Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/9/2020)

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MoashLannister
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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: 22
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.

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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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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

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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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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.
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Avenues of Communication: One of the best Shizune/Hisao fics I've read, written by Lap
S10 entry (Misha oneshot)

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

Post by MoashLannister » Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:51 am

(Credit to Lap and Lancer for proofreading)

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Chapter 8: Celebration

Even though it was morning, the hallways were crowded with students of all sorts. Some of them were setting up stalls and some were hanging out with their fellow classmates, enjoying the festive atmosphere that a holiday like Culture Day provided. It was a nice atmosphere to be around, and certainly one I’ve grown more receptive to since the last time a festival like this was held here.

Still, despite the multitude of stalls that were already technically open, despite the fact that a lot of their stuff hadn’t been set up yet, I didn’t give any of them much attention. Perhaps I’d circle around later and check them out, but for now, I had someone to meet.

Reaching the entrance to the art club, I opened the door and was greeted by several of its members. I should feel more familiar with them, given that I was a member of the club once, but all I can do is give them courteous nod in response.

The clubroom had been restructured a bit for the festival, like all the others. It had many paintings hanging on the wall for sale, with most of the tables and chairs being hidden away, though some were arranged to serve as counters. Several members were manning them as cashiers, but most seemed satisfied with wandering around and looking at the paintings their classmates had made. Rin was standing in the far corner, staring at her paintings.

As I walked towards her, I couldn’t help but recall how the past few days had unfolded. I would often meet her in her room after class, watching over her as she painted. However, this time she didn’t paint entirely for her own sake, but to make pieces to sell for the festival. On a rare occasion, I left her room in the early morning as she painted through the night, bringing back breakfast for the both of us.

One time I’d even accompanied her to the art club, where she insisted on going. We simply went to an empty corner of the clubroom and did our best to be unnoticed by the others there, especially Nomiya, as she worked on her piece that day.

Maybe I should count my blessings that nothing bad happened during that period of time. No mental breakdowns, no tears, just an ironclad determination to paint and clear her doubts about things, with me silently giving her my support. In the end, she managed to produce seven paintings, each in her own chaotic style. She never complained, so I could only assume that she was satisfied with them.

Pieces of herself, ready to be sold to complete strangers. I can’t help but be reminded of that fact, no matter how much I’d rather ignore it. The experience at the gallery tainted my perception of things.

“Hisao,” Rin said as she noticed me, turning around and immediately pressing her head against my chest. “You’re here. I wanted to say that, but you weren’t here until now and I didn’t want to lie.”

“Sorry I took so long,” I respond as I gently wrapped an arm around her, uncaring of what anyone else in the room thinks. “How are you feeling?”

“Mm...good, and not good,” she answered, before pulling away from me, looking straight into my eyes. “...It’s hard to put into words, but now that you’re here I think the good is more than the not good. Like putting extra stones into a scale to tip it over.”

“Glad to know I can help,” I said, brushing her hair with my hand. “How long do you have to be here?”

“I don’t know,” Rin answered, shaking her head. “Hisao, you’re thinking something that you want to say, but you’re afraid to say it. Your face is telling me that, even though your face isn’t talking to me. Tell me what you think, please.”

“Rin, I…” Before I can say anything, the door slams open to reveal Nomiya. His presence immediately makes me forget whatever I was about to say as he walks in.

“Members of the art club!” He says in a grandiose voice, before turning to me and giving me a dismissive sneer. “...and others. Today is going to be a grand day for all of you, as you’ll be displaying your works of art for everyone to see, and those pieces that are truly eye catching might even find a home with a new owner.”

I turned to Rin and saw her tremble a bit, though whether it’s Nomiya’s presence or the idea of her paintings being owned by someone else, I couldn’t say.

“Now go ahead and make whatever preparations are necessary, viewers will be coming in a short while, and I will not tolerate any shortcomings,” Nomiya commands, every word sounding arrogant and pretentious. I realize that I might be biased due to certain events, but I wondered how I ever found him tolerable when I was a member here.

And of course, the first thing he did after making that proclamation was to walk towards us. While he tried to look professional, I can sense that he’s hiding some amount of contempt for Rin, and perhaps for me.

“Tezuka!” he barked, not loud enough to seem outwardly angry, but certainly loud enough to indicate how he felt. “I see you’ve made some paintings to be sold.”

