Akari blinked her way out of a doze as a weight landed on her shoulder. She turned to see Luna's head resting against her, blonde hair ruffling slightly as she breathed on it. On Luna's other side, Seira sat in a pool of light from the overhead lamp, reading. Beyond her, next to the other aisle, Ginka was focused intently on the movie playing on her seatback screen. Akari yawned, squeaking a little with her inhale, and blushed when Seira glanced over at her.
Okay? Seira mouthed. She reached over to tug the blue airline blanket more firmly across Luna's shoulder.
Akari nodded, trying to avoid jarring Luna. "Home soon," she murmured.
Seira nodded. "It will be strange, after so long."
I wonder what we will be going back to, Akari thought but did not say. "How did Etia-san sound to you the last time we spoke?" she asked instead.
Seira's eyes sharpened. "I believe she looks forward to having us back," she answered carefully, and Akari knew that her concerns were shared. Akari had been excited when Etia-san and Ariel-san had sent them abroad while Sefiro Fiore rebuilt, but after a year of traveling through Sefiro Fiore branches on four continents, she knew to wonder what their teachers had been protecting them from. Seira smiled tightly at her, clearly following her thoughts. "I think the four of us should talk about it after we get back, when we're not so tired from traveling."
Akari nodded back. "Yes," she said, and let Seira turn back to her book when Luna sighed and stirred against her shoulder.
"Akari?" Luna asked sleepily.
Akari leaned the side of her head against the top of Luna's. "Still four hours of flying," she whispered to Luna. "Plenty of time to sleep."
"Mmm," Luna murmured back, before settling in again.
Akari opened her phone to flick through the photographs. The old, imposing stone architecture of the Sefiro Fiore facility in Córdoba greeted her, interspersed with pictures of the mountainous Argentine countryside outside it, beautiful enough to have made her homesick for the mountains near Nagataki. She flicked past pictures of the small team responsible for half of South America, past Fortaleza and the Brazilian branch, until she finally reached the pictures of the Central American team, based in the outskirts of San Salvador.
She stared at the face of Lili Romero, five years older than Akari herself and the most experienced tarot user in the Salvadoran branch.
"I'm glad you heard their voices," Lili had said fiercely. "I told the branch heads that they weren't bad people, that they were contaminated by Daemonia because they were desperate, but they wouldn't listen. You proved it." Lili had gripped Akari's hand without hesitation during the one time that they had fought together, determined to seize the ability to hear Daemonia voices. "We want to find a way to inhibit Daemonia influence, especially after your reports about that girl, Hanae? Maybe we can't stop it entirely when people really choose it, but if we can slow it down, make the infection harder, give people time to feel a little less desperate..."
Luna's eyes had been dark and guarded, without the spark of hope that had supported Akari when she initially challenged the organization's assumption that Daemonia were inhuman and could have no voices. Seira, though, had stepped closer to Luna, stubborn and supportive and forgiving, and nodded sharply. "If we can stop Daemonia from changing people unwillingly, or tricking them..."
Akari had picked up Luna's hand and squeezed it, trying to breathe her own fragile hope into Luna, too. Maybe they could even find a way for Daemonia not to be destructive. Maybe they could save everyone.
Akari turned her phone's screen off. Time to worry about that when they were off the plane and could talk about it. She wriggled against her seat, trying to get comfortable, and leaned into Luna more firmly. She shut her eyes.
Akari drowsed through the rest of the flight, through the breakfast served just before landing, and sleepwalked her way back through customs, much less exciting now than it had been the first time she shown a customs agent her passport, to get into Italy and visit her first international branch. A comfortable feeling of familiarity, of coming home, enveloped her, though, as the four of them collected their bags and walked through the doors to Narita's arrivals hall. "We're home," Ginka announced, deftly avoiding running into anyone else even while walking backwards so that she could speak directly to the rest of them.
"We're home," Luna agreed quietly.
A flash of movement near the waiting area for buses outside caught Akari's eye. "Look, it's Priscilla-san!" Sefiro Fiore had promised the four of them a car to take them back to Nagataki, but Akari hadn't expected her teachers as escorts.
Ginka whirled. "And Meltina!" She waved back wildly and began forging her way over. The rest of them dragged their suitcases in her wake.
Luna stiffened as the four of them made their way out into the warm autumn day. Akari followed her gaze to see Priscilla had dropped her welcoming smile and was looking worried. "Is everything all right, Priscilla-san?" Luna asked as soon as they were close enough not to draw undue attention.
Priscilla flashed them a tight smile. "Perceptive. Let's talk about it in the car."
Akari exchanged looks with her three teammates. Maybe they would have to be ready sooner than she had thought. Ginka looked decisive, Seira resolute, and Luna still shadowed but determined. She met their eyes and managed an unflinching smile. They would be.