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good night but not goodbye

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Year 3, June XX

Heartslabyul Dorms

Ace is laying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He’d taken out his tuxedo from his closet and put it over his torso to gauge how it looked on him in the mirror, but only ended up tossing it onto his sheets and throwing himself right beside it. The more he thinks about himself actually wearing it, the more that the butterflies in his stomach start fluttering around, making him feel unlike himself.

That’s when his phone buzzes in his pocket.

He lifts himself up, bed springs squeaking underneath him as he fishes for the device and pulls it out. His screen is lit up with a message.

Deuce

Yuu is going home tonight.

It’s five words that stare soulessly up at Ace from his smartphone screen. Five seemingly harmless words that send Ace’s train of thought screeching to a deadly halt.

Deuce went to the library with Yuu to study. Is that where they had found out?

Fine, go be a pair of little goody two-shoes, he’d said. Now he wishes he hadn’t.

Ace doubts the meaning of the word ‘home’ for a beat. After all, hasn’t Yuu’s home always been Ramshackle Dorm? Hasn’t Ramshackle been the place they’ve eaten, slept, went back to every day after school? Isn’t it the place that they’ve put so much love and care into making feel like home? Ramshackle Dorm is one spot on campus he knows he can visit to be greeted with a smile by the person who holds his heart in one hand.

Yuu is going home tonight. That implies that Yuu belongs to a place far away, somewhere that Ace doesn’t know outside of anecdotes. A place that Ace can never reach.

Yuu is going home tonight. And that means that before midnight, before the last set is played, before the last streamer comes down, before only the last dregs of party punch are left, Yuu is leaving Twisted Wonderland.

Yuu is going home on prom night.


“Are you really going to—” Deuce trips up on his words. He can’t seem to get his voice to scrape through the lump in his throat, so he simply raises a hand to his mouth to hide his quivering lips. He’s never prepared himself for a situation like this. Deuce has learned to overcome most things through sheer effort, but this is something he has now been thrown into without even getting a chance to rehearse. It is making him a wreck.
 
Main Street rolls out like a red carpet before the pair. The statues of the Great Seven cast long shadows over the path that send them into the dark for a moment. Yuu’s footsteps clack over the rock until they slow to a halt in the light, looking back at the shadowed Deuce. 

"Deuce, I have to go," Yuu says. “It’s the place I belong. I can’t use magic. I barely managed to squeak my way through these past three years.”

Both students and seasonal visitors alike pass them by with only a glance, excitement buzzing from their whole being. In comparison, all the energy seems to have been sucked out of Deuce. His vision tilts as he feels the ground give from underneath him, reality slipping from his very hands like water through a drain. The vertigo that hits him makes Yuu’s face seem that of someone he’d never met before, someone that would look his way and see a stranger instead of their best friend.

In summer the temperature on the school campus tends to crawl up a bit. Now, though, the sun begins to bow from the horizon, a chill in the air pricking needles at Deuce’s cheeks. Or is it the heat that’s flowing to his face, gathering behind his eyes? He keeps walking. Taking long strides, he passes Yuu.
 
"I really treasure all the time we've spent together, you, me, and Ace," Yuu calls out to him. "Grim too. I promise I won't forget about you guys."

When he turns his head, he can’t bear to look at them dead on.
 
“Are you still going to prom?” Deuce asks. He hates how frail his voice sounds as it catches in his throat.

Yuu laughs at that. They close the distance between them and Deuce and puts a friendly hand on his shoulder from behind. They lean forward and peer up into his face, the biggest smile he’d seen from them yet rooted on their face.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” they say.

Year 3, April XX

Heartslabyul Dorms

Ace Trappola and Deuce Spade are near exact opposites, but they have two things in common. One is that they are both junior Heartslabyul students about to end their third year at Night Raven College. The second is that they both have been brought to their knees by an affection for their friend they’d never seen coming until it hit them.

Ace is the first to find out that the other plans on asking Yuu out to the dance. In their shared room, he sees Deuce anxiously scribbling away. He scrawls away at the paper for a few minutes, furiously scratches at his head, then crumples it up and tosses it onto the floor to join the rest of the pile of discarded scribbles. The two other roommates are laying on their beds, watching a television show on one of their smartphones, eyes directed in a completely opposite direction. Without making a sound so Deuce doesn’t see him do it, Ace sneaks over and picks up one of the crumpled balls and flattens it out to read. And he raises his eyebrows.

Ace already had an inkling of how Deuce felt for their friend in the first place. He’s a rather easy one to read and Ace is the only one in their trio who’s noticed how often Deuce’s eyes are following Yuu. At least Ace is aware of how much space Yuu is occupying in his brain. He heaves a sigh on the inside. He’s got not just one air-headed friend, but two. And he’s—yuck—in love with one of them. Ace thinks that his predicament deserves a little sympathy.

This is what the crumpled up paper says:

Hi,

I was wondring Do u have time after school How are you doing? I hope you are eating all right and getting propper exersize. I alreaddy know that you are but I might as well ask.

I wanted to ask if you have a date to the prom Do you have plans for prom? If yes, I’d like to Let me know.

Yours,

Deuce

The window curtains flutter as a warm breeze filters into the room. The scrap of paper shakes in Ace’s hand, though not from the wind. It slips from his fingers to the floor as his roommates and Deuce alike both start from what they’re doing to watch Ace utterly lose his shit. He busts out in maniacal laughter, an arm braced over his torso and the other extended to point a mocking finger at Deuce. All the white noise you’d hear in the dorm seems to fall away from Ace’s loud performance.

“You suck at love letters!” Ace cries out before submitting to another fit of laughter that bounces off the room’s walls.

Ace pauses midway to heave a few breaths. He coughs, trying to calm himself, but the hilarity of the moment makes his voice wobble as he talks to Deuce. “’I hope you are eating all right’? This isn’t asking Yuu out, this is something you’d get from your mom in the mail. Nice work on the spelling though, it’s way better than two years ago.”

Deuce knits his eyebrows tight. “It’s not a love letter, it’s an invite, like you said,” he says.

“An invite to prom,” Ace cuts in. “Close enough.”

The other two roommates start excitedly whispering to each other at the sudden development. Deuce, not noticing, swivels forward, glaring once more at the paper in his hands. 

“Is it really too motherly?” he asks. 

The malicious intent in Ace’s earlier remark totally and utterly flies over his head. Normally, he’d pick up on the fact Ace is insulting him regardless of whether he understood how Ace was doing it or not. Taken off guard by the genuine question, Ace clears his throat, temporarily robbed of words.

He walks up to Deuce’s desk and takes a seat on the edge of his bed. His pointer finger lands on the paper and Deuce shifts away, a question plain on his face. Ace ignores it and simply begins talking. 

“Get rid of the ‘hi,’” Ace says. A mask of seriousness falls over his features as he shifts his gaze to look Deuce in the eye. “Make it straight forward. And don’t ask Yuu if they have plans. You want their plans to be a date with you.”

Deuce’s expression warps into that of mild disgust. “You’re helping me?”

Ace grinds a fist into Deuce’s head, face reddening with fury. Afterwards, he sighs and gets to his feet. “Fine, don’t take my advice then, Deuce, master of romance.”

Deuce, a hand on his abused head, grumbles in Ace’s direction. “Thanks.”

Ace’s back still faces Deuce. He raises a hand and flutters it in the air. 

“Yeah, yeah,” he says. He turns his head and smiles crookedly. “Oh, and? Better write that letter quick.”

Deuce shifts in his chair. He’d been around Ace enough to know exactly what look he has on his face when he’s up to mischief. For a long second, he reconsiders asking for the reason. Something tells him he doesn’t want to know. His curiosity wins out, though, and he ventures the question while clenching his hands into fists to still the shaking.

“Why?” he asks.

Ace’s smile broadens as if he were already ready to answer. He puts a finger to his lips like he’s sharing a secret. “Because I’m asking Yuu out too.”

Ace sees the change on Deuce’s face right away. His eyes widen to saucers, his mouth falling slightly open. He scans Ace’s face for the slightest trace of a lie and he doesn’t find any. His gaze falls to the floor as he knits his eyebrows tight. He opens his mouth to speak, but he’s interrupted by Ace slamming both his hands into his roommates’ bed. 

“Get back to your damn baking show already!” Ace shouts, cheeks burning. The pair just laugh at him.

Chapter Text

Year 3, April XX

Hallway

Ace has been waiting for the right opportunity to ask Yuu out. He’s got a steady head on his shoulders and he’s socially capable enough to scope out just when would be perfect - thing is, that moment hasn’t ever come. At least for now. And that’s all Deuce’s fault, whether he means to or not.

While Ace has been gauging the situation, Deuce has been trying this entire time to also ask Yuu out. To him this means hanging around them day and evening as much as humanly possible. He still hasn’t managed to pop the damn question, and it’s starting to irk Ace just watching it go on. He’s sure that if Riddle weren’t in year four and away on his internship, he would agree with Ace for a change. At first, Ace thought he could maybe make use of Deuce’s stupidity to take the reins and get Yuu to agree to be his prom date before Deuce, but with how often the two are stuck shoulder-to-shoulder these days, that hasn’t been a possibility. 

Ace is clear-headed, charming, and clever. He isn’t one to get overemotional and make sudden outbursts. So even if he is incredibly frustrated watching Deuce act like a middle schooler with his hand hovering over one of Yuu’s shoulders and words hanging off his tongue, he isn’t going to—god damn it, no, Ace has had enough.

Ace, who’s walking to the right of Yuu, slows his feet and grabs Deuce by the collar, essentially yanking him backwards. Yuu, who has their eyes on a dozing Grim, doesn’t notice until Deuce is shouting as he struggles to break free from Ace’s grip.

“Let go, bastard!” he hollers.

Ace shakes his head and smiles in Yuu’s direction, waving a hand and spouting lies like a spring breeze. “Forgot, dorm lead wanted us to help clean the hedgehogs’ cages ASAP. Some lazyass skipped out on his work and the lead’s got all the first-years in a police lineup trying to find who to chew out.”

Horror is written clear on Yuu’s face at the casual statement from Ace. After Riddle graduated his third year, he somehow found an even stricter student to take his place as dorm lead. Ace and Deuce haven’t challenged him to take his place, though they have had to beat some sense into the new dorm lead in the past. It’s made him overlook a lot of the rule-breaking the former first-year duo has done which they find just fine and peachy. If they were dorm lead, they wouldn’t be able to visit Ramshackle so often.

“Go ahead, guys,” Yuu hurriedly replies. “Me and Grim will walk ourselves home.”

Ace nods and keeps waving with one hand, the other covering Deuce’s mouth as he tries to argue with him. When Yuu is completely out of sight, Ace frees Deuce and takes a step back. Deuce is on him in an instant.

“What was that for, huh?!” Deuce shouts, fist bundled in Ace’s lapel. 

“What was that, you goddamn chicken?” Ace bites right back, a hand closed over Deuce’s wrist. “You’re getting in the way of me and Yuu because you can’t hand over a stupid letter.”

The tips of Deuce’s ears begin to burn as the blood rushes to his head. He lets go of Ace, clearing his throat. “I’m waiting for the right time. I’ve been—”

“Well, news flash, dumbass,” Ace cuts in. “The right time has already come and gone for you. It’s my turn, so get out of my way.”

The atmosphere around the Heartslabyul pair goes taut as a tightrope. With both exams and prom coming up to mark the end of their time at Night Raven, tensions have been high. It just so happens that Ace knows how to press Deuce’s buttons, and Deuce does the same thing back without even meaning to - something that can only happen because they’ve known each other for years.

Deuce’s face starts reddening, this time from anger. He squares up to Ace and pushes him on the shoulders. “Who said you had a turn? If you haven’t asked them out yet, it’s your issue, not mine.”

Ace nearly loses his footing from the sudden force, but manages to steady himself to throw his palms right back out at Deuce with all his might. “Who said you could push me?”

It’s no surprise that Ace’s attempt at upsetting Deuce’s balance doesn’t actually knock him over. He has more muscle on than Ace does, and those muscles are now being flexed as Deuce stretches to, without speaking a word, tackle Ace to the ground. Ace goes down croaking like a toad as Deuce’s weight crushes his torso. 

That’s when whatever reason that Ace had left totally flies out of his mind and is replaced with blind rage. He’s being tackled in a hallway by a meat-for-brains. Is he going to take it lying down? Absolutely not.

