Title: The Offer
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: May 8, 2016
Disclaimer: "Ao no Exorcist/Blue Exorcist" belongs to Kazue Katou, Shueisha, A-1 Pictures, Aniplex, and various other parties.
Paku Noriko fidgeted outside the door to Professor Okumura's office. Fingers tightened on the papers in her right hand and then loosened quickly before the crisp sheets could crinkle.
She was making the right decision; she knew that. The training camp had made it clear that she didn't belong in the exorcist's world. She wasn't a fighter. And, while she had always imagined herself in a support position, even that, it seemed, was beyond her. The exorcists didn't need someone who could only tend the wounded. They needed someone who could rush out onto the battlefield, pull those wounded to safety, and then keep them safe.
Miss Moriyama could do that. Paku didn't think she could.
What she could do was insure that she wasn't a liability by removing herself from the cram school. She had sensed that she was a poor fit from the first day. Even Professor Okumura must have sensed it when she stepped up for the temptaint ritual with trembling legs and he softly asked if she wanted to reconsider. He had such sad, serious eyes.
But, she had ignored his warnings because Izumo needed her. Izumo who was so fierce outside and so hurt inside. Paku couldn't abandon her.
But, she saw now that Izumo wouldn't be alone. Moriyama, Okumura, and the others would be there.
Paku smiled faintly. No matter how much Izumo snarled, Moriyama and Okumura wouldn't leave her. They were both so kind.
Decided, Paku raised her hand to the door.
The world grayed.
"Ah, Miss Paku." Principal Faust was at her side, bright in a world suddenly gone dim. "It's my understanding that you wish to leave the exorcist cram school."
Startled, Paku turned to look at him, staring up and up again. He was taller than she had thought. And, so bright, gaudy even in white and pink and purple. Even his hair looked purple in this light. The principal had been distinctly foreign when she first saw him at the school's opening ceremonies, but not quite so… exotic.
"I… Yes, Sir."
Although, how did he—? Well, she had requested the paperwork.
"Ah, such a shame." His sigh was too loud, too dramatic. "You do realize, now that you've undergone the temptaint ritual, demons will always be attracted to you." He bent to look her in the eye. "Without some manner of training, life may become quite dangerous."
Paku forced herself not to step back. "I understand."
Izumo had said as much without saying so. Instead, she had looked anywhere but Paku's face while presenting her with a pretty little satchel that smelled of herbs and insisting she always keep it with her. And then, Izumo had repeated her promise of protection.
Because Izumo knew. Paku had never belittled the other girl for her habit of "seeing things", but she had never truly believed either. She had accepted it. Izumo was from a very traditional family, and something terrible had happened to that family. It was only natural that she would interpret it based on her family's beliefs.
Seeing a hobgoblin materialize in Professor Okumura's hands had been eye-opening in more ways than one.
Paku met the headmaster's gaze. "I've spoken with Izumo about it."
"Ah, yes," the principal straightened, thoughtful, "you're from the same hometown as Miss Kamiki. An interesting region. Well, then..." He reached under the short cape that covered his shoulders. "This is an offer that I make to every student who decides to leave the exorcist program." He produced a tiny vial and held it out with a flourish. "This eyewash can take away your ability to see demons. It can't remove a temptaint, of course, but those who ignore demons are far less tempting targets for the lower rabble." He shook the vial, dark liquid swirling inside. "It would offer you a measure of safety."
Something inside Paku relaxed at those words. She wouldn't have to see them anymore. The things that hovered around troubled students and scurried in the shadows just out of sight.
Her face must have shown her relief because Principal Faust immediately smiled.
It was the most terrible thing Paku had ever seen. His mouth was too wide, his teeth too sharp. It wasn't a smile that belonged on a human face.
Paku did step back this time, barely swallowing her gasp. The papers she had been carrying slid out of nerveless fingers and scattered across the floor.
Faust didn't seem to notice. "I would, naturally, require something in return," he continued. "I know asking you to spy on Miss Kamiki for me is out of the question. You're far too loyal." Face folding into a more normal, thoughtful expression, he put his free hand to his chin. Then, just as quickly, the hand was in the air, fingers snapping as he smiled in triumph. "Ah! Why not spy on Okumura Rin for me? He's quite alone and would no doubt welcome the company."
He wasn't making sense. Spy on Izumo? Spy on Okumura? Why? She should tell someone. The exorcists would do something if they knew the principal was possessed.
But, Faust was smiling his terrible smile again, and Paku knew she would never get that chance.
"Come, come," the demon tsked. "It's not as though I'm asking for anything horrible. It's simply exhausting keeping a constant eye on the boy by myself."
"Why—?" The word squeaked out of her, and Paku wasn't even sure what she was asking.
"Why, because he's quite special. Hadn't you noticed?"
Special? Okumura was kinder than he looked, yes. In his own, rough way. And, brave. She remembered him diving between Izumo and spectral foxes, fists flying.
Could you punch creatures like that? Things that weren't quite solid?
"Okumura hit Izumo's foxes," she started, voice wavering.
"Exactly!" Faust beamed. "Which isn't something just anyone could do. Of course," he leaned in conspiratorially, "there's far more to Okumura Rin than that."
His smile dared her to ask, hiding worlds of dark secrets.
Paku didn't care about secrets. Izumo kept them. Everyone in this world of monsters kept them. Who would believe the truth?
And, Izumo was her friend. As honest and loyal as she could be cruel. Okumura had saved Izumo. Then, he and Miss Moriyama had saved Paku herself.
For that matter, he had stayed behind with Professor Okumura when hobgoblins attacked on the first day of class. And, he had saved Suguro from the frog demon.
Which wasn't something just anyone could have done either, now that she thought about it. Stopping something so huge. But, what mattered was that Okumura did it. He threw himself into a monster's mouth to save Suguro.
"Okumura is special," she agreed, ignoring the way Faust's grin widened. "He's special because he protects everyone. I…" She knew her next words would doom her. "I don't want to spy on him."
Faust's laughter was deafening in the sudden silence. He threw his head back and laughed loud and long.
"He must be contagious!" he cackled.
Slowly, the laughter trailed off, and Faust produced a handkerchief to dab at his eyes.
"Well spoken, Miss Paku. Well spoken." He beamed down at her.
Heart roaring in her ears, Paku stared back.
Faust bent to look her in the eye. "We could do this again," he said, inhuman green studying her with slit pupils. "And, again and again." He smiled and was suddenly upright five feet away. "But, I think it will be more rewarding to see this story play out from here." He raised a gloved hand. "You've made a fascinating choice, Miss Paku. May it serve you well." He snapped his fingers, and there was a burst of pink.
Paku Noriko found herself standing outside the door to Professor Okumura's office. Several crisp sheets of paper were clenched between her white-knuckled hands. Startled, she loosened her grip immediately and tried to smooth out the paper.
What was she—?
Oh. Yes. Leaving the exorcist program. It was the right thing to do. Better to support Izumo and the others from the sidelines.
And yet, it seemed like there was something... She half-turned.
The door opened behind her. "Miss Paku?"
Paku turned to face Professor Okumura. "Professor. I need to speak to you... about my enrollment in the exorcist classes."
His face was sober as he nodded. She suspected he had been waiting for this.
"Please, come inside," he said, opening the door wider.
As she followed him, Paku glanced over her shoulder again. The hallway behind her was empty.
Well, it was probably only something she had forgotten while worrying over this decision. It would come back to her in time.