’s mouth before she stopped, “uhm...open your mouth, Gen. Real wide, okay?”

“Like this?” they asked, opening their mouth as wide as they could, until their jaw started to hurt. “Whoa, what?! Are those fangs?”

“Yeah. Two of ‘em, by the looks of it,” Leth added, scratching at the back of her neck. “Guessing those aren’t just for some cosplay thing, huh?”

“No…” Gen answered, their words hanging as they brought a finger to one of the fangs, then quickly pulling it away once they realized how sharp it was. “They’re in there so good, it’s like they’re real or something,” they added, their words muffled by their fingers in their mouth as they tugged at the fangs, unable to get them to so much as wobble.

“No kiddin’?” Leth asked, pushing aside Gen’s hand to get her own fingers on one of the fangs. “Huh, how about that… I’m no expert on fangs, but they sure are in there…”

“Leth, that’s gross…” Zeli chided, her face squirming into a frown.

“Yeah, well, buckle up, cause you’ve gotta feel ‘em too, Zeli.

“What?! Why?!”

“Cause you’re the only one here that know what fangs feel like, dumbass.”

The devil grumbled, shooting the angel an accusatory glance as she reluctantly squeezed her fingers around the other fang.

“Oh my…”

“Definitely feels real, yeah?”

“It does…”

“S-So…” Gen started to say, the women pulling their hands away as they tried to speak, “what’s that mean, then?”

“I don’t know…” Zeli admitted, speaking up over the sound of the water as she washed her hands.

“Try not to bite your tongue, I guess?” Leth offered, the other two shooting her tired glare in response. “Come on now, you ask-Hey…hey, Zeli, that blue isn’t getting bigger, is it?”

“What do you mean, ‘bigger?’” she asked, lightly flinging the water off her hands above the sink as she looked up at Gen in the mirror.

“Like there’s more of it! Come on, don’t be thick!”

“Don’t call me that…” Zeli pouted, her voice almost a growl, her anger only interrupted by a small, surprised gasp. “You’re right…” she breathed.

“Huh?” Gen asked, having gotten lost in their friends’ back and forth. “Oh shit, there totally is more of it…”

Leth and Zeli looked on, neither sure what to say, as Gen poked and prodded at their face, which was now almost completely blue.

“Uh...you know, my cheeks are a little swollen, but I don’t think this is just some bruise.”

“Yeah, no shit it’s not,” Leth said, rolling her eyes.

“M-Maybe it will wash off?” Zeli suggested, Gen quickly complying and turning on the tap.

“I think this is more than just some marker on someone’s face during a sleepover, Zeli.”

“Like you would know! You were always the one drawing on my face!”

“That’s ‘cause you always fell asleep first,” Leth laughed, while Gen scrubbed away at their face.

“Any luck?” Zeli asked with a huff, clearly not wanting to engage Leth any further.

“No...just a wet face… Blue lips too now, I guess.”

“So it’s just getting worse...” Zeli murmured, pulling out her phone with a frown.

“I mean, that’s kinda subjective. That darker blue on their lips is pretty cute,” Leth said with a shrug. “Wouldn’t mind trying to match that shade on my nails, actually.”

“Leth…”

“What? Come on, goody-goody, you’re the one goofing on your phone!”

“I’m trying to see if there’s anything that causes a person’s skin to change like this, thank you very much.”

“Well…better see if anything changes a person’s eyes, too,” Gen added.

“Huh?” the two gasped, looking away from each other to Gen’s reflection.

“Whoah, no way…”

“Gen, those are very…”

“Yeah, blue. Icy blue...kinda get shivers looking at them, ahaha…” they laughed, opening their eyes a little wider to get a better look at the crystalline blue that had entirely replaced the green of their irises.

“...Any results, Zeli?”

“N-No…”

“Shit. So, what do we do? Call an ambulance or something?”

“I don’t think you two need to go that far,” Gen said, blinking heavily as long eyelashes filled in along their upper eyelids, so thick that it practically looked like they had on eyeshadow.

“Really?” the women asked in a tandem of disbelief.

“Uhm...probably not? I’ve kinda heard of this happening to people before, but they’ve never made it out to be that big of a deal,” they said, their words interrupted by sniffles as their nose shrunk slightly, the tip smushing in a bit.

“What do you mean you’ve ‘kinda heard?’” Leth asked

“And how’s it not ‘that big of a deal?’” Zeli followed up.

“Some people have had stuff like this happen before. Had their bodies changed, I mean,” Gen shrugged. “It’s Onimichi, you know? Magic and things like that aren’t exactly rare, and sometimes it changes people.”

“Isn’t that scary, though? To just have your whole body changed?” Zeli furrowed her brow.

“If you don’t know who’s doing it or why it’s happening, probably. Most of the people I’ve seen talking about it seem pretty happy once it’s done, though.”

“But you don’t know why it’s happening, Gen, that’s the whole point!” Leth said, stomping her foot.

“I mean, it’s because you two punched me, yeah?” Gen asked, matter-of-factly, as their ears started stretching out, away from their face.

“What?!” they both cried out, each looking at the other, completely dumbfounded.

“Not that it was on purpose or anything, I’m sure, but… Well, think about it. You two are the only non-humans I’ve been around today. I doubt the convenience store food is to blame, since I eat from there like every day, and Zeli’s always slipping me something from her lunch, so I know it’s not her cooking. There’s no way it wasn’t that punch. Those punches? You both got me pretty good,” they said, rubbing at their cheeks while their longish hair started to puff out, getting thicker and feathering outwards as their bangs started to creep down over their left eye, their eyebrows thickening just a little as well.

“C-Can bad cooking really…” Zeli started to say, before leth interrupted her.

“So, what, you’re saying that ‘cause Zeli hit ya, you’re changing?”

“Excuse me?!” the devil shrieked. “You punched them too!”

“It might have been because it was the both of you,” Gen explained with some effort, a wince contorting their face as hard, black points started pushing up from their head, a few inches above their eyes, growing out and curving backwards into thick horns.

Leth and Zeli simply stared at them, frozen over how nonchalant they seemed to be about what had just happened.

“Or maybe it’s more to do with how angry you both were? I don’t know a lot about angels or devils, but there’s some inherent power you have, yeah?” Gen asked, while their brown hair lightened into a soft, rosy pink, their hair’s whole texture and sheen seeming to change with the color.

“Well, yeah,” Leth answered, “but, judging by those horns, this one’s all on Miss Goody-Goody over here,” she finished, jabbing a thumb over in Zeli’s direction.

Zeli simply pursed her lips, not really able to say anything to dispute her claim, the evidence for it as clear as the horns on Gen’s head. At least, her silence held until a dark halo with eight spikes jutting out around it appeared over Gen’s head, dully glowing in the dimly lit bathroom.

“See!” the devil quickly cried. “It’s your fault too, Leth!” she declared triumphantly, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Well...shit…”

“Huh, that’s weird. Horns and a halo?” Gen asked, touching both of them as though even they doubted they were real.

“You see it sometimes. Usually if someone has an angel and a devil as a parent. But it’s pretty rare,” Zeli explained.

“Ehehe, well, I don’t think either of you are my parents or anything,” Gen joked, their voice cracking and shifting to a higher register, sounding lighter and higher-pitched with each word, “but I think we can definitely say the punch is what did it now.” By the time they’d finished, their voice was markedly different, if still at least vaguely recognizable as their own, the slightest hint of a fang peeking out past their broad smile.

“Shit…” Leth sighed, rubbing the back of her head. “It’s changing your voice, too?”

“That seems a bit much…” Zeli added, fidgeting nervously.

“Mmm, seems so! Probably not going to stop there, either. Guess you two are stronger than you realize, huh?” they teased, their pastel blue complexion starting to spread down their neck, disappearing under their shirt.

“I-I...I never meant to…” the devil stammered.

“Pffft, that wasn’t even one of my good punches,” Leth blurted out, stiffening straight as a board once she realized what had left her mouth. “I mean...crap, I’m sorry, Gen…”

“It’s no big deal,” they reassured her, waving a hand at her as if they were shooing away all of her bad feelings as blue started to creep over their arms.

“It totally is though, Gen!” Zeli cried out, grabbing a hold of their hand and holding it up to their face as the color reached their fingertips “I mean, doesn’t this scare you?!”