Ace grabs his Magipen and summons the biggest gust of wind he can manage, directing all of it toward Deuce. Deuce, who had shifted to hover over Ace before dealing any real damage, goes flying. The candles that illuminate the hallway get caught in the gust and roll on the ground, fire now extinguished. The hallway sinks into darkness. There isn’t anyone in their near vicinity at the moment, but the ruckus is enough to bring the attention of students in the nearby rooms who were either doing club activities or studying. Ace hears whispering behind the creaking doors. But Ace isn’t in the right mind to pay them any attention.

Ace jumps on the floored Deuce and they begin wrestling on the ground. Spectators start shouting as they tell others to come look. By the time a teacher comes to break up the fight, Deuce’s hair is sticking up all over the place and Ace’s tie is lying discarded on the ground. Both are heaving breaths as they exchange a glance.

“Let’s ask Yuu to go with both of us,” they say in defeated unison.

Year 3, May XX

Outside Night Raven College

At the very top of the sprawling stairs, someone is holding up a sign, surrounded by a crowd of other students. On the sign is one word and a question mark: “Prom?”

The chatter is relatively even but it grows louder as a pair of students reach the top of the steps. One looks at the other with confusion, but the other simply smiles while breaking the question. 

“Would you go to prom with me?” he asks.

The other half of the pair blinks, eyes wide. “Sure,” he replies.

Ace, Deuce, Yuu and Grim all pass by this scene. Their chatter peters out as their eyes follow the source of the commotion. Ace and Deuce meet eyes for a moment, exchanging a meaningful glance. Their pace slows. Yuu, Grim in their arms, keeps walking without realizing and talks just low enough to not be heard by the people in question.

“Man, I’d hate to be asked to be asked out like that,” they say, a smile on their face. “It’s too public.”

Ace and Deuce freeze. Yuu stops after a few paces and swirls around to look for their friends. 

“Are you coming?” they ask.

For a long moment, Ace and Deuce look at Yuu, open mouthed. Deuce’s hand is frozen mid-air on its way to his bag while Ace is stuffing something inside his. Yuu tilts their head, a quizzical look on their face. Yuu heard rumors that the two were caught fist fighting in the hallway a couple weeks ago, but they seemed to have gotten along in recent days again without Yuu’s interference. Yuu has no idea why the pair might be acting strange now. Grim is looking at the entrance, grumbling about wanting more breakfast. Time starts flowing like normal again when Ace puts his free hand over his mouth and yawns.

“Alright, alright,” he replies while pacing to line up with Yuu again. Deuce follows suit.

The school days flies by until sixth period, which for Crewel is now the period that he teaches the third-years of Night Raven College. It’s vaguely nostalgic for the trio - they’d had him for first period in their first year at the school, though he’s no longer their homeroom teacher. When they step in, it’s the heat that hits their faces first. Second, it’s the sound of bubbling cauldrons. As Crewel always has the cauldrons preheated at the right temperature for their lesson for that day, it’s sometimes possible to guess what kind of work they’ll be diving into.

Deuce peeks into the bubbling waters as he and the other two stride to their usual cauldron. “Is it a fast-acting agent?”

Crewel smiles broadly from across his desk, picking up his riding crop to start the school day. “Very good, mutt.”

Ace rolls his eyes at the exchange. In Crewel’s class Deuce looks to him like a dog wagging its tail. The pair have attained quite the rapport over the years as Deuce has come to Crewel for help studying and Crewel’s satisfaction with Deuce’s growth became more and more apparent.

It doesn’t take long until all the students have filed inside the class. The chatter dies down when the school bell rings - nobody is willing to test Crewel’s patience, even if he is more lenient than say, Trein. A little later in class, Ace gives Deuce a glance before stepping away from his cauldron to approach Crewel.

“Hey, can I use the bathroom?” he asks. “I spilled something on my pants and I need to go change.”

Crewel gives Ace a once-over. “Where is the stain?”

Ace sighs, scratching the back of his neck. “It’s an invisible solution.”

“It really itches,” he adds.

He clicks his tongue and turns his back to Ace to face the other student he was talking to again. “Go, then.”

Ace gives Deuce one more glance before grabbing his bag and walking out the door. Ace can feel Crewel’s glare burn into the back of his head as he goes out but the teacher doesn’t tell him to leave it behind. Deuce pulls his bag over his shoulder in a rush and chases after him. He catches eyes with Yuu across the room while doing so. They smile and wave a sleeping Grim’s paw in his direction. Deuce nearly trips over his feet as he gives an over exaggerated nod and steps outside, heart beating wildly in his chest.

“What’s that look on your face for?” Ace remarks as soon as the door shuts behind Deuce. He’s leaning against the wall of the corridor, one hand hooked on the strap of his bag. 

“Nothing,” Deuce replies, voice catching.

“Yuu, huh?” Ace says and sighs. “Bet you just met eyes with them and lost it. Figures. Well, let’s get going.”

Ace eases himself off the wall and breaks into a walk deeper into the corridor. It leads to a dead end, but there’s an entrance to the fourth floor bathrooms there. Deuce, question marks floating above his head, catches up to him in long strides. 

“In here,” Ace prods Deuce and they both go in. Inside, the bathroom is lit up with green candlelight and clean as a wick. The tiles don’t have a speck of dirt on them. In general, it’s an unused part of the school as the majority of the bathroom-goers will opt for the one by the cafeteria or closer to the stairways instead of at the dead end of a hallway.

Without hesitation, Ace pops open his bag and rolls out a piece of poster paper. On it, a single word is written.

PROM?

The word gets split in half soon after, however, as Ace rips the thing apart. He tries to grind his heel into it, too, but instead almost falls on his ass as the paper slips on the tile. Somehow, he manages to regain his balance. He recovers with a cough and looks at Deuce.

“What’s the game plan now?” he asks. Ace and Deuce had compromised by deciding to ask Yuu out together, but now that plan’s been shredded to pieces both literally and figuratively. 

“I say we break the question after walking them to Ramshackle tonight,” Deuce says.

“I hate to say it, but that’s not a bad idea,” Ace says. “But just asking? We need something better than that.”

Deuce hums and puts a hand to his chin. “I saw some sophomores researching illusory magic in the library the other day.”

Ace frowns. “And that relates to this how?”

Deuce smiles victoriously. “Because we can use it to ask Yuu out to prom.”

Chapter Text

Year 3, May XX (Later in the Day)

Ramshackle Dorm

From the start of the day, Ace and Deuce have been acting strange. Yuu begins to doubt that they had ever truly made up after whatever fight they must have had, but that wouldn’t explain why they’ve been shoulder-to-shoulder and whispering to each other this whole time. Normally, Yuu would be walking lined up between the both of them. Instead, they’ve been trailing behind Yuu and hugging their bags close to their bodies. 

They’d ran into each other after Yuu left class early. Normally they leave their alchemy class at 3PM when the last bell rings, but Crewel kicked them out before the class begin making the last concoction of the day.

“Anything happen?” Deuce asked, knitting his eyebrows tight. He’s rather sensitive to Yuu being treated different from the others simply because of their magiclessness.

“It’s ‘cause of how specialized the third unit is this semester. You two weren’t there so you probably don’t know, but the last lesson was one of the more intensive ones,” Yuu explains. “Normally I’d be wearing the, what? The special goggles that kept me safe through the final exams last year, right? But apparently since I don’t have magic running through me, it doesn’t give the same effect as the other students here.”

After chatting for a little, they part their separate ways with promises to meet up to walk back to Ramshackle Dorm together.

With the end of winter break long past and any hints of the season melted with spring, the sun has stayed strung in the sky far longer than in months past. But with the time that Ace and Deuce have spent at their clubs and Yuu has spent studying, enough time has past for it to be almost sundown.

Before long, the shadow of Ramshackle Dorm hangs over them as they slip through the iron wrought gates. When Yuu turns around to face them, Ace smiles, a hand up and body language natural as ever. 

“So you said you don’t like public invites to prom,” Ace says. “What do you like then?”

Yuu raises an eyebrow. Does the question have to do with their sudden change in behavior? The suspicion crawls up on the Prefect and they cross their arms and put a finger to their chin performatively. 

“First of all, I don’t want an invite from just anyone,” they say.

Ace and Deuce exchange a look before turning back to Yuu. 

“Who would you want it from?” Deuce asks, face tense.

Yuu looks at Ace in the eye, then Deuce. They smile. “From a close friend.”

Ace’s eyebrows knit tight, turning the reply in his mind to see if there could be any other meaning. When he doesn’t find any, though, realization dawns on Ace’s face until his mouth quite literally falls open. Dyed in the red-orange light of the sun dipping down in the horizon, Ace’s expression brightens quite visibly. Meanwhile, Deuce merely blinks curiously.

Ace rushes forward and takes Yuu by the hand before taking off. “We’ve got something to show you.”

Deuce, left behind both literally and figuratively, has to break out into a jog to catch up and take Yuu’s other hand as they speed their way towards Ramshackle Dorm. They pound their feet over the stone path before finally stopping to catch their breath at the entrance to the building. In a smooth movement, Ace leads Yuu to sit on the porch. His hand slips from theirs, slides up their arm and lifts from their shoulder as he steps back to be in full view, Deuce standing next to him. 

“You’re gonna wanna sit for this,” he says before nodding over at Deuce.

Deuce, flustered, unhooks his bag from his shoulder and starts rummaging through it. Meanwhile, Ace unclips his Magipen from his jacket pocket and begins waving it around. He starts shaking his head, humming a tune. When he opens his mouth, a song spills from his lips and fills the evening air:

The things you love, the things you just can’t stand
I know every last one of ‘em

It’s no surprise that even on its own, Ace’s voice is a wonder. He’d gotten vocal practice from Vil back in the day and he’s never missed the chance to flaunt it any chance he gets around the people who won’t tease him for putting effort into it.

Yuu’s eyes shift over to Deuce when he pulls a fabric from his bag that flutters in the air, whatever little light left in the sky catching on the glitter spilling from its surface. Deuce opens his mouth, singing to finish the stanza with vocal talent that rivals Ace’s:

And hey, it’s you that’s on my mind all the time, day and night

The glitter seems to float in the air before making its slow descent. With it as a filter, Deuce’s smile seems to be unearthly. There’s a twinkle in Yuu’s eyes as they wait to see what unfolds. When the twinkling speckles fall and hit the ground, they explode into miniature images. A rose unfurling into full bloom, a hedgehog twitching its nose, a flamingo flapping its wings. They all briefly glitter in the air before exploding into little sparkles that are finally puffed out as they fall to the rocks. 

“What do you think?” Ace asks, a confident smile on his face. 

“It’s pretty,” Yuu says excitedly. “Just when I think I’ve gotten used to this world, I get to see things like this. It always blows my mind.”

“That was a warm-up,” Ace replies with a mischievous look. He rolls up his sleeves and begins waving his Magipen with wider, more furious movements. “Don’t get sleepy just yet.”

A wind storm starts flapping up the sparkles that Yuu had thought had gone out, lifting them into the air to glow like fireflies in the night sky. As they do, the sounds of chimes reaches Yuu’s ears. The glitter presses together into a cloud that is then manipulated into letters. One by one, the letters Y, U, and a second U are lined up next to each other in the sky.

“Deuce!” Ace shouts.

Deuce, spurred on by Ace’s cue, tosses a handful of rose petals in the air before grabbing hold of his own Magipen. The rose petals begin to shift between red and white as they float, suspended until lifted up into Ace’s wind current. The letters in the air begin to shift until they form a completely different word: PROM?

Deuce waves his Magipen once more as Yuu is frozen watching the show. As he does, the petals in the air begin to multiply until each becomes a rose bud of its own, filling the sky with red and white blossoms. When Ace lowers his arm, it sends them raining down around Yuu. Briefly Deuce falls out of sight behind the waterfall of flowers, but when he comes back into view he’s in a suit and tie, a bouquet of white roses in one hand. When Yuu looks to Ace, he’s in a similar suit with a bouquet of red roses.

“It’s a little over-the-top, but might as well go all the way if we’re doing it, right? You did say I looked good in a suit,” Ace says, face slightly flushed. The red leaves his cheeks, though, as he tosses his bouquet toward Yuu with his usual mischievous expression. He laughs as Yuu scrambles to catch it.

Deuce anxiously looks to Yuu as they’d been silent the whole show. When he does, he’s taken off guard by the teary eyes peeking out from behind the bouquet. Mouth half-open, Yuu looks between him and Ace before giving them a standing ovation. 