“Yes,” Rin replied in a completely blank tone, showing no signs that she was intimidated or ashamed. “I made seven paintings, though I don’t know why. I don’t like the number seven, but I don’t dis-”

“Will you run away again?” he asks bluntly and without tact, and I grit my teeth at the question. “Like at the gallery? Will you run simply because someone asked you a few questions and showed interest in your work? If so, I won’t have your paintings sold.”

Rin visibly hesitated, before taking a deep breath and answering. “No, I won’t run away. I’ll sell my paintings, and people can ask questions about them. That’s what I want to do now, not before or later, but now.”

“We’ll see about that,” he huffed, before turning to me. “And you. Will you keep her here, unlike the last time? Or will you let her wander on her own again?”

I wanted to say all sorts of things in response to that statement, none of them pleasant. However, I also didn’t want to make a scene, especially with Rin here. The last thing I wanted was for either me or Nomiya to blow up in front of her again.

“I’ll help in whatever Rin wants to do,” I answered diplomatically. He obviously wasn’t satisfied with my response, but nevertheless he left us alone to check on the other members of the club.

“Mm, you wanted to say something else to him,” Rin noted, thankfully after he was out of earshot.

“Yeah, it was going to be something bad,” I answered honestly, turning to face her. She didn’t look all that shaken by the encounter, though whether that’s because I’m not reading her well enough or she’s truly not that affected, I couldn’t say.

“Mm, I wanted to say something bad, too,” Rin nodded in agreement. “But I knew it wasn’t going to end well, like walking into a pit full of snakes. So I walked around the pit because I knew it was there, even though it’s supposed to be hidden.”

“Glad we’re on the same page,” I noted humorously. “So, you still want me to say what I thought?”

Rin nodded again, her eyes curious as she stared at me. Seeing that expression, I couldn’t resist telling her the truth.

“I guess I’m just a little worried,” I answered, pulling out a chair and sitting on it. “This is the first time you’re showing your paintings to other people since the gallery, let alone selling one.”

“Mm, yes. But it needs to be, like breathing,” she said firmly, as she leaned on the table beside me, her eyes scanning the room, probably seeing something in it that I couldn’t comprehend. “I’m a little bit afraid, and I used to be even more afraid. But now that you’re here I’m only a little afraid, so you’ll need to be here otherwise I’ll be even more afraid again, Hisao.”

I completely understood those words. She wanted me to support her through this, and so I will. “Yeah, I’ll be here,” I answered. “You won’t be alone.”

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It didn’t take long for students and what I assume were parents to come into the room, perusing the many paintings, sculpture, ceramics and miscellaneous art projects within. Some of the art club members actively talked to the would-be customers, convincing them to buy their pieces, though with some of them their tone indicated that it was more for profit than any actual pride in their craft.

Meanwhile, Rin and I simply stayed in her little corner, not particularly interested in trying to convince customers to look at her wares. If they wanted to look, they’d do it on their own regard.

Of course, after a while without so much as someone looking our way, I started to wonder if that was going to be true.

“It’s different from the gallery,” Rin noted curiously, eyeing each and every person as they walked around the room. “No one is asking me things yet, or looking at my artwork.”

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Rin said as she inched closer to me. “They aren’t asking me difficult questions, but they also aren’t seeing me. Well, they probably are seeing me, but not like an artist. They’re not even seeing me like I’m Rin. I’m just...air.”

“Do you want to change that?” I asked again, admittedly feeling bored despite the energy coursing through the room. “I can help you get some customers, if that’s what you really want.”

“Mm, no. I think I want to do that,” Rin answered as she stopped leaning on the table. “But I need you to help me. Just...be there, and make sure I don’t become too afraid, like a criminal knowing what he did was very wrong, except I’m not doing anything wrong but it’s still making me afraid.”

“Yeah, I can do that,” I said firmly, and we finally exited our little corner of the art room to mingle with the people here. Rin didn’t seem to have a plan in regards to finding customers, she simply went up to a random student and stopped right in front of her, saying nothing.

“Um, hello?” the student asked, but Rin didn’t respond and things were immediately awkward. I almost wanted to open my mouth to fix the situation, but I held back. Rin wanted to do this on her own, so I couldn’t interfere.

Finally, Rin decided to speak. “Hello,” she said in a tone that I think was supposed to be formal or professional, but came across as neither. “I have some paintings. Would you like to see them?”

