After the destruction of Cerebrum, the girls were given a temporary reprieve from their schoolwork. Daemonia had yet to attack, and ever since Ginka came back, further investigations were conducted about the daemonia she had killed. The other tarot user that had supposedly lost her life in the same way still hadn't been found, after all.
In the middle of this lull, Seira noticed Akari sitting quietly on the bench outside, frowning and staring into space.
"Akari? Are you alright?"
She swiveled her head in Seira's direction, mild surprise on her face. "Oh, ah, I'm fine. I just wanted to sit outside for a little while."
Akari didn't ask her to leave, though, so Seira sat down beside her.
She thought about that last fight against Cerebrum. Akari's mother was dead, so fighting against a blood relative had to have some sort of effect on Akari, even if Cerebrum was barely considered human. The other tarot users had their own tragedies as well, being forced to kill daemonia of people they cared about, but it was still nothing like having an entire family dragged down into daemonia business and death. Even her cousin became a daemonia, and Akari recently discovered she was half daemonia herself.
"What about you? Your tarot power okay?" Akari asked. Her hands were in her lap, and she was leaning forward a bit, her feet swinging under her.
"I wonder how Luna and Ginka are doing, too." She sighed.
Seira knew that those two probably already told Akari how they were feeling. The three of them were on a closer wavelength, able to more comfortably tell each other personal problems than Seira. She used to think that that was a kind of hindrance to her duties, but now she wasn't sure.
"They're probably better than you are."
Akari turned to her with a small smile. "If you say so."
"I mean it. They weren't the ones who were trapped in the Clessidra."
Her mouth fell at that, and she swallowed. "Oh."
That might have been the wrong thing to say, she thought to herself. Seira scratched her head. "Have you talked to anyone about what was in there?"
"Not really. No one asked." Meaning she wouldn't want to talk unless she was prompted to. She could never say no to people.
"Would you mind if I asked?"
Akari gave a gentle shake of her head and leaned back into the bench, her arms falling to her sides. "I don't actually remember what it physically felt like, but I went through my memories, over and over. The day Fuyuna became a daemonia."
Seira remembered Akari mentioning her cousin Fuyuna. It struck a chord when it reminded her of when her friend Manami was killed by a daemonia, and it came back to haunt her when they encountered a school girl willing to sacrifice herself as a daemonia to give her own friend Minori a chance to live.
"Fuyuna kept telling me she hated me. I thought it was my fault that she became a daemonia for a little while in there, but after she got the chance to really talk, she told me she still cared about me."
Seira had assumed that Fuyuna was an illusion from the start of her story, but if Cerebrum actually created one for the sole purpose of torture, then it shouldn't have backfired. That was baffling. "Is that when you escaped?"
"Oh…" Seira didn't know what else to say. Asking had been a stretch for her, but she wanted to try talking anyway. Ever since she had given Akari and the team a second chance, and heard the voice of a daemonia, she felt that she should be with them more. Luna's lupine intervention made it more difficult, but enough time had passed for Seira to guess that it was appropriate to try being Akari's friend.
"I'm glad we made it in time, then." Seira didn't know if that was good enough, but Akari seemed happy with it, the corners of her mouth quirking.
"I'm glad, too." Her feet under the bench gave one last swift swing before propelling her to stand up. "Let's get lunch, now. I'm hungry."
Seira followed her to the dining room quietly, watching her stroll and glance around at the plants of Sefiro Fiore. Even if the Clessidra had the dangerous illusory effect that Akari mentioned, Akari was still upbeat and full of cheer, despite just talking about it.
No one else could have survived something like that. If Seira had been in her place, she would have caved, and before the events that took place at the Sephirotic Tree. She would have been driven insane by the voices of daemonia, unable to sympathize with their previous human lives after their words blurred together into a meaningless jumble.
It was hard to not admire Akari.
After lunch, Akari convinced Seira to go out for a walk. The two of them went into town, without intending to buy anything
Seira had been turning over in her mind what she thought earlier--that Akari's resilience was something to be proud of. Where did it come from? The only family she had was a group of fortune tellers, and they hadn't exactly been through hardship.
"You've been really quiet all day." Akari jostled her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
Seira flicked her eyes up at Akari. "Has anyone ever told you that you're strong?"
Akari's eyebrows wrinkled. "St-strong? What?"
Seira's hands clenched and unclenched as she began to feel uncomfortable talking about this, but she didn't want to stop now. "For being in the Clessidra. For listening to the daemonia every time. And for everything."
She knew it was a random outburst, since neither of them had spoken much during the outing, but Akari got over her surprise quickly, grinning and taking her hand to pat it.
"Thanks for telling me, Seira."
Akari pulled her along, causing her to stumble a little before catching herself. They walked at the slightly faster pace until Akari brought them to a small bridge, and she let go to lean onto the bridge railing.
"Let's stop here for a moment."
Seira turned and looked down at the water, seeing both of their reflections staring back. Akari seemed as serene as the river's surface, her chin on one arm and the other dangling over the edge.
"It makes me happy, hearing you say that," she said after a few minutes.
Seira tilted her head to listen, nodding in encouragement.
"Luna and Ginka have always been close and easy to get along with, but I didn't know how to get through to you in the beginning. And I admired you. I really like you."
Seira hummed in agreement. "I like you, too."
"You do?" Akari turned to her joyfully, her eyes sparkling with hope.
"Why wouldn't I?"
Seira faltered under a sudden weight, startled by Akari's arms at her shoulders. Akari was laughing, her head coming close to hers. When Seira felt her mouth giving a gentle, quick peck, she realized with a pound in her chest that Akari didn't mean that kind of like.
"You have no idea how happy that makes me!"
Seira swallowed. She didn't have the heart to tell Akari that she misunderstood, but she found that she didn't mind at all. The touch was pleasant, and if it happened again, then she still wouldn't protest.
The two of them walked home holding hands, chatting about the stores they passed. In the middle of it, though, Seira thought back to the daemonia for the first time since Akari shyly admitted that she had a crush.
There was already the problem of coming across their daemonia counterparts with the knowledge that they might disappear if they fought, but Akari having feelings for her? That could complicate things further. Akari was idealistic and compassionate, and not only would she fight, but she would probably fight Seira's own daemonia.
"Akari," Seira said, drawing Akari's attention to her.
Akari smoothed her expression at her serious tone. "What is it?"
"Promise me that you'll never do anything reckless against a daemonia, just because of me."
"Reckless? Like what?"
"Such as pushing yourself more than you should. I wouldn't want anything that happened to you to be my own fault."
Akari opened her mouth to say something, but she seemed to reconsider as she closed it. After a few more moments, she nodded.
Seira let out a heavy sigh and squeezed her hand. "Thanks. That means a lot."
Akari pulled Seira into her shoulder, beaming and turning into a skip.