Author's note: First off, if anyone is wondering why I haven't updated for a while and haven't taken a look at my profile page, I've been busy chasing after 'New Testament 2' of Index.
Secondly, I know I said I'd include Misuzu in this chapter, but I had to take out her part because it didn't fit quite well with the rest. Sorry about that.
And as for Gunha's parts, the feedback I've been getting here and at other places I go to suggest opinion is fairly evenly divided. I've decided to throw him in now and then, but don't expect any more 'romance flags' between him and Touma.
Chapter 11 – Love Troubles
Night time on the third day of the Daihasei Festival.
Standing next to a bonfire at a park with Misaka Mikoto's hands held by his own and walking in a circle, Kamijou Touma wondered what came over her today. First it was being angry at him for many things in their match and after it, and now she had dragged him into doing something that he has no idea why she's doing so.
Then again, it wasn't like he's against doing this with her if she just asked, but he is confused at her reasoning. Their slow steps around the circle had her look like she's blushing, but Touma only attributed that to being close to the flames. He sighed once, as they continued around the circle.
He paid no attention to the warmth of her body in close contact with his, distinguishable even with the bonfire close to them. Likewise, physical skin-to-skin contact like holding hands didn't make him uneasy, Mikoto's soft hands in his own did nothing to flutter his heart.
The same cannot be said for Mikoto, however. If it wasn't for Touma's mysterious ability negating her own, she felt she might have discharged enough power to light up the entire city from how she's feeling.
Calm down. She told herself, forcing her breathing to slow. You're only doing this to make sure Shokuhou don't make a move on him. Or send someone else to do so. I-it's not like you're doing this for him – not in that sense, anyway…
Prior to their dance now, Mikoto saw two girls in Misaki's clique approach him as his school finished their last match for the day. The one that has black hair with round glasses was bowing repeatedly and apologising for her attacks during their match, while the haughty one with red hair only turned her head away in something that's half disdain and half embarrassment. Touma only chuckled at their reaction and said something like 'don't worry about it'.
How did he miss the hero-worship the girl with glasses had for him anyway? Mikoto saw a similar look from Kuroko directed at her more than a few times, minus the embarrassment.
It's when that girl timidly asked if he's free for the night and asked him to dance with her at a bonfire nearby that Mikoto was alarmed. Why would two girls he probably has never met before today asking him out like that?
Well, one of the girls anyway. The one with red hair only looked disbelievingly at her friend's bold offer, and then turned to glare at Touma that would have made a lesser man tremble under it.
Then it clicked. What did Shokuhou said that time?
"I don't have to win, Misaka Mikoto… I just have to make sure you lose."
Mikoto felt like a bucket of cold water was poured over her.
Using her followers as pawns to earn his affection? How in the world did she miss that as a possible way of Misaki influencing him?
Before she knew it, Mikoto was running towards him before he can reply, told the two he had a prior appointment with her, and dragged him away. He didn't even have time to protest at her rough handling.
So, now here they are, holding each other as they went around the bonfire. She needed a excuse for just barging in, and the bonfire was as good as any. It's not like those other two girls would show up if they don't have a dance partner, right?
Also… if Mikoto was being brutally honest, this actually didn't feel that bad. She felt safe and secure being like this, and apart from the way her heart pounded she's enjoying the moment.
Not that she'll ever admit it to anyone, of course.
"You're feeling alright, Misaka?" Touma asked, glancing over at his dance partner. Her face was slightly red, and her eyes seem to be unfocused as she looked to the side. "If the heat is getting to you then maybe we should leave…"
"Don't worry about it." Mikoto said, finally snapping her attention back to Touma. She also glanced over to him, but hurriedly looked away as his concerned look with the light of fire upon it made her nervous for some reason. "Just keep going."