Deuce reaches out and grabs Yuu’s free hand, pressing his bouquet into it. Decked out from head to toe, Deuce looks like a completely different person. He opens his mouth to speak when glittery powder becomes falling away from him like encrusted sand. What had once been a suit falls away, returning him to his usual uniform. When Deuce catches Yuu looking at his clothes, he finally looks down and notices. He forces on a smile and lowers himself so he’s face to face with Yuu.

“We borrowed some fairy dust,” Deuce says in a low voice, as if sharing a secret. “You don’t like public displays, but we wanted to put on a show. Prom only happens once in your life.”

Ace walks up to Yuu’s side. He’s rolling his eyes. 

“Lay off the cheese,” he grumbles. He looks down at Yuu, brushing a petal from Yuu’s hair with a finger. It disintegrates into dust as it’s caught in the evening breeze - though the flower bouquets, apparently real, remain. “He’s not off the mark though.”

The pair fall silent as they watch Yuu for any reaction. It takes a bit for the Prefect to realize the duo is waiting for their response. Their eyes bounce between Ace and Deuce, mouth flapping open and closed as they try to get words out. 

What ends up falling from their lips is: “I can’t do anything like that show in return for you guys.”

A sharp prick of pain hits Yuu’s forehead and they flinch. Ace, successfully having flicked their forehead, steps back and glares at them. “We’re not looking for anything in return. What’s your answer?"

“Am I being asked to go with one of you? Or both?”

The question hits a sore spot for the Heartslabyul pair, apparently, as they both look at each other with dour expressions. Ace turns his head and Deuce rubs his arm. 

“I wouldn’t mind if you choose to go with me,” Deuce begins before Ace stomps on his foot. He howls then coughs, clearing his throat. “It’d be better if you went with both of us.”

Yuu takes Deuce’s hand into theirs. Deuce startles, face turning tomato red at the contact. 

Leaning into Ace’s shoulder, Yuu smiles and says, “I’d love to.”

Chapter Text

Year 3, June XX

Banquet Hall

Deuce’s mind is knee-deep in memories from May as he strings up ribbon and tinsel along the walls of what is normally the cafeteria. Deuce accidentally waves his Magipen too far remembering Yuu’s hands over his and yanks the ribbon off the wall, causing the thumbtacks pinning it down to go flying. He hears Yuu’s voice call after him, likely to check if he’s okay. He dramatically nods his head, already twirling his Magipen to pick everything up in a miniature whirlwind and start over again.

There’s only an hour more of preparations for prom before the students are free to roam and the place is buzzing with people excited for those sixty minutes to come and go. He’s taken the task of taking care of the final touches on the wall decorations before the area finally opens to the public. It’s detailed work, something he isn’t the best at, and with everything on his mind he’s had to take everything out and try again several times already. Considering that nobody has offered to take his place yet, there’s probably a lot of other last little bits of work that needs to be done. He sighs and closes his eyes.

Deuce finds it a mystery why Yuu is able to act so calm when their whole world, quite literally, is changing tonight. In one of Deuce’s earliest fights in middle school, he remembers drawing back a fist and after the impact, seeing his knuckles spattered with blood. The instant chill that hit him—starting from the ends of his fingers and stopping at the crown of his head—was the same chill that struck him when Yuu delivered him the Earth-shaking news just before arriving at the cafeteria. It’s what he feels when he’s watching the reins on a situation slip from his grip in real time.

His mind was blank at the time. Remembering the moment, it goes blank once more. 

He blinks. Finally, he realizes tears have blurred his vision as they roll down his cheeks. He wipes them away roughly with a sleeve and goes back to his work.


Somehow, the excitement that seems to be rolling over the campus doesn’t evaporate even as the students have to roll up their sleeves and get through the last spurt of hard work to prepare the cafeteria for students and visitors alike. Among the handful of events that Night Raven College opens its gates for, prom, second to perhaps Halloween, is one of the most anticipated. Unlike Halloween, though, there isn’t any individual dorm work - instead, the work is divided by year. The room that is going to be the main hall for prom, the cafeteria, has been left to the juniors for decoration and setup. The normally busy cafeteria has been cleared out save for a dozen or so heads busy with their work. The mouth-watering smell of frying meat permeates the air and overwrites the smells from that morning’s breakfast, the telltale sound of clinking pots and pans ringing out from the cafeteria kitchen as ghosts prepare scrumptious meals in large volumes from behind the shuttered counter window. 

The juniors this year are planning a surprise the likes of which has never been seen before, and though a type of senioritis has pushed their estimated finish time to mere hours before actual prom, energy is high. This is one of the few events where the entertainment that Night Raven College so thoroughly lacks comes bounding forth in the form of student-led performances, music, and decorations. It’s one of the reasons that they’ve raised a platform in the middle of the cafeteria.

When Yuu breaks their gaze from Deuce’s back and opens one of the boxes for the stage setup, they find what can only be an assortment of ingredients for concocting potions. There are flasks filled with different colored liquids lined up next to glass jars labeled with a steady hand. Yuu lifts one to examine it, but has it taken out of their hand after a shadow falls over them. They look up and find Ace hovering over their head. 

Eyes squinted, he takes a close look at the labeling before shaking his head and setting it on the nearby table. “What is this? Did our boxes get mix up with the alchemy club’s or something?”

Yuu shakes their head and knits their eyebrows tight. Their hand brushes over the contents of the box to pick up a folded piece of paper. Unfolding it reveals tiny print with a title in bold letters, “STAGE SHOW RECIPE NO. 4.”

Ace hums aloud at the sight, leaning closer to get a good look. “Oh, I guess that’s part of the new illusion they were planning this year? The teachers wanted to go for something traditional over digital this year to show off that we’re a magic school, I guess.”

Yuu’s eyes are glittering at the prospect. They’re likely remembering the show they’d been given a month back. A month back, before the Earth-shattering news that they had delivered to Ace and Deuce last night. Somehow, time continues to march on as normal even when the ground underneath Ace’s feet seems to be falling in.

Ace opens his mouth and calls Yuu’s name. He doesn’t know for what—to say anything, really. Are you really going to go? All of the classes and hours you were studying, all that time we spent together, you were just waiting for the chance to go home?

They look up at him but before he gets the chance to speak, there’s a buzz from their phone. They pull it out and swipe at the screen before looking back up at Ace. “Magicam notification. What’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” Ace replies. He picks up another one of the glass and stares at it. Inside is a dark blue liquid, flakes of gold swirling inside and glittering like stars in the Milky Way. ‘B612’ is written in small letters on a strip of duct tape attached to it. “We used this one last semester, remember?” 

He leans over to show the label to Yuu. “One of the ingredients in the potions we studied during the volatiles course.”

B612 is the term for whatever substance it was that they were making use of during class, the generic version of a patented solution that students really only learn about in the context of whatever they are making. 

Yuu takes it from Ace’s hand to hold it closer to their face. They nod solemnly. “It’s stable on its own, but for whatever weird reason, mix it with anything from a baobab tree and I end up having to evacuate the room.”

Ace snorts at the last half of the sentence. Yuu tries to participate in alchemy as much as possible, but there are times where they just can’t afford to be in the room because of the risk. The magic in Night Raven College students’ body provides a kind of barrier to the more powerful concoctions they made, but Yuu doesn’t have any of that. 

“You gonna be alright playing with your little chemistry kit?” Ace asks, fingers twitching.

Yuu has been around Ace long enough to know what he’s asking. They shake their head. “I can do this on my own. I have the recipe and I have goggles. See?”

Ace rolls his eyes at the sight of Yuu proudly holding out the pair of goggles they fished out from the box. “Okay. Call me if you royally mess up.”

Yuu huffs a laugh and turns their head back toward the floor as their hands get right to work in putting together the mixture for the illusions show. Ace figures that the concoction will be one that reacts only to magic, so it should be safe for Yuu to be handling it. He catches Deuce out of the corner of his eye and, throwing his hands in his pockets, breaks out in a walk in his direction. He weaves past the meandering pairs of students that are rushing around to make sure that every surface in the room is decked out with some form of a decorative star, glittery cloth, or fairy light. 

“Hey,” he calls out and leans onto the stepladder Deuce is on. Deuce looks down on him from above as one would an insect. 

“Quit with that look,” Ace shouts, slapping the ladder and making it shudder.

“Why don’t you go and do your work?” Deuce suggests while steadying himself. 

Ace squints up at Deuce’s face. He looks away underneath the scrutiny. Ace sighs while sitting on the second lowest rung of the stepladder. “Already wrapped it up. Can’t help that I’m good with my hands, you know?”

There’s a heavy silence that falls between the pair with the words they’ve left unspoken. Ace absently taps his nails on the metal beneath him. Deuce feels the anxious rhythm when his hand meets the highest rung to support himself as he reaches out his arm to guide the last thumbtack into the wall. Eyes still on the banner hung smack right in the middle of all the ribbons he’d just strung up, Deuce opens his mouth.

“How’s Yuu?” he asks.

“Same as always,” Ace says. The malice that edges into his voice surprises even him. He clears his throat, hand nonchalantly scratching the back of his neck. “They’re working on a little science project.”

Deuce sets down his Magipen. His forehead creases. “On their own?”

“Yeah,” Ace replies. He gets to his feet and stretches. He then nods in Yuu’s direction. “They said they’d be fine, but I don’t know. I think they might blow up the place if we don’t check on them.”

Deuce already knows what to do. He clips his Magipen to his jacket, straightens his tie, and jumps off the stepladder, sending a crowd of students scrambling away at the sound of impact. Ace laughs loudly at the ridiculous sight. When he starts walking, Deuce steps in line with him until they’re a few feet away from Yuu. That’s when Ace spots the glass jar he’d put on the table beside Yuu. Their back is to him as they hum a melody to themself, wires from their earphones dangling from their shoulder. Ace picks up the very first glass jar he’d taken from Yuu. He turns it around in his hands a few times, its weight seemingly growing every second.

“Do you remember Potions 102 from sophomore year?” Ace mumbles.

“Yeah, why?” Deuce replies.

Illusory magic isn’t always something that is stand-alone. Sometimes it will go hand-in-hand with other catalysts to create the full experience. Ace heard from his brother about mind-altering potions being mixed in with drinks at the concerts to make the lights shows all the more awe-inspiring. Their structures are learned of early in potions class, although their composition can get very complex. It isn’t unheard of to offer one of these potions as an option during high school shows. Whoever came up with the idea of offering a potion like that for their stage show must be rather clever - if the potion composition is good, then it’d be great publicity for Night Raven College. 

Ace remembers, now, one of the potions they’d learned about in sophomore year. It used B612, something Ace hadn’t really been familiar with at the time, its use in earlier classes likely being reduced due to its volatility with the medicinal baobab. Ace doesn’t have the strongest memory so he can’t recall the exact ingredients in the recipe Yuu showed him, but they resemble the potion that Ace now recalls learning in Potions 102. Except the ingredient in the glass jar he’s holding.

Baobab bark.

He looks at Deuce, a dry laugh clawing from his throat. He shakes the jar in front of Deuce’s face. “You know the fancy solution that reacts really strongly with this?”

Deuce takes the jar from Ace’s hand and looks at it before looking up at him in confusion. “… B612?” 

Ace rolls his eyes at the unsure tone Deuce replies to him with. His facial expression then falls flat. He looks at Yuu’s box of alchemy ingredients and Deuce follows his line of sight. It takes a few beats, but then Ace hears him sharply inhale. It can’t be a coincidence that someone arranged those ingredients to be together, and that Yuu is the one mixing them.

“It’d be a real bad stroke of luck if Yuu wasn’t able to make it to whatever ceremony that gets them back home,” Ace remarks. His voice cracks mid-sentence. Head lowered, his expression can’t be seen.

“Ace—” Deuce’s voice shakes, a tinge of panic mixed in what should have been a chiding tone.

Ace raises his head and bursts out into laughter. He wipes a tear from his eyes, shoulder shaking. “Damn, Juice, you really thought I was serious?”

Yuu turns around at the noise and pops out their earphones. “Oh my god. How long were you two just standing there?”

Deuce cuts in, body tense and an arm behind his back. “We just got here. Wanted to see how you’re doing.”

Yuu eyes soften behind their goggles. Smiling, they wave the pair over. “I’m doing just great. Look at this mini cauldron set someone brought over for me. Kind of reminds me of the Bunsen burners they’d break out in class back home.”

