“I love him,” Falora stated without fanfare.
Kai felt her heart leap into her throat, realizing that their so-called idle chatter about Shimaru was premeditated. “And?”
“And since I love him, I’ve noticed that all he ever talks about is you. And when the two of you are in a room together—” Falora gave Kai a Significant Look.
Kai was sure that her face was bright red by now. “S-so?”
“So, are you serious or what? I’m not interested in embarrassing myself again.”
“Again?” Kai repeated, puzzled. She was never one to pay attention to gossip.
“Yeah. I didn’t realize that Shizuka-sempai and Haki-san were dating, so I kept hanging out with them. Benten-sensei had to tell me point blank that it wasn’t appropriate to act so intimate with someone else’s boyfriend.” Falora ‘s smile looked sad. “Funny thing is, it never really occurred to me that I might have liked Shizuka-sempai that way until then. Of course, we’re still great friends now, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder, just a bit, you know?”
Kai just nodded. She wondered if she would have been able to maintain a relationship like that, even after it didn’t work out the way she wanted it to.
“You don’t have to answer me right now,” Falora continued, “but please let me know soon, all right? Because I’m not selfless enough to give up on someone I care about, not a second time.”
“You like her.”
Forseti looked up from the box labeled ‘Irene’s Stuff’ and pondered Adam’s declaration. “I certainly don’t hate her.”
Adam shrugged. “Close enough.”
“And why are you bringing this up now, exactly?”
“Well, unless you’re still waiting for Shizuka to realize that he was really in love with you all along, I don’t see why you’re not jumping all over her.”
Foresti went back to unpacking. “Because I’m not like you. I have deeper things on my mind than the immediate future.”
“So what if you two might not work out? She wouldn’t mind. Hell, she’s even nice enough to find me someone else before we break up.”
Forseti was tempted to comment on the fallen nature of Humanity that Adam just demonstrated, but held his tongue. “I’m immortal, Anderson.”
Adam, of course, failed to be impressed. “And that changes things how, exactly?”
“Eternity is a very long time to be haunted by failed relationships.”
“Excuse me? Why do you think I haven’t gotten remarried yet? There isn’t a morning I wake up and not want to see Nora sleeping next to me. There isn’t a day when I don’t wish that she was still in my arms and not six feet under in a fucking coffin.” Adam’s voice softened a bit. “But I don’t regret the moments I spent with her, ever, even if it was too damned short.”
And whenever Forseti had thought Adam couldn’t sink any lower, the mortal would surprise him with an insight like that. “Just like you don’t regret having met Irene.”
“Fuck no.” Adam grinned. “I wouldn’t have discovered so many ways to make out if I hadn’t.”
Forseti sighed. “I still can’t believe I agreed to letting you guys take over Shizuka and Haki’s rent.”
Adam grinned even wider. “What’d I tell you? You like her.”
“Do you like him?”
Kokutan almost dropped the roller. “You mean Raven?”
Haki brushed her bangs out of the way. “I don’t see any other eligible bachelors living around here.”
Kokutan had to laugh at that one. “True.”
For a brief moment, they painted in silence. Then Haki spoke again. “Well?”
“He’s rude, crude, mean-spirited, and worst of all doesn’t give me the time of day. But—” Kokutan ignored the smirk Haki now had on her face, “he’s not too bad, for a demon anyway.” Here a small blush began creeping up Kokutan’s face. “It helps that he’s a looker.”
“Just a looker?” Haki teased.
“I thought you already have a boyfriend,” Kokutan shot back, fighting a blush.
“Hon, I’m a succubus.” Haki made a suggestive pose, which just ended up looking ridiculous because she was holding a brush in one hand and was covered in drippings. “Besides, just because I’m taken doesn’t mean I can’t window shop.”
Kokutan decided to refrain from commenting that in reality, Haki had eyes for no-one but Shizuka. There was no need to encourage those two. “But being attracted to him physically is different from liking him.”
“Of course.” Haki didn’t miss a beat. “So do you like him?”
This time, Kokutan managed to keep a straight face. “What’s it to you?”
Haki shrugged. “I dunno. I guess since Shizuka and I might be doomed to tragedy, I’m interested in seeing relationships turn out happily.”
Kokutan couldn’t resist a small joke. “Tragedy? Only if Shizuka can’t, you know, perform on his wedding night.”
It was Haki’s turn to color. “I’m serious, Kokutan. Didn’t I ever tell you that my grandmother is the Lord of Nifelheim, i.e. Hell?”
“You might have mentioned it. How’s that relevant to you and Shizuka?”
“He’s a Helper Deity. From Yggsadril. Also known as Heaven.” Haki sighed. “I don’t actually have to spell it out for you, do I?”
Kokutan’s eyes widened. “Holy crap.”
“That’s certainly a way to put it.” Haki sighed again. “Nobody’s really said anything, of course, but eventually we’ll have to choose sides, and then—”
Kokutan put a hand on Haki’s shoulder. “Damn. Romeo and Juliet have nothing on you two.”
Haki forced a smile. “Gran always did say that the gods have a penchant for angst.”
“No offense to you, sister, but the gods can suck it.”
“Amen to that.” Haki’s smile turned wicked. “By the way, you still haven’t answered the question yet.”
Kokutan became very interested in studying the floor. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice.”
“Do you love me?”
Shizuka couldn’t help squirming. The last time God had asked him that question, Haki had been kidnapped, and he was forced to confess his feelings for her and go to Hell—in the literal sense—in order to get her back.
“You know that I love you.”
Peter-san would have a fit if he ever heard that he was being quoted—or, perhaps, mis-quoted—in this fashion, but the response felt appropriate. After all, Shizuka might not have actually denied his Lord yet, but he was treading into dangerous territory.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Before Haki, Shizuka could declare that he did, without the least hesitation. After—
Afterward, he realized that he had no idea what ‘love’ meant.
Which was why he had been forgiven, perhaps. It was in meeting Haki, and almost losing her, did he begin to understand the depths of Love that he had been given.
“Do you love me?”
Again, a second time. And of course, the question was posed in Greek, that blasted language whose vocabulary had surgical precision. You couldn’t claim any ambiguity with a word like agape.
“Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.”
It was almost an insult, Shizuka knew, to confess that his love for God was nothing more than the same way he loved Forseti: as a friend and a brother. But God gave, and demanded in return, a greater Love. An endless, eternal, unconditional, perfect Love.
Shizuka was none of those things, except maybe eternal, and even that was by the grace of God alone.
“Do you love me?”
“I love—Haki.” Shizuka began to cry, covering his face with his hands. “I would do anything for her.”
“I know.” The tears were wiped away one by one. “But do you love me?”
Shizuka wanted, more than anything, to say yes. But that would have been lying. “I love Haki,” he repeated, fighting back a fresh wave of tears.