"I'm sorry, Mister Arihiko," Hisui repeated.
"Like I said, it's fine," Arihiko grumbled for what must have been the tenth time that minute. "If anyone should be sorry, it's that damn bastard you work for. I would've forgiven a washable marker, but he just had to go and make this crap nearly impossible to get off." He dabbed at the area around his eye with a wet paper towel, and cursed as the marker monocle remained.
"I'm sure Master Shiki had a good reason for his prank," Hisui said. "And regardless, I should not have laughed like that. It was most unprofessional of me."
"Nah, that's cool too." Arihiko rubbed a bit more vigorously, but the marker didn't show any signs of fading. "You should actually smile more often. You looked pretty cute there."
"…here, try this." Hisui handed the angry boy a bottle of green liquid.
"Dishwashing fluid?" He asked. "Looks ridiculous, but I'll give it a shot. It's better than using bleach or swiping some expensive liquor." He dabbed a bit of fluid onto the paper towel and resumed the rubbing. Within moments, the monocle was gone, taking its classiness with it.
"The food is almost finished," Hisui said from behind him, her voice still slightly shaky. "Are you still hungry?"
"Are you kidding? I could eat a whale," Arihiko said as he wiped off the last of the false eyebrows. He eyed the mustache, and decided to leave it on since it actually kinda classy. Besides, Hisui's laughter was actually nice to hear, as bad as its timing had been. He turned to Hisui and the table, and spotted a steaming bowl of soup, already set up for him.
"Since it was on short notice, I could not prepare anything too extravagant, so I hope this will be enough to satisfy you." Hisui bowed and took a step back, waiting stoically for Arihiko's answer. This time, however, she looked her guest in the eye rather than keeping her eyes on the ground.
"It looks delicious," the boy said. He took a sniff and grinned. "Smells nice too. Looks like I know who makes the meals every day." He sat down and picked up a spoon, watching the rich broth in front of him. He had no idea what Hisui had done to make it look so good, but he didn't care as long as it would fit in his stomach.
"Thank you for the meal!" Arihiko said, and took his first bite.
Also, coincidentally, his last bite.
The world's colours inverted. Sweet became sour, and vice versa. Heat switched places with cold, and the texture on Arihiko's tongue could only be described as a cross between a frog's skin and deflated tire. He trembled as the doom brew washed over his mouth, making its way to his throat with nothing to stop it.
Every muscle in his body locked up, leaving him stuck with a spoon in his mouth and what was starting to feel like lava eroding his teeth. Arihiko Inui had never encountered such a fierce enemy before, and he knew it. The soup wasn't bad. No, calling it bad would be a kindness. It couldn't even be called food, because that would imply that a living being could safely consume it without feeling like they were gargling liquid nitrogen.
It was no less than the worst cooking in the world.
"Mister Arihiko?" Hisui asked, worried. "You haven't moved in a minute. Is there something wrong with the meal? Would you like me to fetch some salt, perhaps?"
Salt!? Salt couldn't fix a concentrated nuclear explosion! It couldn't replace the rotting and decay that his mouth had been exposed to. No, there was nothing Arihiko could do short of spit out the offending food and immediately wash out his mouth with the nearest liquid.
Instead, he turned to Hisui, who looked with a hopeful expression, and swallowed. He then smiled weakly. So this was it, huh? To achieve victory, he'd brave defeat. Yes, he'd be the first one to praise that girl's cooking, thus securing a place within her sheltered heart forever.
"It's delicious," Arihiko Inui said, right before his body shut down once more.
"Oh my, this looks very bad."
"Can you do something, Sister? I don't know what the problem is, but he seems to be in a great deal of pain."
"Oh? You've no idea then? Sounds like a regular mystery. Why don't you put those famed detective skills of yours to work, then?"
"It… was probably Mistress Akiha, Sister. I heard from Master Shiki that he managed to anger her at a meeting, and she temporarily lost control."
"Oh? That's pretty bad for a normal human. But he must have a strong body to have survived her wrath. Was he fine up until now?"
