Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/1/2020)

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MoashLannister
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Joined: Sun May 12, 2019 11:19 pm

Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/10/2019)

Post by MoashLannister » Sat Dec 14, 2019 10:37 am

Credit to Lap and Lancer for proofreading

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Chapter 6: Sprint

“Hey, Rin. Are you in there?” I knocked on the door a couple of times, knowing how hard it could be for her to actually get out sometimes. Rin was many things, some good and some not as good, but what she definitely wasn’t was a morning person.

After another minute of nothing, I gave up and opened the door to her room. Rin was lying on the floor facedown, as if she were sleeping there. And for all I knew, she really could have slept there the entire night. “Wakey-wakey.” I said again, trying my best to sound tough and strict. “Come on, Rin. Get up already.”

Rin looked up from her awkward position at me. At least I think so. Rin always had that habit of not really looking at me, but rather through me, as if I’m invisible. “Good morning, Emi,” she muttered. “You’re here.”

“You bet I am.” I said, bouncing up and down impatiently. “Just because I was gone for the summer doesn’t mean I don’t want to take care of you when I get back. Seriously, didn’t you miss me at all?”

“Let me think.” Rin responded tiredly, closing her eyes. She let out a yawn before answering. “I think I missed you, but not right now. Right now you’re like that fly that keeps trying to fly over my dinner. Except you don’t make buzzing noises. You make Emi noises.”

“Hmph! I don’t make Emi noises.” I retorted, sticking out my tongue. I walked up to her and helped Rin to her feet. “Come on, let’s go take a shower together. I’m all sweaty from running, and you stink.”

“Do I?” Rin took a sniff of her shoulder, and shook her head. “I smell like me. And a bit of Hisao. Mostly me, though.”

“Ok, too much information.” I said in disgust, dragging her out of her room and towards the showers. “Seriously, did you and Hisao do…?”

“Do what…?” Rin asked, completely innocently. “We do a lot of things together.”

Feeling my cheeks getting just a bit red, I decided to shut up before the conversation could get any further. Rin definitely hadn’t changed much since summer, still as weird as ever. Despite being her best friend, I still wondered how Hisao managed to get her to be his girlfriend.

“Oh, you mean sex,” Rin suddenly said, as if she just got it. “Yes.”

I immediately stopped and turned around to face her. She didn’t blush or look all that different, as if what she’d said was completely normal. Meanwhile, I could feel my face heating up. “R-really?” I said, sounding somewhere between excited and mortified. “W-well I’m glad you and Hisao finally got that far.”

“Thank you,” Rin said, shrugging. “...I said that because you said ‘I’m glad’, not because I mean it. I don’t actually feel thankful.”

...Seriously, Hisao. How did you fall in love with her? How did she fall in love with you?

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The showers were all empty, except the one way at the back. Which was weird, because no one showered this early in the morning besides me. We entered a shower and took off our clothes. Or rather, I took off mine, and then took off Rin’s for her.

“You should be grateful,” I said as I took off her bra last, hanging it on a rack. “Who else is going to help you shower like this?”

“Miki,” she said bluntly as she turned around to face me. Her body looked slightly less thin than before, though still a little too thin for me to consider perfectly healthy. “She helped me shower one time, but I didn’t like it. She kept messing my hair.”

“Why would Miura want to take care of you?” I demanded as I turned the showerhead on, sitting on a bench to take off my prosthetics. I placed them in a safe place so they wouldn’t get wet.

“I don’t know,” Rin responded with a curious tone to her voice. “She said something about taking your place, and that she wanted to spend some time with me. Weird.”

“That sneaky bitch…” I muttered, the mere thought of Miki taking care of her boiling my blood. I grabbed a bar of soap and immediately started scrubbing my body. “She can’t beat me on the track, so she’s trying to steal you away from me!”

“Steal me?” Rin asked as she patiently waited for me to scrub her body. It was routine by this point; I washed my body, then hers. Sometimes she’d make dragging her here more trouble than it was worth, but it’s simply a natural part of our life here. “Like burglars? Is Miki going to put me in a sack and sell me on the black market?”

“Oh, you know what I mean. Now come here, it’s your turn,” I grumbled as Rin moved closer to me so I could scrub her. “Anyways, how was summer?”

“It was summery.,” Rin said in the kind of way only she was capable off.

“I meant how were you during summer,” I clarified, rolling my eyes. Leave it to Rin to make the simplest answer a nightmare to get. “Were you and Hisao all...lovey-dovey or whatever?”

“Mm.” Rin said, letting that sound hang in the air as she gave it more thought. “We weren’t lovey-dovey, but we said ‘I love you.’ So we were lovey, but not dovey. We didn’t become doves.”

“Oh, you said ‘I love you,’ huh?” I said sarcastically as I motioned with my hand. Understanding, Rin knelt down so that I could scrub the rest of her body. “I’m sure you two had a wonderful time together without me.”

“We did,” Rin agreed, nodding as I washed her hair. “But I also like it when you’re around sometimes. And me and Hisao had a time where it wasn’t wonderful.”

“Oh? Did you two get into a fight?”

Rin didn’t say anything as I rubbed her hair, and I didn’t say anything further. She could be so tight-lipped when she wants to sometimes. “All right, Rin. I’m done with your hair. Mind turning around?”

She didn’t respond. Not with moving her body, not with some weird comment about turning relating to tornados or whatever. Nothing. It was like she was frozen in place, and I panicked a little. Rin wasn’t usually like this.

“Rin?” I asked softly, almost afraid to even say anything. “Are you okay?”

A few seconds passed before Rin finally responded. “I’m fine,” she said in a monotone voice, like she wasn’t even talking to me. “What did you say, Emi? I couldn’t hear you. Except that I can hear you now. Strange.”

“I-I said I’m done washing your hair. Turn around,” I repeated, trying to keep up a playful smile. What was up with Rin? As weird as she was, she didn’t usually react like that. The moment she turned away from me I allowed myself to drop the act and look worried. What just happened?

If I tried to talk to her about it, she'd probably just freeze again. There’s only one other person that could help me get to the bottom of this. No matter what he tried to do, I would wrangle the truth out of him.

I washed her back and put the bar of soap away. Scooching over, I turned off the shower, dried off my legs, and put my prosthetics back on. “Hey, Rin. What are you going to do today?”

“Mm…” Rin said, contemplating as I helped her get dried and clothed. “I don’t know. I feel like doing something, but I don't know what it is. Like a cloud that doesn’t know if it wants to rain yet.”

“Well, I won’t be available for lunch because of track, but how ‘bout we hit the Shanghai after school? You, me and Hisao. He’s paying, after all. Still owes me for what he said on the rooftop.”

“Okay,” Rin said, smiling a little. “That sounds sweet. Like honey I haven’t tasted, but I’ll taste soon.”

“Mhm!” I responded, trying to brush my worry for her aside.

As we exited the shower, I noticed that the shower at the back was still occupied. Judging from the quiet atmosphere, the shower there had been turned off already, so why was that person still in there?

“Hanako,” Rin stated, as if she’d been reading my mind. “Hanako, you’re in the shower. But the shower is off, so you’re no longer showering.”

The door slowly opened to reveal Hanako, who looked away from the both of us, looking embarrassed. She didn’t say anything, her hands fidgeting.

“Good morning,” Rin said calmly, her eyes locked on to her.

“G-good morning,” Hanako replied, face still turned away from the both of us. “R-Rin, I-Ibarazaki.”

“Ibarazaki?” I responded. Someone calling me by my last name was always weird, and mom always did it when she purposely wanted to annoy me. “You can call me Emi.”

Hanako didn’t say anything in response. Her feet started to twitch, and in all my experience running, I recognized that kind of twitch. It was the kind that someone made before bolting. It felt odd–she hadn’t seemed so fidgety yesterday on the roof. She’d been just a bit quiet, but now she looked like she was about to scream for help.

“Can I ask what were you doing in there?” Rin asked, not reacting to Hanako’s movements. “Were you showering?”

“Y-yes,” she said, her voice trembling. “I-I always shower r-really early i-in the m-morning, b-but I-I was later than usual today.”

She showered even earlier than me? Maybe that explained the rumors about how the showers were supposedly haunted. “Anyways,” I said, trying to end the conversation for both our sakes, “We were just about to go have breakfast. Sorry for bothering you.”

“We were?” Rin asked, turning to look at me with an odd expression on her face. “You didn’t say anything about breakfast.”

“Well, that’s because I was going to bring it up.” I replied quickly, trying desperately to just get us out of here.

“Oh.” Rin said, closing her eyes and turning back to Hanako. “Do you want to come with us?”

I couldn’t help but give Rin a subtle glare. She really needed to learn when people obviously aren’t comfortable with-

“A-all right.” Hanako said, bowing deeply. “I-I mean, I would like to. P-Please?”

“Really?” I said, then immediately hoped that I hadn’t insulted her by sounding so surprised. “You really want to come with us?”

“Y-yes.” Hanako said, even though her movements made her look like she was going to bail on us. “I-I would like t-to have breakfast with you, Rin.”

“And Emi.” Rin added, as if she thought I’d be hurt from being excluded like that. Which I wasn’t. Much.

“O-oh.” Hanako let out, as if she noticed me for the first time despite the fact we already talked to each other. She turned towards me and gave another bow, her face flush. “Y-you too, Emi.”

“Yeah,” I said with a smile, trying to hide the fact that I was just a bit annoyed. I immediately made my way towards the bathroom door, suppressing a really loud groan. “Come on, let’s go before all the good stuff runs out.”

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My mood sank little by little as we headed to the cafeteria, mostly because Rin and Hanako decided to talk to each other on the way there, completely leaving me out of the conversation. Seriously, did everyone suddenly decide to take care of Rin while I was away? Did they take turns putting on her clothes in the morning? Hanako and Rin talked like they were old friends while I couldn’t even get a straight answer out of her in the shower.

We quickly found a seat and sat down. “So, what do you want?” I said to Rin, trying my best not to show a pout. “Something healthy?”

“Something,” Rin replied as she leaned down onto the table, causing Hanako to let out a giggle, then immediately covering her mouth. Oh, so I’m the butt of their jokes now, is it?

“Okay, don’t blame me if I bring you something you don’t like,” I said, sticking out my tongue. “Maybe I’ll bring you some bland tofu and water.”

“No thanks. I would like something else, please,” Rin mumbled, apparently content to treat the table as a pillow.

“Urgh,” I said, trying to hide just how annoyed I really was. Turning to Hanako, I said, “Come on, let’s go get her something, whatever that ‘something’ is.”

Hanako looked apprehensive for a moment, turning to Rin for a split second before nodding and getting up. We both made our way to the line, and I took the opportunity to take a deep breath. Either with running or with other problems, a deep breath can often help me get through any jitters and let me focus.

I wasn’t annoyed about Rin having new friends, that much I knew. It’d be stupid for me to think I could have her all to myself, and a little creepy. Okay, maybe a lot creepy. But I could safely say that that’s not why I was feeling so irritated.