“Um, sure…” the student said hesitantly, and Rin immediately turned around and walked back to her corner, causing the student to eye me suspiciously. “Um...is she alright?”

“Yes, she’s just nervous.” I answered, trying to ease her qualms. “It’s the first time she’s trying to sell her paintings, so she’s a little anxious about things.”

Well, that statement might technically be a lie, but it’s true from a certain point of view. This is the first time she’s trying to sell her paintings of her own volition, free from the influence of anyone else.

The student walked towards Rin’s paintings as I followed her there, inspecting them one by one with a curious eye. “They all look really...weird,” she commented, turning her head to see them from a different angle, probably trying to make sense of what she’s seeing. “I don’t know what any of these are, really.”

“They’re paintings,” Rin answered nonchalantly, which seemed to annoy her.

“Obviously,” the student muttered sarcastically, before pointing at one of the paintings, a canvas filled with hues of red and green in a seemingly disordered and erratic pattern, forming lines of yellow where they met. “I like that one. Red and green are my favorite colors.”

“Oh…” Rin sounded mildly confused at the statement. “I don’t like red or green. I don’t dislike them either. They’re like friends but not very close friends.”

“I...see…” The student seemed even more confused, but nevertheless kept staring at that specific painting. “Well, it’s definitely special. I’ll buy it; why not?”

Rin simply nodded and turned to me. “Can you give her the painting, Hisao? I can, but I don’t want to bite my paintings to grab them. They taste weird.”

“Sure,” I answered, and took the painting off the wall, handing it to the student. “Here you go.”

She inspected it a little bit more before walking off to the cashier. Turning to Rin, she didn’t seem all that troubled by the fact that she’d sold her painting. “You alright?”

“Mm, yes. But I didn’t know I’d be alright,” Rin noted, sounding confused. “Why am I alright?”

“Maybe because she didn’t ask any questions about the painting?” I offered the best explanation I could, even if I’m just as surprised as she is. “She bought it for what it is, not for what she thinks it is...I think.”

“Mm, I’m not sure if I believe you, Hisao,” Rin said, shaking her head. “But I want to believe you, so I’ll believe you until I can’t believe you.”

“Um, hello?” A voice broke us out of our conversation, and we turned to see that it was an older and taller man addressing us, presumably a parent. “Are these your paintings for sale?”

“Yes,” Rin answered, looking up to him. “But if you buy them, they’ll be your paintings, but they’ll also be my paintings. So they’ll be yours and mine.”

Unlike the last potential customer, he seemed more amused than aggravated by Rin’s tangents, and simply nodded in response. “I suppose that’s so. Let me take a look and see if there’s anything I’d like to purchase, hm?”

The man inspected the paintings with care, taking his time to scan each and every one, occasionally humming whenever he saw something that he was apparently interested in. In the end, he turned to Rin and smiled rather widely, showing his teeth.

“I must say, the paintings are as unique as your personality, young miss. Particularly this one.” He pointed to perhaps the most Rin-like painting of the bunch, if that’s even possible. A wild mess of color, shape and lines, seeming to twist and turn without a concrete pattern. The very definition of chaos squeezed into a canvas.

“That one is quite expressive,” the man said in admiration, his eyes still on the piece. “What were you trying to say with this one?”

“I wasn’t trying to say anything. I was painting,” Rin commented, with a hint of annoyance.

“Ah, well I suppose that’s the case,” the man said, either humoring her or ignoring her comment entirely, I couldn’t say. “Still, it feels like a piece that shakes me to my very core. I’m a bit of an art collector you see, not a particularly professional one but…”

The man went on and on about his passion and why he collected art, not a speech that I found all that interesting, so I tuned out and waited for him to actually make a point. Rin seemed to do the same, closing her eyes as he talked.

“Regardless, I find this piece extravagant. Absolutely eye-catching.” He finally stopped, if only to catch his breath.

“Well, you can buy it. It’s why it’s here, apart from being a painting,” Rin answered, sounding just as tired of him as I was. “It’s also here for other reasons, but it’s mainly here to be bought.”

“Ah, right.” The man finally seemed to get the hint and picked up the piece by himself, looking rather enamoured as he inspected it further. “They say a piece speaks of the artist making it at the time. Tell me, what were you feeling when you made this?”