To anyone else looking, they looked like the ideal couple. The slightly older guy caring about the girl, honest concern in his eyes. The girl backing away slightly from him, but in the end allowed him to get closer as she cuddled with the satisfied expression knowing nothing in the world can trouble her, as long as he's by her side.
The few people that recognised them as the 3rd Level 5 and her crush went "d'aww~" at the sight in front of them. Even after their match against one another, it didn't make them any more famous than the rumours did. With approximately 1.8 million participants in the festival, it wasn't like individuals get famous immediately if they perform well in a event. The audience go wild over the performance at the time, but after they leave it will be soon forgotten. The ones here that recognised them did so from the gossip sites, and not from their results at sporting events.
On the other hand, relatively anonymous don't help keep attention away from you when someone teleports next to your head and delivers a scathing airborne kick for no apparent reason.
"Sempai!" A few of the first year students called out to Shokuhou. "Thank you for your hard work today!"
Misaki merely nodded back towards them, a glass of juice in one hand and went back to ponder her current situation.
Despite it being night time there was still a few students on Tokiwadai Middle School's campus. Even if it's not the cultural festival, Ichihanaransai, at the moment students are allowed to use the facilities for the purpose of last minute training if they require it.
But mostly that was just a excuse to provide a secure place where students can gather and socialise, taking a break from the conflict between schools; considering many of the girls attending Tokiwadai are from well-off families and elites, it was no surprise some felt it was a good idea to have them away from possible danger during a time where the security of Academy City is loosened to accommodate for visitors. The School Gardens are one of the locations closed off to outsiders, and so in theory here is one of the places where the girls will be avoided to get dragged into whatever espionage plans the organisations outside have tried to sneak into the headquarters of the Science Side.
However, none of that was the focus of what was actually on Misaki's mind at the moment.
With the near-defeat of Tokiwadai thanks to Kamijou Touma, just about all the rumours within the school that painted her in a bad light trying to chase after him have disappeared. Nobody can really blame her for going after a guy that showed determination and skill like that. That young man now has quite a few fans, especially among the first years, and right now being linked to him actually helped Misaki's position rather than hindered it.
Even with Misaki's outward cheerful and friendly attitude to others, being a Level 5 meant there was still a gap between her and her fellow students. Knowing that even the Queen can have love troubles made her easier to relate to others, something Misaka Mikoto already had when she talked about 'that idiot' all the time but never used it to her advantage. The gap between Level 5s and others is still there, but it wasn't as wide as before; and unless she wants to do the same as Mikoto and distance herself from others, the closing gap will not get wider.
The question is, where to go from here? Misaki now has nearly absolute dominance in Tokiwadai's social network, with her position from before solidified further and her only possible rival, the Railgun, already stated she has no intention of getting involved in school politics. All her worries (the ones within Tokiwadai anyway) from before are now practically solved, and all that's left is a few obligatory appearances with Kamijou now and then to keep things under control.
Why, then, does she not feel entirely satisfied at this outcome?
"Shokuhou-sama? Is something wrong?" Another girl, her hair combed into drills, asked in a voice tinged with worry.
"It's nothing." Misaki said smoothly, taking a sip from her cup. "I was just pondering about the rest of the matches during the Daihasei Festival. I want to find a way to prevent the disaster of the match we had today from repeating itself."
"We didn't have a overwhelming victory like usual." The other girl conceded. "If nothing else, we need to focus more than just having superior attack power."
"Cooperation between all of us during a school-wide battle probably needs to be improved on as well." Misaki mused. "His school managed to push us back not just by using strong individuals, but also through use of tactics and coordination. If a school with greater esper abilities than theirs were to have the same level of cooperation we would undoubtedly be defeated."
"Speaking of him," She looked over at the Queen with querying eyes. "Nobody would blame you if you had tried to go out on a date with him tonight instead of being here. Academy City don't have festivities like this often, so why didn't you take this chance to be with him?"