“I’m with Zeli on this one, Gen. You’re way too calm about all this. It’s kind of freaking me out, to be honest.”

“Right?!” the devil nodded in agreement, Gen’s hand slipping out of hers as it slimmed down, their palm becoming less broad while their fingers became just a touch more slender, the nails that left her grasp having somehow taken on a coat of dull black polish.

“Sorry,” Gen offered, feeling far more air rushing up their sleeves than they had a moment earlier, “I kinda get what you mean, but...I dunno. It doesn’t bother me that much? Like, I wasn’t that attached to my body or anything like that.”

“Well, I mean, we sorta knew that much,” Leth replied.

“And I guess this is just more of that? Yeah, there’s a lot going on. I can’t say the blue skin or horns and all that are things I would have picked for myself, but...I kinda like them? I definitely like the pink hair, at least. And the way it feathers out like this is great; I’d been trying to get my hair to do that for ages…”

“But it’s one thing to say you’re not attached to your body, and another to have it actually changing in front of your own eyes, isn’t it?” Zeli asked.

“Uhm…” Gen paused, rolling the sudden stiffness out of their shoulders as their coat began to hang more loosely on their frame, “a little, I guess? Feeling it happen is kind of weird, yeah.” They squirmed a little more, feeling something uncomfortably bunching up their shirt in the back, but having no way of knowing what it was.

“That’s not what she meant, Gen,” Leth sighed.

“No?” Gen asked, clearly confused, before letting out a sigh of their own. “I don’t know how to explain it, really. I’ve never hated being me, but I’ve never liked my body. And not just in the ‘I wish I had more muscle’ or ‘I wish I could lose a few more pounds’ way. It runs deeper than that.”

“Which is part of why you cosplay, right? At least, that’s what you’d told us…”

“Yeah, Zeli. That’s part of it. Cosplaying sorta makes me feel more comfortable, or at least takes my mind off of things. And it’s not as bad as it used to be, me hating my body and all that. College has been great for being a bit more...me, in general. Not that high school was bad or anything…”

“I’d hope not. I messed with a lot of bitches back then talking shit about you, you know?” Leth asked.

“W-what?!” the devil cried. “I thought you grew out of beating people up in middle school?!”

“I did! There are better ways to get people to do what you want than throwing a fist. You’re the one who told me that in the first place, Zeli. Practically nagged me about it every day when we were kids.”

“That’s not the takeaway you were supposed to get…” Zeli frowned.

“The point is,” Gen said with a cough, “even though I don’t really know exactly what’s happening, I’ve got a pretty good inkling, and...well, I can’t say I’m too upset,” they explained, pulling on the neck of their shirt to confirm that, one, they seemed to be entirely blue now, and, two, that their chest was starting to gently swell, before letting go and readjusting their coat.

“Gen…”

“Alright,” Leth said, interrupting Zeli as she put a hand on her shoulder, which the devil squirmed away from with a scowl. “I still don’t really get it, but if you’re saying it doesn’t freak you out, I guess I won’t, either.

“Still...are you sure you don’t want to slip into one of the stalls or something so you can sit down in case you get woozy?”

“Nah, I’ve been feeling fine!” Gen said, brushing away Zeli’s concerns before letting out a sharp exhalation as their body shrank down, their head dipping a couple of inches lower.

Despite the devil’s worries, it was the angel who got to their side first, but Gen simply held up a hand, leaving her awkwardly hovering over them.

“Really, don’t worry! That was just a little shock, that’s all,” they laughed, scanning the worried faces of their friends intently, completely unaccustomed to having to look up at either of them.

Surprisingly, Zeli sighed and shook her head.

“Jeez, you’re always like this, Gen. You’re too unfazed by things, like you’re trying to act cool or something all the time.”

“I don’t think I could change enough to ever be cool,” Gen joked, looking down at their feet, convinced that their pants felt baggier now, until Leth grabbed their horns, pulling their head and their gaze up to her deep red eyes, the bright, golden light of her halo practically clashing against the darker glow of Gen’s own.

“Leth!” Zeli cried out, grabbing at Leth’s arms, trying to pull her off of their friend.

“Listen here, we’re having no more of that, got it?! You don’t like your body? That’s fine! You said that yourself. But you also said you liked what was happening to it and that you liked yourself, so don’t you go putting yourself down, and especially not ‘cause a friend’s worried about you! ‘Cause that’s MY friend you’re talkin’ shit about, and you know what I do to people that fuck with my friends, right?!” the angel yelled, only letting go once Gen managed a nod. They stumbled backwards, finding their feet had slipped completely out of their shoes, while Leth wiped her hands against each other.“Damn, those horns are kinda convenient…”

“What the FUCK, Leth?!” Zeli screamed, mounting all the strength she could to turn the angel around, her red eyes going wide as the devil, usually the spitting-image of a stereotypical honor student, started flailing tiny, balled-up fists against her abdomen. “You can’t just go doing stuff like that to Gen! You stupid hypocrite! You’re the one being bad to your friends, so why don’t you just go beat yourself up, you idiot?!”

“Z-Zeli…Leth stammered, wincing slightly.

“You can’t just go picking up people by their horns, either! It feels weird and can hurt, Leth! How’d you like it if someone swung you around by your halo, huh?!” the devil continued to yell, her fists only beating faster on Leth, who simply stood there, too stunned to do anything, until Gen put their hands on Zeli’s shoulders and slowly pulled her away, the devil immediately burying her face against their chest as she started to sob. “I don’t even know what I’m doing! I’m just so mad! She never thinks at all about what she does!”

“It’s okay, Zeli,” Gen whispered, running a pale blue hand through her wavy, pink hair. “She got fired up and maybe went a bit far, but she’s not wrong. I need to not put myself down, especially about stuff like that. After all, you two hang out with me all the time, and always have, so what am I saying about you if I say I’m not cool?” they asked, smiling at Zeli as she looked up at them glistening, purple eyes.

“Gen… Yeah...yeah, I’m sorry Gen. I got out of line there. Kind of forgot myself and just went back to how I was in grade school. You okay?”

“I am, yeah. Leth’s right; it felt a little weird, like something warm was swirling around in my stomach, but it didn’t hurt or anything else. Falling out of my shoes was a bigger jolt than any of that. But, Leth-”

“-Yeah, yeah, I know,” the angel interrupted, putting a hand on Zeli’s shoulder and feeling her whole body tense under her grip. “You’re really fired up today, huh?” she asked, softly. “First you went to clock me, and now all this… I...uh...I fucked up, Zeli. A lot. All of this, it’s all on me. The punch earlier, this shit with Gen now. Messed up thing is, you weren’t even just lashing out at me being a shit. You were actually looking out for the both of us the whole time. I was always so concerned with sticking up for the both of you up til now that I guess I missed you two getting strong enough to do it yourselves, huh?”

By the time Leth had finished, her voice was slightly hoarse, and the tears hovering in the corners of Zeli’s eyes had nearly dried.

“I...I don’t think it’s all on you…” the devil murmured, sniffling. “I kept bothering you about your lunch and all that, and I always send you texts whenever I know you’re out late… I get too headstrong, too…”

Gen let out a sigh of relief, a hand quickly darting down to their pants, holding them up as they struggled to stay on their body. “Well, if you two have reached a truce, maybe we should actually spend a little time talking about all of this with me, then.”

“R-Right!” Zeli stammered, pulling away from Gen and straightening her blouse before wiping away the dried tears that trailed down her face.

“Yeah, shit, doesn’t look like any of that stopped in the least while we were going at it, did it?”

“Not at all,” Gen said, pointedly. “But, it doesn’t feel like there’s much else going on at the moment, so maybe it’s stopped?”

“Really?!” Zeli cried out excitedly.

“Well, we don’t have the full picture, but, by the looks of things,” Leth said, looking Gen over from their feathered, pink hair, to their pastel blue skin, to the coat draping over their shoulders, and to the feet of their pants now pooled around them on the floor, “there’s not much else left that could change on Gen.”

“It sure feels like the parts we don’t have a picture of have, too,” they added.

“Y-Yeah?” Zeli asked, blushing slightly as she fidgetted her fingers together. “Uhm...yeah...about that...uh...h-horns don’t usually make your tummy feel…”

Zeli paused, though, looking up at Gen and seeing their chilly eyes practically pleading with them to not say another word, their lips locked into a tight, straight line.