"Yes, he was walking around quite normally. He actually said that he was hungry earlier. Perhaps the effects were delayed, or he was merely pretending."
"Hungry? Don't tell me you prepared him a meal, Sis?"
"It was a small one, yes. Just some soup."
"And did he happen to collapse after eating it?"
"…he said it tasted fine."
"Oh Hisui, you'll never understand a boy's heart, much less how to cook properly if you keep going like this. Just leave it to me. I've prepared for situations like this one."
"You've prepared for someone surviving Mistress Akiha's wrath?"
"No, I've prepared for- ah."
"Never mind. Yes, I've made preparations for such an occasion. I'd have thought it'd be Shiki, but to think it would be his friend…"
"Very well then, I shall leave him in your hands. Now I really must be getting to work. Master Shiki was so annoyed earlier that he broke another chair, so I'll need to see if it can be fixed."
"Sis, perhaps it would be a better idea if you took care of the rest of the soup first."
"Ah, you're right. It would be wasteful to simply throw it away, so I shall pack the rest into a thermos. You can give it to Mister Arihiko when he wakes up."
"Never mind, it's nothing. Go on, Sis, do your thing."
"…heh, you're really something, Mister Mustachio. If you can survive Hisui's cooking, then perhaps you'll be able to help me with a certain experiment I've been waiting to try…"
"Ooh, my stomach…" Arihiko woke up groaning, clutching his abdomen as if he'd been infected by a chest burster straight from Aliens. "What the hell did I eat?" He pushed down the urge to vomit and forced his eyes open. He was greeted by what looked like a normal girl's room, albeit one populated by way too many brooms, crazy outfits, and antique weapons to appeal to anyone who didn't have a historical cosplay maid fetish. So upon second thought, it wasn't a normal girl's room at all.
"That's not really important." A voice cut over the chiptune music that had been playing in the background. "What's important is that you're still alive, which means my plan worked!"
"Alive?" Arihiko gasped. "Are you saying I could've died!?" He tried to stand up, but immediately fell back down as he discovered his legs had all the strength of rubber. "W-whoa, I don't feel so good." He muttered to himself.
"Yeah, ingesting a table spoon of something that's equivalent to concentrated sulfuric acid will do that to you," Kohaku said. The maid sat on the floor, playing and effortlessly beating a video game that Arihiko recognized from an arcade in his youth. "Don't worry though, it's okay now. It was touch and go for a moment there, but the good news is that you're still capable of fathering children!"
"How the hell would you know that!? Wait, you can't mean-!?" Arihiko yelped and pulled down his pants to check. "Thank goodness, looks like Arnold's okay." He sighed.
"Oh my." Kohaku blinked. "How bold of you."
Arihiko suddenly realised what a terrible idea flashing a maid had been. "Wait, I just needed to check-!" He protested as he hastily pulled up his pants.
"Say no more, I understand," Kohaku replied, a teasing smile dancing around her lips. "That's one of those guy things, right? Is it like how you style your hair to make it look ridiculous, pretend it doesn't hurt when it actually does, and name your genitalia after famous actors/politicians?"
"Not in so many words, but yeah," Arihiko managed to say, thoroughly freaked out.
"Like how you always feel inferior to others, and judge guys by the size of their Johnsons!"
"Well, I suppose that's kinda true."
"And how you're always trying to see who's the biggest whenever you're changing in the locker room at school!"
"Hey, that doesn't really happen outside of manga-."
"And then the smallest one has to dress up like a girl!" Kohaku's eyes suddenly took on a demonic glow. "And then he must service the rest of the boys, all the while being humiliated before the rest of them because he's pathetically small and girly! For the rest of his life, he'll be forced to cross-dress and be used by all his peers as a pleasure slave until he's begging to be penetrated by hard, throbbing-!"
"Life isn't one of your Boys Love manga!" Arihiko cut her off before the description could turn any more graphic.
"You're no fun." Kohaku pouted. "Didn't anyone ever teach you not to ruin the pure dreams of a young woman?"