Then why? My mind kept flashing back to that one moment where Rin froze, completely motionless. That, as well as Rin’s not wanting to talk about it, was definitely why I was feeling out of sorts. As her friend, seeing her like that and not knowing why irked me so much. What made her act like that?

“U-Um…”

I turned around to see Hanako looking at me. Well, not really looking so much as trying not to look at me. “U-um,” she said, her voice quivering. “The s-space ahead of you is...is emptysocouldyoupleasemoveforward?”

I turned back to see that the line was empty, and I grumbled a little as I moved forward. I made sure I got the healthiest stuff for me, and Rin got the same. If she wasn’t going to run with me, she could at least eat something that would make her less skinny.

After that, we made our way back to where Rin was still resting her head on the table. She didn’t even seem to notice us until I dropped the tray in front of her, which made her look up at the two of us. Looking down at her tray, she frowned a little. “I don’t like eating these.”

“Then go get them yourself next time.” I said, officially done with her. “Or get your boyfriend to do it for you.”

“W-where is Hisao?” Hanako asked, more to Rin than to me.

“Mm, I don’t know,” Rin said, closing her eyes to think. “I don’t think he likes to get up this early. I don’t like getting up early either. If I close my eyes, it’s like the Sun and Moon haven’t moved yet.”

I ate my meal without talking, finishing it in no time flat. After I was done, I immediately felt the urge to just get up and move about. Whenever I get a problem, my first instinct is to immediately run a bit. A little exercise is always good to get some bad stuff out of your system.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing my running blades, and a cafeteria full of people doesn’t make for the best environment for running laps. Bummer.

“U-um, Emi?” Hanako said, surprising me. I don’t think she’d ever directly said anything to me without being asked to, or unless it was necessary like when we were back in the cafeteria line. “I-I...uh…”

Was it seriously that hard to talk to me? Was I really harder to get along than Rin? What was this world coming to?

“Yes?” I replied, putting on my cutest face. People always fall for the puppy eyes, the natural weapon of the Ibarazakis.

“I-I...w-would like for u-us...to be friends.” She didn’t really sound sincere, though that could just be me. She took a deep breath and continued. “I would like for us to be friends, because I really want to.”

“Of course!” I responded with what was probably an excess of enthusiasm. Honestly, I wasn’t really sure how we’d even stand each other, given how different we were. But if Rin had taught me anything, it’s that I have a tolerance for weird people. “I never say no to more friends. Welcome to the club, Hanako.”

“Club?” Rin said as she finished her meal. “Is Hanako joining track? Are you going to run like Emi? Then you’ll be like Emi, but not Emi.”

“N-no.” Hanako shook her head, unfazed. Oddly enough, there was a slight smile on her face. “I-I don’t like running.”

“Me neither,” Rin replied, nodding her head. “Running is like walking, but more annoying. Like trying to tie your shoelaces without hands. Or Emi.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said as I rolled my eyes. “Glad to know I’m the only one who actually tries to exercise. It makes me feel like I’m the only one who’ll be fit when I hit 50.”

We talked for a little bit more before the class bell rang. Not about anything important, just about what we were going to do today. We even invited Hanako to our outing to the Shanghai, which she seemed to accept without much hesitation. It probably helped that Rin was the one who offered, and not me. As much as she wanted to be friends, it was pretty clear that Rin was the one Hanako was more comfortable with.

Things felt like they were getting back to normal, like they were going to be okay and we could all finish high school without a problem. Except I kept thinking about Rin freezing in the shower, and no matter how much I tried to push it out, it kept popping up in my mind. And suddenly I felt something, almost like a sixth sense going off.

That something was going to go very, very wrong. I didn’t know what, or how, but it felt like it was coming.

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Speed. Pacing. Balance. That was all that mattered.

As I crossed the starting line one more time, I felt on top of the world. The other runners were miles behind me. Okay, maybe that was just me boasting, but the truth was that I was still ahead. And the one who’s always ahead never loses.

The wind blew against my face, the constant movement of my entire body, the rush of energy whenever I got close to another lap. This was what I lived for. Maybe I don’t understand Rin when it comes to her painting, and I probably never would. But one thing I did understand was the thrill that comes from doing something that you were made for.

One more lap. Even though my knees were starting to feel numb and my body felt like it was on fire, I still pushed through. The last few seconds were when I’d have to give it my all.

Another turn. Miura and the others were catching up to me. From the corner of my eyes, I could see her moving up beside me, close enough to the point where we were practically neck and neck. I didn’t need to see her face to know what she was thinking. She’s thinking she could beat me, for once.

Silly. No one beats me in a race. No one.

As we passed another turn, I let her overtake me just for a split second to give her even more of an ego, but as we neared the finish line I let loose. Running as fast as my body allow, I quickly overtook Miura and dashed towards the finish line ahead of her.

“Damn!” Miura cursed as she finished just after, her face sporting a rare scowl. Her face turned towards me and it returned to that usual smug grin that I hated. “Well done, Emi. Nearly had you for a second there, didn’t I?”

“Maybe,” I said, giving her a smug grin of my own. At least with mine, I deserved it. Victor’s privilege. “I think I was a little slower than usual back there.”

“Yeah, yeah., Miki said dismissively, which I took as a sign of defeat. She quickly made her way to drink some water, as did most of the others, but I decided to stretch a little bit more. As tired as I was feeling, I was also pretty restless.

“Good work, Emi,” the track captain, Yoshiro, complimented me with a calm smile. I could already see most of the other girls staring at him while his back was turned. Even being outed as gay won’t stop people from admiring the view, though I can’t exactly blame them. He somehow managed to look both cute and handsome at the same time, even with a missing ear.

It was probably the smile. That smile could make any girl, or guy, blush just by looking at it for more than a second. Well, that and the fact that he looked amazing while shirtless.

“Thanks.” I said cheerfully, bouncing from the victory high. “Actually, I was thinking of doing another lap. Would the guys mind waiting a little?”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t.” Miura mentioned casually, then let out an irritating chuckle.

“Sure thing, just don’t overdo it,” Yoshiro said with a nod. He was used to me asking for extra laps, as long as I don’t take up too much time. Taking in deep breaths, I positioned myself at the starting line again, closing my eyes.

The moment before my feet took off always felt so long, like my body couldn’t wait to get moving. Time started to feel like nothing as I let out a smile, ready for another run. And the instant after I was ready, I took off with as much energy I could.

I could hear the distant cheers from some of the boys, but their words might as well have been silent for all the impact they had on me. As much as I liked showing off, people shouting my name could get really grating after a while.

My mind started to focus on what was ahead of me. No, that wasn’t really it. Trying to explain what it was like when I really got into form was always hard, even to the other members of the track team. It was like...my body moving so fast my mind was being left behind, or something like that.

...Man, maybe Rin and I really weren’t all that different. That felt exactly like something she would say.

As I made another turn, any other thoughts faded entirely. There was only me and the track, and that’s how I wanted it. It’s always how I wanted it. Competition was nice occasionally, and I wouldn’t have minded if Hisao had accepted doing early runs with me, but the best time in my life was when I was alone, running for the sake of running.

Well, maybe some other things were better. But those things can’t happen anymore, so there’s no use thinking about them.

The lap was over before I knew it, and I almost forgot to stop. It never felt exhausting whenever I was running, no matter how many laps I took. If I could, I would run forever and ever.

“Good work. Wish I had timed it; that seemed close to your best,” Yoshiro said, giving me that cute smile of his again. When he gave out smiles like that, I almost started to join the group of girl wishing he wasn’t into men.

“Yeah, well,” I replied, trying to sound humble as I bounced up and down. “Practice makes perfect, y’know. Speaking of which, isn’t it the boys’ turn?”

Yoshiro nodded and helped the guys form up positions. Satisfied that I got a final run in, I walked to the bleachers, taking a seat far from the other girls, but not far enough to be considered a loner. Sometimes I would talk to them, sometimes I wouldn’t. Today, I didn’t really feel like talking.

Unfortunately, a certain someone had different ideas.

“Hey, nice run,” Miura said as she took a seat beside me, pointing her finger at me. “You were like lightning out there, a lot of people were staring at you.”

“Well, yeah.” I replied, puffing up my chest. “Fastest thing on no legs.”

“Then again, it was mostly the boys staring, so maybe they were looking at you for a different reason,” she finished, letting out a chuckle as I felt my face heating up. I’d stepped right into her trap. Stupid Miura and her stupid backhanded compliments.

“Anyways, how’s Rin?” she said as she casually leaned back, as if she didn’t just insult me at all. “Haven’t seen her in ages. Gotta say, taking care of her during the summer was fun.”

“She’s just fine. Peachy, even,” I lied. The last person I wanted to talk with about her freezing up is freaking Miura. Before she can say anything, I quickly looked away and muttered, “Better off without you.”

“Aw, she doesn’t miss me?” Miura gave me a curious look. “That’s a shame. But then again, you two are so close. Almost makes me wonder if you two are secretly hiding something from the rest of us.”

“As if,” I spit out, not rising to her bait again. “Besides, she’s taken.”

“Oh, I know. Met her boyfriend, too.” Miura gave me a wink that just screamed “I’m messing with you and there’s nothing you can do about it”, and somehow I felt like tearing out my hair more than I already did. “Really nice guy, that Hisao. We had a little chat about our lives, and I found out that he’s a pretty good listener. You don’t get many people like that these days.”

Somehow, I knew that last comment was directed at me. I just knew it. “Well, good for you,” I said sarcastically, once again getting no reaction out of her. “I bet it’s all good down in Miura-land. Nothing can go wrong.”

“Nah, a lot of things went wrong. I just don’t feel like dealing with them today.” She stood up and looked away from me, her smile fading just before her face was out of view. “Word of advice, Emi. Try being a little more honest about yourself, it’ll do you a lot of good.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, grumbling. That sounded like just another hidden insult from her. “I’m perfectly honest with myself.”

“Sure you are,.” she said sarcastically. “Well, I’ll be seeing you, then. Say hi to Hisao for me.”

And just like that, she walked away from the bleachers, leaving me confused and offended as usual. Too annoyed to sit, I stood up and started to walk away from the track as well. I couldn’t run on the track, but a sprint towards the dorm showers was a good enough replacement.

Yeah, running will help me forget about what stupid Miura said. Running helps with everything.

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“Come on, you guys seriously can’t go faster?” I complained as we made our way down the hill. Miura’s teasing still left me feeling grumpy, even after school hours. It’s almost like I can hear her demonic laugh, even now.

“We could…” Rin commented in consideration from behind me. She was right next to Hisao, and I couldn’t help but notice that she walked closer to him than she ever did with me. “But we won’t.”

“Yeah, reaching the Shanghai exhausted isn’t exactly a good plan,” Hisao noted as he inched closer to Rin. “Right, Hanako?”

Hanako, who walked just a few steps behind, looked at me anxiously before giving the slightest nod of her head. I grumbled some more, but decided not to pick up the pace. “You’re one to talk about exhausting work, Hisao,” I said, sticking out my tongue as I bounced a little bit more. “I’ve been in track all day, running my ass off. What’s your excuse?”