“W-Well, we did just have lunch, so getting tossed around could do that…” she sheepishly concluded, while Leth simply looked from her to Gen, feeling as though there was something she wasn’t being told.

“So, anyway…” the angel ventured, “I’m guessing what you wanted to talk about, Gen, had to do with us getting out of this bathroom, yeah?”

“Yeah,” they responded, their mouth curling up slightly as they tried to hide their relief at Leth changing the topic for them. “I’m not exactly falling out of my clothes—well, other than my shoes—but I’m not too far off from that. They’re starting to feel pretty heavy, too,” they added, slowly holding up an arm that was completely engulfed in their coat sleeve.

“R-Right!” Zeli stammered. “Your place isn’t too far from here, right? Do you want us to walk you back there?”

“Not even a question, Zeli,” Leth said, interrupting Gen before they could even open their mouth and wrapping an arm around one of hers. “We’re taking you back and we aren’t leaving until we know you’re alright,” she declared, flashing Gen a cocky smile.

The other two were silent for just a moment, before Zeli broke it, heading to Gen’s other side and doing the same with their other arm.

“Yeah!”

Gen simply smiled and nodded, hiking up their pants as their two friends led them out of the bathroom, happy that, among other reasons, they’d stopped fighting and almost, just almost, looked like real friends again.

~~~

“You two can clear off some room on the couch, alright? I’ll just be a few minutes,” Gen called back, heading down the hall to their room while Leth and Zeli remained in the living room, looking over what would be a very homey apartment were it not for the various cosplay outfits and accessories strewn about, joined by an assortment of tools, some abandoned right in the middle of their work.

“You, uh, you sure about that, Gen?” Leth asked, glancing skeptically at what looked like a magical girl outfit that was currently laying claim to most of the couch.

“Yeah! Don’t worry, there’s nothing there that can’t be fixed with a little sewing or glue!” they answered, leaving to two to find a spot for themselves as they headed into their room.

“Alright,” they whispered to themselves, very slowly and quietly locking the door, “I can finally get a look at all of this…”

They wasted no time in taking off their clothes, tossing their jacket on their bed, on top of the maid outfit they’d finished earlier that morning. Their shirt flew off in one corner, and their pants to another, leaving them only a pair of ill-fitting briefs, their socks already having rolled off their feet as soon as they’d entered their apartment.

“Wow,” Gen whispered as they looked down at their body, repeating their shock as they settled in front of their mirror.

Their eyes immediately went to the sides of their shoulders, drawn to the thin, jagged wings that had spread out from their back the second they’d thrown their clothes off. “Well, that explains why it felt kinda cramped back there,” they said, their face scrunching up a little as, with some effort, they found themselves able to gently flap the scraggly wings. “Huh, neat…”

“So...right...voice is different, knew that. Also knew that I was smaller, but...wow! I’m really petite now… Heh, well, that’s okay, sounds better than ‘scrawny,’ at the very least!” they laughed, still making sure to keep their voice low, not wanting Leth or Zeli to hear how they were appraising everything that happened.

“Most of me got smaller, then...but it’s not by too much, so I shouldn’t need to alter any of my outfits a lot. Take in the shoulders, definitely the waist, flare out the hips a little,” they continued, running their hands along their modest hips, “maybe adjust the hem of some of the flashier skirts; they’d almost be too conservative on me now.”

“Mmm…” Gen hummed, their eyes falling to the pair of perky boobs on their chest, tipped with puffy, dark blue areola that completely hid their nipples. They brought a hand up to one, gently cupping it. “Won’t have to adjust the chest much at all, thankfully,” they commented, bringing up another hand to push their breasts together. “Oooh, but there’s definitely enough to put on a little show with lower-cut tops! That’ll make for some fun poses!”

“That just leaves…”

They let their words hang in the air as they looked down at themselves, following their slender stomach down the briefs awkwardly hanging on their hips, then gave them the push they needed, sending them falling unceremoniously to the floor.

“Huh...it’s all clean-shaven down there, huh?” they asked, bringing a hand down to their groin and feeling how smooth it was, their fingers just inches away from a set of tight lips, the slightest trace of dark blue sneaking out. “Guess that makes sense, but, still, this is softer than I’ve ever managed before… Wonder if it’s actually natural… Well, either way, that makes things a bunch easier, too! I can just slip on whatever underwear I want and not have to worry now!”

“And how about back here...”

Gen reached their hands behind them, running their palms over the bend of their hips while their fingers traced the curve of their cheeks. They moved their hands closer, getting a good palmful of the soft weight that had filled out their butt.

“Oooh, a bit bigger there, too. Hmmm...that should still work out alright, though. Lotta the underwear I had was already a bit loose in the rear.”

They paused for a second, before giving a cheek a pinch, and then a light slap with their fingertips.

“Hahaha, pretty firm and tight! I like it! Yup, not bad at all!” they declared, twirling to catch themselves at different angles. “Hahaha, cute!” they giggled, looking over their body just a little longer before turning to their bedroom, which, in terms of decor and cleanliness, wasn’t much different from their living room.

“What do I wear, then? I might be able to make a quick alteration to something, but I don’t want to keep those two waiting for too long, not after they finally stopped fighting…” they mumbled, walking over to their closet and throwing it open, eager to look through their selection with brand new eyes—in more ways than one.

While Gen was busy admiring their body and picking out an outfit, though, Leth and Zeli were left to their own devices in the living room.

“Well...guess we should take a seat, then,” Zeli said, as the door to Gen’s room closed.

“Yeah...I think I might just stand, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Suit yourself,” Zeli sang, making her way over to the couch and picking up the magical girl outfit, deftly folding it and placing it gently on a cushion before sitting down next to it.

“Jeez…” Leth sighed, carefully stepping around the room and looking out at the sea of mess that surrounded them. “I know it’s been awhile since I’ve been to Gen’s place, but I didn’t think they were this bad about keeping things neat.”

“I’m sure they’d say it’s that sort of disorderly order thing, you know?” Zeli asked absentmindedly, pulling out her phone. “Like, it’s a mess, but they know exactly where everything is in the mess?”

“Still...they really live like this…”

“They seem happy enough for it, Leth.”

“Yeah, but… Look, I’m just saying, if I had to make a list of the most flammable places I’ve ever been in,” the angel started to say, unplugging a glue gun from an outlet by the television, “this is number one. And I’ve been in my share of ratty treehouses… Hell, they’ve even got a picture of one of them here.”

Zeli simply let out a hum, barely hanging on to the conversation while she checked her phone, oblivious to the picture frame that Leth had picked up from the entertainment center. Nor did she notice her make her way over to her and toss the outfit she’d folded onto the coffee table until she’d already flopped down onto the couch next to her.

“So, whatcha doing that’s so important, huh? Don’t tell me my little Zeli’s all grown up and seeing someone…” she joked, peering over the devil’s shoulder to try and get a look at her phone as she pouted and hastily hid the screen.

“Even if I was, that would be none of your business!” Zeli huffed.

“Ah, still single… Well, then, what gives? You’ve been glued to that screen since you sat down.”

“I’ve just been looking into what Gen was talking about earlier. About how there’ve been people that’ve had this sort of thing happen to them and all that.”

“There any truth to that?”

“Seems to be,” she answered, bringing her phone back out for the angel to see. “I’ve certainly never heard of it before, but I didn’t even have to try to find stories about it.”

“Found it from the word ‘go,’ huh?” Zeli murmured, leaning against Leth’s shoulder to get a better look. “Damn, there’s a lot there. Makes it feel like we’re the ones completely out of the loop…”

“I don’t think it’s as widespread as the internet makes it seem, but it definitely seems to happen enough that there are lists of what to do if it happens to you.”

“Yeah? Like, what, dumb, pervy stuff with your body?”

“No!” Zeli said incredulously, a blush spreading to her cheeks as she peeked down the hallway, towards Gen’s room. “No. It’s all paperwork stuff, like name changes and all that.”

“Oooh, that makes more sense…”

“Not that there aren’t...you know…”

“Hahaha, I bet!” Leth laughed, slapping her knee. “Still, sounds like the kind you found will be pretty useful. Might want to save that one and send it to Gen for later.”

“That’s what I was thinking, yeah…”

“Anyway, like I was saying,” the angel interjected, holding up the picture she’d been keeping in her lap, “get a look at this!”