"We just had a school-wide battle today, it's hardly suitable for us to meet up like this." Misaki replied. "Tongues might wag about how he was only able to get that far against us due to me weakening our side in secret to make him look better."
"Some people will say that regardless." The girl with drill-like hair scowled. She held no illusions what people would say to spite those who are more successful then themselves. "Besides, that didn't stop Misaka-san from grabbing him and head off for a night together, if what some of our people have been saying is true."
It doesn't take a genius to figure out a certain red-haired girl had let it slip, complaining about how her friend was violently pushed away.
"She fought with him openly and used attacks that would have destroyed almost any other opposition; my sources say it's beyond anything she was using in previous system scans." Misaki shook her head. "Nobody can say the Railgun didn't at least try to stop him, while the same can't apply to me."
"That's not really fair." The girl's scowl deepened. "At this rate Misaka-san will be able to keep him in her grasp for good."
"They had months of time together before I even showed up, and yet they're still just friends." Misaki chuckled in wry amusement. "I'm not worried about Misaka getting ahead. Besides, shouldn't you worry about your own love life rather than mine?"
"Um, well, that is…" The scowl disappeared and was replaced with embarrassment. It appeared she, like many others, was living through Misaki in a sense when it comes to romance, as they themselves were too timid to approach members of the opposite sex.
Misaki's chuckles continued, and any more of her previous melancholic thoughts about romance is masked with cheerful interaction with others at the gathering.
After apologising to other dancers at the park, Mikoto and others hurriedly left as Kuroko interrupted the moment. Now lying down in a charred heap, Kuroko groaned at how her Onee-sama seems to be a bit more enthusiastic in delivering punishment compared to usual. Touma only sighed at how things turned out, holding one hand at the bump on his head from Kuroko's attack.
And even after all that Mikoto still didn't allow him to leave.
"We don't really mind you having some private time with Kamijou-san here, Misaka-san." Saten said with a fake scowl. "But could you at least tell us about it beforehand? We were looking everywhere for you since you turned your phone off."
"Um, well…" Mikoto tried to find some sort of explanation to say it wasn't like what Saten had misunderstood it to be, but for some reason it sounded hollow even to her.
Guess Touma might have been right with the heat getting to her; otherwise she would not have her head clouded like this.
"Don't worry about it Misaka-san, we'll forgive you." Uiharu piped up with a smile. "After all, after seeing that new rumour even you would be worried and rush to him to make sure it's not true, right?"
"What new rumour?" Mikoto asked bemusedly, while Touma asked the same with a resigned voice, accepting something else will complicate his life even further.
"The one where…" Uiharu gulped, feeling blood rush to her head. "Actually, it might be better for you to see for yourselves."
Taking out a small laptop, she quickly accessed a webpage she placed in her 'Favourites' folder. At her instruction, Mikoto and Touma looked at the page with Saten peeking from behind them as her curiosity got the better of her.
The two girls started to blush with the heat of a thousand suns, while Touma blanched and held back his instinct to punch through the screen of the computer to rid himself of the horror that tried to burn its image into his mind.
"WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?" Touma screamed as soon as he can speak in more than a hoarse whisper. Mikoto and Saten on the other hand seems to still be in the process of recovering their ability to perform human speech.
"Can't you read? It's the new rumour between you and Sogiita Gunha, the 7th Level 5." Uiharu said, not quite understanding why Touma is so shocked.
"It's a nearly R-18 doujin with me being- and him doing-" Touma let out a strangled voice. "How in the world did anyone came to this conclusion? I've only met the guy twice!"
Left unsaid was how fast they worked to make this. Touma knew doujins were serious business for certain people, if what Tsuchimikado Maika and Aogami Pierce said was accurate.