"The only thing pure about that was the feeling of disgust I got as you said it," Arihiko said, and then winced as he felt a headache building up. "Sorry, I'm not feeling too good. It's like someone's filled my head with cotton or something. You're the other maid who works at Tohno's place, right?" Upon taking a look at her, Kohaku looked almost exactly like Hisui, but the smile on her face made mistaking the two for each other virtually impossible.
"Kohaku at your service, Mister Inui!" Kohaku said cheerfully. She set down the controller in her hands and stood up to do a small bow. "I'm supposed to be referring to you by that constantly, but I'm not as serious as my sister about that kind of stuff. So you can just call me Kohaku and I'll call you whatever pops into my head at the time!" She rummaged a bit in a pile of weapons and pulled out a pill bottle. She tossed Arihiko a red pill. "Here, it should help with your headache."
"Thanks." Arihiko immediately swallowed the medicine. "You certainly seem the most… laid back person I've seen here other than Tohno himself," he admitted. "No offense, but that Lady of yours is scary."
"Just a bit," Kohaku said. "You get used to her eventually though."
"And why has no one told your sister that she can't cook? Seriously, whatever she made should be analyzed at a lab and used as a replacement for battery acid."
"Hey, you can't trample over a girl's dreams!" Kohaku protested. "My cute, beautiful sister dreams of one day making an excellent meal for Master Shiki and having him praise her for it!"
"You know that's never going to happen, right?"
"It's the thought that counts!"
"Hah." Arihiko sighed, finally allowing himself to relax as the pain in his head faded. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you're the only normal person I've met all day."
"That's sweet of you to say, but aren't you making an unwise assumption?" Kohaku giggled. "What if I'm just as… unique as Lady Akiha and my cute little sister?"
"It's the antique weapons, isn't it?" Arihiko guessed. "You're probably obsessed with ancient history or something!"
Kohaku blinked. "Well, I suppose that's true in a way. But I also do plenty of other stuff, like-."
"And you love to cosplay!" Arihiko continued, guessing even further.
"I suppose," Kohaku admitted. "I do like dressing up…"
"I bet you force that sister of yours to dress up when no one else is around, then you take pictures of her and threaten to spread them onto the internet if she doesn't do what you want!" Arihiko's imagination suddenly spiralled out of control, and the boy suddenly found himself speaking without thinking. "And you've already leaked photos of her onto the internet, giving her a debut as a net idol known by thousands!"
"Who's the one having graphic fantasies now?" Kohaku lightly rapped the perverted guest on the head with her broom, feigning anger. "No, those clothes are only for me, and occasionally Lady Akiha whenever she's feeling adventurous. Most of the time I just play video games. And I'd certainly never expose my cute little sister to the internet!"
"Oh right, video games." Arihiko scratched his head. "I was just having trouble fitting video games into a household where everything's so prim and proper that I completely forgot about 'em."
"We can't all be 'Milady' this and 'Master' that, y'know," Kohaku said as she booted up some Street Fighter. "Now c'mon, I know for a fact you play because Shiki's always complaining about you being better than him whenever I rope him into playing me."
Arihiko grinned. "I'll have you know that in my youth I was known as Misaki's Arcade Terror. With nothing more than spare change I could top every machine in the city. Are you sure you can handle what I've got?"
"Fufufu, we shall see," Kohaku said. "Now let's play!" Kohaku tossed Arihiko a controller, and the two redheads both got ready to kick some virtual ass.
Thirty minutes later, as Arihiko lay crying in a pool of his own tears, Kohaku finally decided she'd had enough. "That was fun, Mister Inui," she said easily. "You're much better than Shiki, that's for sure."
"It's impossible." The boy muttered, his eyes staring unfocused into the distance. "No human can make moves like that. The combos, they were everywhere! I didn't even know you could cancel into that!"
"You flatter me," Kohaku chuckled. "Really, I just practice once in a while, whenever I have some time off."
"The world championships," Arihiko continued. "No, you belong in the galactic championships!"
"Here, try some tea," Kohaku said. "Although as the loser, you really can't say no." She poured two cups and set them on a short table pulled up from the corner of the room. Upon seeing Arihiko's suspicious glare, she smiled. "Don't worry, I prepared this batch. My cute sister had nothing to do with it. And I'm also the one who regularly cooks dinner, so the taste is guaranteed."