“Wow… That was...that was a really long time ago, Leth…” Zeli murmured, staring at a picture of small, wiry boy, an angel with a punkish grin, and demure devil up high in a treehouse that looked like it would crash to the ground at even the suggestion of a stiff breeze.

“Sure was! We couldn’t have been more than, what, seven?”

“Had to have been something like that. Gosh, that was over half our lives ago…”

“Sounds kinda grim when you put it that way, Zeli… We’re not old maids, ya know?”

The devil chuckled slightly, running her finger along the glass covering the picture.

“No, I suppose we aren’t.”

“Does sorta feel that way, though. I can’t remember the last time I smiled like that…”

“Yeah...we all look really happy in it… It’s a nice picture.”

“And it’s not the only one, ya know? Gen’s got this place plastered in them.”

“Really?” Zeli asked, lifting her head up and properly looking around their living room for the first time, seeing that Leth wasn’t exaggerating in the least about the picture frames that littered the walls. “I would have bet on them having wall scrolls…” she murmured, before throwing a hand over her mouth in embarrassment.

“Hahaha, I know, right? They’re so into that stuff, I figured we’d be heading into a real otaku’s paradise here, but, nah, it’s all pictures of us. Think I even spied a few albums under the TV there.”

“No way!” Zeli laughed, hopping up off the couch and bounding over the outfits on the floor to reach the entertainment center holding up Gen’s TV. “Oooh, Leth, there’re a ton of these!” she gasped, pulling one out and heading back to the couch.

“No kiddin’? Jeez, I thought only grannies kept stuff like this anymore,” Leth said, leaning in close to Zeli, every bit as eager as she was to see what the album contained. “Oh, you don’t think this is just a collection of cosplay photos, do you?” she asked, putting her hand over Zeli’s just as she was about to open the cover.

“Hmm,” she hummed. “Well, if it is, we’ll just close it and put it back, how’s that?”

“Yeah… Not that I dislike the stuff they do, but it feels a bit too voyeuristic if we’re just sitting here looking at that, yeah?”

“Definitely…” Zeli blushed, nodding to the angel as she opened the album, both of them letting out a gasp at what they saw.

“This isn’t just a photo album, Zeli…”

“...It’s a whole scrapbook…” the devil murmured, finishing her friend’s sentence before thumbing forward a couple of pages, seeing more of the same: pictures of the three of them, or some configuration of the three, alongside relevant mementos and notes written in Gen’s neat handwriting in a variety of colored inks.

“There’s a lot here… This isn’t all just one grade, is it?” Leth asked, flipping her way towards the end of the album.

“Looks like it… No, wait...this is only half of a year…”

“So there’s a whole ‘nother book just like this with the rest? No way!”

“I always knew Gen liked photography, but I never knew this is what they were doing with all the pictures they took,” Zeli said, her voice soft and shaky.

“It’s...it’s kind of amazing… I hardly even remember half of this stuff, but here it all is, chronicled for us…”

“Gen worked really hard on this…”

“...And some of this is a lot newer.”

“What do you mean?”

“Take a look at this,” Leth said, flipping to a page showing the three of them practicing in Leth’s yard for the school’s athletics festival, “and then this.” She flipped to the next page, apparently from the next day, with a photo of Zeli, her head down in her arms as she slept on her desk, hiding her face from the sun. “The writing’s totally different. That first one is definitely a kid’s handwriting, but the writing here with you snoozing is more like...I dunno, high school?”

Zeli was too taken aback to feel embarrassed or mad at Leth.

“So...they went back and added things in…”

“Yeah... Shit, how many of these do you think there are?” Leth asked, going over to the albums and rifling through them while Zeli continued to flip through hers.

“Oh,” Leth said flatly.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. It’s just… Yeah, guess that makes sense… There are a lot less albums as things go on. Some are a couple years worth of stuff, and there’s one that’s super thin…”

“Yeah…” Zeli whispered, something catching in her throat as Leth made her way back over to the couch.

“Kinda didn’t give them as much to reminisce about the older we got, did we?”

“No, not really,” the devil sighed.

“Shit,” the angel cursed, throwing her hands behind her head and leaning into the back of the couch. “Ya ever feel like you’ve just immeasurably fucked up?”

“Kind of do now, actually…”

“Yeah?” Leth asked, leaning forward and glancing up at Zeli’s face, her mouth opening slightly in surprise at the tears welling up in the corner of the devil’s eyes.

“Yeah. Read this.”

Leth followed Zeli’s finger to a page that seemed to have the tops of some test taped to it. Zeli’s was, unsurprisingly, a perfect score, while Leth’s was good, and Gen’s was barely scraping by. It was the note, though, that Zeli wanted Leth to see.

「We got our science tests back today! Zeli did amazing, like always! She works so hard and is always studying. But Leth’s score is really good, too! She just laughed when I told her that and said it was no big deal, but I can tell she was really proud of herself, too! I didn’t do too good, though. Maybe the three of us should all study together sometime, even if I don’t have a lot I can help with. Someday, though! Someday I’ll be as smart and strong as those two, I know it! I just have to keep working hard!」

The two simply sat there in silence for a moment, softly sniffling, before Leth leaned her head against Zeli’s shoulder and let out a sigh that had her whole body shaking.

“Yup. We’ve really fucked up.”

“Poor Gen… They’re the one that’s been working hard this whole time, trying to keep us together while we just...what? Argue over what we eat for lunch?”

“Sounds really petty when you put it that way. But...you’re right. We’re busy fighting over milkshakes while this goof’s been filling scrapbooks with pictures and memories of when we actually were all friends. If we’d even spent a fraction of the energy they have on actually being good to each other, their last scrapbook would probably be thicker than a damn pencil, that’s for sure.”

“And they compared themselves to us. A lot, too; it wasn’t just with this science test…”

“It wasn’t,” came a soft voice behind them. Leth and Zeli jerked up in the couch, before realizing it was just Gen.

“That’s an old one, huh? Fifth grade, right?” they asked, taking a seat on the other side of Zeli. The angel and the devil looked on as they straightened their skirt, a little stunned to see them wearing what seemed to be the same uniform the two of them had worn in high school, modified slightly to accommodate the wings that instantly drew their attention.

“Yeah…” Zeli said, blushing.

Leth, meanwhile, had no issues getting right to the point.

“Wow, haven’t seen that uniform in awhile. When’dya get one of those?”

“Oh, this? I’ve had it for a while. First year of high school, I think? Got it to use as a base for some cosplay at the time. Figured there was nothing better than the real thing,” they explained, leaning close to Zeli and flipping through the album. “Fits pretty good, too! Needed to alter the blouse in the back just a bit, but you’d swear it was made for me to start with, yeah?”

“No kiddin’...” Leth murmured. “So...Zeli was saying you did this kind of thing a lot? Comparing yourself to us, I mean.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I did. I really looked up to the two of you. Still do, actually.”

“Why’s that?” Zeli asked, trying to hide the genuine confusion in her voice.

“Well...if I had to break it down into something simple… I guess it’s how you two have never really compromised on being yourselves. You’ve always had such a clear, strong idea of who you are and you’ve never let anyone get in the way of it. I mean, sure, you’ve listened to each other, or at least did, like when you got Leth to stop trying to fistfight every teacher that yelled at her for being tardy, Zeli, but that never really changed who she was. She was still there in the back of the class, gritting her teeth and balling her fists; she just made sure to not leap out of her chair at them anymore.”

“The real fucked up part is that those shithead teachers would still give me detention for shooting them dirty looks,” Leth added, clearly airing a grudge she was carrying with her to this day.

“I’ve never felt like that, you know? I’ve always felt...disposable? Like I kind of just blend into the background, and that if I just disappeared one day no one would really notice or care.”

“Gen…” the both of them murmured.

“Yeah, I know, you’re gonna tell me that I’ve got it all wrong. But it’s how I’ve felt for a long, long time.”

“Even with the cosplaying?” Zeli asked, placing a hand on Gen’s wrist.

“Well...I dunno. It does make me feel something. Like I belong somewhere. But, out on the street? I just feel like I’m a shadow in the crowd.”

“Shit, so do I, Gen,” Leth said. “Onimichi’s big. Huge. There’s no way you can’t feel like you don’t matter when you’re in a huge ass group of people and surrounded by these tall buildings. And, yeah, I get it. You mean you feel like you aren’t distinct, like you don’t have a reason for even being around at all when there are so many more ‘interesting’ people, or whatever nonsense your brain tells you.”