Sure enough, Yuu has a smaller cauldron meant for one person set on top of a raised grate being heated by the flame shooting out of a metal rod beneath it. It was likely brought over from the alchemy classroom due to the place already being filled with students cramming for finals or taking classes. 

Deuce’s grip tightens on the jar behind his back for a moment. To Ace’s surprise, his voice falters. “Who brought it over?”

Yuu blinks at the sudden question. “Someone from another class—oh, the one heading over here.”

Ace and Deuce’s heads swivel in the direction that Yuu points and find a purple-vested student with black curls that spill his forehead and frame his face. He walks casually as he approaches them, heeled boots clicking on the dining hall floor. He stops in front of Ace and Deuce, who protectively are blocking his way. 

“Would you be able to hand this to Yuu?” he asks in a surprisingly deep voice. He hands Deuce another glass jar and turns around and walks the other way.

Deuce stands shell-shocked for a few moments, glass jars in either hand. He looks between both of them, one labeled baobab bark and the other with clearly innocuous contents until Yuu’s voice pulls him from his stupor.

“That’s the catalyst I’m looking for,” Yuu says. “Could you hand it over to me?”

Deuce looks at Yuu for a few moments. He thinks about how the corners of Ace’s lips were pulled down just moments ago before he tried to laugh his ‘joke’ off. The right thing to do would be to send Yuu off to their own world, their home, and their family. Deuce doesn’t have any right to keep them here. His heart is pounding in his chest, now, sweat making his hold on the glass in his hands slippery. His eyes flick over to Ace and the redhead raises his eyebrows, gaze lowering to the jar and raising back up to look at Deuce again. 

What Deuce could do is this: hand over the safe ingredient and while Yuu is mixing it in, go and find the person who put together the recipe that could have hurt them. Before the night ends, before Yuu finishes what they’re doing, and before the sweat makes the glass jar slip from his hands, Deuce rushes to Yuu’s side to give them what they need. From behind, Ace raises a hand and calls out his name.

“Deuce—” Ace begins.

When Deuce turns around, Ace lowers his head. “Never mind.”

The glass jar is passed on into Yuu’s grasp before its contents are dumped entirely in the cauldron. Deuce turns heel to start scoping the area for suspicious figures, but it takes a few steps until he realizes he needs to set down what’s in his hand. And when he sets it down, he sees it: the glass jar doesn’t have a label on it. When he turns around, it’s too late. The cauldron has begun to smoke. 

Ace is standing a foot away from Yuu, frozen where he is. His mouth is open as if he were surprised.

Chapter Text

???

Ace’s Heart

Do you remember when we ate an entire cherry pie, just the two of us? Each of us, holding a fork in one hand and our near-bursting stomachs in the other until the silver platter was completely empty of everything but crumbs. 

Maybe you don’t. It was my birthday. 

After all the festivities and everyone went packing, I pulled you into an empty room. I tugged a thin white cloth to the side to uncover a golden-brown cherry pie gleaming with a buttery glaze. Trey had baked it with us in mind. 

I still can’t forget that surprised look you had when I made the reveal. Something mixed with pure joy and genuine shock. I see that on people’s faces pretty often when showing off card tricks. Do I remember any of the others’, though? No. Memorization’s not my thing. Doesn’t stop me from remembering every detail of that expression you had, because I was the one who got you to wear it.

I joked that since it was my birthday I was going to eat it and you would have to sit there and watch. But if I’m honest—when am I not though?—it tasted much better because you were eating it with me. 

I don’t share the things I like with just anyone, you know? I can get along with most people. I’m quick-headed and know how to get by. But just because I can pick something up easily doesn’t mean I want to do it. And just because I had my pick of anyone to have that cherry pie with, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t choose you. 

I’m not an idiot. I know I’m not particularly special to you. Yet still, here I am, hoping you’d stay with me. Even though the most important thing to you will always be a place, and not a person. 

Oh—there’s one more thing I’m not.

I’m not a good person.

But I know you’ll forgive me for it. I like to think that, anyway. 

So please, if I give into myself and hold you back— 

Try to learn to love me anyway.

Chapter Text

???

Deuce’s Heart

The first thing I felt for you—I’ve got to be honest—was a desire to protect. 

I think you’re plenty strong on your own. But isn’t that a weakness in its own? 

You take everything on yourself and hold it all in. I don’t think you know how to ask others for help sometimes. You were sent here all by yourself and still move forward, never looking back. 

Time to time, the thought of you comes bubbling up to the front of my mind. Your smile when it’s wide enough for your teeth to peek through, your eyes going soft looking my way, your voice lowering comfortably when talking with me. I don’t mean to, but the corners of my lips always end up pulling up remembering. I look at you enough to know that the only other person you give that treatment is Ace. 

Sometimes I feel homesick—missing my home and mom. Then all it takes is me remembering you being all on your lonesome in that rundown (sorry) building. You push me to be strong. I’m proud to be your friend, and I’m even prouder when you choose to lean on me. Sometimes in exchange for a cafe latte, but that’s a matter of course.

But I think I feel something more for you. You’re special to me, more than others. When you smile at me I seem to forget about everything else. I want to see you as much as possible. When you’re away, I’m thinking about the next time we’ll see each other. That’s not what friends feel for each other. I think of you as something more, something I still need to figure out. I need time.

I have to say it. I can’t stand the thought that all this while, there was a countdown to how long we’d be seeing each other. 

I didn’t doubt for a second that you’d be around to watch me become the person I want to be. Now I see how stupid that was. You have to go, I know. And I get this is the best thing for you. 

I do—I really do.

But I don’t know if I have it in me to want the best for you when it’s the worst for me.

Chapter Text

I know what’s happening as soon as the cauldron begins smoking.

A foul haze oozes out, spilling from the sides to the floor. The unexpected chemical reaction freezes me in place in shock. 

Before my instinct can kick in, the smoke pierces the air--and my lungs. 

I try to cover my mouth but it’s too late, I’m coughing and wheezing for oxygen because of whatever is in the gas being released. 

For some reason, Ace and Deuce are the first people to come to my mind. I turn my head in their direction, hunched over, and see their shocked faces. 

And that’s when I know that whatever mix-up I just made, it’s much more serious than I could have ever known.

It's in that moment that the self-loathing I'd put a lid on comes creeping up. I tried my best these three years to keep myself on my feet and to hustle my way through each day, but it’s as if I haven't learned a thing.

Troublemaker. That's the nickname that Ace calls me by from time to time. But how long will it be okay for that word to be associated with my name? I can’t just keep making trouble for Ace and Deuce, even after graduation.

The world starts to tilt and in seconds, I find my palms hitting the ground, mind swimming. A hand makes contact with my shoulder and tries to pull me up. I look in the direction of its owner and see Ace with a hand over his face and from behind him, Deuce looking straight at me. I don’t know why, but I see my guilt reflected in those eyes.

I open my mouth to say sorry, but before I can the world goes black.

In the dark, I dream of a star breaking into bits. Two baobab trees, left alone when thought to be rosebushes, now float aimlessly in space.

Later

Infirmary
Through Yuu’s Eyes

I open my eyes and for a second, I can’t see anything. All I can feel is my heart pounding in my chest, my body pumped with adrenaline but my mind not knowing why. It takes a few moments until my eyes adjust to fully see—and notice the face peering into mine. There’s a gasp from the person when my eyes focus on theirs. I jump up and they barely manage to lean back to avoid colliding with my forehead. 

I’d heard voices talking nearby as I was regaining consciousness, but now it’s dead silent. All I can hear is a shrill tinny noise ringing in my ears. My hand clutches at my chest as I struggle to take in breaths. A hand rubs my back as the screech of chair legs against the floor sounds out, hurried footsteps leaving bedside before returning. A gloved hand brings a cup of water to my lips and I drink. After coughing once or twice, my breathing steadies out and I finally am able to register the whole of my surroundings.

The faces of two people wearing face paint peer down at me. The bright red and black suit symbols are what I see first, then the saturated red and green irises. In the back of my mind, questions are piling up one after the other. But there are so many that I don’t know what I want to know, so I simply shift my head to look in the direction of the redhead.

“Why is he crying?” I ask while motioning with my eyes to the boy with the spade face paint.

“Damn it, Yuu,” the redhead begins. “You scared the hell out of us, that’s why.”

I blink at the boy’s familiar words. If I were to know this person, I’d think that I would remember them. But I don’t. The gears in my head begin turning and I realize that I don’t know who I should know. I don’t know where I am.

Eyes wide at the questions bursting forward to the front of my mind, I jump to my feet, sending the sheet covering me flying. I look around past the curtain pulled halfway around my bed. From what I’m able to see I spot white walls, a pristine marble floor, emergency kits, and what looks to be medicine. The whole place smells of septic. It’s safe to assume that I’m in some kind of infirmary, likely one at a school because of the two boys being in uniforms.

The pair keeping me company seem surprised at my sudden movement because the one to the right of me, the one with the spade suit on his face, speaks to me in a shaking voice. His grip on my arm, though, is firm. “Don’t move! You’re recovering.”

His warning is a bit too late, though. My head is already throbbing superbly. I press my fingertips to my temples as I try to bear the searing pain.

The boy with the spade suit on his face puts his hand on my shoulder and I startle at the touch. I whip my head in his direction and ask him the first thing I can think of. “Who are you?”

Maybe it wasn’t the right question to ask. The boy sits there with his mouth wide open, hand now hovering in the air. The hurt on his face is plain. 

“That’s not funny, Yuu,” he says.

“Why do you keep calling me ‘you’? I have a name,” I begin. Then I pause.

There is no name that comes forth when I try to remember. I squeeze my eyes shut at the red-hot flash of pain that hits me from the effort of trying to dig up that piece of my memory.

“Yuu? Yuu is your name. You know that,” the boy’s voice is becoming more and more frantic as he talks to me.

I realize that any questions that I ask him will likely make him panic more. I turn to my left instead and meet eyes with the redhead who is looking up at me with a sober expression. He’s bent over with his elbows anchored on his knees, fingers folded together to prop his head up from the chin. 

“You don’t remember us?” Ace asks. 

He fidgets before straightening his spine. His hand hovers in the air, but ends up falling to the edge of the nurse room’s bed, fingers digging into the mattress pad. His eyes, when they meet mine again, are sharp as a knife.

My lips begin trembling underneath his gaze. His voice has an edge to it, as if he wants an answer immediately.

“No,” I respond and lower my head. I find that I can’t meet eyes with either of the boys who are both emotionally tense in different ways. In this wide, open room that is empty save for myself and these two strangers—I feel small. 

I hear a voice call my name softly. When I look up, I see the boy with the red face paint peeking into my face. His hand overlaps my own and grips it. Gently, he tugs me back to the infirmary bed. I’m finding that I’m shaking as I sink back into the springs. Somehow, though, the warmth of his hand is comforting to me in this cold and sharp-edged place.

“Memories gone or not, we’re the closest people you’ve got,” he says. “So no need to act so uptight.”

I look down at his hands as they wrap around my own. His fingers are shaking ever so slightly, but I’m not sure if he notices. His face is serious as he looks at me point blank.

From the other side, the other boy covers the hand I’ve pressed into the infirmary mattress with his. His clammy palms slide over my skin.

“It’s like Ace said,” he says. “We’re family.”

“You’re my family?” I ask.

“Stupid—!” the boy called ‘Ace’ snaps, before suddenly cutting himself off. He swivels to the side, one hand slipping away, and lowers his head. His remaining hand's grip on my own is stronger than ever. In exchange, though, the shaking has gotten worse. There’s a long silence before Ace speaks again.

“You, me and Deuce — that’s the dipshit over there — we’re all from the Rose Kingdom,” he finally says while carefully measuring his words. His eyes are on the other boy — the boy apparently named Deuce.

“Ace!” he shouts. 

I startle at the loud noise and end up backing into Ace’s chest. His arms close around me as he speaks. I can’t see his face, but I can feel his voice as it rumbles through his frame. 

The words he uses seem directed at me but his tone is chiding, somehow. “You don’t have anyone. It’s me and Deuce who are helping you out. We’ll make sure you do alright even after this, since you don’t have any blood family to ask.”

Deuce, who had glared with the heat of a thousand sounds toward Ace, falters. “We can’t—”

“We can,” Ace cuts in. “Go talk to Crowley, I mean. He’ll want to hear what happened to the student that’s been in his care. I think he’ll want to offer whatever he can to help the situation.”

Deuce stares wide-eyed at Ace, utterly lost for words. Ace strokes my head once, pushing me by the shoulders to separate himself from me so I can balance on my own. He then steps away to stroll over to the door. When Ace’s face finally comes into view, I see he’s smiling.