“I’m not a track star.” Hisao retorted, giving me a sarcastic glance.

“Well, if you’d take up my offer and run with me, that wouldn’t be a problem,” I shot back, frowning. “Seriously, is it really that hard to get out of bed and run?”

“For some people,” he responded, looking away. As he should, for giving such a lame excuse.

“Yes,” Rin nodded in agreement. “It’s hard for me to get up and run. When I get up, most of the time I want to go back to sleep. But I can’t go back to sleep. It’s like going out of a room and forgetting the keys so you can’t go back in.”

“See, Rin agrees with me,” Hisao said, pulling her a bit closer, which she seemed to be okay with. “It’s two-against-one, majority wins.”

“Not when the majority has a biased relationship.” It’s funny how they seem to group up against me now, as if being in a relationship meant they always had to take each other’s side over me. “And an obviously wrong opinion. You two are the worst.”

We continued arguing and fighting, annoyingly but never seriously. At some point, all the banter and the half-insults died down and there was a moment of quiet. It was then that I decided to finally try to settle the bad feeling I’d been having all day.

“Hisao,” I said, cheerful enough to sound like normal, with just a bit of an edge to it. “Can you come with me for a bit? I want to test how well you run.”

“Do I really have to?” he whined.

“Do it and you can split the bill with me at the Shanghai. Now come on.” I ran ahead before he could even say anything else. I normally don’t want to be this pushy, but I had to talk to him alone and this was the only way I could think of.

I stopped a good distance ahead of the others and waited for him to come, if he was going to at all.

Thankfully, I eventually saw him run towards me. He rested his hands immediately on his knees the moment his legs stopped moving. I almost wanted to call him out on how pathetic his stamina was, but that’d be something for another day.

“Seriously, did you have to run that far?” Hisao complained, panting.

“It wasn’t that far. Man up, will you?” I responded, then said in a more serious tone. “I called you out here so that I can talk to you about something. Privately.”

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel like running,” he said, his breathing getting calmer. “I know you mean the best for me but—”

“Shut up and let me talk. This isn’t about running.” I was getting frustrated. Not at Hisao directly, but at what might happen once the real conversation began. “This is about Rin. I think something’s wrong with her.”

Hisao’s eyes immediately widened, pretty much confirming that he knew something was off. “No point trying to hide it.” I said, sighing. “What happened?”

He turned away from me, his mouth quivering hesitantly. I was going to get the truth out of him one way or another, but I just hoped we were far away enough that Rin and Hanako don’t suddenly show up. Last thing I needed was Rin overhearing this.

“Rin...found out about my condition...and about the possibility of me dying,” he said at last, though it was obviously hard for him. I’d never understood why it was so hard to admit what’s wrong with his body. Not that I’d flaunt the fact that I don’t have legs, but I wasn’t ashamed of it either.

“And?” I said, moving up next to him to make him more uncomfortable. “Spill it.”

“She didn’t take it very well,” Hisao admitted. “Not at all. In fact, I think she’s trying to pretend that conversation never happened in the first place.”

“Well, that explains a lot,” I said, finally piecing it together. All in all, I couldn’t really tell if it was better or worse than what I’d thought it could be. “We were in the showers this morning and she completely froze when I asked if you two got into a fight during the summer.”

The look Hisao gave me almost made me want to drop the conversation on the spot. “Do you have any ideas?” he asked. “I really don’t, besides not mentioning my condition in front of her.”

“Well, I have one,” I said as I bounced up and down, moving back to give him a little space. “Run with me. The healthier you are the less likely it is that you’ll die. That fact should be obvious, but it seems like some people don’t realize that fact until they hurt their girlfriend.”

“Running won’t help me if I get knocked down, or something accidentally slams into my chest,” he sighed, and started to look me in the eyes again. “I’ve been taking my medication on time. Hell, after the day I told Rin, I probably couldn’t skip even if I wanted to. Seeing Rin like that, it was...it was...”

“Then why don’t you take the extra step?” I asked, loud enough that Hanako and Rin could have heard it. I didn’t really care at that point, seeing how this idiot was infuriating me by being so stubborn about this.

“Because that doesn’t solve the problem!” he shouted just as loudly. Hisao sounded angry for once. Not annoyed or frustrated, but genuinely angry. “Don’t you get it? No matter how healthy I am, that doesn’t change the fact that a simple push to the ground can cause a heart attack, or that I can drop dead just because of a minor scare. That’s what Rin’s afraid of, that’s what I’m afraid of…

“Running doesn’t help because Rin is scared of the possibility of me dying due to my arrhythmia. And it’s a possibility that exists no matter how much you and I try to fix it, Emi. I can’t lie to her, and I can’t lie to myself. I won’t tell her everything will be fine, and that I’ll live to a ripe old age. Maybe I can live that long, but I can’t promise her that I will because things just don’t work out that way, no matter how much we want it to.”

We stared at each other for a moment. I didn’t agree with what he said at all, but I couldn’t exactly say that he was wrong either. “I don’t know what to do…” he said quietly, almost sounding like he was admitting defeat. “I know Rin and I can’t stay like this, pretending it doesn’t exist. But I already saw her face when I told her the truth. I don’t ever want to see it again…”

“Hisao…” I said, feeling just as helpless as him. No matter how many times we may have this fight, we’re still friends, after all. Not being able to help myself sucks; not being able to help people I care about sucks even more.

I heard the sound of footsteps and immediately panicked. Hisao seemed to have noticed it too, as he stood up straight and tried to look less like a mopey idiot. Rin and Hanako walked up to us, and if they had heard our conversation, they weren’t showing it on their faces.

Rin immediately made her way towards Hisao, who cautiously wrapped an arm around her. “Why did you run ahead?” she asked “I thought you don’t like running.”

“I don’t dislike it,” Hisao corrected, then looked at me as he said, “I just don’t see the point.”

I couldn’t face either of those two anymore, not because I hated them, but because I didn’t know what to do. Honestly, it took a lot out of me just to not immediately book it to the Shanghai at top speed. Running always helped with my problems, but this wasn’t my problem. It was theirs.

“Let’s go.” I said, trying not to think about it for the moment. Got to keep up a good attitude, that’s what Dad always said. “Otherwise they might run out of cake.”

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The rest of the trip wasn’t all that memorable. Rin and Hisao talked as if nothing was wrong, and nothing was, at least not yet. Hanako talked more than I thought she would, though it was mostly to the other two. The three of them seemed like such good friends, I wondered if she’d ever consider me the same.

“H-Hisao,” Hanako said as we finished giving our orders, speaking in a more confident tone than she did at breakfast. “D-do you think you can help me with physics? T-there’s a few things I don’t quite understand.”

“Mmm, not understanding physics,” Rin said, nodding. She was even closer to Hisao than she was before, almost like she’s clinging onto him. “I don’t get physics. I get painting and I get some of Math, but physics feels like swimming in a pool of leaves. Except they expect you to count every leaf that you swam through even though you can’t.”

“Well, it can’t really be any more difficult than teaching Rin physics,” Hisao said jokingly. Even though he hid it perfectly, I knew he hadn't recovered from our little talk. He just didn’t want to give anything away to Rin. It’s sweet how much he cares for her...and a little sappy as well. “Sure, we can all study in the library together sometime. Entrance exams are coming soon, or so Mutou keeps telling me.”

“A-all right,” Hanako said, sounding a bit cheerful. “I-I look forward to it.”

“I don’t,” Rin commented dryly. “Physics hurts my head.”

“Oh, to be the only one who values logic,” Hisao muttered out loud, rolling his eyes as he looked to me. “What about you, Emi? If I’m teaching the both of them, you might as well join. I know your science isn’t the best.”

“Jerk…” I gave him a playful growl, which he seemed to take well. Honestly, I didn’t feel like moping about the rest of the day, worrying about Hisao and Rin. He’s right, as much as I hated to say that. His problem wasn't something running can fix, at least not entirely.

Didn’t mean I won’t ask him to run again, but I won’t press him today. He’s got enough on his mind.

“I’m being serious,” Hisao clarified as our drinks arrived. Rin and Hanako were having a separate conversation, or what passed for a conversation as far as those two were concerned. “Entrance exams are only a few months away, so it’d probably be best if we all work together. It’d be bad if any one of us failed.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, pouting. My grades weren’t exactly the highest, even though they weren’t anything abysmal either. Studying was just such a pain, and reading a book while running didn’t make it any less boring. All it did was make me feel bad when I bumped into a blind guy and he apologized for bumping into me.

“So, thought of anything you wanted to do yet?” I asked back, mostly to have a conversation rather than actually being curious. “After Yamaku and after college?”

“Well, I have a few ideas,” Hisao said, looking thoughtful as he sipped on his cup of juice. “Something involving science, that’s for sure. It’s just a matter of deciding whether I want to learn more of it or teach it. What about you, Emi?”

“Glad you asked,” I said, beaming a genuine smile for the first time since we had that talk. “During summer vacation, me and my mom weren’t exactly laying on a beach sipping drinks, even though I look killer in a bikini.”

Hisao rolled his eyes, and I couldn’t help but giggle at the slight red on his cheeks. “We’ve actual went on a little college spree,” I continued, eager enough to want to bounce. “Athletic colleges, and a lot of them. Saw what they offered, flaunted my beautiful self in front of them. Beat their best by a lap or two, you know.”

That was a lie, considering I lost more often than I won, but he didn’t need to know that. It felt so weird, being the slow one for a change. Still, that didn’t mean I was discouraged. If anything, I wanted to get in just to try and race them again.

“Sounds like fun,” Hisao said, smiling a bit. “What about you, Hanako? Decided on anything yet?”

“N-No,” Hanako said as she turned to Hisao, shaking her head. “I-I h-honestly don’t know what I’ll do after Yamaku…”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually,” I said casually, looking around the cafe. “Man, what’s taking them so long? Cake shouldn’t be so slow.”

“College, huh.” Hisao let out a thoughtful hum. “Well, I’ll probably have to look at some eventually. No doubt Mom and Dad will pester me about it once I go back home.”

“College…” Rin said, looking down at her drink. Her expression was thoughtful, as if that drink carried all her secrets. “I don’t like saying that word. It’s like “annoying”, except it’s not annoying to some people, but it is to me even though that isn’t what that word means.”

“I-I agree,” Hanako said, showing a bit of a smile as our cakes arrived. “I-I don’t like t-thinking about college either…”

Rin looked up at Hanako and nodded, and she nodded back. I give Hisao a look, which he responded with a shrug before eating his cake. It seemed like Hisao and I weren’t the only ones that had a private chat while the four of us were separated.

“W-We should do this more often…” I heard Hanako say in the middle of eating. “Emi…”

I look up to see her staring at me, and I noticed something different. She was looking at me less like a stranger now, and more like how she looked at Hisao and Rin. “Thank you for inviting me,” she said, quietly but confidently. “I-I hope we can do this again.”