“Leth…” Zeli said, looking at her questioningly.

“Look, I’ve had my share of doubts about myself too, Zeli. And I know for a fact that you’re right there with me. Point is, Gen, it’s really damn easy to convince yourself that other people have it totally together, even when you are close friends with them, especially if you’re just looking for reasons to put yourself down.”

“There’s not a lot that’s easier to find than reasons to feel bad,” Zeli added with a shy nod.

“So you can say that we’ve always had a strong idea of who we are, but I don’t feel like that’s the case one bit. You don’t go looking to throw fists at teachers every day cause you’re well-adjusted, Gen. I had...have problems, too. And if it weren’t for my friends, they’d be a lot fuckin’ bigger than they are.”

“I’m the same, you know?” Zeli asked, drawing Gen’s gaze to her. “I know that, well, at some point during high school things started going well for me, but I spent a long time getting teased for reading and studying and just...trying at all. And it was hard. I still have some things I feel awkward doing because I think back to then, to when I was made to feel so bad for who I was and what I liked. But...well...I had friends, too, who never made me feel bad about it at all. Who would actually talk to me about what I loved.”

“And who would beat the crap outta anyone who thought to tease you,” Leth added with a smirk.

“That too,” Zeli smiled back. “So, Gen, I know it’s maybe hard to believe, and I don’t want to shatter the faith you’ve put in us, but...we’re not perfect. We never have been. We have been and can be just as lost as you are a lot of the time.”

“And...shit, Gen, I dunno. We’ve always felt like you’ve had a solid grip on who you are, too.”

“Really?” they asked.

“Yeah!” Zeli nodded. “You’re a dear friend who always tries their best to make sure that everyone around them is being the best person they can be, who always looks out for the people they care about, and who’s so reliable and dependable that, honestly, it can be a little scary!”

“And you’re also a huge dork who’s into cosplay, and photography, and scrapbooking, it turns out, and probably a hundred other things we don’t know about. You’re always smiling so damn widely that it’s kinda irritating, but it’s hard to stay pissed off around you when you have that dorky grin on your face. You’re also an idiot who, after having their whole body changed, walked out to see their best friends in an old high school uniform and proceeded to tell them you feel like you blend into the background. Not to dismiss how you feel, of course, buuut…”

“Sounds kinda silly when you put it like that,” Gen said with a sniffle.

“Point is, Gen, that we’re here for you. Even if you don’t know who that ‘you’ is,” Leth said, smiling brightly at them.

“Thanks, you two. That means...that means so much.... And...yeah, Leth is right: a lot has happened. I think I kind of have a better idea of who I am because of it, actually.”

“Yeah?” Leth asked, raising her eyebrows.

“I think so, at least. There’s definitely going to be a lot to figure out,” they said, leaning forward a little and adjusting their wings, “but I feel pretty happy about everything. Happy with myself, at least, for the first time in...well, it’s been awhile. Maybe it’s not great that it’s taken my whole body changing to get there, but that’s just where I am, I guess. Though, I’ve gotta say, ‘Gen’s’ kinda starting to feel weirder and weirder the more i get used to my body now...”

“Got something else in mind, then?” Leth asked, while Zeli offered up an apologetic look. “We got you into this mess, so the least we can do is help ya stay comfortable with it all.”

“Well, truth be told, I’ve always been a little attached to the name ‘Shoko.’”

“‘Shoko?’” Zeli asked. “That’s the name you use when you cosplay, isn’t it?”

“It is, yeah. Sorta picked it because I’ve always been fond of it—couldn’t really tell you why—but it feels like a pretty good fit now.”

“Are you sure that isn’t a problem? The name you use for that being the same as your real name, I mean.”

“Hmmm...nah! Besides, no way I’m changing my cosplay name now. Worked too hard to get where I am to go back to zero! They’re just gonna have to deal with me being a lot bluer from now on!”

“That’s definitely one way to look at it,” the angel chuckled, shaking her head. “Course, knowing you, you’re not even worried about some creep online finding you because of it, huh?”

“Ah...so that’s what Zeli meant…”

“Look, don’t worry about it,” Leth said, frowning slightly at the pained look on her friend’s face. “If that’s the name you want, that’s the name you get. I’ll just have to beat the shit outta anyone who’d make that difficult for you. Same as always. Right, Shoko?”

“I don’t think they have any problems with that,” Zeli said, giggling.

“No, not at all,” Shoko said, wiping away the tears starting to well in the corner of their eyes and facing their friends with a wide smile. “Oh, and you can keep using ‘they’ for me. I’m okay with that.”

“Yeah?” Leth asked. “Huh… Not to be too nosey—I mean, shit, it is your own business and all that—but any reason why?”

“Well...ahaha, sorry! Guess I don’t have a better answer than it just feeling right for me,” Shoko laughed, shooting the angel an apologetic grin. “Maybe I’ll feel differently later, but, right now at least, I think I’m still used to ‘Shoko’ being the me that cosplays and all that, so it still feels a little seperate, saying that that’s who I am full-stop? Not sure that makes a lotta sense, but I guess it’s just me taking baby steps to accepting myself. You know, that ‘huge dork’ you were talking about?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Leth said, rolling her eyes as the other two laughed heartily at her expense.

“But, really,” Zeli started to say, her laughter finally dying down, “is there anything else we can help you with, Shoko?”

“Uhm… I mean,I guess I don’t really know what to do from here about being...well, me…”

“Oh, that’s no problem at all! Zeli was looking stuff up on her phone while you were in your bedroom,” Leth explained. “Said she came across a list of how to handle paperwork and all that. Sounds like outside of some bullshit forms that it won’t be too bad!”

“Mmm, it’s not,” the devil added. “I’ll text you the link I found, but it seems pretty straightforward. Turns out, like you said, that this kind of thing isn’t the most uncommon occurrence, at least not here in Onimichi. We can even help you with the forms if you need it.”

“That sounds really great! Thanks you two!”

“It’s no problem at all, Shoko.”

“You know it! We’ve always got your back, whether it’s got wings stickin’ out of it or not. That’s what friends are for, right?”

Shoko looked at their friends, unable to fight back the wide smile that the angel had made them aware they were prone to wearing.

“Jeez, you two really have gotten friendly all of a sudden, huh? Maybe I need to get you to punch me more often; seems to work out well for everybody,’ they joked.

“Goodness no!” the devil cried out, a look of shock on her face at the very suggestion.

“Yeah, not happening, Shoko. I can’t say me and Zeli are gonna up and stop arguing all together, but I don’t think either of us are eager to come to blows again. Least not like that.”

“Good!” Shoko said with a sigh, flopping back against the sofa. “Jeez, the two of you were really going at it today, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah,” the angel said, waving her hand. “Listen, Zeli and I already talked about all of that while you were in your room. We fucked up. And not just today. For the past like...what, 6, 7 years? Shit, it sounds bad when you lay it out loud like that…”

“Yeah it does,” Zeli added, with a pained look on her face. “Shoko, we realize now that us bickering the way we have has put a lot of strain on you. That it’s hurt you. So, we’re going to do our best to get along from now on. But, well, like Leth said, we might not do the best job at first.”

“That’s...that’s really great…” Shoko said, their voice small and shaky as tears starting to flow down their face. “It’s been...it’s been so long since the two of you have been friendly. I thought...thought that it was all gone,” they sobbed, their petite body shaking while the others looked on in shock. “I was...I was kind of starting to wonder why we tried to eat lunch together at all anymore…”

“I guess...I guess neither of us really wanted to let things go, either,” Zeli explained, wrapping Shoko in a hug and letting them cry into her shoulder.

“Yeah…” Leth said softly, sniffling slightly. “We fought a bunch, so I get that it sounds weird, but... I really hate to say it, but I thought about cutting ties, about just not showing up anymore… Whenever I did, though, it just felt so...wrong?”

“Like it was a part of my life that I just couldn’t say goodbye to. That I’d be losing something too important,” Zeli added. “It was probably the same for you, too, right?”

Shoko let out a muffled mumble of affirmation, still leaning heavily against the devil.

“And I think that, maybe, that just kinda pissed me off even more about the whole thing? Like, I knew I was being shitty, but I couldn’t just walk away, and that just made me act even shittier? I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just...just kinda fucked up… Point is, the two of you...well, you mean a lot to me. Even when I was too friggin’ stupid to see that, or accept that, or whatever, and, well, now that I do know that, I don’t want to leave either of you by the wayside again.”