"I guess it's okay then," Arihiko said, having already accepted his loss. He straightened and took a cup of the warm, dark tea. "Is this Western? Doesn't really look very familiar."
"Just a little blend I came up with on my own." Kohaku said, taking a very tiny sip from her own cup. After a moment of hesitation, Arihiko did the same. "It's specially designed to aid in relaxation. I figured that after everything you've been through, you deserve it."
Arihiko murmered a quick "Thank you" and quickly took another, larger gulp. Almost immediately he felt himself relaxing as the warm tea spread through his body. "Ahhh." He exhaled slowly, sighing as all the pain in his body was replaced by a warm glow. "That feels much better."
"How much better?" Kohaku asked, replacing her cup with a clipboard. "Do you feel lazy, tired, or sleepy? Can you still move all your limbs?"
"Eh?" Arihiko cocked his head to the side. "I'm fine. Sure I was tired a few minutes ago, but this tea of yours is pretty good. I feel as right as rain! Good enough to fist fight a hundred punks and still come out on top!"
"Hm, interesting." Kohaku made a few notes on the keyboard. "Okay, now what do you get when you multiply 4 by 5?"
"20," Arihiko said, his eyes unfocused now. "20 hamburgers. I could totally use 20 hamburgers right about now."
"Okay… how many fingers am I holding up?"
"How many eyes do you have?"
"Don't you be getting snippy, Mister. Now what's the fourth letter of the alphabet?"
"D," Arihiko said, his voice slurred. His mouth curved into a goofy grin and extended his hands. "D cups. Hehehe." His hands groped the empty air, and a bit of drool fell from his mouth "No, double Ds! The best kind!"
"Oh my." Kohaku couldn't stop herself from smiling at the sight. "That's definitely an unexpected side effect, but at least you're still capable of being logical. Now then, Mister Inui, what's your relation to Tohno Shiki? Do try to be coherent this time."
At this, Arihiko frowned and stopped his embarrassing air grope. "Tohno, that idiot," he mumbled, his head nodding forward. "Always getting me into trouble. I'm always saving his ass and carrying him to the nurse's office whenever he pukes blood everywhere. I should beat the crap out of him but he's always doing his stupid ninja shit and jumping around all over the place so I can't even land a decent punch half the time."
Kohaku tilted her head to the side. "Why are you friends with him if you hate him so much?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I don't hate him. The guy can be downright chill sometimes," Arihiko said, slurring his words slightly. "He's probably talked me out of more shitty ideas than I can remember. Couldn't talk me outta this one though."
"My, my, you certainly aren't holding anything back." Kohaku smiled. "Now that I know this is working, why are you here?"
"Because I heard that Toho's sister was hot," Arihiko mumbled. "And I thought I could, like, capture her heart or some shoujo shit like that." Yes, for whatever reason, his words were nothing but the truth. "But damn that girl's crazier than a Trekkie at a Star Wars convention. I ain't touching her with a ten foot pole." He suddenly burst into a fit of giggling. "Yeah, not even my ten foot pole."
"Note to self: Joke making skills drastically reduced while under the influence," Kohaku noted. "Okay then, what were your intentions towards my cute little sister, Mister Playboy?"
"She was pretty cute, yeah," Arihiko admitted. "On top of having a decent body, that maid outfit hits all the fetish points. It's like she's made to attract creepy dudes or something. I thought I'd maybe chat her up, get her number or something. She's definitely a nine out of ten, probably the hottest girl I've talked to since… since who?" At this point, he was lying on his back, staring at the patterns on the ceiling and… ceiling… Ceiling… Ciel!
"Since?" Kohaku asked.
"Ciel! I just remembered!" Arihiko blinked wildly. "Hot damn, he she was nice. I mean, on top of being a nice upperclassman and making a mean cup of tea, she had the best damn ass I ever saw."