I couldn’t help but smile back at her. She really was cute when she wasn’t acting all scared. “Well, I wouldn’t like to come here every day. Maybe a few days a week,” I joked, pointing at my stomach. “Girl’s gotta keep in shape, you know?”

Thankfully, she seemed to realize I was joking, and let out a giggle. I let out a deep breath and finished the last of my cake, feeling calm for a rare moment. It’s times like this that can make someone forget that they have problems in their lives, if only for a second. It’s like the feeling I get while running.

“You’re paying for all this, Hisao,” I mentioned playfully, basking in the mood a little. It’d end eventually, but for now I just wanted to relax.

“Wha-but I ran!” he protested, just as he was finishing his cake, his fork dropping to the table. “You promised to split the bill.”

“Well, I would. If I’d brought my wallet with me.” I gave him a quick wink. Sometimes, teasing the guy can be as sweet as cake. Thankfully, I was getting my fair share of both today. “Consider it payback for not running with me in the morning.”

“Oh, you witch!” Hisao snapped, as he opened his wallet with a scowl. “Well, if I’m not running with you in the mornings before, I’m certainly not going to now.”

“Your loss.” I retorted as he reluctantly forked over the cash.

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We immediately split up once we reached the gates. Hanako went back to the girls’ dorm, while Hisao and Rin went to...wherever it was they went to. The mental images I got from thinking about it too much made me dismiss them from my mind. The last thing I needed was to imagine them doing...that.

The sun wasn’t exactly all the way down yet, and I didn’t have anywhere to be. So I did what I always did when I didn’t know what to do, I went back to my room and changed into my running blades before heading out to the track. Guess I wasn’t done running for the day.

As I made my way there, I saw someone running on the track. At this time of day, it’d usually be empty, so I was surprised to see anyone else besides me doing overtime.

Especially when that person just so happened to be Miura. And suddenly I had the urge to find someplace else to run.

Despite that, I made my way to the bleachers. Running with her really didn’t tickle my fancy, so I’d just wait until she was done. She gave me a smile as she ran past me, but otherwise didn’t bother to give me a snarky quip or anything, which I appreciated.

As I sat there watching her run, I saw an expression I rarely noticed in her. Frustration, with not even an attempt in hiding it. Miura’s face twisted into a grim scowl as she ran another lap, her breath heavy with a type of exhaustion I’m more than familiar with. She’d been at it for a while now, maybe even for hours.

Well, at least that’s one thing she and I had in common. We ran whenever we had problems in our lives. That’s why she’s running now, and I’d admit to myself that’s also why I wanted running too.

Not just because of Rin and Hisao, but because of what happened during summer vacation. It was a one measly day that went wrong, but it almost soured the entire thing. The idea that Mom was going to start dating again was something I still wasn’t used to, and I wasn’t sure if I ever would be.

“I’m lonely, Emi,” she said, and out of the blue too. “And...it’s about time I move on. I don’t think your father would want me to-”

“Don’t you dare bring him up.” I was pretty loud, though honestly I wondered if I was loud enough. “Not after you telling me that, not after you’re going to betray his memory like this.”

“Emi, please. I love him, and I always will. But with you moving to college soon, I’ll be all alone for who knows how long?” She’d started to cry, not that it helped things. “I can’t stand that, you know I can’t. That’s why I spent so much money moving near Yamaku, so that I can be near you.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault? Don’t you dare pin this on me, you...you…damn it!”


The fighting went on for the entire day, and we both said things that probably shouldn’t have been said. In the end, we managed to make up just before I went back to Yamaku, but only in the sense that we didn’t want to shout at each other for the rest of our lives.

I still won’t accept the fact that Mom was going to see other people. I almost wanted to believe she was teasing me, or bluffing, or even just having a moment of weakness. But no, she had been serious. Of all the times not to be a tease to me, she picked that one.

“Hey, Emi.” Speaking of teases… “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to run,” I responded, looking up to see Miura give me a smile. I got up and started heading down towards the track. “You done?”

“For now,” she said, sitting on the spot I’d just vacated. “Try not to sprain your legs, or stub your toes.”

“I don’t have an-urgh.” I let out a groan as she chuckled, taking her bait once again. “Whatever. Watch how a real runner does things.”

“Sure thing. I’ll try not to stare at your ass too much,” she responded, and I was just about done talking to her. I did some quick stretches before placing myself onto the starting line. I closed my eyes for just a second. The moment they opened, my body surged forwards.

Run away. Run away from Miura’s teasing, run away from Rin’s fear of Hisao dying, and Hisao’s fear of Rin’s reaction. Run away from finals, from the potential of failing, and from the idea that Mom was going to see someone else.

Most of all, run from the fact that another day that passes was another day that Dad was gone.

Another lap passed, and yet my feet didn’t stop. I ran as if there was something chasing me, as if I’d drop dead the moment I stopped. I picked up speed and made another lap around the track, everything besides the path before me started to blur in my mind, though the voice in my head was crystal clear.

Keep running.

I didn’t know when I started to slow down, or when my breathing got heavier. But eventually I did, and I forced myself to stop just after passing the finish line once again. How many laps had it been? How much time had passed?

My mind barely registered Miura clapping from the bleachers, though she did it by clapping on the wooden board rather than with her hands. Well, hand and stump. “Good work, Emi,” she said, though it didn’t really felt like she was encouraging me. “You all right there? Need some water or something?”

“I’m…fine…” I said as I made my way to the bleachers. Even talking was hard, let alone walking. The moment I reached the first row of seats I slumped down, not even attempting to hide how tired I was.

That run was a harder push than I’d done in a while, and with what I considered a “push”, that was really saying something.

But in the end, it did what I wanted it to. Cleared my head and let all my problems go away, just for a bit. Of course, one problem was still right here, and she was making her way towards me.

“Gotta say,” Miura noted with a smile, looking down at me. “I’ve never seen you this exhausted before. Then again, I’ve also never seen anyone run that much so much in a single day.”

“Yeah, well…I’m trying to set a new record,” I responded, mind too blurry to even make anything resembling a smart comeback. “Why are you still here?”

“Well, my date sort of bailed on me, so...” she said nonchalantly, then started to laugh. “Nah, I’m here for the same reason as you.”

“Which would be…?” I asked as she took a seat beside me, closer than usual.

“Oh, you know. To get away from things,” she said, and her cocky smile faded a bit. “You aren’t the only one with problems, Emi. Trust me on that.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” I grumbled. Of course everyone had problems, but it’s not like you should make a big deal about it to other people. I certainly didn’t want to.

“It means that you should let people in on it sometimes. It’ll do you good,” she said, a smile returning to her face. “I know you like to give off the impression that you’re a social butterfly, but most of us have figured out that you’re pretty hush-hush about yourself.”

“Oh, screw you,” I said, not even trying to hide how annoyed I was at her. “Just go away, if you’re going to keep talking shit about me like that. I swear, you exist just to make me angry, Miura.”

“There we go, you’re more honest now,” Miki responded, somehow sounding both grateful and sarcastic. “I prefer this side of you, the one that isn’t just putting on a pretty face for everyone to see.”

“And what would you know about it? What would you know about anything?” Angry, I tried to get up, only to stumble. I braced myself for a fall, but Miki grabbed me before my face met the dirt.

“Well, I don’t know more than what other people do. I bet even Hisao and Rin don’t have much of a clue, either.” Miki admitted as she helped me sit, but didn’t sit herself. “But...I care enough to want to know more. Knowing more about people is fun.”

“How is it fun?” I muttered, still annoyed at her, but thankful that she’d caught me.

“Well, I guess ‘fun’ isn’t the right word,” Miki said in a softer tone before turning away. “We all have our methods of running away from things we don’t like. We just happen to take it more literally than most people.”

I stood up and watched her walk away, and before I knew it, I shouted at her, “Hey!”

She turned around and eyed me curiously, though her face was her usual teasing smile.

“What do you mean?” I asked, walking up to her. I realized that I was genuinely curious. Her smile simply widened as I got closer to her. “What are you running away from?”

“I’ll tell you if you tell me,” she said calmly.

“No way,” I responded immediately, scowling. “You...you don’t have the right to know, you...you teaser.”

“Not the best comeback you ever had, Emi. Going to be honest here,” she said with a smirk, letting out a chuckle “But you’re right, I guess I don’t.”

She turned away from me and resumed walking away, eventually breaking into a sprint. Normally when we ended our conversations, I just ended up annoyed. Now, I was confused. I guess that’s a step up, but still…

What exactly was she running away from?

Urgh, whatever. She probably just said that to poke fun at me again. It’s always like that with her.

Looking up, I finally noticed that it was nighttime, with the stars already lighting up the night sky. It was beautiful, though I rarely saw it after running. In fact, the last time I ran this late at night was...

“We should head home. Mom will probably kill the both of us if we stay any longer.”

I felt a tear running down my cheek and immediately wiped it off. Thank god that no one else was around to see it.

Sighing, I started walking back to the girls’ dorm. Of course, it didn’t stay a walk as I began to speed up. I was too exhausted to perform anywhere near my best, but I didn’t want to take things slow. No matter how tired I was, or how far away it was...or even how painful it may be, one thing’s for sure.

I won’t stop running.

MoashLannister
Posts: 9
Joined: Sun May 12, 2019 11:19 pm

Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 14/12/2019)

Post by MoashLannister » Wed Jan 15, 2020 10:22 am

(Credit to Crafty and Lancer for proofreading.)

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Chapter 7: Oath

It had been a quiet week, with nothing out of the ordinary happening. My days had fallen into a predictable yet enjoyable pattern of attending class, hanging out on the rooftop with Emi, Hanako and Rin, and ending the evenings either by watching the latter paint or simply being there for one another, which is all I really wanted out of my waning days at Yamaku.

Sometimes we even slept in the same bed, lazily talking about pointless yet oddly enjoyable things before one of us inevitably drifted off. Another little thing that made Rin and I closer, emotionally as well as physically.

That said, all was not perfect. After I confessed to Emi about Rin’s reaction to my condition, she’d been trying her best to get me to run with her in the mornings. At first, it was a subtle suggestion here or there, but eventually she practically threw herself at me with demands to run with her, despite numerous refusals.

It’s not that I didn’t appreciate her attempts to improve my condition, but I didn’t see much reason to do such a thing if it didn’t get rid of it all together. Taking my medications was more than enough, and any additional exercise is simply increasing the odds of my survival in the long term by single digits, if even that.

To me, that small improvement wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough for me and it certainly wouldn’t be enough for Rin to stop worrying. So I simply disregarded it as an unnecessary precaution.

As the final schoolbell of the day rang, I stood up and immediately began to pack my things until I heard Mutou’s next sentence being directed at me.

“Nakai, can you stay back after class?” He said, his voice as stoic as ever. “I want to have a short conversation with you.”

I turned to look at him, his expression free of any anger or frustration, simply looking at me with purposeful eyes. Nodding in response, I waited until the rest of the class had exited the room before moving up to him, slightly curious as to what he wanted from me.