“That was me from a few days ago,” Rin said simply. “You’re going to have to ask her, since I’m the me now and I can’t go back to me a few days ago.”

“Hmm, as eccentric an artist as I’ve ever known,” the man muttered, more to himself than to her, and walked away.

“Mm, he was a little annoying, not a lot annoying,” Rin said with a sigh. “Talking to him was like talking to the wind, it blows and blows no matter what you say to it. Except that one responded to my words a little more, I think.”

“I doubt it,” I commented dryly, waiting to see if anyone else was going to look at her paintings. When they didn’t, I finally asked, “You still alright?”

“Less alright than before,” Rin answered, shaking her head lightly. “But still alright, even though I don’t know why. He asked questions about the painting, so why am I still alright, even if I’m less alright?”

“I don’t know either,” I said, not knowing what this meant for her. “Rin, have you found your answer yet?”

“Mm...not yet.” Rin shook her head as she said that, her voice soft and resolute. “I’m some of the way there, but not all the way. Like stopping near a shop I know on the way home, but I’m not home yet.”

“I see…” I said as I turned around and looked at the set of paintings remaining. “You know, I’ve never owned one of your paintings. Maybe I should buy one for myself.”

“No,” Rin interjected immediately, her voice a little louder than usual. “You shouldn’t, Hisao. These paintings are for everyone else, but not you. I want my painting for you to be only for you, something that only you and I can see.”

“I see…” I can’t help but feel a little flattered at the thought of Rin painting a piece just for me. It reaffirmed that I’m special in her eyes. “I’ll look forward to it then, Rin. Maybe one day I’ll paint something for you too.”

“Mm, you can paint?” Rin asked, her eyebrow raised just slightly. “Are you secretly a painter and you’ve never told me?”

“I can learn,” I said defensively, chuckling lightly. “It beats trying to give you something that involves physics. I can’t even imagine what that kind of gift could even be.”

“Mm, I don’t know. I think I might like a physics gift better,” Rin said, smiling for the first time today. “It’s more...Hisao. I think I want a Hisao gift more than any other gift, especially from you, Hisao.”

“I’ll think about it,” I replied, a smile forming on my face as well. “And for the record, I’d probably want a Rin gift more than anything else.”

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Another two hours or so passed by, and a few more people showed interest in Rin’s paintings. They asked a few questions, which Rin answered to the best of her ability. In the end, all but one of her paintings were sold. As for the money she was supposedly earning, Rin said that they’d hand it out the next school day.

“I’m tired,” Rin mentioned, sounding rather exhausted from the ordeal. She didn’t speak much to her customers, merely saying that those paintings were for sale without elaborating on what they were, perhaps a way to cope with selling her paintings. “...But I think I have an answer for now. And maybe later.”

“To whether or not you want to be an artist?” I asked as the crowd in the room thinned further, probably moving on to other stalls or to have lunch.

“Yes, I think,” Rin answered. “But I’ll give you my answer later, not now. Like giving a gift later because the time is right, even though time can’t be wrong.”

“I’ll wait until the time is right then,” I said, and as the door opened to reveal two people walking in, I added. “Speaking of the right time, you’re late, Emi.”

“Oh shut it, you,” Emi responded, dragging Hanako along by the arm as she made her way towards us, looking sweaty in her track uniform. “I came here as fast as I could. The shift turned out to be busier than I expected, and I expected a lot.”

“Mm, selling drinks must be harder than I thought,” Rin said without a hint of sarcasm. “Unless you had to run and sell it at the same time, then it’d probably be harder. Like driving and putting on your clothes.”

“Wait, that’s all you did? Sell drinks?” I asked, perplexed. “Then why are you so sweaty?”

“Ok, maybe I got invited to do an exhibition run or two. Happy?” Emi retorted defensively. “I don’t see you doing anything useful for the festival, so you don’t have a right to nag me about being late for anything.”

“I was helping Rin sell her paintings,” I said, matching her defensive tone with my own.

“You were,” Rin agreed, nodding her head. “But not by a lot. You’re like a tiny gear in a clock, important but not in a big way, but not in a small way either.”

“Oh, whatever. You want to get out of here or not?” Emi said, arms crossed. “I even brought Hanako here, what else do you want from me?”

“Hello, Hanako,” Rin said, turning her head to Hanako. “I felt like I should have said that earlier, but didn’t think about it then. So I’m saying it now.”