“I can handle this for now,” Ace says. He turns his head. It hangs down slightly, as if in penance. “Take care of Yuu.”

He opens the door and steps outside without looking back. He disappears as the door clicks closed behind him.

The room is still in Ace’s absence. My eyes fall down to Deuce, who is still holding onto my hand, head hung low. 

“Deuce?” I call the boy’s apparent name.

He jumps at my voice. His head whips up and there’s hope in his eyes. I find myself inching away until I hit the edge of the bed. “That—That’s your name, right?”

The hope instantly falls away. He averts his eyes, but I can still see the sheen of tears building up in them. He clears his throat. “Yeah.”

I can’t stand to look at the hurt in his face for another second. I look away, studying the backs of my nails. I feel as if I’ve done something terrible to people who care about me and I can’t do a thing about it. What’s worse is the fear of not knowing who I am outside of the knowledge Ace and Deuce have shared with me begins eating away at me. Will I have to rely completely on these two until I recall everything? Before I know it, tears begin brimming up in my eyes too.

“Deuce,” I say, voice wobbling. “I’m sorry I don’t remember you.”

When I blink, the tears start trailing down my cheeks. They fall without a sound. I hear one, long shaky intake of breath and I'm not sure if it's mine or Deuce's in my mournful haze. 

The chair next to me creaks. Then, I'm pulled into a warm embrace. It's so abrupt and fast that there's a dull thud as my forehead hits Deuce's chest.

"You'll remember us soon," he says. 

I feel his torso shake as he hiccups out the words. Fresh tears wet the crown of my head as he buries his nose into my hair.

Later

Pome Fiore Dorms

“If you have any excuses I might just hear them out,” Ace says while crossing his arms. His eyes, narrowed impatiently, are focused on the two sophomores shrinking away from him.

“We don’t know what you’re talking about,” the left one says. He’s got a head of golden locks that fall elegantly to his neck before being brought together in a braid. 

Ace is a practiced conman by principle. He knows just how to make the starkest of lies seem like genuine truth. And that’s why when someone spectacularly fails at this, he is quick to the chase.

He shakes his head and puts a hand on the left’s shoulder. With his free hand, he juts a Magipen underneath the boy’s chin. 

“Really?” he asks. The corners of his lips pull back into a smile, but they don’t reach his eyes.

“Yeah,” the right one nods furiously. “Yes!” 

The right Pome Fiore student is hanging on anxiously to his friend’s arm. His hair is a stark shade of blue that almost strains the eyes to see. 

It’s rare to see a student of Night Raven College be so attached to someone else with no benefit to themselves. In Ace’s mind, this nearly solidifies them as partners in crime.

Ace falls quiet again, quite uncharacteristically of him. Normally he’d break out into action immediately, but this is something related to someone very important to him. If he doesn’t act rationally, then he’ll suffer for it later. He's had it happen before when dealing with bullies who liked targeting the lowest of the pecking order. 

The thing is, from the information Deuce gave him when he pressed his friend about the Pome Fiore sophomores studying illusory magic in the library, they seemed excited--in a positive way. Why was that?

He’s mulling just on how to draw the information he needs from the pair when he hears a familiar clacking of heels heading right in his direction.

“Ah, hello,” a husky voice calls out. “Do we have a visitor?”

Ace raises his head to see the junior that had been in the cafeteria with him, Deuce, and Yuu just today. The one that had handed the jar off to Deuce before the incident.

Ace narrows his eyes once more at the sudden appearance of the other Pome Fiore student. The clear antagonism in his expression causes the boy who’d just entered the scene to raise his hands placidly. 

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he says gruffly. “I’m not here to hurt you.”

He sticks out his hand, smile plastered on his face. He speaks politely, but his enunciation isn't as proper as what you'd expect from a Pome Fiore student. “My name is Raphael. Ralph for short.”

When Ace doesn’t return the gesture, he moves his hand to his chest and does a graceful bow with a mirthful expression, as if he were sharing a very clever joke with the young man.

“You’ve gone and cornered these two juniors of mine,” he says. “Don't you realize, though? There’s more similarities between the three of you than differences.”

“What?” Ace replies. There’s a curious glint in his eyes, but the open malice hasn’t left his expression in the slightest.

“You three all are motivated by love,” he says. “It's a beautiful thing.”

"Love?!" Ace sputters. His eyes go wide as if Ralph had just hit him with a sucker punch.

"Yes, love," Ralph repeats. "What else brought you here?"

It doesn't take long for Ace to recover, however, and when he does, it's with even more white-hot rage than he had originally started with.

"I'm not here to answer your dumbass questions," Ace snaps back. "I'm here for my friend."

Ralph once again raises his hands placidly. It only serves to deepen the frown on Ace's face, being treated like a wild animal that needed to be tamed. 

"I wonder how long that friend of yours will stick around?" Ralph replies. 

Ace looks at him blankly.

"I can see you care a lot for them. You're good at observing, too, and you know how people tick. But don't you think your obsession with them's blinded you a bit? That you maybe have overlooked some important details about that friend?" Ralph says.

The words don't enter Ace's head all that well. His thoughts go off the rails as soon as the idea that Ralph might have spent time with the Prefect--enough to know something that he doesn't--hits him like a loose train.

Ralph puts two hands on either of Ace's shoulders and peers into his face. "You can find out just how much you caused your friend to suffer with your love. It's simple, really.."

His lips curl into a wide grin that plasters half of his face. Eyes squinted in maniacal pleasure, he speaks two words. "Abandon Hope."

Ace's spine snaps straight as if a puppet with its strings pulled taut. His mouth is slightly open but no words leave it. He turns his head to the pair of Pome Fiore sophomores, but looks straight through them. Then he walks out of the dorm as if nothing had happened.

Ralph watches the Heartslabyul junior leave, the same smile plastered on his face. He brushes his palms as if he's finished a great bout of work. When he turns to his fellow dormmates, it's with a menacing expression.

"I helped you two out since I thought this whole situation would be interesting, but you do see it's cost me a little bit?" he raises his Magipen, brandishing a finger at the slightly blackened gem. "My unique magic doesn't come cheap, you know."

"Yes, sir!" The two yell in unison. They shake like a leaf underneath the tall junior's gaze.


Raphael was a commoner sorted into Pome Fiore, but he learned quick and knew how to blend in. Unfortunately, he didn't make the slightest attempt to use that knowledge. From day one he told others to call him by Ralph. Then, he came to be known amongst a select group since freshman year for his unique magic. It wasn't exactly notable on its own, no--what had made it well-known was how he chose to use it. 

Being able to affect one's attention, magnifying their weaknesses and insecurity to the point of obsession -- it was as if it was mirroring Ralph's own self. He had unhealthy fixations, and it didn't matter what harm came to him. When he found something interesting, something that would distract him from his own self, he would pursue it until the very end. Often, costing him enough Blots to nearly push him over the edge. How many students had been driven to near insanity from his unique magic? Even after its effects had long faded, the knowledge that they had succumbed to weakness still haunted his victims. They could not tell others what had befallen them for that same very reason.

Ralph knew this, and he reveled in it.

He was excited to see what show would unfold before his eyes on a night as special as this.

Chapter Text

After our heart-to-heart, a silence falls over me and Deuce. Somehow, though, it's not uncomfortable. It isn't long until he opens his mouth and starts to talk about what is happening tonight.

"It's prom night," he explains. "The theme this year is 'When You Wish Upon A Star."

Wide-eyed, I nod along. Half-way through the conversation, though, my eyes fall down to my current state of dress. I'm not in my uniform, but a baggy white gown. Whatever might have caused me this state of amnesia must have toasted my uniform too. But by instinct I know if I ask Deuce the way things are right now, he'll probably burst into tears again.

"I guess I won't be able to show up at prom today, then," I say forlornly.

Deuce puts a hand to his chin and thinks. It takes me by surprise, as I'd thought that he wanted to avoid any exertion on my end. 

"I think I heard you mention that you had a dress at Ramshackle Dorm," he says. He creases his brow. "It might have been a suit. I don't remember."

My heart lifts not only at the information shared, but Deuce's seeming desire to help me attend prom. That halts when I hear him say 'Ramshackle Dorm.'

"Is 'Ramshackle Dorm' my dorm? That doesn't sound too pleasant," I remark.

"I, uh—some would say it isn’t," Deuce replies almost apologetically. "It's gotten a lot better since freshman year, though. Me and Ace visit and stay the night all the time."

On the walk to Ramshackle Dorm, I can hear voices off in the distance shouting joyfully. There must be some kind of light show—bright colors shine through the window panes behind us to dance across the concrete path as we foot the trip all the way from Night Raven to its lower-level outskirts.

Deuce and I chat while we stroll, and he brings up an unfamiliar name.

"I wonder what Grim is doing," he says.

"Who's Grim?" I ask.

Deuce, who still seemingly hasn't gotten used to my memory loss, swivels his head towards me, eyes wide. Then he purses his lips as if he'd eaten something sour. "He's your other half."

My mouth falls open. "I had a boyfriend?"

"No!" Deuce shouts back. I jump at the sudden rise in volume, and he seems to have surprised himself too. He brings a hand to his face, fingers brushing over his lips as he looks down at the pavement. His ears are dusted red. "Sorry. No boyfriends. Yet. Grim was your partner at this school, the reason you were able to attend while magicless."

"I see," I reply hollowly. It feels strange to lose all memory of someone who had been so vital to me.

"You did—are doing just as fine as any of us other magic users, though! You used to get better grades than me in every subject but phys ed,” Deuce continues forcibly, taking my change in mood as feeling down on myself. 

After a few beats of silence, he continues. “Grim's down in town for prom," Deuce says. "He's not allowed on campus much this time of year after he almost burned down the gym."

I don't exactly know how to feel hearing stories about someone I haven't met since losing my memories. It feels as if this person who claims to be my friend is describing something completely unrelated to me. What if I was just someone they decided to drop into the body of this person named Yuu? What if I'm a fake?

"Yuu?" Deuce calls out my name.

I look up from the hands I'd tightly folded in front of myself—from the stony path—raising my eyes all the way up. I see Deuce who had walked several paces in front of me during the time I must've stopped. We're mere feet away from an iron wrought gate that opens to a staircase leading to an aged piece of architecture.

"This is Ramshackle Dorm," Deuce explains while nodding to the creaky old building. He puts his hand on the gate and creaks it open as if he's done it for years. And if what he's saying is right, he must have.

The visit to the building is somewhat short. Deuce glances at me regularly as our footsteps warp the flooring beneath us as if in anticipation of me recalling something, but nothing comes. We enter a room all while I observe my surroundings as a complete bystander.

Deuce opens the closet without a second thought and begins rummaging through it. He picks up each of the clothes and eyes it closely, as if he doesn't actually know what he's looking for and that the answer might be written on the fabric. I watch him do this for some time before I put a hand on his shoulder and point at the bed.

"Is that it?" I ask.

Deuce swivels around. On the bed is a shimmering pile of cloth. 

I approach it and run my hands over it. "Pretty."

Deuce, who paces over until we're shoulder-to-shoulder, nods with emotion. "The ghosts really went all-out this year. They’re probably at the party waiting for us.”


The way back to Night Raven is an entire trial of its own now that the exhaustion has settled in. Past Ramshackle Dorm and down the steps into a thicket of trees that reveal a lit path that curves to a greenhouse that I didn’t get a good look at before, since I hadn’t stopped to catch my breath. Every intake of air isn’t enough, and the sheen of sweat that’s plastered every inch of exposed skin goes ice cold with every nighttime gust. In my mind floats the knowledge that it’s possible for the human body to have both its hot and cold sensors triggered, and I find it in this moment to be absolutely true. It was a lapse in judgement to change into my prom clothes before the walk. I can feel the sweat slide down my forehead, though I suppose it's much preferable to the throbbing headache I was experiencing earlier at the infirmary.

Deuce slows when he notices the sound of footsteps beside him have stopped and turns to me. When his eyes meet mine, there’s disbelief written clear on his face.

 "Is it that weird for me to be wearing something like this?" I ask out of curiosity. I did think when I looked in the mirror that it didn't exactly look my style, but I haven't the slightest idea what actually is my style.

Deuce's shoulders jump at the sudden question. He shakes his head while doubling back to walk back to me. His foot catches on a stray pebble but he recovers and rights his body before replying, this time turning his head the opposite direction. "No, it looks great."