"Uh-huh. I think that's enough," Kohaku said, having lost interest. "You can stop now. I'll get you something to erase your memories and you'll be fine in a few hours. Just wait right there."
"And damn, that ass was good." Arihiko had started with the air groping again, this time even more vigorously than before. "I mean, holy shit, it's like it was a miracle of the universe or something. You haven't seen heaven until you've caught a glimpse of that butt. That one rapper dude hit the nail straight on the head."
"Okay, please stop talking," Kohaku said, now thoroughly annoyed. "Is the drug still unrefined? I thought I'd nailed the dosage earlier…"
"She has some serious junk in her trunk, if you know what I mean," Arihiko, now almost catatonic, continued to mumble. "Aw man, I really miss you, Sempai. You didn't have to just vanish like that. I was totally gonna steal your heart! And that sweet-!"
"Fuck this," Kohaku cursed, no longer even pretending to be cheerful. "Just stay here and I'll get the antidote right now. I doubt you're even capable of anything other than sitting there and spouting your ridiculous sexual fantasies, but try not to expose my sister to them, okay?" She slipped out of the room, leaving Arihiko to continue fantasizing in peace.
As soon as the door closed, Arihiko's arms dropped and he had to grab on to the couch to stop himself from falling over. "Ugh." The boy's head didn't hurt anymore, but in exchange, the feeling of fuzzy cotton in his brain had multiplied. He forced himself to his feet, still barely able to stay balanced.
"Crazy," Arihiko muttered weakly, a string of drool still falling from the corner of his mouth. "This whole place is full of crazy people." He staggered over to the window and wrenched it open, his suddenly blurred vision making it difficult to see the fine details of the latch.
A cool breath of fresh night air blasted Arihiko in the face, blowing away his sleepiness. He looked down, making out a dimly lit backyard full of trees and fallen leaves. For once, he was glad it was autumn.
Were Arihiko more lucid, he most likely would never have gone through with his insane idea. But with his brain running on an extremely unhealthy blend of drugs, Hisui's cooking, and Kohaku's magic ingredients, it seemed like the best thing to do at the time.
"Yahoo!" Arihiko shrieked as he tumbled face first out of the window, stoned out of his mind and careening towards the ground two stories below, waving hello to the dozens of tiny magical elves that had crawled out of the leaves just to greet him.
"Here's your change, sir." The man handed his latest customer a few coins and a scrap of paper and slid another bowl of freshly made ramen forward.
The spectacled boy retrieved the money and took a moment to say "Thanks for the food." Immediately afterwards, he proceeded to eat his food like a man who hadn't eaten in weeks, accompanied by the gentle sound of sizzling meat and the comfortable buzz of the streets at night.
"Wow, you're really digging in," the chef commented, pleased to see a customer enjoying his food. "You're already on your third bowl but you haven't even slowed down."
"This is good ramen, and it is a shame I cannot eat slower and enjoy it more," the boy replied between bites. "Alas, I'm being forced to hurry because my friend is waiting outside and the longer he wanders around, the larger the chance of him getting in trouble gets. Besides, I haven't had the chance to eat actual meat in ages. It is only here, on a school trip, that my first opportunity has appeared."
"Heh, then help yourself, kid." The chef deposited a few extra strips of sliced pork into the boy's bowl. "Don't worry, it's on the house."
"Thank you-." Before the boy could finish conveying his gratitude, a grubby hand pushed aside the curtain of the ramen booth and a second boy levered himself onto a stool, moving like a broken puppet.
"Ramen, please," the newcomer said, his voice slurred and almost incomprehensible. "Actually, make it two of the biggest thing you serve. Hold the maids." His face was relatively clean, but his clothes and red hair were stained with mud and leaves, and the marker mustache above his lips would've raised eyebrows had the rest of him not been so grubby.
"Of course. Two bowls coming right up," the chef said warily. While he could instantly tell the boy was going to be trouble, as a professional it was beyond his ability to refuse. "And there are no maids in this establishment. If you wish, there is a maid café down the road."
"No!" The redhead stiffened and almost fell off the stool before righting himself. "I mean, no maids. Please. Thank you," he said, stumbling over his words. He reached into his pocket and dropped a wad of messy but miraculously whole bills onto the counter.