“H-Hello, Rin,” Hanako replied, looking around the art room. “T-There aren’t a lot of paintings here . Have you sold a-all of yours?”

“I’ve sold everything but one, which means I haven’t sold everything.” Rin tilted her head towards the remaining painting, a very vibrant painting as far as Rin pieces are concerned, the multitude of colors blending together to form some sort of weird rainbow gradient. “I don’t think I’m allowed to leave unless all of my paintings are gone...I think.”

“O-Oh. Actually...I really like that painting,” Hanako said, a slight smile on her face. “I-It’s really colorful, so I think I’ll b-buy it. How much does it cost?”

Rin thought for a moment before answering. “Zero. It costs zero, which means it doesn’t cost anything, even though it has the words ‘it costs’.”

“Oh, so you’re giving a painting to her, huh?” Emi commented, pouting slightly. “I take care of you all this time and you’ve never given me a painting. Is that how it is?”

“Yes, that is how it is,” Rin answered I can’t help but laugh at how much she unintentionally offended Emi. Unfortunately, that earned me a rather heated glare from her, but it wasn’t enough for me to contain my amusement.

Hanako, on the other hand, looked rather surprised. “I-I can’t possibly take this for free.”

“Why not?” Rin questioned, looking curiously at Hanako while Emi continued to stare daggers at me. “Is there a cost to being given a painting for free that I don’t know about?”

“No, it’s just...” Hanako stared at Rin, then at the painting, the back to Rin again. “Why are you giving it to me for free?”

“To get out of here,” Rin stated, closing her eyes and giving the question a little more thought. “That’s not entirely it, but that’s a part of it. But I’m also giving this to you for free, not anyone else. That means you’re not anyone else. You’re Hanako, and that’s why I’m giving it to you.”

Without prompting, I took the painting off the wall and handed it over to Hanako. After a bit of hesitation, she accepted it and inspected it up close. “R-Rin, are you sure?”

“This is a piece of me, and I want you to have that piece.” Rin opened her eyes as she uttered those words, and said nothing more. A statement I found a little surprising, but nonetheless very genuine.

Hanako clutched the painting, which was small enough that she could easily wrap her arms around it. Her hands were shaking slightly as she nodded back at Rin, a grateful smile on her face. “T-Thank you, Rin. I’ll be sure to treasure it.”

“Can we go now?” Emi interrupted, bouncing up and down impatiently. “I know you two are having a moment and all, but I haven’t done anything besides manning the stall. I wanna have some fun.”

“Yes,” Rin said in agreement. “I also want to get out. Like how a bird wants to get out of her nest, except I can’t fly out of this school.”

And with that, we left, with barely anyone from the club recognizing that Rin was leaving. Not even Nomiya, who last I saw was schmoozing up someone whose identity I didn’t care enough to guess at.

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“Ooh, a takoyaki stall! And a cafe stall! Oh, and there’s even some yakiniku!” Emi exclaimed with excitement. “Finally, something we can eat!”

She wasn’t the only one looking forward to eating. It was a little past noon, and I hadn’t eaten a thing, so I was just as hungry. We spent the intervening period of time walking around the school building, browsing stall after stall and generally having fun hanging out with each other. It was a good time, even if the activities themselves were rather mundane as far as festivals went.

But as time went on our hunger urged us toward the cafeteria to find something to satiate it.

“Alright, first things first, we need a seat,” Emi remarked, looking around the cafeteria. Like the rest of the school building, it was rearranged to accommodate the festival. The place was manned by students today selling a variety of foods from their stalls, most of them probably greasy in nature. Unfortunately, the festival made it even more crowded than usual, with most of the tables being occupied by adults and other students.

“Found one! Now to make sure no one gets it!” Immediately after saying that, Emi sprinted away, leaving us behind.

Turning to Rin and Hanako, I shrugged and said, “I guess we should follow her.”

Both of them nodded in response, so we started making our way through the multitude of people present, taking our time as we slowly followed her lead. As hungry as I was, it wasn’t enough to get me to go full speed just to find someplace to sit.

As we walked, I turned to Hanako, who was looking around the cafeteria with discomfort. “Are you enjoying the festival so far, Hanako?” I asked, trying to ease her mind a little.

She nodded slowly in response, still carrying the painting close to her chest. “Y-yes, I-I’m glad you all invited me to enjoy it together. I-I really am.”