“Did I do anything wrong?” I asked, though I was fairly certain that I hadn’t. After that mildly embarrassing incident where he caught me daydreaming, I made sure to pay the requisite amount of attention to his classes. I reserved daydreaming for classes of less interesting content, and I hadn’t been exposed since.

“Hm?” Mutou responded with a perplexed tone. “No, no. I didn’t call you out to reprimand you or anything like that. I simply wanted to ask you a few questions. Please, have a seat.”

I took the solitary seat on the desk opposite him, which I hadn’t seen sat in during the entire time I’d been at Yamaku. Perhaps other students had had private sessions like this, but otherwise I wondered why it was even there.

“Now then...” Mutou began, using the voice he often reserved for the beginning of a lecture. “Nakai, you do realize that in a short period of time you’re going to have your college entrance exams?”

“Yes.” I responded, the seeming importance of that slipping my mind due to recent events.

“And have you made the necessary preparations?” Mutou asked again, increasing his volume just a bit to indicate his seriousness. “Are you prepared not simply to pass, but to excel?”

I nodded once in reply, though that didn’t seem to satisfy him. While I wouldn’t have said I was prepared to ace every subject on that exam, there are certain ones I was confident in getting a high grade on, such as Physics. Whether my results were satisfactory was simply a matter of shoring up my weaknesses without downplaying my strengths.

“I see…” Mutou eventually said, his tone still suggesting displeasure at my answer. “And do you have a plan after you graduated? Do you know what profession you’ll be pursuing? What college to go to?”

“Well, I want to pursue a career in physics,” I responded with the only certainty I had in regards to my educational future. “but beyond that...I don’t know what college I’m going to go to, or what kind of physics career I want to enter. I’ve thought about it a few times, but the most I’ve gotten were vague ideas about it.”

“I see...” His face softened a bit, though his tone was still just as serious. “It’s nice that you know the subject you wish to base your career off, but frankly, I believe that’s not going to be enough in the coming months. What is it that you want for the future?”

He asked that question with a thoughtful gaze, and I definitely felt as if it were an important one to answer, though not entirely for the reason he wanted it to be. Truth be told, the thing I was worried about in regards to the future was my relationship with Rin.

Would we be separated after graduating from Yamaku? How would my parents react to her being such an integral part of my life, and how would her parents react to me being a part of hers? What direction would our relationship take going forward? With Rin, nothing was certain, and while I had accepted that part of her, it worried me nonetheless.

Of course, that’s not something I could give as an answer to Mutou. Best case scenario, he would’ve brushed it off. Worst case, I would’ve been here for another couple of hours.

“I want a stable life,” I responded at last, being purposefully vague despite the answer being an honest one. “I want my future to be one where I can be free of worry.”

“An admirable goal, a mature one…” Mutou noted in agreement, though he immediately followed it by shaking his head. “But not one that you should be going after at this point in your life. Nakai, in order to have that life, you must work for it. And that means having to plan, study, and yes, even worry. Nothing comes for free, and everything that you wish to have always comes at a price. As an adult, this is an indisputable fact.”

“I understand,” I responded, trying not to face him. “I’ll think about it some more, I promise.”

“I hope that you do, for your sake” Mutou said as he stood up from his desk. “I know this conversation felt as if I was reprimanding you, but I’m not. I simply want you to consider thinking about your future in more detail, and what you want out of your early adulthood.”

While I’m not exactly sure why he singled me out for this talk, he nevertheless had my best interests at heart. “Thank you,” I responded with genuine appreciation. “I’ll make sure to give you a better answer next time.”

“Good. Have a nice day, Nakai.” And with that, he walked out of the class, leaving me alone in a place I’d be leaving in just a few short months. The reality of that fact suddenly dawned on me, highlighting the true importance of my conversation with Mutou.

Where was I going to go after I graduated? What did I even want to be? A scientist? A teacher? Those were questions with no answer in that moment, and soon I’d be forced to answer them, ready or not. I’d been so preoccupied with the present that I’d let thoughts of the future slip by, never realizing that the future was approaching with each passing day.

However, one thing was for certain. No matter what the future may have held for me, I wanted Rin to be there for me. I wanted us both to face the challenges of adulthood together, to share our joys and our burdens.

I wished I could say that will happen, but my more cynical side urged me to be more cautious. Nothing is guaranteed, that soft but convincing voice said. The future was up to chance just as much as it was up to my own efforts.

As I exited the class, I noticed Rin waiting just outside. Her eyes widened just a little when she saw me, a miniscule change that most people would have glossed over.

Walking up to her, I tried to give her my best smile. “Hello, Rin.”

“Hello, Hisao.” Rin responded, her tone as neutral as always. “You didn’t come for me, so I came for you. I’m like a kid lost in a mall trying to find its parent, except you should stay in one place and wait for them to come pick you up. Should I have stayed?”

“I think either option is fine.” I said as she moved closer to me. “The first thing I’ll always do after classes are over is find you, Rin.”

“And will you find me?” She asked, and I wondered if there was any deeper meaning behind that question. It was hard to say, even after knowing her for what seemed like so long. “Will you find me, Hisao?”

“I will.” I answered earnestly, which earned me a slight smile from her. Well, that and a small peck on the lips from her. As weird as it sounds, I preferred her smile over her kisses.

“Emi’s waiting,” Rin noted as she started to walk away from me, obviously expecting me to catch up “Hanako, too.”

“Yeah, Emi’s probably going to chew me out for being late, isn’t she?” I complained as I kept pace, wrapping an arm around her without any resistance. It was a nice feeling to be able to so casually do such a thing, and another small indicator of our relationship growing. “What are you thinking today, Rin?”

“Mm, bees.” She said as she rested her head on my shoulder, closing her eyes. “They make honey, which is sweet. But they also sting people when someone tries to take their honey, which isn’t sweet. So they make something sweet, but they themselves are not sweet.”

“So what you’re saying is that you want to go to the Shanghai afterwards?” I said in a joking manner, enjoying the peaceful walk to the library. Some students were still there, lingering in the hallways, and more than a few of them eyed us as we walked past, their expressions ranging from curiosity to mild supportiveness to occasionally envy.

I didn’t really care about any of their stares, and neither did Rin. We simply existed in our own little bubble, unaffected by anyone who happened to pass us by. They would look on and assume things about us, but they’d never truly understand what we were.

After all, even I barely understood what we were at times, though I cherished it all the same.

“Was that a joke, Hisao?” Rin noted after a bit of silence. “I thought a joke was supposed to make people laugh. Like clowns, or the way people are after eating a lot of chili.”

Despite my attempt at comedy utterly failing, the earnest way in which she reacted to it made me smile all the same.

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The library was mostly empty, seeing as how it was about to be closed in a short while. After a bit of searching, we managed to find Emi and Hanako reading educational books, though on different subjects. Despite sitting relatively close to each other, there was still a noticeable separation between the two of them, or at least it felt that way. It seemed Hanako still hadn’t fully accepted Emi the way she did me and Rin, though I couldn’t exactly blame her. In terms of personality, the two of them were about as different as oil and water.

Emi immediately looked up from her book to glare at me. “Well, you two sure took your sweet time getting here.” She said rather angrily, though I was more impressed that she remembered library regulations and managed to tone down her voice.

“Sorry, Mutou wanted to talk with me for a while.” I said, though that didn’t appease her in the slightest. “Anyways, what are you two studying at the moment?”

“I-I’m studying Japanese History.” Hanako said with a hushed whisper, peeking up from her book to look at the three of us. I couldn’t see her face entirely, but I got the impression that she was hiding a smile. “I-It’s really interesting.”

“Math” Emi blurted out, putting down the book in frustration to rub her temples. “Urgh, equations this, carry over that. My head feels like it’s going to burst.”

“Yes, Math makes my head burst too.” Rin commented with a sly smile. “Like a volcano, except instead of lava leaking out it’s numbers and letters. Why does math use letters? It’s like using water to start a fire, except it actually works somehow.”

“Pleaseee...” Emi pleaded as Hanako let out a small giggle at Rin’s metaphor. “No more math talk. I’m hungry, I’m cranky and I just want to throw anything math related out of a window.”

“Disregarding the fact that you’re always cranky…” I said, earning yet another glare from Emi. “The library’s about to close anyways, and we all agreed to study until night time. So we’ll probably need someplace new where we could revise what we learned, and maybe eat some dinner while we’re at it.”

“We can always go to the Shanghai.” Emi suggested, getting up and stretching her body. “We go there every day, so might as well right?”

“Oh no, I’m already broke from treating you all multiple times.” I answered adamantly, mentally groaning from all the money spent on drink and especially desserts. I wasn’t usually one to splurge a lot, but when three cute girls had asked nicely, what could I do? Even so, I had my limits. “You guys already tore a big enough hole in my wallet, I’m not planning on making it any bigger.”

Hanako looked ashamed and hid her entire face behind her book. Emi looked unashamed and simply huffed. Rin however, answered in a way only she knew how to. “But I never touched your wallet. How could I tear a hole in it?”

“Not literally.” I clarified, torn between being amused and annoyed.

“I know…” Rin said, looking slightly disappointed. “That was supposed to be a joke, but it seems nobody laughed. I’m as bad as telling jokes as you are, Hisao.”

Emi and Hanako immediately burst into fits of giggles, trying their best to hold in their voices. “I don’t know, you seem to have better success than I do.” I noted in a self-deprecating tone, watching on in horror as I somehow found myself becoming the punchline of Rin’s unintentional delivery. “Maybe you’re the comedian in our relationship.”

“I don’t want to be the comedian in our relationship. I want to be the Rin in our relationship.” Rin said, matter-of-factly. “Maybe I’ll be the comedian sometimes, like how sometimes you’re the one spouting out random things when I paint. You’re like a word machine, except you don’t know how to turn off sometimes.”

Emi couldn’t hold it any longer and let out a loud cry of laughter. Hanako, to her credit, was still suppressing her desire to, if only barely. Sighing, all I could do was hold Rin closer to me and wait for their little giggle fit to pass, or for the librarian to come and shut them up.

As it turns out, the latter happened. Yuuko walked in and spoke in a nervous tone, trying to catch our attention. “U-Um, please try to be quiet. This is a library, after all…and uh…”

“Sorry, Yuuko.” I responded for the four of us. Emi and Hanako immediately hushed themselves up, and Yuuko shied away. “Anyways, the Shanghai isn’t an option, unless you’re planning on paying.”

“Fine, then we’ll do it in Rin’s room.” Emi suggested again, conveniently sidestepping the notion of her giving back all the money I spent for her sake. “You’re alright with that, aren’t you Rin?”

“Hmm...” Rin answered after a moment of thinking about it. “My room can be used to study, but it’s mostly used for painting and sleeping. So it’s a painting room and a sleeping room, but it’s not a study room. It can be, but it isn't. Like a man who chooses not to drive to work.”

“Uh…” Emi had a dumbfounded look in her eyes, and turned to me. “Mind translating, boyfriend?”