"It'll be only a minute." The chef took the money, slid back the change, and turned around to begin preparing more food.
A minute passed. The soggy redhead stared ahead, not moving an inch while his eyes swayed to and fro, focusing on the chef's back, the kitchen utensils, the untouched change before him, and finally, the person sitting next to him.
The redhead blinked. "Tohno?"
The spectacled boy looked up, his mouth full of noodles. "Hm?"
"Tohno, you bastard!" The redhead's expression morphed into one of anger. "You told me you'd be with that demon sister of yours, but here I find you relaxing and enjoying the old man's ramen? That's low, even for you!"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," the target of Arihiko's words said, bemused. "You must be mistaking me for someone else, because I am not this Tohno you speak of. And is that a mustache on your face?"
"Don't try to get smart with me, Tohno!" Arihiko cut him off. "I'd know that smirk of yours anywhere. You abandoned me in that mansion full of crazies without even a warning! And that 'mustache' of yours completely ruined any chance I had with bagging that hot maid!"
"I-I'm not smirking," the other boy insisted. "I'm not even smiling! Are you blind? And furthermore, you're being very coarse-."
"Hah, says the one who has to rely on those nerd-makers just to tie his shoes!" Arihiko shot back. "I can see just fine, Tohno, enough to see that ugly grin on your pompous face. Think you're better than me, eh? How about we take this outside then!?" Arihiko grabbed the other boy's lapels, bringing their faces closer.
The other boy blinked as he noticed the dull emptiness in Arihiko's eyes. "You… you're on something, aren't you?" he said, actually alarmed now. "Please let go. If it's money you want-."
"Money can't fix my broken soul, Tohno!" Suddenly, Arihiko's anger faded, only to be replaced by grief. "You could've warned me! You could've told me that you live with a bunch of lunatics, but you let me get sucked into it all! What kind of friend are you?"
"I… I'm sorry?" The spectacled boy said, hesitantly.
"Sorry ain't gonna cut it!" Arihiko continued, tears now streaming from the corners of his bloodshot eyes. "Apart from that monstrous sister of yours, one of your maids tried to kill me with poison and the other spiked the fucking tea! These girls are demons, demons I tell you!"
"D-Demons, you say?" Rather than being even more intimidated by Arihiko's words, the spectacled boy paused. "Well, I did warn you, didn't I?"
Arihiko let go of the other boy's shirt and slumped on to the counter. "Yeah, I guess," he mumbled weakly. "But you shouldn't have agreed to introduce me to your sister if you knew how crazy she was! I took five steps in there and she was already sucking the life outta me!"
"That quickly!?" The other boy recoiled. "I didn't think my… er… sister was such a horrible person! I knew she was a demon, but to think that it's gotten to this point…"
"You don't even know?" Arihiko chuckled. "That ain't even the half of it, Tohno. That one maid you have? The one that's super quiet and creepy? Well she was real eager to offer me food, so I said yeah, and guess what happened!?"
"She poisoned the meal?"
"Poision!? Hah!" Arihiko suddenly burst into insane laughter for a few seconds before suddenly becoming deathly quiet. "Tohno, what she gave couldn't be called food. After only one bite of that shit it felt like my stomach had been turned into a black hole."
"Oh my." Arihiko's companion seemed truly worried now. "In that case, you'd better eat up. Here, the ramen's arrived. I'll pay for any seconds you might need. We need to get some meat in your stomach before that monster's poison kills you!"
"Heh, that's more like it. And here I was thinking you didn't even care." Arihiko paused to take a large gulp from the newly arrived food before him. "Ah…" He sighed. "Yeah, that's the stuff. Thanks, pops. It's excellent as always."
"Of course." The chef nodded. "But do take care, Inui. You've come in here roughed up before, but if you don't mind me speaking frankly, you look like you've been through hell."
"I have," Arihiko said after finishing an entire bowl within a minute. "It… it was horrible. I'd thought the first maid was bad, but the second one was even worse! She slipped me some sorta wonky tea that had me seeing fairies with double Ds for half an hour."