"Can you really blame anyone seeing you as the 'Uke' of the relationship? You're known to stand there and take anything and everything your enemy throw at you, even if it's Level 5s on the other end." Uiharu nodded like her logic was unassailable. "Sure, there's also the view where Sogiita would exhaust himself and crumble from the effort as he can't keep up, while you take the opportunity to reverse the tables and deliver sweet revenge; but it's mostly accepted that you're the one accepting it all-"
"I'M NOT LIKE THAT!" Touma howled. Why did his honourable tendencies to not want to fight unless he has to land him in such a situation?
"Uiharu… I-I didn't know you're into this kind of things." Saten stammered. In retrospect, if she has a obsession on ojou-samas and almost anything related to her ideal of it, it's not farfetched to think she has some other obsession hidden away.
"Don't worry, I'm still rooting for Misaka-san in her relationship." Uiharu assured everyone. "It's just that if on the off chance Misaka doesn't get him I wouldn't mind if Sogiita-san was the one that gets Kamijou-san in the end."
"Right, that makes me feel a lot better." Touma said sarcastically.
"Kamijou-san." Touma stopped writhing in his denial and turned to look at a sympathetic Kuroko that finally managed to pull herself back up. "Don't worry about what others think. Love overcomes all obstacles, so there's nothing to be ashamed about being attracted to someone the same gender as you.
"Now, run along and be with him so I can go back to be with Onee-sama without any more distractions-"
Mikoto grabbed the still talking teleporter and slammed her back into the ground with a wrestling move. Touma noted Mikoto's flexibility is pretty good if she can bend over like that as she knocked out Kuroko.
"… Are you really like that?" Mikoto asked, her face still burning. Her tone was one that suggested while she didn't think he's really like that, but had to ask for her own peace of mind.
"No." Touma said with every fibre of his being. "I'm a healthy teenage boy that's attracted in girls. Just because I'm not interested in young, undeveloped girls like you doesn't mean in any way I prefer guys-"
Mikoto felt a spark of electricity shot out of her in annoyance, brightening the place even further in addition to the lights around them.
"You know," Saten said slyly, interrupting the typical events of eventual attacks on Touma for reasons he does not fathom. "You seem to go out of your way to say we're not your type. To the point I'm wondering if you think by saying it excessively you can use reverse psychology to get others to make the first move, and use that as justification to go further with them than you would normally can by actively chasing after other girls."
"What?" Touma said in a tone that summed up his view of 'Are you kidding me?'
"Some rumours – not the kind Uiharu have been looking at – suggests you to be some sort of playboy. A master of getting whoever you meet into falling for you, and after you get tired of them you throw them away." Saten said in a serious tone. "At least that's what they say because of all the girls that show up around you."
"That's ridiculous." Touma said flatly. Those people must be blind if they think that, considering what he has to go through with Fukiyose – and that was just the tip of the iceberg. He had the misfortune of having every girl that he meets eventually end up giving him trouble, either directly or indirectly. Things so far have involved being gnawed at, electrocuted, punched…
He couldn't have toyed with their hearts even if he wanted to. In addition, Touma had enough sense to know messing with dangerous people like that is just inviting fate to make his life hell; if just coming into contact with them gives him this much trouble (his mind flashed back to when he accidently got pushed into the baths as Kanzaki Kaori is coming out, and the many times he stumbled into seeing Index changing clothes) he didn't want to think about what would happen if he deliberately tried to do something to them.
"Then how about you hang out with us tonight?" Saten suggested. "We were looking for Misaka-san earlier before we saw you two there, and considering how things are between you two if we don't include you we'd never get Misaka-san to come along."
Despite the innocuous words, Touma have a bad feeling about what Saten have just said. The look she shot him only confirmed his intuition; that if he tries to do anything unpleasant to them she will jump at the chance to justify a beatdown.
He almost wished he had the old days of only being unlucky back. At least back then he didn't have people going out of their way to look for a excuse to give him hell.
"Fine, fine…" Touma sighed. Even if it was a long shot, he wants to get rid of the possibility of having this particular middle-school girl hating his guts. "I'll have to make a call to some other friends and tell them I'm going to be late. Is that alright, Misaka, Shirai, and…"
Touma looked at Uiharu and Saten and suddenly at a loss of words.