“I feel the same way,” Zeli said, running a hand through Shoko’s thick, pink hair. “I think I got so caught up with looking out for my friends and trying to keep them happy that I just starting forcing my own ideas of happiness on you. Or, at least, Leth in particular. I stopped caring what she wanted or what worked for her, and instead just harped on about trying to make her fall more in line with what made me happy. Which just made her angry and me more stubborn… It’s a bad cycle, but I promise you, Shoko, we’re going to work hard to break it. Because you two are my oldest, dearest friends, and I never want to lose that.”

“I’m...I’m so happy to hear you both say that,” Shoko said, pulling themselves away from Zeli’s shoulder and wiping at their eyes. “I didn’t want to lose you two, either, even when you were at each other’s throats all the time. You both mean so, so much to me… I…” Shoko paused, taking a deep breath as they tried to calm themselves, shook up over being so shaken by everything their friends had said. “Look, maybe it’s not the best time to say it, or maybe it’s the only time I can say it, but...I’ve, uh, I’ve done more than just look up to the both of you. Honestly, I’ve kind of...I’ve loved you, both of you, for a really long time now. I think maybe that’s why us, or, well, the two of you drifting apart as much as you did hurt so much…”

“Shoko…” Zeli murmured.

“Jeez, we really have been putting you in a rough spot, huh? Or, at least, I have. Shit, I’ve talked to you a bunch about being pissed off at Zeli, and the whole time you were listening and trying to help me, you were hiding away all of that? Fuck, Shoko, how’d you ever manage all that?” Leth asked.

The devil shot the angel an accusatory look for a second, before her expression softened into the same pained, guilty face that Leth was wearing.

“I’ve done the same… Not that forcing you to listen to a friend venting about another friend is good, but I never would have come to you if I knew that was the spot I was putting you…”

“It’s not...it’s not that big of a deal, you two… I’m glad that we’re moving past it, or are at least trying to. I just had to...I dunno. I had to say what I’ve been feeling, since it seemed like the best chance I’d ever get.”

Leth sighed, leaning back against the couch.

“And we’ve even got you thinking that this is the only time you can really talk to the two of us like this? Shit, we really made a mess of things! Well, fuck that!” she exclaimed, leaning forward so she could look Shoko in the eyes. “Look, if you wanna know the truth of it, Shoko, I’ve crushed on you a bit, too.”

The angel ignored the surprised looks she was getting, not sure who seemed more incredulous, and carried on.

“Kinda hard not to, I guess. You and Zeli both, if I’m being honest, though, lately, it’s mostly been ‘how can she be so cute but such a pain in the ass?’ with her than anything else. I mean, you two have kinda been the most stable thing in my life for...well, all of it. Dunno if that’s really the best basis for that kind of relationship, but, point is, I get where you’re coming from, Shoko.”

Now it was Zeli’s turn to sigh.

“I’d thought it was just me,” she said, smiling softly. “You two were my first friends, and, while I guess it makes sense you’d be my first crushes, I’ve always been worried that there’s something wrong with that. It being the both of you, I mean. Maybe that’s part of why I pushed Leth away like I did, but...well, maybe that’s just me trying to make myself feel better about how I’ve been acting. Hearing that the both of you feel that way, though, makes me feel a bit silly for keeping it bottled up for so long...”

“So...we’ve all just been...we’ve all been into each other this whole time? Even when the two of you were fighting?” Shoko asked in disbelief.

“I...I guess so…” Zeli murmured.

“Yup! Sounds like I was wrong: we’re all idiots here!” Leth joked, laughing sardonically.

“Then…then what happens now? With us?” Shoko asked, their words coming out in a nervous flurry.

“Well...we should probably focus on getting everything in order for you, Shoko,” the devil responded, looking sheepish at first before seeming to find her resolve.

“Yeah, Zeli’s right. I know you’re excited and all that, and you aren’t the only one, but take it easy there, okay, ladykiller? Besides, you can’t just take a couple of high-class girls like us back to your place without at least buying us a meal first!””

“Leth, we already are at their place and since when have you ever be-”

“-Right, right, bad example on multiple levels, I get it…” the angel sighed. “Look, we’ll...we’ll figure things out as we go. Even after what we’ve all said, Zeli and I have been pretty rocky lately, ya know? I already said that might not change overnight, and I don’t think it’s gonna swing towards full out holding hands and kissing any faster. But,” Leth said, as the other two looked on with slight frowns, “knowing where we stand helps with this kinda stuff. It really does. If we know we’re all crushing on each other, we know there’s no need to hide anything from anyone, and we can just be open about trying to be good to each other. Probably makes it easier for us to all be together, honestly…”

“Leth…”

“Leth, that’s kind of...really mature…” Zeli said in awe.

“H-hey, come on! Don’t act like me saying that is some rare, once-in-a-lifetime event! I can be deep too!” the angel grumbled, before all three of them started laughing.

“No, you’re right, Leth,” Shoko said, once everyone had stopped chuckling. “We’ll get things sorted out with me, and then just...I dunno, see where things take us?” they asked, looking at their friends expectantly and feeling a weight lift form them as they saw them both nod in tandem.

“Absolutely,” Zeli said, slipping an arm behind Shoko’s back, their brief smile fading as they felt her pushing them up off the couch. “And we’re gonna take care of that right away, okay? No putting it off til it’s a huge problem, got it? So, go on, get your laptop.”

“H-hey, come on…” Shoko moaned, stumbling forward a little. “When have I ever put things off?”

“About every time you’ve gone to make a costume before an event and called me up crying about how you ‘should have started earlier?’” Leth offered.

“And all the times when, after I compliment you on how good a costume turns out, you tell me that you’ll be sure to give the next one enough time to be even better?” Zeli added.

“Oh, and-”

“Alright, alright! I’ll...I’ll go get my laptop,” Shoko sighed, smiling slightly to themselves as they headed down the hallway despite having been completely, thoroughly scolded. They couldn’t be too upset, not when it was from the two of them being in complete agreement.

“Ahahaha, jeez, that was forceful of ya!” Leth laughed.

“It’s for their own good,” Zeli pouted. “You mean to tell me, after looking around their apartment, you don’t think they would have let those forms sit for a month before even touching them?”

“Oh, they totally would have. This place,” Leth said, kicking away a strip of fabric in front of the sofa, “is a total sty. I’d be surprised if there was anything in their cupboard other than instant ramen and sewing supplies they needed to make room for.”

“Yeah...I wonder if that’s why they always seem to be eating so poorly… I’m a little afraid to check the kitchen and find out, though...”

“Well, I think they just forget to, most of the time.”

“Mmm...either way, that’s the next thing we need to get done,” Zeli sighed.

“Oooh, getting real bossy, huh?”

Zeli looked away, embarrassed.

“It’s just,” she started to say, biting her lip, “if we’re going to be together, we’ll want to go to each others’ places, too… I mean...think about how long grabbing their laptop is taking them. You wouldn’t want them making a mess like this at your place, would you?”

Leth leaned back, placing her hands behind her head.

“Alright. Forms, then cleaning,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Real beast of an all-nighter you’re setting us up for, Zeli.”

“Sorry!” Shoko called from down the hallway, pressing their back against the door to their room to get it to close. “Took a little bit to find it, ahaha,” they sheepishly laughed, making their way to Zeli, who quickly pulled the laptop out of their hands.

“That’s alright,” she said, swinging her feet up onto the couch and resting her back against Leth’s shoulder, completely blocking Shoko’s spot to the surprise of both of her friends.

“H-huh?”

“Don’t worry, Shoko, we’ll take care of this for you!” Zeli hummed, pulling out her phone and pulling up the website she’d save. “We might need to ask you a couple of things, but there’s no reason why we can’t get the bulk of it done ourselves.”

“Th-then what do I-”

“What do you do?” Leth finished their sentence, her voice shaky as she tried to hold in her laughter at Zeli’s brashness. “Well, we’ve been talking it over, and we think it might be best if you cleaned up a little.”

“It’s not that-”

“Did you know you had a glue gun you’d left plugged in?” Zeli asked nonchalantly, tapping away on the keyboard.

“Is...is that where that went…?”

“Doesn’t have to be perfect, but, ya know, at least get it clean enough that you don’t end up killing yourself, kay?”

“But, the forms-”

“Oh, this one’s quite long, Leth,” Zeli interrupted, pointing at the screen.

The devil whistled in amazement.

“Twenty pages on that one...oh, and this one’s sixteen…”

“Mmm. We might need to trade off to give my fingers a break.”