I watch the weird scene unfold wide-eyed. I'd laugh, but somehow Deuce's behavior doesn't even make me giggle. Rather, I'm more taken aback that I induced such a reaction from him.

"Hey, Deuce—" I call out and ask the question that's been nagging my mind. "Were you going to be my date to prom?"

Deuce’s body completely stills. Silently, only his eyes turning my way, he whispers. "Yeah."

I look down at the stone path, making my fingers interlock once more to ease my nerves. "Oh."

Deuce and I fall into an awkward silence. The pause is long enough for my attention to turn back to the greenhouse. Its sheer size and glimpse of greenery I can manage to make out in the dull light speak of much more money than I could ever imagine having.

“Something the matter?” he asks.

My eyes strain as they trace the shape of the glass dome until they fall on a shadowed figure. 

I jump at the discovery. The stranger breaks into a walk toward us, as if my shock were the trigger drawing them nearer. Deuce startles at my reaction, too, following my line of sight to see the fellow student come into the light.

"Took you guys long enough," Ace says. He looks at me and smiles. "You look great, by the way."

He bends down slightly to put his hand over mine and start pulling me down the pathway. Deuce freezes for a few beats from surprise and is left behind.

“So you haven’t up and left us already then? Thought you’d try and sneak off to leave your two closest friends as soon as you got the chance,” Ace says in a conversational tone. 

I feel the words wash over me like ice water. I snap to attention, eyes fixing on Ace’s face, but I don’t see anything particularly different about him. The stunned feeling then passes, and I’m left with only questions.

“Why would I leave you?” I ask.

“That’s what I want to ask,” Ace snaps back. 

He’s stopped moving, now, his grip on me iron tight. He purses his lips.

“You’re the most important person to me here,” Ace spells out. “And I’d say it’s one of the stupidest things about me. But I’m ready to do something even stupider, right now.”

"Where are you taking them?" Deuce asks while semi-jogging to my side. He looks past me, eyeing Ace with both curiosity and irritation.

"The Hall of Mirrors, where else?" Ace replies casually. "It’s right over there. We can spend some time in our dorm room in Heartslabyul before we change into our suits. Don't want anybody else getting to see them all dressed up for the meantime, especially with them weak like they are now."

Deuce blinks. The surprise at Ace’s behavior, though I’m not exactly sure what part of it, is written clear on his face.

Deuce finds the corners of his lips nervously quirking up. "What’s gotten into you?"

When Ace's eyes meet Deuce's, they glint. "I’m laying all my cards out before I ask the same of Yuu."

Ace bends over, arm looping around my shoulder.

I'm daunted by the sudden skinship and go stiff as we walk into the Hall of Mirrors. I don't think it's my imagination that the atmosphere goes tight as soon as Ace starts sticking to me. I don't hear a word from Deuce during the rest of the walk. Is Ace jealous that me and Deuce were headed to prom as a couple?

Ace pulls me by the wrist through a mirror framed by playing cards and roses. The surface ripples as he passes through, and my body goes as still as stone at the sight. Ace laughs at my wide-eyed response and tugs me forward. On the other side, the smell of roses overwhelms my senses. I look from side to side and as far as I can see, there are gardens. But in front of us is a stone path that rolls out before us, and we walk it all the way to the large building that must be the Heartslabyul dorms.

It's warm on the inside. The prickles on my arm from the cold melt away, the warmth from Ace's hand on mine now becoming less pronounced with the homey air of the dorms rolling over me. I look amazed at all the decorations and Ace continues to laugh. I look around for Deuce, noticing that he hasn't made a sound for quite a while, and see him trailing behind me. I slow down and Ace notices. He lets go of my arm and his quick pace turns into a carefree walk. 

"What's the matter, Deuce?" I ask.

There's a silence that blankets the three of us.

"Are you really Ace?" Deuce asks while looking past me.

Ace looks up at Deuce. A smile plays on his lips, a challenge glinting in his eyes. "What do you think? If there's something wrong with me tonight, you're no different."

Deuce wrinkles his face. He doesn’t seem to be in the mood to be dealing with Ace running circles around the subject. 

"What?" he asks coldly.

Ace's eyes are on me. "You want Yuu all to yourself too."

There's only stillness in the room that we stand in. There's not a sign of another person here, the only sounds that can be heard being the creaking as the building shifts around us. The air hangs heavy over our heads.

"We don’t care if we have to lie,” Ace continues. His voice has a strange quality to it despite its chipper tone. “And we don’t care if we have to hurt others, if it’s for Yuu. But we don’t know a thing about them, do we?”

Ace’s bright red eyes fall on me. The glossiness of them as they pin me down make it look as if he is about to cry, but his eyebrows are knitted tight and lips are pressed into a line. Like a mask, irritation falls over his features before he can bare the soft feelings inside.

“I didn’t think you would grab the first opportunity out of here,” Ace snarks. “You seemed so happy around us.”

There’s a stirring in my chest. I can’t seem to stand still, so I fidget, bringing a hand to my chest where the butterflies seem to be flitting about, ready to break free. There’s an image that crosses my mind. The image overlaps Ace’s current face. I realize that his expression is bringing up memories of the past.

Don’t blame me if you regret going back.

In this very moment I’ve left the dorms of Heartslabyul, finding myself completely elsewhere in my mind’s memories. I’m pressed against a wall, with only a button-up shirt with its collar popped open filling my vision. I try to look up to see Ace’s face properly, but he just presses me tighter to his chest by closing more of the distance between us. It’s enough for me to hear his pulse fluttering against his ribcage. 

I just might. But you’ll do something about it then, won’t you?

The person in front of him has always showed up for me when I needed it. Inside me, there’s no doubt that he would do it again even if there were worlds between us. Just like that sweltering day in the desert, he would go by planes, trains, boats and by foot as long as he could get to me. It’s these facts that cause the words to spill from my lips, but I regret them as soon as they do. I’ve already caused countless troubles for my two friends by simply existing in this place. Just what possessed me to get so self-assured without that simple truth crossing my mind?

Ace doesn’t see my face, but he feels my sharp intake of breath. His hand slips from the wall behind me and falls to my shoulder, rubbing his hand up and down my arm. 

Maybe I will. 

My eyes flutter as the memory falls away to reveal reality once more.

“You’ve got it wrong,” I say breathlessly. “I was happy.”

Chapter Text

Ace’s eyes snap onto mine, evaluating. Having scanned my face but still seeming unsatisfied, he grasps my hand and keeps pulling me up the endlessly winding stairs of Heartslabyul. I fumble over a step and find another hand supporting me and helping me regain my balance. 

It’s Deuce’s, and when he sees I can climb the stairs on my own, wordlessly slips that hand into my free one. His fingers tangle into mine and give me a reassuring squeeze, thumb caressing my knuckle. A pleasant tingle runs up my arm.

The warmth of Heartslabyul becomes concentrated as Ace and Deuce lead me to their shared room. It’s rather fancy, matching the rest of the building’s extravagent decorations, and the smell of roses and cologne lightly perfumes the air. I’m led to sit at a cushioned chair furnishing the space between Ace and Deuce’s beds, and the pair take a seat on the beds at either side of me.

Deuce is the first to break the silence. “We lied to you.”

Surprisingly, the admission feels less like a sucker punch and more like the final piece of a puzzle falling into place. I let my eyes fall to the floor as the information sinks in. Deuce opens his mouth again.

“You’re not from here,” he explains. “You were supposed to go home tonight, but then the accident happened. You know, we don’t want you to go. But I don’t know if what we did was right.”

“There was something else I was supposed to do, wasn’t there?” I ask.

Ace and Deuce look at me blankly.

“I’m dressed up for prom. What about you two? Aren’t you going to get in your suits?” I say.

Deuce looks at me in amazed silence. Ace just furrows his brow and grabs my wrist.

“What if I say that I don’t want you to go to prom either?” he says. 

The expression on his face is tight, as if he’s steeled for rejection.

I slip from Ace’s surprisingly loose grip, then take his palm in mine. I bring his fingertips to my face and brush my lips over them.

“I want to go with you,” I say. “You’re not going to come?”

I’ve yet to remember everything about this person. He’s one of the two boys who lied to my face and mislead me to keep me from going back to a place that is supposed to be my home. But I can still feel the way he trembled when holding my hand in the infirmary, as if he was scared to lose something. The boy with the spade symbol openly shedding tears at my amnesia is just as fresh in my mind. I think that I, too, have something that I don’t want to lose in these two people.

Ace jumps away from me, mouth gaping like a fish. His hand covers the other as if he were just stung. Yet, his expression begins to clear as if a cloud that had been hovering over him dispersed. Maybe this whole time, maybe even before I’d lost my memories, he’d thought that my desire for other people and places meant his exclusion. I feel a needle prick at my chest thinking that I’d let someone important to me get hurt because I hadn’t put my thoughts into words.

“I’m sorry that I hurt you,” I apologize. “I’m sorry that all I can do is cause trouble for the both of you. But we can forget that all tonight before I go. What do you think?”

Ace and Deuce harmonize. “What?”

I’d shifted to lift myself to my feet, but I freeze before I can. I look up at the pair with confusion.

Deuce’s hand grips my shoulder. “Do you really think that?”

I blink. “Think what?” 

“Do you really think that all you do is cause trouble for us?”

I’m stunned into silence for a moment. Deuce’s eyes look into mine with an intensity that makes it hard to speak. I lower my head before I finally respond.

“Of course. Ace used to always say…”

I pause, because I don’t know what it is he always says, though it’s on the tip of my tongue. Then in my mind’s eye I see the same smile that accompanied the words I was looking for, and it slips from my mouth without my intention. 

“He used to say that all I do is bring trouble with me.”

The memory hits me as soon as the words leave me - I wobble forward, one hand pressed to my forehead and the other stuck out for balance. Deuce wraps an arm around my waist and makes sure I don’t tumble over. He shifts somewhat, and I look up to see him glaring in Ace’s direction.

“Why are you remembering that of all things?” Ace puts a hand to his forehead and groans. “I didn’t mean that it’s the only thing you do.”

“That doesn’t change the fact I still cause trouble for you and Deuce,” I point out. 

—And it’s back again, the guilt that weighs on my chest until every breath is a struggle. 

“You are a little bundle of trouble,” Ace says while peeking at my face. 

I stare back at him blankly, still trembling but now more confused. 

Ace continues in a gentle voice. “So what? You’ve helped me and Deuce out just as much as we’ve helped out you. You’re our troublemaker.”

I turn my head, tears building up in my eyes, and catch a nod from Deuce from the corner of my vision. “I agree with Ace. Though the trouble is mostly from Grim and not you.”

Ace makes a face like yuck in Deuce’s direction. “Enough from the peanut gallery.”

He lowers himself until he’s eye-to-eye with me, red irises burning my way. 

His voice shakes as he speaks. “I’m not gonna ask you to stop pretending right here and now, because that’s just how you are. I knew you were hiding something but didn’t ask and that’s on me. But don’t you dare think you’re a burden to us ever again.”

Deuce puts a hand on my shoulder as he makes sure I can stand steady on my own. Then, ever so gently, his fingers envelop mine. He rubs my knuckles and smiles softly. 

“Let us make it up to you by giving you a send-off party you’ll never forget.”

“Um, yeah. Let me get in contact with the Headmaster,” Ace says. “I think I need to catch him up to speed on things.”

“You didn’t already?” Deuce asks incredulously.

“Listen, I had more important things to get done,” Ace replies.

He slips his phone from his pocket and moves to leave. Just before he slips out the door, he locks eyes with me.

One second,’ he mouths while gesturing to his phone. The door clicks behind him.

Meanwhile, Deuce is fishing through his dresser. Clothes are haphazardly laid out on his bed as he searches for something. I move my way towards him as I try to peek at the insides of his dresser and find my hand landing on his shoulder. 

“Argh!” he shouts as he jumps a foot. “Yuu…”

Deuce sends a plaintive look my way. Then he bursts into laughter.

“You used to do that all the time too.”

“I did?” I ask.

“Yeah—you’d sneak up from behind and then hang off of me like a lemur,” he explains. “I had to try really hard not to hurt you by accident, you know.”

I find myself going silent at the new discovery. Honestly, I can’t exactly imagine myself doing such a thing. 

“I wonder why?” I ask.

“I think it was you wanted to get me used to being touched by other people,” Deuce explains, his hands still busy. “For a while, I wasn’t really comfortable with getting in close contact with others.”