"… You don't even know our names, do you?" Saten said, not quite believing what she is seeing right now.
"Yeah, well, I kind of had other things on my mind when we were introducing ourselves last time." Touma laughed sheepishly with a sweatdrop forming on the back of his head. "And I didn't think I'd see you two again at the time."
"Hmph." Saten turned away in what looked like irritation.
"Not making a attempt to even remember other people's names is pretty rude, Kamijou-san." Uiharu said, slightly peeved at how she was slighted all this time and didn't even knew it. "Are we that much of a nuisance you don't even want to be associated with us?"
"No, of course not!" Touma hastily added, not quite cowering under the combined influence of Saten's glare and Uiharu's pout.
"Out of curiosity, just how did you think of me and Uiharu anyway?" Saten narrowed her eyes. Touma gulped, and even Mikoto took a step back involuntarily.
It appeared this was a side Saten don't really show in front of her friends.
"W-well, I thought of Uiharu-san as 'one of those two girls that's with Misaka and Shirai'." Touma admitted, thinking if he lied the girl in front of him might give him the equivalent of a 'Fukiyose Punch'. "And you, well, you're 'the girl that came up to me and slapped me for no apparent reason'."
"… Ah." Understanding dawned upon every girl present, except Kuroko. When Touma and Saten first met it was via a slap to the face; and people tend to remember things like that.
Saten blushed as she remembered her action when she mistakenly attacked him because she thought he was Mikoto's boyfriend they didn't know about and was cheating on Mikoto. In retrospect, that cannot possibly be a good way to make a favourable first impression.
For Touma to not really put much effort into wanting to meet them again, well they can see why he might think that.
"I know I've said this before, but… Sorry?" Saten apologised again, all trace of her previous enmity gone for the time being.
"Don't worry about it, I'm used to being treated like that." Touma sighed. "So if you don't mind me asking again, may I know your name?"
"It's Saten." Saten said, her blush slowly receding. "Saten Ruiko."
"Saten Ruiko." Touma repeated, making sure he remember the name this time.
Once before when he had forgotten a name, he had the words "It's me, my name's Misaka Mikoto! Try to remember, you total blockhead!" thrown at him, along with a lightning bolt. He really doesn't want to go through something similar again.
"And I'm Uiharu Kazari." The other member of the 'those two girls with Mikoto' (at least from Touma's point of view) said.
"Right. So, Saten-san, Uiharu-san, what did you have planned for tonight anyway?" Touma asked curiously.
"There's a few games booths set up around the district, mostly filled with activities like shooting at targets and whack-a-mole, since it's the Daihasei Festival and not the Ichihanaransai." Saten said with a smile. So no things like gold-fish scooping, just more physical activities.
"Basically things you'd see at arcades?" Touma tried to confirm. So far it didn't sound like anything too dangerous.
"Yep. So how about coming along with us, Misaka-san?" Saten glanced over at the electromaster as she asked her friend the question the three of them sought her out for.
"Might as well. We've still got a bit of time before curfew." Mikoto shrugged. It had occurred to her they haven't been spending that much time together recently since they was all busy with Daihasei Festival, so now it's a good time to have fun.
"Man, I'm bushed." Touma groaned as he sat down.
A hour after they decided to went out to play, the girls have dragged him into their get-together. They had fun playing at a lot of games, from challenging each other at shooting down the most targets (Touma came in at third, defeated by Mikoto and Saten; ranged attacks wasn't his forte) and trying out their physical strength against a sandbag (no surprise that Touma had been the victor of that, being older than the rest of the participants).
It felt like one of his class gatherings. Speaking of which, he had skipped out on the party the rest of the class was throwing in commemoration they almost defeated Tokiwadai today; though that was just a excuse for them to hold a celebration when any will do.