We finally made our way to Emi, who was leaning on a table, looking rather annoyed at us for taking our time. Of course, another reason she could be annoyed was the fact that a certain one-handed acquaintance of hers was also sitting on the table.

“Heya, Hisao, Rin,” Miki said with a smile, waving at us. Unlike Emi, she was wearing her school uniform instead of her track clothes. “I just happened to bump into Emi here again, and she invited me to hang out with you all.”

“Did not,” Emi protested, refusing to even look at Miki. “She took the table before I could snatch it, said she’d only share it if I spent time with her today.”

“Hey, the more the merrier, right?” Miki declared with an amused chuckle. “Come on, I’m not that much of a pain to be around. Right, Hisao?”

Emi immediately fixed her eyes onto me, giving me a threatening gaze. Despite that, I wasn’t about to brush off Miki for her sake. She had lent a willing ear when I was down, so if she wanted to hang out, who was I to say no?

“I’d like you hang out with you, if that’s what you want,” I said, which made Emi move her arms animatedly, as if she was trying to punch me from a distance. “Is that alright with you two?”

“I’m alright with Miki hanging out with us,” Rin said as she sat down on the table, head immediately resting on top it. “I like Miki. She’s like those people that show up late at parties, but people don’t mind because they want her to be around no matter how late she is.”

“I can’t believe this,” Emi grumbled, and immediately started bouncing up and down in frustration. “Hanako, mind grabbing some food with me? I need to let out some energy.”

“O-Oh, alright,” Hanako said, setting the painting down on the table and immediately going to Emi’s side, noticeably shying away from Miki. “Is there anything y-you guys would like to eat?”

“Mm, food,” Rin responded, looking as if she was going to take a nap on the table. “I think I’m in a meaty mood, so meat. No human or insect meat, I don’t eat those.”

“Anything’s fine with me,” I said nonchalantly. “I’m hungry enough that anything edible would be acceptable, really.”

“Ditto for me, I’m hungry for just about anything. But...” Miki answered in a flirtatious tone, giving Hanako a wink. “Give me something I really like and I might give you a niceeee little tip.”

That comment made Hanako shy even farther away from Miki before leaving without warning, hopefully to get our food. Emi gave Miki an annoyed glare before tailing her, leaving the one-handed girl to look on in confusion.

“Wow, that line never went that badly before,” Miki commented, blinking in surprise. “Maybe I’m saying it wrong.”

“Errrr, that isn’t the problem,” I said, trying not to grimace. “Hanako isn’t the type you just...say that kind of thing to...at least, not immediately.”

“Well, I just saw her being so comfortable around you all. Guess I got carried away.” Miki shrugged before leaning back on her chair, looking at me with a smirk on her face. “Soooo...how are you two?”

“Tired,” Rin muttered softly, almost sounding like she was dreaming.

“I’m alright,” I commented in a neutral voice, causing her to raise an eyebrow in suspicion. It had been so long since Miki and I talked on that fateful day, where I told her about Rin’s problem with handling my condition.

Though truth be told, I’ve almost forgotten about it, given that I’ve almost never brought it up to Rin since then. The only other time was on the rooftop where she agreed to come with me to my hometown, and even then she acted as if I’ve never told her.

It seemed like a lot of things have just been relegated to the back of my mind, the happy atmosphere of the past few weeks blocking out my memories of them.

“We’re alright, really,” I added, emphasizing the ‘we’re.’ “Nothing bad has happened, and hopefully it’ll stay that way.”

“That’s nice, can’t say things are gonna stay calm on my end,” Miki noted with annoyance, though she kept her carefree smile. “Really, all I’m doing is enjoying my final few days here before all hell breaks loose.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling nothing but sympathy for her situation back home. “I hope things turn out alright.”

“Same to you,” Miki said, sounding grateful. “Honestly, I enjoy hanging out with you and Rin. Emi too, but she’ll throw a fit if I say that in front of her.”

“As opposed to every other reason she has to throw a fit at you?” I retorted in a joking manner, causing her to chuckle. “Honestly, I don’t know why she resents you so much.”

“I can think of a few things, but that’s between us girls.” Miki winked at me before glancing over at Rin. “Isn’t that right, Rin?”

“What’s between girls?” Rin murmured tiredly, making me seriously wonder if she was going to sleep right then and there. “I know what’s between girls, but I’m not allowed to talk about that in front of boys, I think. Even though Hisao’s seen it before...”