Then Deuce turns around and meets me eye-to-eye. 

“I used to be a delinquent,” he says while weighing each word carefully.

Once again, this reveal doesn’t hit me by surprise. Rather, it settles over me like a childhood blanket. I close my eyes once and I can see images of the past now, as clear as day.

“You always overreacted to people who got too close,” I finish.

When I open my eyes, Deuce is in open-mouthed shock. “Did you get your memories back?”

“Not really,” I reply. “But I feel like they’re laying there, waiting for me to dig them up.”

A heart-melting smile warms Deuce’s expression, his eyes softening. “I knew you wouldn’t forget us.”

There’s a creak as the dorm room door opens, Ace scratching the back of his head as he peeks through. “Yuu, come here for a bit.”

I freeze up and Deuce’s face warps into concern. Ace looks at the two of us and sighs, stepping into the room. He presses a button on his phone and the audio blasts from the speaker.

“There’s three hours before the connection between this world and the next closes up!”

The voice is that of an older man, his voice trilling as he shouts through the cellular waves. 

“This world and the next?” I echo.

“Prefect, is that you?” he asks. “I understand that you’re still recovering from the accident, but Trappola and Spade were supposed to send you to the headmaster’s quarter’s by now! You simply must hurry—“

Then the audio cuts out. Ace’s pointer finger is pressed against the surface of his smartphone. 

“So we have about two and a half hours and then we can start heading over,” Ace chirps.

“Okay, so there were still a few lies left?” I say. “Anything else?”

“We didn’t lie to you, you just didn’t ask,” Ace replies. “That’s all that’s left.”

“Ace, we really should—” Deuce begins, straightening out his spine.

“Deuce was in on it too, by the way,” Ace cuts in, pointing the end of his smartphone in Deuce’s direction. “It’s too late to pretend to be the straight-laced guy you’re aiming to be.”

Deuce visibly winces. He turns to me, an apologetic look in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he says with genuine remorse in his voice. “I didn’t want to let you go just yet.”

“Yeah, don’t think I can forgive that,” I reply. “That’s pretty terrible what you did, the both of you.”

Ace and Deuce exchange a long glance, a dark expression falling over the former and a wide-eyed look on the latter. Ace’s hand falls to his side, both of his hands becoming fists. Deuce’s head falls as his whole body seems to slump under the weight of my words.

“So I’m thinking I need you guys to take me to prom to make up for it and show me a good time before I leave,” I finish. “What do you think?”

A groan raises from Ace as he bends over, hand buried in his hair. “I can’t believe you.”

Deuce’s arm extends in my direction. Before I know it, I’m covered with something warm. It takes a few seconds to realize he’s buried me in his chest. Nose pressed against him, I catch the smell of roses and musk. 

We spend a few moments in silence, a large hand caressing my hair before I feel a tremor in his chest. There’s a sniff from above that can only be one thing—the reason why Deuce won’t loosen his grip on me.

I can hear a sigh from a slight distance away, footsteps, then another hand snaking around my torso and pulling me away. Another hand covers my eyes.

“Personal space, dude,” Ace says while squeezing me in his arms.

There’s a silence for a while, save for some sniffing. Then Deuce’s voice rings out.

“… You’re one to talk,” he responds, voice wobbling. “You can let go of Yuu now.”

“Maybe I don’t want to,” Ace sasses back but still drops the hand that was pressed over my eyelids. 

Though he’s still pressed up against my back because of the arm that’s now dropped to my waist. I can feel my body warm up a notch from the heat coming off him in waves. 

Across from me, Deuce sits, eyes redder than they’d been moments ago. He bites his lip, gaze lowered. Then he looks back up and raises his voice.

“Let’s do it,” Deuce shouts. “Let’s make this the best night you’ve had here in Twisted Wonderland!”

“Volume!” Ace cuts back wryly. “There’s that Deuce-brand positivity. Not a bad thing, I guess.”

Ace lowers his head from behind me until his breath hits the shell of my ear. “So that’s how it is. Give me and Deuce a bit to change, won’t you?”

 


 

Ace leaves his dorm room and steps into the hallway, and I’m immediately taken away by the sudden change in image he projects. I vaguely recall seeing him in this red checkered tuxedo before, but it doesn’t stop me from being taken aback at how much more handsome he looks with his fringe brushed back.

Deuce is the one who peeks nervously through a crack in the door. When I energetically wave for him to step out, he does and I’m floored. He’s in a crisp navy blue tuxedo that contrasts with the young charm that Ace’s clothes has, Deuce looking immediately matured with the formal garb. 

Deuce walks up to me almost robotically and thrusts out a trembling hand wordlessly. I smile and put my hand in his. The tension in Deuce melts away in that moment, and he returns my smile.

“Woah Deuce, you didn’t even prepare a corsage?” Ace teases. He pulls a card from his pocket and with a flourish, transforms it into a pink rose. He tucks it into my clothes while humming.

“I did! If you’d just given me a bit longer, I would have shown them already,” Deuce argues. 

He grabs his Magipen and looks me in the eye. From his pocket, a seed levitates. Then with some focus from Deuce, a seedling pokes out from it before become a full-fledged blue rose. It lands in his hand before he snaps off the roots to tuck it next to Ace’s corsage.

“Woah, it’s been forever since I’ve seen a blue rose!” I exclaim. I’m more surprised that Deuce just grew a plant in front of my eyes, but something about how Ace is rolling his eyes tells me that that kind of thing is normal here. “I think!”

“Actually, a freshman accidentally dyed the table roses blue at the Unbirthday Party you came to last time,” Deuce corrects me sheepishly. “The big boss made a huge deal about it.”

“Memories,” I nod sagely. “Still working on it. Thanks anyway, Deuce.”

Ace snickers from the side.

“Let’s get going,” Deuce says while tugging me along with him.

Ace folds his arms behind his head and follows us. When I look behind, I see an absent look in his eyes that I hadn’t noticed before.

 


 

When I step inside the building, my breath is taken away once again. For the briefest moment I look down at my feet to see if it is meeting the floor. I think better of it in that brief moment, though. Every surface of the prom venue looks like the night sky had been plucked from the heavens above to be used as a wallpaper. Starlight illuminates the area, giving everything in the room an unearthly glow. 

“Look, there’s still drinks left!” Deuce shouts. 

His voice is nearly drowned out by the pulsing music and sound of the crowd. The stars twinkle in time with the beat, a new wave of colors lighting the projection each moment in a beautiful gradient. 

Deuce pulls me along with him, the bright lights casting over his face making him look even more handsome than he’d been before. 

“Someone said that they planned on spiking—” 

Deuce catches me and Ace looking in his direction with a strange look on our faces.

He pauses. “Said that the… that the punch was really good.”

“Oh really?” Ace replies with feigned interest. “The punch sounds good, but not sure if Yuu is interested in getting hammered.”

Deuce gapes in Ace’s direction.

It takes me a second or two to follow the conversation and it hits me. I shake my head, now giving Deuce the stink-eye.

“See?” Ace says. “If you want the punch so bad Yuu and I can go and—”

“It’s fine if you don’t want to have punch! I was just thinking since this was the last night—” Deuce exclaims with sudden desperation, loud enough to be heard over the crowd and takes both of my hands now. “Forget it! Let’s go dance!”

Without putting up a fight, I’m pulled off to the dance floor. I feel a pair of eyes on me and turn around. Behind me, Ace is talking with a black-haired boy who’s still wearing his school uniform, a purple vest glowing underneath the lights. 

The black-haired boy meets eyes with me and I feel my heart skip a beat. It’s because I know him—I remember who he is.

Ralph, the Pome Fiore student who approached me in the gym. His voice was kind as he gave me pointers on the work I was doing—and now I remember that I was doing chemical mixtures—and that there was an explosion…

My body breaks into tremors as my feet clack against the floor of constellations, Ace and Ralph disappearing as Deuce and I are consumed by the crowd of moving bodies. They say out of sight, out of mind, but I find that all that is currently in my mind are memories that are flooding back.

Deuce seems to have finally noticed my trembling. He might not have realized at first, because I can tell his hand is trembling too.

“Are you all right?” he asks with concern. “Do you need to sit down?”

I shake my head. With that simple movement, it’s like my brains are being shaken around in my skull. 

“Don’t hesitate to tell me when you do,” Deuce replies and in the next moment, his arm loops around my torso.

Using the hand he’s held mine in, he entwines his fingers in mine. He raises his elbow and in seconds we’re in a pose I’m vaguely familiar with.

“You want to dance a waltz?” I ask. 

There isn’t particularly an issue with it. The music that’s playing right now is a soft instrumental track, something that I can hear the Night Raven students around me complaining about. Apparently they want something they can really jam out to. From the corner of my eye, I see a ghost wave in my direction and wink.

Deuce purses his lips at my question. “If I’m honest, this is the only dance I know where I can guarantee that I won’t step on your feet. Though I did a lot of performance dancing freshman year.”

“The Vocal and Dance Competition, right?” I chime in.

For a second Deuce stiffens up mid-step and I accidentally tread on the toe of his foot. “Ow. You remember that now?”

“I’m remembering a lot right now,” I reply. “I’m actually kind of dizzy from all this stuff coming back.”

Deuce’s face falls, unexpectedly. Then he speaks and I know why.

“Can we stay like this for a little while more?” he asks. 

Deuce’s head drops and presses his nose against the crook of my neck. The hand he has in mine slips away so that both his arms are wrapped around me. We sway from side to side, now.

It’s a rare request from someone so independent—I’d expect Ace to say the line before Deuce would. Then again, Ace hasn’t been his usual selfish self today, besides the brazen lies, but hey that’s who I chose as one half of my best friends.

I return the embrace. The silk fabric is soft against my finger tips as I rub his back. And with my memories back, I realize why now why he was crying.

When I leave, I’m not coming back.

It’s that realization that makes me ready to forgive. I did feel wronged by Ace and Deuce’s actions, though the guilt held me back from sharing it. Now I know that when I set foot from Twisted Wonderland, I’ll never see the two familiar faces again. Yet, if I cry, I know that Ace and Deuce will set everything they feel aside to comfort me in their own unique ways.

So, instead I smile.

“Of course, Deuce,” I reply.

We dance in silence for a while. Deuce doesn’t seem the least offset by our proximity, even going as far to tighten his grip on me when I move the slightest bit. It’s a rare occasion that sends my heart racing.

It isn't until that I gently pat my hand against Deuce that he finally pulls away. 

“There should be a bench outside,” he explains while trying to lead me out of the crowd.

The air outside is crisp but icy as it curls against my skin. Deuce and I slip through the door, the music from inside now muffled. My swimming consciousness immediately goes sharp at the change in temperature. 

“Hey,” a familiar voice calls out. “Did you guys enjoy yourselves?”

“Ace,” Deuce startles.

Ace walks up to the both of us, his loafers clicking against the marble ground. His red eyes seem to glint as they fix on me. He reaches my side and I’m pulled close by the arm he loops over my shoulders.

“Do you wanna grab us some drinks?” he says. “Feel free to take your time.”

 “I—” Deuce stammers. 

He seems to be lost for words. When he meets eyes with me, I mouth, ‘Go ahead.’

Deuce turns heel and goes back inside, eyes lingering my way before he finally disappears behind the double doors.

When I look up, Ace’s expression is dark. The corners of his mouth are pulled back, his eyes narrow with disdain.

“Follow me,” is all Ace says as he pulls away from me and breaks into a walk towards the school corridor.

It’s a few minutes before I’m lead back into the school. Without the sun to shine through the window panes, the only light is the flickering green flames that line the hallway and the sparse light from outside. When I catch a glance at Ace, I see a reflection of that flame dance in his eyes.

When all the noise from prom night fades away into the dark embrace of Night Raven past sundown, Ace finally stops his feet and turns my way.

“We won’t be seen here,” he comments.

Then he draws closer. In moments, I feel the window glass press against my back, its cold seeping through my clothes and sending a shiver down my spine. The lamps outside light up Ace’s face, his expression brooding before he dips his head down and the light falls away to darkness. His face is so close, but the darkness makes it that much harder to trace what emotions are in his expression.

“I talked with the Pome Fiore student who tried to poison you,” Ace explains. “Really don’t recommend it. He’s a piece of shit.”

A shuddering sigh expels from Ace’s mouth and hits the skin of my neck. I shiver and Ace notices. I can swear I see the corners of his lips pull up.