It might have been defeatist thinking, but they already thought they're not going to top that achievement for the rest of the festival and after a few days of hard competing they all were already tired to the point there's not much to give. No more need to conserve strength to fight, not when they're all already dead tired.
It's a tribute to the harshness of the competition that even Fukiyose grudgingly approved of this and joined in with the revelry. Though she's careful enough to keep strength for her work on the Management Committee, of course.
"You're leaving us for the company of your girlfriend, Kami-yan?" Motoharu had said over the phone in a voice deliberately loud enough for others to hear. "That's cruel of you, choosing personal enjoyment over the camaraderie of our class. Though I'm surprised that she's not mad at you for what had happened today nyaa."
"It's not like I'm going on a date or anything." Touma sighed into the phone in response. "There are some other friends of hers with us, so it's not a lovey-dovey scene like what you're imagining."
Besides, I wish it was a romantic rendezvous with a likeable girl in private, Touma thought and inwardly mourned his lack of romance flags.
"Wait, so instead of a boy and a girl alone together, it's a harem situation where you're the sole male of the group?" Aogami shouted from the sideline. "Damn it Kami-yan!"
Touma ignored the ensuing furore over on the other side of the phone. It was actually a miracle he managed to pass on the request for them to take care of Index at all.
"You sounded like a old man just then." Saten teased, passing him a canned drink she and Uiharu bought for them as he, Mikoto and Kuroko managed to find a place to sit down for a short break. The place where the five of them sat was something like a cross between a park and the sidewalk, with benches and trees in the area but the place didn't give the sense of being isolated from people as others walked past them.
"I have to wonder what were the organisers thinking, holding events like those when competitors will be tired after a day's exertion." Touma muttered.
"It's not like anyone is forced to participate in this." Mikoto said, drinking the soda Uiharu handed to her. "Those that would be tired would have gone back to their dorms and went to sleep if they want to."
"Unless, of course, Kamijou-san can't keep up?" Kuroko asked with a eyebrow raised. She was against having him coming along and did everything in her power to make sure there won't be a date-like atmosphere between him and her Onee-sama, but he didn't even try to get close to Mikoto. His presence didn't really change the dynamics of the group too much, and it had almost felt like one of their previous outings together.
That doesn't mean Kuroko won't take the opportunities to try and force him away if she can; just having him around increases the danger of having Mikoto fall for him. Hopefully, he'll take the hint and just go back already.
Touma only shrugged in response.
"It's not like I'm someone special, my right hand aside." Touma waved said appendage. "I get exhausted and hungry just like any other guy. Don't just think of me based on whatever rumours you've been hearing about me; I'm hardly the untiring juggernaut some people in Tokiwadai are making me out to be. Is it really that surprising that I'm only human?"
Even if he didn't meant to, it felt like the comment was also directed at Saten and Uiharu about their misconception of him.
"But you do have a special right hand, as much as you want to ignore that." Mikoto responded. "No-one normal can do what you did this afternoon, single-handedly breaking through Tokiwadai's defences like that. If you had got past me and started wrecking havoc instead of buying time, I might be the one ending up that lost."
"Hey, Aogami managed to do the same thing." Touma pointed out. "He might not be normal, sure, but that's only in terms of his interests. He used no esper abilities and reached your end using his own skill. Besides, you were teleported over to our side and wrecked everything easily; no matter what I can't push down all the poles on your side faster than you can blast everything down. I would have lost either way."
"Your blue-haired friend might have been able to dodge all the attacks at that range but once he got closer a wide area-effect attack would have stopped him." Mikoto shot back. It's not like the Railgun's lightning storm is the only kind of area-effect attacks Tokiwadai have, others like a windstorm would do just as well in stopping opponents. "The same can't be said for you; you'd just ignore the attack and plough right through. Normal people can't do that."
"What is it with you and saying I'm not normal?" Touma said exasperatedly.