"This really is bad," the bespectacled boy said. "I'll have to, uh, discipline them immediately once I get home!"
"You better!" Arihiko agreed. "Fuck, and to think I thought she was hot, too."
"Wait, what?" The other boy blinked. "You… desired them? Carnally?"
"Well duh." Arihiko grumbled. "Don't you remember me bugging you to set me up with your sister? Biggest damn mistake I ever made, that's for sure. Anyway, what's with the fancy language, Tohno? You don't have to be so damn uptight here. It's not like you've still got your sister with you or anything."
"Inui… listen to me," the redhead's companion said, perfectly serious. "This is a sign. A sign from the gods! It is a lesson that has been taught to you! A message that you have received from the heavens themselves!"
"What the fuck's that supposed to mean?" Arihiko asked, half way through his second bowl.
"It means that dating isn't for you!" the other boy said triumphantly. "Don't try to go out with anyone until you're an adult, for all the women around you are demons waiting to suck out your life! No, instead you should do something productive, like joining a club. I bet the Student Council is in need of members."
"Heh, y'know, you might actually have a point there- What the hell!?" Arihiko dropped the half empty bowl on the counter and leapt off his seat, screaming and pointing at his friend, or more specifically, the area behind his friend. "Behind you! It's a ghost!"
"Huh?" Said ghost ran a hand through his red hair and tilted his head, bemused. "Issei, who's this guy? He doesn't look like he's in his right mind."
"Er, well, I can explain," the bespectacled boy stammered as he quickly rose from his seat.
"Tohno, run!" Arihiko gasped. "It's one of those things! Doppelgangers! It's like in that story, where if two identical people meet, one of them will die!"
"But we look nothing alike," the doppelganger pointed out. "My hair isn't dyed like yours, for one."
"It can talk!" Arihiko shivered and backed up slowly. "Tohno, don't tell me you're siding with that faker!"
"Well, um, yes," the spectacled boy said. "And sorry for the deception, but I have no idea who you are and I suspect that you might seriously need to get your eyes checked."
"Oh god, it's already replaced me." Arihiko almost choked as he spoke. "This… this is the end, isn't it? I'm going to die now, aren't I? I'm going to be replaced, and then the Body Snatchers are gonna take over the world, aren't they? Is that your master plan!?"
"Look, I think you should calm down." The doppelganger approached, its blurred face nearing Arihiko's own. "You're delirious. Here, we'll take you to the hospital."
"No!" Arihiko screamed. "You'll never take me alive, faker!" He yelled, gathering up bravery he didn't know he had, and charged his doppelganger, tackling the twin out of the ramen stall and into the cold street.
A second later, the doppelganger got to his feet, leaving the sleeping Arihiko on the ground, snoring like a baby. "That was probably the most anticlimactic fight I've ever been in." He admitted.
"Emiya, you didn't need to hit him that hard," Issei said, slightly disappointed. "He's been subjected to the whims of a trio of demon women. Rather than being angry, you should pity him for what he's been through."
"I didn't even do anything!" the redhead protested. "He hit his head against the ground and knocked himself out."
The two stared for a moment at the fallen boy. "Er, do unconscious people snore?" Issei asked.
Emiya shrugged. "How would I know?"
"Hey, are you two going to get rid of him or what?" The chef asked from inside the ramen booth. "I can't have that guy chasing away visitors all night."
Emiya sighed, looked at the fallen boy, and shrugged. "I guess we can't just leave him there," he admitted. "Where does he live?"
A week later, Shiki found himself on the roof again. As he chewed on a sandwich, Arihiko opened the door and sat down next to his friend, not saying a word as he took out a piece of stale bread and began to eat it as if it was made of solid gold.
That is to say, very painfully.
"I have no idea how you can eat that stuff," Shiki said, not even bothering to glance at his friend.
"It's not that bad, actually," his friend admitted after spending an entire minute struggling to swallow a lump harder than concrete that would probably have been better off outside his body. "I've certainly eaten worse."