“I pulled him outside for a little talk,” Ace continues. “Felt good to practice some of the combat magic that’s gonna show up on finals. But you know what he said when I left?” 

I wait a few moments and Ace speaks again.

“He said that what we did to you was worse than anything he did,” Ace recounts. “That us hurting you is bigger than anything anyone else could ever do to you.”

“Don’t you think that’s bullshit?” Ace huffs. “He was the one pulling the strings. And…”

“Hurting someone, when it’s between two people who care about each other,” Ace says into my ear. “Don’t you think that’s love?”

Ace finally steps back, bringing his face back into light. His face is serene, a small smile playing on his lips. 

“I think it’s stupid that you never told me or Deuce how you were feeling, and it honestly kind of stings,” Ace explains. “But it was you caring so much about what we thought about you that made you not want to share what was on your mind. Because you didn’t want to put the so-called burden on us. Am I right?”

“You’re acting pretty sentimental,” I comment.

Ace narrows his eyes, his lips pursing tight. “I have the right to be sentimental tonight!”

Ace reaches a hand out without saying a word. 

I take Ace’s hand. 

“You danced with Deuce, right? The waltz?” he asks.

My head snaps up at the precise guess. 

“Deuce made me be his practice partner,” Ace explains while rolling his eyes. “I had to be the lab rat.”

Ace raises his hand, pulling mine up along with his. His arm loops around my torso much like Deuce had not too long ago. But after the first two steps I’m made to take backwards, we quickly sidestep. In tempo to a silent beat, our feet move to dance the foxtrot.

On the shadowed dance floor that is the school corridor, Ace’s terracotta hair almost seems to be brown before we step back into the faint light from filtering through the window. In that moment the image of the boy who had once confronted me on Main Street with a malicious smile falls perfectly over the Ace in front of me. His red eyes glint brightly in my direction. The dark that had spread to his smile softens into something warm, loving, like a cup of cocoa on a winter’s night. 

In the end, I still have to apologize for never noticing how he felt this whole time.

I can feel the guilt weighing down my expression. It’s all my fault that Ace has been holding in all his emotions this whole time, the reason why sometimes the flicker of something dangerous briefly flashes in his eyes. 

“Ace, I’m sorry that I—” 

It happens in a split second. All that fills my vision becomes Ace’s hair before I lower my eyes and see him gazing up at me from point-blank distance. Then he closes that razor-thin invisible wall between us, putting his lips on mine. His lips shift, meeting mine firmer than before as he shifts his body to press up against mine. My heartbeat races from the sudden affection. Then I realize there’s a second heartbeat racing right next to mine. 

There’s disappointment on his expression when he pulls away even though he was the one to do it.

“You should be,” Ace says. There’s a playful light dancing in his eyes. “I hope the guilt eats you up every minute that you’re away from us.”

We move in silence for a bit more, but even without sharing any words, there seems to be an understanding between us. The silence is comfortable.

Then the noise of a ringtone cuts into my thoughts. Ace clicks his tongue once before letting go of me and slipping his hand into his back pocket. 

“What is it now,” Ace grumbles and glances at the display. “Oh, Deuce. Great.”

He still swipes his screen and puts the phone to his ear.

“Where did you guys run off to?” Deuce asks loud enough that I can hear it through the phone even with it not being on speaker.

Ace meets me in the eyes and points to the phone and shakes his head, shrugging his shoulders. 

“We’re in the school,” he replies. “Just taking a little stroll.”

“We’re almost out of time,” Deuce shouts. “We gotta get Yuu back over to the headmaster.”

 


 

“Late! You’re all late!” Crowley exclaims as soon as he creaks open the double doors to his office.

“What’ve you been doing to my underling, huh?!” a fuzzy creature barks Ace and Deuce’s way.

Ace and Deuce jump at the voice. I look down and see a very familiar companion.

“Are you okay?” Grim cries as he runs up to me. “I heard you got blown up. This is what happens when you leave an underling without their kingpin, they don’t know what they’re doing!”

“I thought you were in town!” I shout in surprise.

“I was, so what?” Grim replies. “It’s no trouble for a magician of my caliber to find my way back here.”

Crowley clears his throat. “I allowed Grim’s presence this prom night. These are special circumstances, after all. That aside…”

Crowley sticks a pointer finger in Ace’s direction. “What was I going to do if the Prefect was late and they couldn’t go home?! Think how bad it would be for my reputation!”

“Yes, of course, your reputation,” Ace echoes hollowly. “Where’s Yuu’s ticket home?”

“Right to business, Trappola. I like it,” he says. “It’s right over here. I’ve kept it very safe for this moment.”

Crowley pulls away a curtain to reveal a glittering mirror. Its surface is completely free of blemishes and perfectly reflects the four shocked faces of the Night Raven students present.

“The Dark Mirror may have failed at sending away—ahem, sending the Prefect home, but this mirror was specially discovered to have a connection to an unknown world,” Crowley explains. “The destination changes constantly, and whatever is sent over can’t return. But with magic I can scry what is on the other side. And look, Prefect—“

Crowley waves a hand over the mirror’s glass, and it sends ripples over the surface. When he pulls away, there is the image of a bedroom displayed.

“This is your room, isn’t it?” Crowley asks. 

I step forward, absolutely floored. He’s right. Just like no time has passed at all, I see my familiar bedsheets, my bookshelf, my desk. 

“How did you know?” I ask while peering up into Crowley’s masked face.

Crowley leans forward until we’re on even level. He puts one hand on my shoulder and uses the other to trace the rippling surface of the mirror.

“Here,” he says while placing one sharp talon over my desk. “The family photo frame.”

Ace and Deuce walk over to lean over my shoulder as well. Grim peeks out from between my legs.

“So that’s where you live,” Deuce remarks. “It looks… normal.”

“Of course? What do you think is going on in my world?” I reply incredulously.

“Well then,” Crowley says. “I’d like to stay here to supervise, but I think I shall give you a few—brief!—moments with your friends before your departure.”

And with that, Crowley disappears from the room.

“Don’t you have something to say?” Ace says.

I blink. I shake my head and smile. “See you later?”

“You’re not gonna miss us?” Ace asks.

“Ace,” Deuce scolds. 

“You are a real kid, making other people say what you want to hear,” Grim grumbles.

“No, guys,” Ace cuts back. “Yuu needs to say what’s on their mind. At least before they go.”

I look at Ace before averting my eyes, astonished. My upper lip begins to tremble and I can feel my eyes watering.

When Deuce looks my way, his eyes are wide as saucers. I lower my head for some dignity. Ace’s fingertips trace my cheek and wipe away a tear.

I can feel the words coming up. It’s crushing my lungs with the massive emotions they’re entwined with and my throat closes up as if a final defense from them leaving my mouth. 

But they manage to find a way out anyway.

“I don’t want to go.”

It’s done. I’ve said it. Even with my memories now a tossed salad of what they’d likely been before, this thought had stayed with me. I only recently found out why that was.

I keep my head lowered. If I raise my head now, I’ll have to see the effect my words caused. I know what happens when I open up and let people see what’s inside. It doesn’t matter how close they are.

But then I hear a sniffling.

I look up. And I’m speechless.

Ace and Deuce are both crying. Ace is wiping his eyes with the fabric of his suit, and Deuce with the heel of his hand. 

“Why didn’t you say that from the start?” Deuce says, voice raw.

“Because I have to go,” I reply. “Why would I say that when I’ll be going either way?”

“You’re a dumbass for thinking that,” Ace cuts back. “A dumbass that we still love.”

I’m wrapped in an embrace from either side, tears wetting the crown of my head as Ace and Deuce work together to effectively crush me with their love.

My brain is still full of question marks but I think I’m understanding what they’re getting at.

“Thanks for hearing me out,” I say. “I guess we won’t see each other again.”

“Why can’t we?” Ace asks.

“Huh?” I blanch.

“Me and Ace worked our butts off to throw together that show to invite you to prom. You think a little distance is going to keep us from you?”

Ace and Deuce exchange a look of determination. I simply flash my brightest smile their way, lips trembling all the while. Showing them any guilt here would be a disservice.

“Then come and find me,” I say. “And we can be a group again. But make sure the path stays open both ways for everyone’s sake, alright?”

The four of us, me, Ace, Deuce, and Grim have been through so much. From the chandelier to overblot incidents, every challenge we’ve faced we managed to overcome by putting our strength together. I just know that with me trying on my side and them trying on theirs, we’ll be able to find each other again.

“You bet your fucking ass we will,” Ace shouts. 

“We won’t keep you waiting for too long,” Deuce replies.

“Don’t be too hard to find,” Grim says. “It’ll just be more work for us.”

There’s a silence that flows between the four of us. We all exchange looks, and I see a playful expression cross Ace and Deuce’s faces.

“I just had an idea,” Ace says while reaching out a hand that I take into mine. “We’re gonna be the last ones to see you here.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Deuce says while doing the same. “We’ve already broken a chandelier, we can afford to get in a little more trouble.”

I laugh, holding Ace and Deuce in either hand. Even in these last moments the duo are deciding to cause mischief. Though honestly, I couldn’t have it any other way.

I hear them harmonize a farewell. “Bye, Yuu.”

I turn around. I peer into one face, then the other. It doesn’t take long for me to give Ace then Deuce a parting kiss. The feeling on my lips is warm and hopeful. I bend my knees to give Grim one too on his furry head. He grumbles but lets me anyway.

When I turn around, I hear a whisper - so faint I can’t tell whose it is. 

Good night.”

I’d taken the pair’s hands into mine but now I let go. Instead, two palms meet the center of my back as I take the parting step forward.

I fall through the rippling surface of the mirror. I fall from the gentle twilight into the harsh first rays of sunrise, from the comfortable unknown into the once-forgotten familiar. 

But that will just be another chapter of my life - this isn’t the end. We may have all lost the roots that tied us together, but that just means we can feel the vastness of the universe before we’re brought together again. 

And I feel like that day isn’t far off.

Chapter Text

“Good morning,” are the first words I hear when my eyes open to the bone white scene of an infirmary.

… Needless to say, I panic at first, especially being crowded by two strangers, but the situation is cleared up quickly. Apparently, I have amnesia.

“You really need to rest up,” Deuce says while holding onto my shoulders as I try to push myself out of bed. 

“On prom night?” I complain midlly. “You told me I said I’d go with you guys. I’m going to go.”

“That was before you exploded a cauldron in your face,” Ace groans. “Come on—

Listen to your childhood friends for once, okay?

According to Ace and Deuce, I made a mistake mixing together the stage recipe for today’s prom night. That was the cause of the memories of who I was or how I got where I was being wiped clean from my brain like a shaken etch-a-sketch.

It took a while of explaining, but I finally got to learn that I’m a prefect at Night Raven College and close friends to these two boys who I’ve known since growing up in the Rose Kingdom. My name is Yuu. Of everything I was told, this name seems to settle most naturally on my tongue.

“Hey—” I begin. It’s almost funny the way that Ace and Deuce seem to lean into that one word. “I don’t want to keep you guys here. If I’m going to stay here, then I want the both of you to go to prom, find a nice dancing partner.”

“No,” says Ace. 

A hand overlaps mine.

“I have to side with Ace here,” Deuce says. 

My other hand is enfolded by Deuce’s.

I’m caught speechless. I did expect them to argue, but I thought there would be room for me to argue back. But when I look into their eyes, I know for a fact that them separating from me is not in the cards at all.

“I do have an idea for something we can do for prom,” Ace offers. “It’s something that we can only do back at the Heartslabyul dorms, though.”

I tilt my head at the mention of Heartslabyul. If I recall correctly, that’s the house that they were sorted into when they first came to Night Raven. I’m not sure why, but when I asked what house I was sorted into, they just exchanged a glance and shook their heads.

And just like they had then, Deuce throws a look in Ace’s direction. This time, though, there’s a nod exchanged between the both of them. 

“Do you trust us?” Deuce asks.

He gets up, hand folded over mine, and gently tugs me upward. Ace does the same.

“Of course I do,” I reply. “You’re my best friends.”

My only friends.

After all, it’s only the two of them who came to see me after my accident. … It’s easy to deduce what exactly lies at the root of that.

When I’m lead to my feet, supported by the boys at either side of me, I don’t have the slightest fear of falling even with the dizzy spell that hits me. 

Because if I were to fall, that would only prove to me one fact: 

That Ace and Deuce will be the ones to always make sure that I’m safe.

I let this thought to the forefront of my mind, to hide what’s hiding under the surface.

—If that’s true, how did I end up like this?