“Her room probably isn’t a good idea.” I said, giving her my own thoughts rather than Rin’s. “It’s a mess right now, and full of painting equipment and canvases. With the four of us, space would be tight and someone might accidentally get paint on their clothes, or even worse, a book borrowed from the library.”

“Mm, no one likes paint on their books.” Rin nodded in agreement, my answer seeming to vaguely get at what she was talking about. “That’s why I don’t paint at libraries, and why people who like reading books don’t want to watch me paint. Except Hisao, but he’s different. A good kind of different though.”

“Okay, I get it.” Emi said, sighing in frustration. “I guess we can use my room, but it’s also a bit of a mess right now. Don’t ask.”

“Come on, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as Rin’s roo-”

“Don’t. Ask.” Emi repeated again, this time with Rin adding her voice to the chorus for some reason. To think she would be so defensive about the state of her room.

“U-Um…w-we can use my room.”

Hanako’s quiet statement immediately drew our attention as we turned towards her. Most of her face was still covered, but she was at least willing to look at us directly. She slowly lowered her book, letting us see her entire face, her mouth twitching nervously.

“W-we can use my room.” She repeated, her voice a bit louder this time. “It’s c-clean and there’s plenty of space. I-I even have some tea there, if any of you are thirsty…”

“Are you sure?” I asked, looking directly at her. Before, that would have simply made her look away, but now she returns it with a look of her own, albeit still quiet and withdrawn. “We’ll be there for quite a while, so I just want to make sure that you want to do this.”

“I...I-I want to!” She replied immediately, getting up from her beanie. “I want to, really. I-I want to have you over. I want to show you all my r-room.”

I could hear the subtle insistence in her tone that I rarely heard from her before. That was all it took to convince me that she truly wanted to invite us. “Alright then,” I said, smiling calmly at her. “I guess it’s settled.”

“Oooh, I bet your room is going to be so cute. Let’s go there already!” Emi squealed, bouncing in excitement.

Rin simply nodded back at Hanako, who showed a delicate smile at our agreement. I’m not sure if the other two caught it, but I saw Hanako mouth a silent “Thank you.” at the three of us before covering her face again.

After a bit more discussion, the four of us headed out of the library, carrying a few books with us for studying. The conversation we had on the way was about mundane things like complaining about entrance exams, yet I enjoyed it nonetheless. No matter what the topic, as long as it was with these three, I could always manage a genuine smile at a quip from Emi or an extremely unique allegory from Rin. Sometimes just being with them was enough to brighten my mood.

It’s funny how I entered this school with the expectation of being unable to relate with anyone here, and therefore be unable to form any connections as a result. Yet now I have a small yet close knit circle of friends, almost as if I’m making up for the friends I lost on the way to Yamaku.

Time seemed to have changed my perspective on a lot of things, and while there’s still a part of me that remains fundamentally unchanged, it was no secret that I wasn’t the same person that entered that school all those months ago. I’m different now, shaped by both fortune and tragedy. Perhaps not all of my changes were for the better, but I liked to think that I had become wiser, more patient, and a lot more accepting of others.

A person with a broader perspective on the world, which I felt was necessary in order to accept Rin in spite of what she isn’t, yet love her for all that she is and still could be.

That last thought added a little bit of hope to my thoughts on the future. I hadn’t figured it all out yet, and I was still worried that disaster was waiting for us up ahead. But looking back, we had already faced disaster of a subtler sort. The breaking down of our expectations for one another, and the harsh admission of the fact that we could never be who the other wanted.

It wasn’t our relationship that had changed first, or even our acceptance of each other. Before all of that, it was what we wanted out of each other that had to change before all else. What we wanted previously was something that couldn’t be done, but currently it was something as simple as being there for one another, and growing what we have bit by bit as each day passes by.

“Hisao?” Rin called out softly as she brushed her head onto my shoulder. “You’ve been quiet. Are you thinking about something?”

“Yeah…” I responded, giving her a reassuring smile. It was only then that I realized she wasn’t the only one looking at me: Emi and Hanako were as well. “Um, is something wrong?”

“Oh nothing.” Emi said with a teasing smile before turning away. “You know, you really can be like Rin at times. Going all quiet, looking like you’re thinking about... whatever Rin likes to think about. Blue volcanoes or something.”

“I don’t think about blue volcanoes.” Rin said, closing her eyes once again. “Except now I am thinking about them, but it’s because you made me. Do you think about blue volcanoes, Emi?”

Letting the friendly atmosphere take over, I laughed and gave Rin an affectionate kiss on the forehead.

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We decided to split up to do prepare food and study notes respectively, with Emi and Hanako covering the former while me and Rin covered the latter. Well, it was actually just me who was providing the notes, seeing as they were all in my room and were written solely by me, but Rin wanted to tag along and I could hardly refuse her.

As we were walking to the boys dorm, our bodies still close to each other, she suddenly said something that would break the peaceful mood we had built up. “Nomiya talked to me today.”

I almost stopped dead in my tracks, and there were a million little things that I wanted to do in reaction to what she said, but I knew they would irritate her further. Instead, I took a deep breath and tried to keep calm. “When did you talk with him?”

“Today. After class.” She noted, her voice giving no hint as to her feelings. “He asked me if I still wanted to be in the Art Club. I said I didn’t know.”

Of course he would ask about that. Rin hadn’t been to the art club for weeks now, so I had simply assumed that Nomiya would treat her as if she didn’t exist. Apparently, I was wrong. “Do you want to be in the Art Club?”

“I don’t know. I said that already.” Rin replied, looking down at the ground with a frown. “I don’t like not knowing. It’s like going into a room, except you don’t know if there’s snakes or butterflies inside. Or if the snakes are actually really friendly and the butterflies are the ones that are poisonous.”

“I see...” I said softly, my agitation giving way to worry. The fact that she didn’t know reminded me of rather unpleasant memories, and I secretly vowed not to nudge her one way or the other, despite the desire to keep her away from anything that would hurt her. “Is that all he had to say?”

“No” Rin stopped suddenly, looking at me. I knew that look, it was the one she gave when she’s trying to tell me something that she can’t put into words. “He said that if I want to remain at the club, I’ll have to make some paintings for the Culture Day festival, otherwise I’ll be considered dead to the Art Club.”

I gritted my teeth at that, knowing those were Nomiya’s words, not hers. I placed a hand on her shoulder, as if to steady her, and looked her straight in the eyes.

“What should I do, Hisao?” Rin asked, her voice uncertain. “You’re smart. This can be like one of those Physics problems where you tell me how to do things. Please give me an answer.”

My heart broke a little at her plea, knowing how confused she must be right now, so I placed another hand on her shoulder. “I can’t do that.” I said, despite how difficult it was to do so. “All I can give is an answer that I would want from you, and I won’t do that. This is something that you’ll need to figure out.”

“But I can’t.” She responded, inching closer to me and gently laying her head on my chest.

“I want to, but I also don’t want to. I’m like a bird that wants to fly and wants to stay in its cage, Hisao. I want to paint for myself. I want to be an artist. I want to show myself to others. I want to be with you. I want so many things, but I know having one means losing the others. I don’t want to lose anything. Why can’t I have them all?”

I brushed the back of her hair in comfort as my other arm wrapped around her, hugging her tightly. It was all I could do to try and comfort her as she nuzzled my chest, like a child holding a pillow for solace. She wasn’t crying, but she didn’t need to; I could see that she was in pain at the choice she was being forced to make. A mundane choice to most, but it was everything to her.

For Rin, this wasn’t simply about rejoining the Art Club or simply making a few paintings for people. It was about what she’d been struggling with ever since she agreed to have an exhibition about her art, or perhaps even before then.

It was about Rin staying true to herself against strangers who would enforce their thoughts and opinions about her art and her identity upon her, like I once did. She wanted people to see her for who she was, rather than what they tried to see her as. But time and time again they missed the mark, as did I, and she ended up all the worse for it.

I desperately wanted to suggest she refuse, but I knew that if I did that, I would simply be making the same mistake as all the others. “It’s going to be okay, Rin.” I whispered quietly so that only she could hear. “Whatever choice you make, I’ll be with you. Everything will be fine.”

“Ok…” Rin responded, accepting my answer. “I believe you, even if I don’t know why. But I believe you, so please be right.”

We stayed there for a moment, bodies clinging to each other. Eventually Rin broke away from me, ready to move on. We didn’t talk at all, each of us letting the other think about the situation and what to do about it.

“Hisao?” She eventually called out, just outside of my room. “I want to stay outside. I can’t help you anyways. No arms, so I’ll have to use my legs to carry anything. Except then I can’t walk, and I haven’t learned how to float in the air yet.”

“Alright.” I said, my gaze lingering on her. Her face was the expression she normally wears, but I knew that she was far from feeling fine. She seemed to notice me staring at her, and simply nodded at me before walking away. Whatever that nod signified, I didn’t really know.

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The walk to the girls dorm was equally as quiet, though the tension had subsided a little. Unsurprisingly, we found an impatient-looking Emi at the doors, bouncing up and down like a spring.

“What took you so long?” She said, pouting. “I could have gotten here in less than a minute.”

“Not all of us like to run until we’re sweaty.” I responded sarcastically, omitting the real reason we were so delayed. “Anyways, where’s Hanako?”

“She wanted to clean up her room, so she sort of forced me out here after I handed her our dinners.” Emi answered as the three of us made our way inside. “I don’t really know why she needs to clean it. The room was pretty spotless from the little I saw of it, but maybe she’s a neat freak or something.”

“Why is someone who’s neat a freak?” Rin asked, completely back to her normal self once again. Her ability to simply revert to how she usually acted was always something I found strangely interesting about her, among other things. Was it an act, or was she really that capable of changing how she felt?

“Someone who’s messy should be a freak, but we don’t call messy people messy freaks. We just call them messy.” She continued, before closing her eyes to think about it some more. “Mm… maybe everyone’s a freak, but just a different kind of freak.”

“No arguments there.” Emi grumbled. We made our way to a door in the middle of the hallway, Emi knocking on it rather loudly. “Hanako, are you done?”

“J-Just a minute.” Hanako’s muffled voice said. After what was probably longer than a minute, the door opened to reveal Hanako. She took a deep bow, her hands shaking. “Sorry for the w-wait…”

“No problem.” I responded. We would have entered the room, but Hanako was blocking the doorway, causing a bit of awkwardness. “Um, Hanako?”

“Y-Yes?” It took a second for Hanako to realize what she’s doing. Once she did, her eyes immediately widened and she stepped aside, looking embarrassed. “S-sorry. Welcome t-to my room…”

“Thank you.” The three of us said one by one before entering. I didn’t know what I expected when I entered her room for the first time, but the appearance did match up to what I thought her room would look like, if I thought about it for any unreasonable amount of time.

It was smaller than either mine or Rin’s room, though whether that’s by intention or by coincidence is unknown. The walls were white and unadorned with anything like posters or picture frames. In fact, the entire room had a very muted and minimalist feel, completely contrasting Rin’s chaotic and colorful one.