“Alright, I get it,” Shoko conceded with a sigh. “Thanks, you two. That, uh, that sounds like a lot of work you’re doing for me…”

“Not that you won’t be busy yourself, right, Shoko?” Leth asked, tauntingly.

“Oh, I sure will be… Alright, let me go get the clothes rack from my room,” they said, leaving the two on the couch to shuffle through red tape and yell out questions to Shoko, while they dealt with the innumerable cosplay projects they’d left lying around their apartment.

A few hours later, Leth let out a loud groan as she passed the laptop back to Zeli and flopped her back against the couch.

“Please tell me that looks good and we’re done with this, Zeli.”

The devil hummed to herself as her eyes traced the screen, nodding slightly as she checked each field.

“That should be good, yeah,” she sighed, closing the laptop and laying her head down on the angel’s lap. “Just need to get them printed and mailed, but that’s the easy part.”

“Fuckin’ finally. How’re you doing over there, Shoko?”

“Uhm...well...it’s...it’s better?” they answered, poking their head out from one of the kitchen cabinets and emerging with a long set of shears.

“You’ve certainly gotten a lot done,” Zeli said, turning her head and looking out at the living room.

“Yeah, come on, you’re no slouch, either! So what if you didn’t get it all done by the time we finished? Shit, I didn’t expect you to just have the kitchen left. And, besides, we don’t really need that just yet, anyway. We can always just order a pizza.”

“Mmm, it has gotten pretty late,” the devil said, rubbing at her eyes.

“Haha, come on, Zeli, don’t fall asleep on me,” Leth laughed, slipping her hands under Zeli’s head and gently raising it off her lap. “Still, that’s probably not the worst idea...”

“What’s that?” Shoko asked, drying their hands as they made their way to the others.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but judging from how Zeli is and how I feel, I sure don’t wanna try and hoof it on home. I’d rather just conk out here, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Oooh,” Zeli yawned. “It’s been awhile since we had a slumber party.”

“Not since sixth grade…” Shoko added.

“So, since you’ve been so kind as to clean up and make room for us, we might as well take advantage of that and crash here for the night! After,” Leth started to say, pulling out her phone, “we order some food.”

“Sure, why not?” Shoko asked. “I found a futon and some blankets when I was cleaning, might as well put them to use."

“Great! You can get that set up, I’ll order the pizzas. Same as always, right?”

The two nodded in agreement, then Shoko went to dig out the futon from the hallway closet, while Zeli stood up, stretching out a kink and trying to wake up as Leth handled their dinner.

“Hey, any idea where you want this?” Shoko called, awkwardly wrestling with the rolled-up futon until Leth, having finished the order, came over to help them.

“Easy there! That thing was about to topple you over!” she chided as she leaned it against the wall.

“S-sorry! Futon’s a bit bigger than I remember it being,” they awkwardly laughed.

“Nah, you’re just smaller than it remembers,” Leth joked with a smirk. “Anyway, pizza’ll be here in about thirty, and, as for where the futon should go, wouldn’t your room be the best? Not much of a sleepover if we’re in separate rooms, is it?”

“I suppose not...but that’s the only one you have, isn’t it, Shoko?” Zeli asked.

“Afraid so. I was thinking between my bed, the couch, and the futon, we’d at least all have something.”

“Hrm…” Zeli hummed, biting her lip and looking off in the distance.

“Well, I know that look. It’ll fit in your room, right, Shoko?” the angel asked.

“After all the cleaning, it’d better,” they groaned.

“Great,” Leth said, already hoisting up the futon. “We’re setting it up in there. Just gonna have to double bunk it.”

“Huh?!” Shoko squeaked, frantically trying to get around Leth to help her, but the angel was more than capable of managing the futon with her longer arms, leaving them with nothing more to do than to open the bedroom door for her.

“Uhm...so who’s going to sleep where, then?” Zeli asked from the doorway, as Leth kicked the futon to unroll it.

“There’s always the known and respected dibs system,” she commented, shifting the mattress with her foot until it was straight. “Or I guess I can live with our host claiming bed rights.”

“I mean, we can always just do it like we did as kids, right?” Shoko asked.

“So...the two of us together and you on the bed?” Zeli asked, casting a doubting glance at Leth.

“Hey, come on, you were fine snoozing on my lap earlier. Can’t act all shy about sharing a bed after that. Besides, I’m fine with it. Not gonna lie: I was gonna call the bed. But, and be honest here, what’re the odds there’s a pin or needle or something still on there?” she asked, turning to Shoko, who furtively looked away.

“Uhm…”

“More than ‘0,’ and that’s enough for me. So, yeah, we’re on the futon, Zeli. Just like old times,” she said, smiling at the devil, who smiled back at her in turn, her fears seeming to lessen. “Oh. Unless Shoko wants in the futon crew, too,” she said, flashing them a more devilish smirk.

“That’d be pretty cramped,” they laughed.

“You are pretty petite now, though. We might actually fit...” Zeli offered.

“Well, offer’s on the table then,” Leth said, howling with laughter. “You can think it over while we’re waiting for pizza. C’mon, let’s go watch TV to kill time.”

“Y-yeah,” Shoko said, still sizing up the futon while the other two headed back to the living room.

By the time Shoko had gotten the rest of the bedding out of the closet and scrounged up enough plates and glasses for the three of them, the pizza had arrived. And, while Leth had already dug into hers by the time Shoko made it over to them with the plates—prompting an earful from Zeli—they sat comfortably on the sofa, enjoying a meal together for the first time in longer than even Shoko could remember. Their stomachs full, it didn’t take long for them to start to drowse, Zeli’s head slowly falling onto Shoko’s shoulder, while theirs rested against Leth’s, like a toppling pile of dominoes.

“Hey, come on, sleepyheads…” the angel quietly called, gently rustling Shoko and fighting off a yawn herself. “Not much of a sleepover if we all just pass out on the couch.”

“Nnngh…”

Reluctantly, the other two woke up, and Leth found they needed significantly less persuading to move to Shoko’s bedroom, where they all groggily crawled under the covers of the futon, each of their heads finding their pillows with no issue. Leth smiled, more than a little amused that Shoko had caved to their suggestion, but it was Zeli who beat her to saying something about it.

“I’m glad you decided to join us,” the devil said between yawns, gently turning over to face Shoko and Leth, her cheek resting on her hand.

“Yeah,” Shoko replied drowsily, staring up at the ceiling. Their new horns made it hard for them, at least with how things currently were, to lie any other way.

“It’s a real shocker. But, I gotta say, it feels kinda cozy like this, all three of us in the same bed,” Leth said, looking over at the other two as she propped herself up with her elbow.

“It is. Tonight’s been...well, exhausting, but also really, really nice,” they added, letting out a yawn.

Zeli’s eyes fluttered for a moment.

“Mmm… It felt...better than things have been in a long, long time.”

“It might not always be that easy, though, ya know? We had a lot keepin’ us too busy to fight and all that,” Leth said.

“Still... today kinda makes me feel like...like we really all can make it, as long as we keep trying,” Shoko responded. “And...I want that. I want it a lot. I don’t even think I realized how much I missed those moments until we’d settled into our groove today.”

No one said anything for awhile, the only sound coming from Leth snickering at the sight of Zeli quietly dozing on the other end of the futon.

“Yeah…” the angel said, lowering her head against the pillow once more. “Think we both feel the same way there. Shit, what do I know? We might not even fight that much now that we’ve gotten all that crap weighing us down off our chests. Wouldn’t be entirely unheard of.”

“That’d be great,” Shoko muttered, their arms awkwardly shifting underneath Leth and Zeli. “I love you both so much…”

Shoko pulled the two towards them for a hug, until their heads collided with their horns, the impact instantly waking all of them up.

“What the fuck, Shoko?!” Leth yelled, rubbing at her temple.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Owie…” Zeli said, gingerly poking at a large, red spot above her eye. “Go easy on them, Leth. They’re not used to having horns…”

“Yeah, I know! It’s not their fault, but, still… Fuck, that smarts…”

“Are you two going to be okay?”

“We will, yeah. Might leave a mark in the morning, though…” Zeli said, the three of them finally settling back into bed.

“Good friggin’ thing we don’t have classes first thing tomorrow, then.”

“I’m so sorry…”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s alright,” Leth said, turning back towards Shoko and wrapping an arm around them. “Guess until you get used to things, I’ll just have to be the one doing the hugging.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” the devil giggled, following the angel’s lead. “We’ll get used to things and we’ll work out all the kinks in no time at all, I’m sure,” she said, the three of them smiling softly as the adrenaline faded and sleep started to set in.