"Oh really? When?" Shiki asked, skeptical.
Arihiko grinned. "Last week."
The two friends at in silence for a few more minutes until Shiki spoke once more. "So, are you still looking for a girlfriend?" he asked.
"Nah, it can wait," Arihiko said as he finished off his lunch. He forced himself to swallow the last bite and his stomach protested, but he ignored it. "I'd decided to be a bit more mature about this. Going around hitting on every cute girl that passes by is only a recipe for disaster."
"Maturity from you? If that's what it takes to get you to learn your lesson, I should introduce you to my sister more often," Shiki said as he crumpled up the wrapper for his meal and tossed it backwards over the roof's fence, where it fell several stories before landing conveniently in a garbage can.
"Try it and I'll introduce you to mine," Arihiko warned his friend. "Now I'll admit your sis is pretty protective, but she's never raided your closet and replaced all your porn with National Geographic magazines. And thanks to you she thinks I'm dating some rich girl with a stalker fetish."
"Your fault, not mine. I don't have that kind of- whatever," Shiki grumbled. "This isn't a contest to see who's little sister is more paranoid. Besides, the last thing I need is another older woman who thinks I'm cute."
"Another? Dammit, Tohno, are you trying to make me jealous?"
"I'm not trying," Shiki said, in between gulps of canned orange juice. "It's your fault you're easy to tease. I recall a guy who used to actually make me think of what to say before speaking, but now a good old verbal spar with you is like beating up a little kid."
"Now you've said it," Arihiko growled and walked backwards to the center of the roof, where he raised his fists. "C'mon, then, if it's a fight you want it's a fight you'll get! I still need to take revenge on you for last time!"
Shiki sighed and got up leisurely, putting his hands in his pockets. "This really isn't good for my anemia," he complained, but was otherwise silent as he approached Arihiko.
"If you collapse, I'll toss you into the nurse's office," the redhead said. "Hell, I might even decide to cash in on all the favours you owe me for all the times I've had to haul your skinny ass there." He clenched his fists and dug his back foot into the ground, preparing to dash in.
"I may be weak, but I'm more than strong enough to break your nose." Shiki finally allowed himself to smile as he bent his knees, his hands still sheathed within his pants pockets.
"We'll see whose nose gets broken afterwards!" Arihiko yelled and surged forward, putting all of his pent up energy into a single punch, as Shiki charged too. Despite it seeming like a horrible fight, both of the combatants couldn't help but grin.
Arihiko swung with a haymaker that would've knocked his spectacled friend out cold, but Shiki merely lowered his head and dashed right under the swing. The force ruffled his hair, but little else.
"Shit!" Arihiko cursed and tried to pull back, but he had overextended and allowed Shiki within his defenses. The fight was already over before it had even begun.
The dark haired boy pulled a hand out of his pocket, a sturdy tube clutched in it. He brought it up, smoothly tracing a dark line across Arihiko's face with the familiar weapon, a line only he could see.
The redhead collapsed face first onto the ground, and Shiki straightened opposite his unfortunate foe. "It's done." he said. "Don't get carried away, monster." He spun the weapon in his hand and straightened his glasses with the other.
"The hell's with that edgy bullshit!?" Arihiko sputtered as he rose, clutching his face. "You bastard, what did you do? I thought we weren't using weapons!"
"Nothing," Shiki chuckled, tossing the tube towards Arihiko, who managed to catch it with one hand. "Hisui said she enjoyed talking with you last week, so I'm just going to recreate those conditions and hope they somehow stop women from running away from you. Aren't I a swell friend?"
"Don't tell me…" Arihiko stared at the object in his hand with wide eyes. "You didn't-?"
"See you tomorrow," Shiki said as he pulled open the door to the stairwell. "And stay classy."
"Stay classy?" Arihiko blinked, and looked at the permanent marker in his hands.
He looked towards the door, not understanding.
Then he looked at the marker again, and recognition finally dawned upon his most gentlemanly visage. Arihiko's fake bristles trembled, his immaculately curved marker mustache shivering with anger as he finally realised his familiar predicament.