There was very little furniture there, with just a bed, wardrobe, and a table laid out in the centre of the room. Nothing else about the room was really personalized, save for a number of stuffed animals on the bed. It definitely spoke of someone who didn’t really have any sort of emotional attachment to this place.

Or perhaps I was wrong in judging Hanako solely by how her room is. After my conversation with Rin, I’d begun second guessing a lot of things I’d taken as fact in the past. This might’ve just been one of them.

“P-Please, have a seat.” Hanako said after we all properly entered, gesturing to the short table in the center. On it was a couple of revision books, as well as several cookies, stuffed breads, and even a plain-looking tea set. It reminded me of picnics you’d see in children’s books, and again I wondered if it was a deliberate decision or not.

We all sat on the carpeted floor, Hanako moving over and pouring each of us a cup of tea. “I-It’s jasmine,” She pointed out, even quieter than usual. “I hope you like it.”

I took my cup and sipped it, feeling the liquid warming my throat as it went down the hatch. Not my preferred beverage, but nice nonetheless. Emi drank hers and seemed to enjoy it, though I noticed her face twitching a little as she did so, which was a little odd.

Meanwhile, Rin looked down at her cup, blinking. “There’s no straw here, and I can’t grab the cup with my feet unless I want to make them hot. And I don’t want to make my feet hot unless I want to eat them, like a starving person with no food who is forced to eat his own body. I don’t want to eat my own body, even though I am kind of hungry…”

Hanako let out a yelp, nearly spilling over her own teacup. She bowed her head slightly towards Rin. “I’m sorry, I completely forgot about the straws. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m…”

“Don’t be.” Rin replied with a shrug, completely silencing her. “People forget things. I forget that I’m Rin sometimes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like being Rin. Hisao can be my hands, except he’s not going to cut off his own hands and give them to me...are you, Hisao?”

“Well, there isn’t a chainsaw here.” I responded with the most sarcastic tone I can manage. “So I’ll have to say no. Want some tea, Rin?”

“Yes.” She replied with a smile. “And a cookie, and a kiss too, if you have any.”

“Always.” I gave Rin what she asked for in that exact order. Moving her teacup to her lips so she can take a sip from it, taking a cookie and feeding it to her, and finally a kiss on the forehead to end it. She seemed to appreciate each and every one of those gestures, a subtle but noticeable smile forming as I served her.

“Thank you, Hisao.” She said with a bit of cheer in her voice. “And thank you, Hanako. That tea was bitter and warm, but good. Like eating a warm fire, except it doesn’t burn your stomach and kill you.”

“Y-you’re welcome,” Hanako responded, her anxiousness easing enough to show a smile. “I-I hope everyone will have a good time…”

“Aren’t we already?” I noted, holding the teacup for Rin to drink from again. Despite the rather serious conversation she and I had earlier, and the implications it brings, the atmosphere here was starting to dampen some of my worries.

It’s hard to describe, but if I were to put it into words, it’s as if the coziness of the whole thing was helping me. Being with my girlfriend and two trusted friends, sharing dinner and having some small talk, it helped. Not in any gigantic way, but in many small ways. Like a swarm of ants slowly gnawing at a piece of food more than a hundred times their size.

“I am.” Emi responded happily, stuffing her face with cookies. “I hate studying, but I like hanging out with you all. So I guess it evens out.”

“Mm, I like being here.” Rin said in agreement. “This room is nice with you all in it, which means it isn’t nice when you aren't in it. Like a present box. It’s sad when there’s no present inside, but it’s happy when there is one inside.”

Hanako seemed to beam at their answers, smiling brightly without much hesitation. “T-Thank you, all of you.” She voiced out, her tone being one of sincere gratitude. “I-I’m glad I have friends like you.”

“Same here.” Emi responded, and the two girls shared a look and a nod, seemingly growing closer since the last time they were alone together. “...We’re not going to do a group hug, are we?”

Hanako’s face immediately turned red as she looked away. I stifled the urge to laugh, knowing it’d just make her feel more awkward. As always, Rin was there to save the day.

“I don’t have any arms.” She said bluntly, holding up her stumps. “I can’t hug, so does that mean I’m out of the group?”

Me and Emi couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out laughing. Hanako thankfully joined in with a giggle while Rin simply looked at us with a confused stare, tilting her head as if trying to find out why we were all laughing.

After all the laughter subsided, we quickly finished a portion of the food on the table, saving some for later. Conversation was livelier than usual, though the subjects were usually nothing of substance. Eventually, we finally moved on to the reason we were all gathered there, and picked up our books to begin the first session of our study group.

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“Alright, so you take this answer and use it as the integer in this equation, and then…”

“Stop.” Emi cut me off, slumping to the table and lightly slamming her head onto it. “You know what I said about hanging out with you evens out studying? I take it back, I think I prefer being alone than thinking about equations or unknown numbers. Just...stop.”

I looked at Rin and Hanako, who looked equally exhausted. To be fair, we’d been studying Math and Physics for awhile now, though it really hadn’t felt that way to me. Despite some resistance, teaching them often felt as smooth as actually studying the mathematical principles myself for the first time. Some initial hurdles here and there, but the lesson was eventually committed to memory.

It gave me more to think about in regards to my future career. Teaching was obviously an avenue that was open to me, and I was enjoying it a fair bit. But what about researching? It may have been better, it may have been worse, but it wasn’t something I’d experienced, and therefore I couldn’t compare the two. Incomplete data, much like an algebra problem.

“Alright, let's take a break.” I relented, sitting down and putting my textbook on the table. “And then we’ll do another subject. Any ideas?”

“Health!” Emi offered immediately, getting up and bouncing up and down. “No one knows health better than me, and anyone who says otherwise is a big fat liar.”

“...Any subject that doesn’t involve Emi forcing me to run.” I clarified, causing Emi to pout and stick her tongue out at me, which she often did whenever I refused to run with her. As such, I see that face at least once every day, much to her annoyance and my amusement.

“I can’t teach anything.” Rin said. “Or maybe I can. But I don’t want to, so I won’t.”

“U-Um, I know some H-History.” Hanako pointed out, grabbing one of the few cookies left. It seemed to be a habit of hers to grab some food before talking about something she wasn’t entirely sure of. “Maybe I can teach something…”

“It’s settled then.” I concluded, and the three nodded in agreement, carelessly throwing their Math books to the side. Hanako poured us another round of tea, which we all sipped graciously. Deciding not to let the break simply be wasted in silence, I spoke out. “So, Culture Day is coming soon. Are you guys doing anything during then?”

“Track club’s got a stall running.” Emi responded with a scowl on her face. “We took lots to see who takes what shift, and I somehow ended up with Miura. I swear, they rigged it on purpose.”

“Or maybe Miki’s interested in you, so she made sure she got paired up with you.” I teased as I held Rin’s teacup to her lips once again. When it came to our verbal spats, Miki was perfectly good ammo to use against her, as low of a blow as it was. “You two would make a cute couple.”

Emi simply huffed and refused to look at me. “As if. We all know that she would need to give me a million desserts just to even spend time with me, let alone ask me out. We all know I’d be the one carrying the weight in that relationship.”

“But she’s heavier than you.” Rin pointed out, closing her eyes. “That’d be like me carrying Hisao, except even worse because all I’d do is drop him immediately.”

I rolled my eyes in amusement while Emi let out a loud sigh. Despite it not being her intention, Rin’s talent for driving Emi up the wall was definitely something I appreciated whenever it was used. It almost felt like we were verbally ganging up on her, an act as humorous for us as it was annoying to her .

“Man, for someone who speaks in weird metaphors, you take things way too literally.” Emi said in defeat before stuffing a cookie down her mouth, saying nothing further.

“Hanako?” I asked, turning to her. She shied away from me a little, but otherwise didn’t seem perturbed by my question.

“I-I don’t know.” She answered, a sad kind of acceptance showing on her face. “I-I’ve never been to many festivals, a-and the last time I went was…”

She said nothing further, and I didn’t feel like pushing her into uncomfortable territory. “It’s fine.” I said reassuringly. “If you don’t want to answer, you don’t need to…”

“No!” She responded loudly, surprising me and Emi. Realizing her sudden outburst, she looked down and continued. “The last time I-I went was with Lilly…”

“...And she’s gone now.” Rin finished for her, which caused all three of us to stare at her. “And now you don’t feel like going to festivals. Like someone who doesn’t eat sushi after getting food poisoning from one.”

“Y-Yeah…” Hanako admitted, looking ashamed. “I-I wanted to s-stay in my room the whole day, when they brought up the festival yesterday. T-The thought of going to a festival with someone feels...wrong…to me.”

There’s a bit of silence after that, with no one really knowing what to say. The awkwardness started to make me uncomfortable, but I couldn’t think of anything to break it. I turned to Rin, her eyes wide and staring right at Hanako, as if she was deciding something about her.

Eventually, she was the one to break the silence. “I’ll show one of my paintings during the festival.” Rin said in a serious manner. “Maybe more than one.”

The weight of her statement didn’t seem to hit Hanako, and even Emi didn’t seem to react all that much to it. However, I couldn’t help but feel completely shocked at what she said, and even more at the certainty in which she said it. Turning to her, I can see that her eyes were determined, and it was then that I truly knew that she’s made her decision.

“Rin, are you sure?” I asked her, despite knowing that nothing I said would change her mind.

“Yes.” She responded with a quiet but firm resolve, her eyes still fixed onto Hanako, who seemed to be looking back at her. “I know it’s hard, and I know that it’s hurt me before, but it’s something I need to do. Like pulling off a bandage, but even though it hurts I still want to pull it off because bandages should be pulled off.”

“I need to be an artist.” She continued, her voice dropping a little. “It’s what I want to be now, so it’s what I need to be. I need to be an artist and still be me, and if I can’t be both then I still need to choose. No matter which road I take, I might get hurt. But I want to get hurt in my own way. At least then, it’s a hurt I choose to accept, not a hurt belonging to someone else.”

She let out a tired breath after saying that, closing her eyes as she leaned her head to rest against my shoulder. It’s clear that speech took an enormous effort out of her, so I tenderly ran my fingers through her hair, trying to comfort her.

Honestly, it felt as if she was talking to herself more than anything, a confirmation to herself about the decision she alone made. However, Hanako seemed to gravitate towards her words regardless, as her face was in deep contemplation after hearing them. All Emi and I could do was watch as Hanako delved deep into her own thoughts.

“Hisao…” Rin’s voice broke my gaze away from Hanako and onto her. She was staring at me, her eyes piercing right into me, as if she was looking for something.

Looking for my approval. It’s then that I realized that she might actually be afraid that I wouldn’t give it to her. What a silly thought to have.

Before she could say anything further, I responded in a whisper, too soft for anyone but us to hear. “I’ll be with you. As long as it is really what you want to do, then I’ll support you. Until the end...after the end, if you want me to.”

I’ve said these things to her before, but now I spoke those familiar words with perfect clarity. This wasn’t me pushing her to whatever road I thought was best, but rather me staying by her side through thick and thin, through whatever road she wished to go.