"What is it with you refusing to believe you aren't normal?" Mikoto countered. "Are you really so blind that you cannot see how it's not like anyone else can do what you can do?"
"I see the difference. I just don't see why the hell it should matter." Touma replied. "I'll agree that I'm not 'normal', but I refuse to believe that makes me in any way stronger than other people like you are suggesting: It's not like you help people because you have the ability to, but you want to help others that you tried hard to get the skills that can let you do so, right?"
Uiharu and Kuroko can understand his points; they joined Judgment because they wanted to help others, and learned the skills on the job; not like they had all the skills to begin with and then decided they want to join Judgment and apply it there.
"So you're saying you would run in to help someone all by yourself, even if you had no powers whatsoever?" Saten didn't quite believe Touma's words - who would go help when they themselves will be hurt in the process?
"Yeah, what about it?" Touma replied, looking into Saten's eyes. The look he was giving her showed no doubt that was what he would do if the situation had had come up.
"That's stupid." Saten said, remembering when her time in trying to save someone back during the Level Upper incident, but couldn't do anything and had to rely on Shirai Kuroko's intervention. "Sure, you don't need abilities to help, but to just charge in without others like friends or allies? You'll get yourself in deep trouble like that."
Touma can't argue with that, despite trying hard to find words to be able to. He's been in trouble more than a few times within the past weeks; and he always had help to save him from being beaten to a pulp. Stiyl during the time fighting Aureolus, Motoharu and Kanzaki helped during Angel Fall, and Anti-Skill did when he fought against Sherry Cromwell… the vast majority of the times he didn't head into danger by himself.
In contrast, the fact he tried to do the same against the 250 nuns at the 'Church of Orsola', walking into a enemy stronghold without knowing there will be help coming and picked a fight with Agnese Sanctis spoke volumes on how his mind worked.
Even if it is stupid, even if it seems impossible, he just can't let someone that needs help go. Take action first, think about the details later when you actually have time to do so.
From events that ranged from jumping right in to stopping a graviton bomb from exploding, and trying to save a girl he has never met from thugs by pretending to be a acquaintance of hers; all the way to when he went into the Alchemist's lair to save someone who was captured, for a girl he met only a few hours ago in a fast food restaurant.
It showed with or without his memory, the core part of Kamijou Touma didn't change. He is, and probably always will, be someone that just can't stand by if he saw an unfairness that he can change.
Something like falling into the Darkness due to anger and despair from constant pressure at all sides is next to impossible for him.
Not all humans are that fragile. Even if everybody breaks eventually if pressured, a matter of 'when', not 'if'… there are still those that would stand back up again and again, until the moment they shatter utterly beyond all hope of reparation; a wreck, a mess, something beyond a mere shadow of their former self.
Kamijou Touma lived his life as normal as someone afflicted with misfortune can be, without being driven into the darker side of society. So what if people have once before called him the 'Plague', and ostracised him due to superstition?
It's amazing just how someone can adapt to things they encounter on a day-to-day basis, especially when they have something they believed in. Touma believed, deep down, there is more than evil in people. That there is more than just darkness in the depths of the human heart, no matter if it is himself or others. There has to be more than just malice and anger stemming from inequality in things like talent, money, gender, or any of the other myriad of possible causes.
There is light equal to, if not greater than, whatever darkness they exhibit within them somewhere. Even if the world was to be on the verge of destruction and someone who firmly believed the opposite of Kamijou was to face him, the young man with Imagine Breaker will shout right back that humans are not as simple as only composed of just black and gray.
The logical conclusion to a tale of someone that's been oppressed isn't necessarily falling into the abyss beyond normalcy, rejecting the world after being broken by it.
Going against Touma's sense of what's right and wrong probably hurts him more than feeling the pain of standing idle while seeing someone suffering in the shadows he cannot reach; needless to say, actively sinking into the Darkness, something more extreme than turning a blind-eye, is out of the question for him.