My cheeks immediately heated up at that statement, even more so when Miki laughed loud enough to draw the attention of nearby people. I put my head down on the table too, causing Rin to turn around to face me.

“Do you want to sleep with your head on the table too, even though you know you shouldn’t?” Rin asked, completely unaware of my embarrassment.

“No, Rin. No, I’m not,” is all I could say. Despite what she started, I couldn’t really be mad at her for something like that, merely embarrassed.

“Oh,” Rin said, before closing her eyes again. “If my head is stuck to the table any longer, I might sleep. This table is like a pillow, except harder but still soft enough to make me sleep.”

“Oh, man. You two are perfect for each other,” Miki pronounced, thankfully keeping her laughter down to a reasonable volume.

“What the hell is going on?” I heard Emi’s voice, which meant she was back. “Why are you laughing? Why were people staring at you three? And why is your head on the table, Hisao?”

“Just girl things. You would know, Emi,” Miki answered as Rin and I lifted our heads. The answer was vague, yet rife with the innuendo, most of which was of the scandalous variety. And just like that, I could understand a little of Emi’s dislike for her.

Emi and Hanako sat back down on the table, setting down tons of food, ranging from meat skewers to pastries to rice balls. There’s even some french fries, something I hadn’t had in quite a long while. As decent as cafeteria food is, the variety of food on display handily beat it out by a wide margin.

Miki started to reach for a skewer before Emi batted her hand away. “Only paying people get to eat.”

“Alright, alright,” Miki said, reaching in her pocket and pulling out some money, scattering it on the table. “That’s all I have on me.”

Emi eagerly took the cash from her and turned to me, flashing me a demanding smile. “You too, Hisao.”

“Ahem, who kept paying for all those trips to the Shanghai?” I reasoned, putting my foot down. “Shouldn’t I be exempt?”

“You’re right...but Rin isn’t. And I know she usually doesn’t carry any cash on her.” Emi glanced over at Rin. “Do you have any money on you, Rin?”

“No,” Rin answered bluntly, looking intently at the food. “Money is troublesome, but useful. Like a hammer, or a stapler. Except hammering with my feet is easier than giving someone money.”

“...Fine,” I said, pulling out my wallet getting some cash, which I made a point of handing to Hanako instead of Emi, much to her chagrin.

After all that was done, we started to eat everything that’s on the table. Our hunger meant that there wasn’t much conversation as we were too busy gorging on the different foods, doubly so for me considering I had the rather pleasant task of holding food in front of Rin for her to eat, which I’ve been doing more and more often whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Seeing her face as she ate food from my hand was an endearing sight, as was the simple act of handing my girlfriend food, surrounded by my friends. A mundane form of happiness, but happiness nonetheless.

“So, whatcha doing later?” Miki asked with a skewer sticking out of her mouth. “Staying up till the fireworks show?”

“What’s it to you?” Emi grumbled, also in the middle of eating a skewer, the similarity between them going unnoticed. “Don’t you have anything to do this festival?”

“No, not really,” Miki responded with a giggle, aggravating Emi further. “I was thinking of tagging along with you guys. Play some games, see some stalls, buy some crap, then end the night with a bang...the literal kind, not the metaphorical one.”

“Well, I guess you could…” Emi rolled her eyes as she muttered that. “But no teasing, especially the kind that flies over my head.”

“I’ll promise to keep it down to a minimum,” Miki pledged in a tone that was either sincere or sincerely mocking, I couldn’t really tell. “So, fireworks show?”

“Yeah, we’ll gonna see it. Why not, right?” Emi mentioned, then smiled deviously. “Actually, me and Hanako talked a bit about it while we were getting the food, and…”

She leaned over to whisper the rest to Miki. Turning to Hanako, I could see that she’s blushing ever so slightly, most likely from knowing what the secret is. What were they talking about, and why the need to hide it?

“Well, I’m sure Hisao will love that idea,” Miki said, flashing me that same devious grin that Emi had. “One hitch though, I went to town yesterday and saw a sign saying that the Shanghai was going to be closed for a few days due to...something or whatever, I don’t really remember. Gonna need a new place to watch the fireworks.”

“Damn!” Emi said, before taking a rice ball to eat. “Well, I can’t think of anywhere else right now. Rin, can you?”