I’d tried to take the lead when it came down to our relationship, and she’d stuck by my side through all our troubles. Now it was time for me to follow hers. She was chasing a wind that I had no hope of claiming for myself, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t chase her instead.

“You know what I wanted you to say...” Rin replied neutrally, though I could hear the subtle hints of gratitude in her voice. “You read my mind again, except you can’t. So that means you understand what I want, or at least part of what I want...thank you, Hisao.”

“You’re welcome.” I said as I gently brushed a stray hair from her face. “I can only hope you’ll find me worthy of your patience.”

“Yes.” She answered, simply but firmly as she rested her head deeper into my shoulder, nuzzling my neck. “...I wanted to say something more, but I feel like it would ruin the air. Except now what I just said already ruined the air, like someone barging into a wedding. Is someone going to barge into your wedding? That’d be bad.”

Emi interrupted our conversation by clearing her throat. Shame, considering that it was the first time a wedding has been brought up in our relationship, albeit as a weird metaphor instead of an actual prospect.

“If you two are done smothering each other...” She said in barely restrained annoyance, nudging her head in Hanako’s direction. “I think a certain someone would like to say something.”

I turned back to Hanako again, who looked at the three of us with resolution in her eyes. It seemed her mind was made up.

“I-I...want to go to the festival,” She said at last, though her voice was uncertain. “I d-don’t want to hole up in my room e-every time something happens. I want to be s-strong, and b-be there for my friends. And I want them to be there for me, because I’m me...”

Hanako stopped, apparently saying all that she needed to say. She glanced at each of us, and in her eyes I could see the same desire for approval I had seen in Rin. She wanted us to hang out with her because we want to, not because she wants to.

“Mm, I may need to look after my paintings.” Rin noted. “You should come see them once they’re done. Not before, it’s bad luck if you see an unfinished painting.”

“I’ll be there as well. Someone needs to look after Rin.” I added, trying to reinforce Rin’s offer. “How about we meet up at the Art Club’s stall during the festival? Once we’re there, we can look at paintings until we get bored, then grab something to eat.”

“Oh! Oh! I can guide you there!” Emi said to Hanako, sounding extremely excited. “My shift with Miura is during the morning, and I don’t have to be there for long. We can go see some stuff on the way there, maybe grab a bite or two…nothing too unhealthy though. I got a diet to keep.”

“Never stopped you from asking us to the Shanghai for cakes...” I noted dryly, which caused Emi to throw a cookie at my face.

I could hear sobbing coming from Hanako, and when I looked at her there were tears on the corner of her eyes. But...she was smiling, a bright smile that I couldn’t help but find heartwarming. Whatever trouble she was going through, whatever sorrow she had, we had just lifted it a little. Together.

“T-Thank you…” She cried out, softly yet gratefully. “I-I’m so g-glad I can call you my f-friends.”

“We’re glad too,” I responded, knowing that I was speaking for the three of us. “I’m happy to have stumbled into you in that library during summer vacation, knowing that it led you to value us as friends, and for us to do the same for you.”

Tears were freely flowing down Hanako’s cheek, and Emi went to her side to brush them with her fingers, which Hanako accepted without flinching. “Heh, didn’t expect someone to pull out the waterworks tonight.” She joked. “Beats the hell out of studying, though.”

“W-we should g-go back to that.” Hanako said, giggling despite having cried just seconds before. “I’m teaching H-History, remember?”

“Yeah, we’ve had enough of a break.” I said in agreement, turning to Rin. “Ready for some History, Rin?”

“Like “you and I” history, or “people who died a long time ago but they’re still affecting us somehow” history?” Rin asked, breaking away from me to move back to her former spot on the table. “I guess I’m ok with either one.”

“Teach away, Professor Hanako.” Emi exclaimed in a teasing manner, perhaps the first time she had teased her openly. The three of us turned to her, eager to let Hanako take command of the study group.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was late into the night. Not late enough for my presence to be against the rules, but late enough for that time to be fast approaching. Despite not being the teacher in the situation, it still seemed as if hours flew by in mere minutes.

Hanako proved to be an effective teacher, if of a different kind than myself. While I explained things quickly and methodically, in a simple step-by-step process, Hanako taught in a much more elaborate manner, explaining all manner of details that may or may not have been irrelevant to the question at hand, taking many detours and tangents about stuff that was related to the subject we’re studying, but not actually part of it.

Of course, she did stumble here and there, stopping and stuttering either due to not knowing the answer or due to her own insecurities. Still, she powered through those little moments, and she didn’t seem to care about stuttering in front of us in any case. Another small sign of trust between her and the three of us.

“I-It was S-Sakamoto Ryoma who set the stage for the M-Meiji Restoration.” Hanako finished, reciting it almost as if it were a fictional story. “Um, I think that’s where i-it ends...a-after that is the Restoration itself.”

“Mm, lots of killing in history.” Rin noted, calm and serene amidst that grim statement. “Lots of backstabbing too...except they don’t stab in the back, they stab all over. But they still call it a back stab because our eyes aren’t placed on the back of our heads.”

“I think that’s enough studying for one night,” Emi said, throwing her book away. “though your lessons were MUCH more interesting than Hisao, Hanako.”

I roll my eyes as Hanako nodded in agreement, sitting down at last. She poured us what tea remained in the teapot, her subtle smile persisting. “I-If any of you want cookies, I can probably g-get some more…”

“Nah, I think we’ve had our fill.” Emi noted. “Man, time really flies when you’re studying. I can’t believe it’s almost curfew.”

“Yeah, I think we should leave soon.” I said in a disappointing tone, one which Hanako seemed to share. “Still, we should do this again. I definitely feel more confident when history comes around in our entrance exams.”

“No kidding. I might even be better at Physics...maybe.” Emi said at me, giggling at that verbal jab. “College...seemed like yesterday that I just heard of the thing, now it’s right around the corner.”

“Y-yeah…” Hanako said, her voice sounding thoughtful. “W-What do you all w-want to do when you graduate…”

“Run!” Emi responded first with a bright smile on her face. “No matter how far or how hard, I want to be an athlete. I won’t be satisfied till I get a bunch of gold medals for my mom, enough to buy her a mansion three times over.”

“Mmm...to be an artist, I think.” Rin said, as thoughtful as Hanako was. “I think I might find out if I still want to be an artist after Culture Day, or I might not. But now I want to be an artist, so that’ll be the answer I give now.”

The three suddenly turned their heads towards me, and I couldn’t help but scratch the back of my head. Guess Mutou wasn’t the only one who wanted to know about my plans after Yamaku. “Uh...Physics, I guess?”

“Lame!” Emi said, sticking out her tongue. “Can you at least try? Come on, what is it that you really want after leaving this place?”

I closed my eyes and really thought about it; my future, so dark and mysterious and full of possibilities. Possibilities of success and failure, of fear and glory and everything in between the two. I tried to imagine the scenario I wanted for myself, the future that I wished to manifest above any other. Something that was worth striving towards, a future to hope for no matter how bleak the present might be.

The answer was surprisingly easy.

“A future with Rin…” I answered as if was the only logical choice. It wasn’t, but to me it might as well have been. I didn’t elaborate on it to them; I didn’t need to. The answer was as clear and as simple as it can be.

“Wow, way to go for the sappy option.” Emi commented, though there was an underlying support behind her teasing. “What’s next? A ring going to come out of your pocket?”

“A future with me…” Rin repeated my answer, and simply nodded at me. The one response I really wanted, and the only one I would ever need.

“What about you, Hanako?” I asked, once the reactions to my answer seemed to have settled down.

“U-Um…” Hanako hesitated a bit, but ultimately saw me eye to eye as she said. “I-I want to be friends with you all. I-I know it doesn’t s-seem like much, b-but I want us to b-be together like this...even after Yamaku. T-That’s all I really want...f-for now…”

We all looked at each other, and couldn’t help but have the brightest smiles on our faces. Even Rin, who seemed to be infected by the atmosphere, was expressing her happiness openly. Whatever we had been, whatever we would be, whatever we were, the four of us were friends. That felt like an immutable fact, like water being wet.

“Hey, how about we promise, huh? Promise to stick around for each other, see our dreams come true together. All that friendship nonsense.” Emi suggested, holding up her arm towards us. “I swear to bring home a gold medal for me, my mom, and all of you guys...and Hisao.”

“Can’t even promise without landing a jab on me, huh?” I noted in a dry tone, yet stuck my arm out on top of hers all the same. “I promise to graduate Yamaku, to build a future for Rin and for myself, and to share it with all of you. As friends and equals.”

“Can I promise, even with no arms?” Rin asked.

“Duh!” Emi responded, her smile growing wider by the second. “Now come on, give us your vows or something.”

“And you joked that I was the one who’s going to pull out a ring.” I noted, which earned me an arm on the shoulder from Emi.

“I swear to find out whether I want to be an artist.” Rin said, tilting her head down in lieu of an arm. “And if I want to be an artist, I swear to try and be one and still be me. Like a butterfly who’s still a caterpillar…”

Lastly, Hanako extended a hand. I noticed that it was her scarred one, and I couldn’t help but think that was deliberate on her end.

“I-I swear...to celebrate the culture festival with you all.” She said, softly but firmly. “I swear I won’t r-run away, and that we’ll be friends e-even after Yamaku. N-not for anyone’s reasons but mine.”

It felt silly, the four of us swearing together like some sort of knightly brotherhood. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel happy, both for myself and the other three. The bond we created one that would last, no matter how much time might pass.

We left Hanako’s room not long after that, with Emi taking Rin back to her room. As I walked out of the girls’ dorm and back to my own room, I couldn’t help but look up at the night sky. It was a starry night, and the little stars out in the distance seemed to shine brighter than usual, as if in approval of our promise.

With a calm smile and a sense of security that I’d rarely felt in recent times, I couldn’t help but think that everything was going to be alright.

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Lap
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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/1/2020)

Post by Lap » Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:58 am

Thank you! A LR update is just what I needed to make me smile today. A little sappy and sentimental, which is right up my alley.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

Hanako Fancopter
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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/1/2020)

Post by Hanako Fancopter » Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:37 pm

This kind of blindsided me with how wholesome it is. If Feurox is the sad guy I think you're maybe the feels guy lol
An Unusual Friendship (Misha x Hanako Route)
Riposte (Rika Mini-Route)
One-Shots Thread (Random Smut/Meme Stories)

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PsychicSpy
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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/1/2020)

Post by PsychicSpy » Tue Jan 28, 2020 3:32 pm

Aww. I really have enjoyed LR so far, and I like the inclusion of Hanako into the group. I'm also interested to see how the situation around Rin and Hisao's condition plays out.

I'm glad I got to proofread this, so you've gotten most of my comments already, but I felt it would be good to comment on the post as well.
NO KATAWA BAD
My collection of oneshots
Avenues of Communication: One of the best Shizune/Hisao fics I've read, written by Lap
S10 entry (Misha oneshot)

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