Probably just as out of the question as someone, who constantly helping others yet in the end betrayed by others, will want to travel back in time and end his own existence after regretting walking the path he had; regretting to the point where that person might want to tell his past self "Drown in your ideals and die".
"… You don't know unless you try?" Touma concluded lamely. He can't seem to find words to describe how he felt it's wrong, unnatural even, to just do nothing if someone in front of you is in trouble; even when knowing it's the height of stupidity to jump in without knowing if it will end up being more than you can handle. Abilities, or whether you can even do anything at all by trying, aren't factors in deciding to help or not.
Nonetheless, some of that feeling of his seems to have been conveyed to Saten Ruiko somehow. It's hard not to, when he had that conflicting look on his face, and hesitates while futilely trying to find words that can express something that felt like it just didn't need to be explained. He had the look of someone being asked to describe to someone the colour yellow without giving a example of something that is the said colour; just telling them "it lies between orange and green on the visible spectrum" probably won't mean much by itself in understanding what kind of colour yellow is like.
Saten knew Level 0s aren't useless; back when they went after Therestina, she had managed to contribute to things when others were incapacitated by Capacity Down. Hell, just waking up from Level Upper should have told her Levels are not everything about the worth of a person, and there's more to someone than what kind of power they have or how strong their ability is.
But even with that, she is amazed that the guy she's talking to is dumb enough to just charge right in into something, without even knowing if there are others to support him, or knowing if he's biting off more than he can chew.
And he was the kind of moron that would do so, with or without abilities of his own. Mikoto wasn't lying when he didn't care about abilities or Levels, but Saten didn't expect him to even ignore his own ability in the process.
The relatively normal one of the quartet of girls with him didn't quite know how to feel about that.
"Alright, now that we've finished resting where does everyone want to head off next?" Touma said, throwing his now-empty can into a bin nearby. "Another shooting game?"
"… Sure! But are you sure it's a good idea to go for one of those when you haven't won a single of them tonight?" Saten said, the grin on her face surfacing a bit later than usual.
"It's more like I haven't got any strength left, so pulling a trigger is the best I can do now." Touma laughed, scratching the side of his head in embarrassment.
The five of them went back to bantering with one another, chatting like their previous conversation didn't happen.
For the rest of the night, Mikoto can't help but feel something doesn't feel quite right.
After their stop, it's like Saten had accepted Touma as one of them completely. It was little things, like how she didn't mind going closer to him compared to her more wary stance before, or how she laughed more at his comments.
Mikoto has no idea what could have made her friend suddenly just opened up. Kuroko didn't apparently notice, while Uiharu is too busy having fun and chatting with everyone. If Touma noticed he didn't seem to do anything about it.
It's only when Kuroko said they had to go back to their dorms that Mikoto found some concrete evidence.
Uiharu joked about how she's sorry about taking away Mikoto's alone time with her boyfriend, and Kuroko predictably overreacted at the insinuation. Instead of the smirk Mikoto was expecting from Saten even as she tried to pry the clingy teleporter off of her, Saten's smile dimmed somewhat.
As if she realised something just then.
Mikoto wanted to ask just what is on Saten's mind, before Kuroko teleported them both away citing they needed to hurry.
The last thing Mikoto saw before the jump was the spiky-haired idiot waving goodnight her, and Saten sneaking a glance at the young man whose attention was elsewhere.
The glance might be called 'wistful' by some, if they had caught it. But whatever emotion tinged the glance was so light that they might have also concluded it was nothing.
With that, the third day of the Daihasei Festival came to a close.
*End Chapter 11*
Author's notes: I've taken some liberty with Uiharu's character, as she's not a fujoshi in canon. I just threw that in 'for the lulz', so to speak; so don't expect it to be important in the future.
On a side note, don't expect a new chapter here any time soon; I need some time to gather more ideas.