~~~

“Careful with that, Shoko,” Zeli said, holding the door to the apartment open while Shoko tried to squeeze their way inside, their arms overladen with various camera equipment.

“Could you straighten that tripod out for me?” they asked, very carefully moving to give the devil enough room to push the bundle poking out behind them straight, allowing them to finally slip inside. “Oof, that was close.”

Zeli stayed at the door while Shoko went deeper inside, casting a gaze back at Leth, who was managing a burden of her own.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” she said, shifting around the plastic convenience store bags that were biting into her arms. “Shit, they could have at least used a thicker plastic than this…”

“It’ll be alright. You can put those down inside and we can get some ice for your arms if you need it.”

“Not before we get some for your feet, Zeli. These’ll leave a mark for a bit, but I’ll be alright,” she insisted, slipping in past Zeli, who was finally able to close the door. “Home at friggin’ last,” she sighed.

“Come on, I don’t think it went that bad,” Shoko said, coming out of the bedroom and tossing a long, pink scarf on a hanger by the door and slipping out of the puffy, greyish-blue coat they were wearing over their maid outfit.

“Yeah, well, you’re kinda used to all of this stuff,” Leth said, placing all the convenience store bags on the table in the living room before unbuttoning the long, red coat that was doing a good job concealing the nearly identical maid outfit she was wearing.

“Still, people were really into us,” Zeli beamed, hanging up her peacoat, then straightening the skirt of her own maid outfit with pride.

“Hahaha, I told you people would go for it! An angel, a devil, and a half-angel/half-devil all cosplaying as maids? Instant ticket to popularity!” they said, rustling around in the kitchen cupboards.

“We certainly were swarmed, that’s for damn sure,” Leth said. “Never realized just how packed those things were. And you go to those all the time, Shoko?” she asked, bagging up some ice and tossing it to Zeli, who was already on her way to the couch.

“Yup! I usually get a pretty good crowd going, but I think it being the three of us really made it take off this time. Group cosplays are a ton more popular!”

“It’s a good thing you were able to make up costumes for us so quickly, then,” Zeli said, elevating her legs and moving the ice to her right ankle, which had already started to swell.

“It wasn’t too hard at all! I’m just glad the two of you put up with coming along!” Shoko said, sitting next to Zeli and starting to tear into the bags in front of them.

“Yeah, it’s no problem. Gotta admit, we’ve been a bit curious for a while about how those things pan out. Never thought I’d be going to one in a costume, though,” the angel said, sliding down into her seat at the far end of the couch. “Gaaah, my feet are killin’ me! How’s your ankle, Zeli?”

“It should be fine! Just been on my feet a lot more than I’m used to, I guess,” the devil chuckled, slowly rolling her foot around to show that, at the least, nothing was broken.

“That’s on me. I should have tried to get us some comfier shoes. Or at least given us a shorter day to work with. It’s kinda easy to get caught up in the moment when you’re there, though,” they said, handing Zeli a plate stacked high with quick, fried food they picked up on the way home.

“That’s a pretty heavy meal there, Zeli. You gonna be alright with that?” Leth asked with a tired smirk.

“Oh, I will be,” she said, already popping a piece of fried chicken into her mouth. “We’ve hardly eaten all day, so I think it’s more than okay to splurge.”

“Yeah, I’m friggin’ starvin’. Nuts to decency, I’m digging in,” the angel said, grabbing a plate of her own and starting to load it up while Shoko did the same.

“Anything you two want me to put on the TV?” Zeli asked between a mouthful of noodles.

“Nope,” Shoko said, tearing into a meat bun. “Just something we can talk over.”

“Though it’s mostly just gonna be us chowing down,” Leth added, tearing off a piece of chicken from a skewer. “Not eating all day seriously sucks, but, damn, it sure makes this convenience store junk taste amazing.”

“Yeah, wow,” Shoko said. “Kinda miss having this stuff for lunch all the time.”

“You never had food like this,” Zeli said. “You always just grabbed a melon bread or something cheap and empty.”

Leth laughed.

“Yeah! Besides, we get Zeli’s cooking for lunch every day now, and it’s loads better than this!”

“Well, maybe not right now,” the devil admitted, licking at the sauce on her fingers.

They all laughed at the sight of Zeli, normally so prim and proper, indulging herself with the greasy food they all knew was terrible for them, and continued to follow suit, ravenously devouring the feast in front of them until nothing was left but empty containers and cartons.

“Ooof,” Leth groaned, placing a hand on her stomach as she sunk back further into the couch. “Maybe overdid it with that last piece of chicken. Or three…”

“Join the club,” Shoko said, tossing off the fake glasses they’d been wearing as part of their costume and leaning back.

“I’ll really regret this in the morning,” Zeli said, reclining slightly against the armrest, “but it feels sooo good right now…”

“Honestly, I could get pretty used to this cosplay gig if it ends with us gorging ourselves til we’re loopy,” Leth said, stifling a burp.

“It definitely has an appeal,” Zeli admitted, rubbing at her ankle.

“You feeling any better? We can bring some stuff out to the couch if it’s easier for you to sleep out here,” Shoko asked.

“Oh, it’s fine. I could make it to the bedroom.”

“Well, glad one of us can,” Leth said. “I’m planning on falling asleep right here, personally.”

“Really?” Zeli asked.

“Oh, absolutely. I’m not risking getting elbowed by Shoko in the middle of the night.”

“That could be pretty bad,” Shoko had to admit, cringing a little at the thought.

“Yep! So I’m not even gonna try to move! Not sure I could, anyway.”

“Maybe we should all just crash here, then. It’s not the worst idea.”

“That does sound surprisingly...lovely?” Zeli offered.

“Sounds like a plan to me, then,” Shoko said, awkwardly shifting to the side to pull out their phone, the bringing it in front of them to take a picture.

“Ooof, really, Shoko?”

“Come on, Zeli just said it’s a nice moment!”

“Yeah...yeah, fine, knock yourself out. I’m too far gone to care at this point,” Leth said, flashing a peace sign and an intentionally stupid grin while Zeli simply smiled sweetly.

“3...2...1...cool! That’s definitely going into the scrapbook,” Shoko said with a smile.

“You’ve been filling that up quite nicely, haven’t you?” Zeli asked, glancing over at the photo albums under the TV.

“Yeah. It’s only been a month since we’ve been together and this year’s album is just about full. Might need to get a bigger album and transfer things over at this rate.”

“You’ll definitely need to if you keep dragging us to events,” Leth said.

“Still, having too many good memories with my girlfriends is a pretty good problem to have,” Shoko offered, smiling at Leth and Zeli in turn, who then looked at each other with smiles of their own.

“Nothing wrong with that at all,” Zeli said, rubbing at her eyes.

“Hahaha, yeah!” Leth teased, laughing until she started yawning herself.

Zeli simply shot a playful look back at her, any retort she may have had fizzling out as she saw Shoko gently dozing against the angel’s shoulder.

Leth exaggeratedly rolled her eyes, then smiled at Zeli, gently running her fingers through Shoko’s hair while the devil simply shrugged her shoulders and smiled back, both of them joining Shoko not long after, and all of them glad that, even if it took what it did, they were finally, truly together, content in knowing that nothing would ever threaten to bring them apart again.