“I can think,” Rin answered as she chewed on a skewer. “I can also think while eating.”

As Miki let out another giggle at that remark, Emi groaned and tried again. “Can you think of anywhere nice to be? To watch the fireworks at night?”

“Mm, one place,” Rin responded immediately. “Someplace Hisao and I went to a couple of times, near the forest. It felt nice, like a bird flying up in the sky.”

I immediately knew the location she was referring to, the field of dandelions on top of a hill. It’s been quite a while since we’d been to that place, and going there again seemed like an idea that should have crossed my mind before. A place where something important happened between us, an admission of our feelings towards each other.

“Sounds romantic,” Miki teased. “So, is that place as good as she makes it out to be, Hisao?”

“Yeah, but it’s a little out of the way, though. Cold too, since it’s late Autumn,” I answered as I reminisced about that time, and the sight of Rin, dandelions floating around her. “But the air is nice and the view’s pretty good, so I’d say it’s worth the trip.”

“Any other ideas?” Emi asked, looking around the table for signs of objection, which she got from no one. “Guess it’s settled then. Now let’s hurry up and finish our lunch already, I wanna go back and see that plushie stall they had on the second floor.”

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“Hah! That’s another win for me.” Miki crowed, jumping up as Emi threw the last ball in frustration, not even attempting to hit the center of the target anymore. “Glad to beat you at something for once, Emi.”

“This game is rigged!” Emi accused as the stall worker handed Miki her prize, a small little keychain in the shape of a dog. “I lined everything up and the target moved the moment I threw it. It had to”

“Emi, that’s...a poor excuse even for you,” I mentioned wryly, and I noticed Hanako giggling slightly, probably because Emi couldn’t see her. “She won fair and square. It’s not like she paid the stall in advance.”

“I mean, I expected to lose a game or two, but not EVERY game,” Emi protested, turning to Miki, who gave her a nonchalant shrug.

“I’m just lucky today,” Miki said innocently, which only made Emi look even more frustrated. “Try not to pull out your hair over a couple of dinky little prizes.”

“Inviting you was a mistake. A horrible, horrible mistake...” Emi groaned out as the five of us exited the room, continuing our exploration of what the festival had to offer. Her frustrations aside, we were having a fun time playing games and looking at things to potentially purchase.

Of course, Emi’s competitive streak immediately showed herself, only to be utterly quashed when Miki won game after game. I was torn between feeling pity or amusement at her looking so dejected, with a slight preference towards the latter.

Even Hanako was looking far more open than usual, focusing her gaze not on her surroundings and the potential strangers that might stare at her. Instead, she concentrated on Emi and Miki’s playful competition, and on Rin’s calm nature and occasional tangent on mundane things. She was focusing on us and having fun, something I hoped would last throughout the day.

“Alright, next stall. Next stall…” Emi said, looking around the hallway and acting as our de-facto leader, mostly due to a lack of competition. She pointed at a faraway door, with a sign hanging over it that said “Photos.” “That one!”

“Oh, a photo booth,” Miki noted with enthusiasm. “Always love having my beautiful body photographed. Maybe I should be the first one-handed model in Japan.”

“U-um...I don’t really like…” Hanako started to protest, hiding her face a little with Rin’s painting. “...I hate having my photo taken.”

“Because of your face?” Rin asked, again in a blunter way than any sensible person would. Hanako looked at her and nodded once, still keeping her face obscured. “I don’t like having my photo taken, but I don’t dislike it either. It’s...like sitting around doing nothing while someone paints your face, except they’re using a camera instead of a brush.”

“But your face doesn’t need to be painted like half of it is melting off,” Hanako whispered bitterly, so softly that I think only Rin and I heard her. I turned to look at her, and she gave me a look that suggested that I should not think about that comment any further.

The five of us entered the room, which was a club room of some sort. As expected, there was a tripod holding a digital camera in the center of it, facing a white wall. Two students immediately greeted us and asked if we’d like to have photos, and whether we wanted individual ones or a group shot.

“Oh, group shot!” Emi shouted, without even consulting the rest of us. “We want five copies of it, one for each of us.”

“Sure, would you like it to be framed?” the student in charge asked, adjusting his glasses a little. “It’ll cost extra, but not much.”

“Well, since Hisao’s paying for all of it, it really doesn’t matter to me.” Emi turned to me and immediately looked at me with a pleading stare, her face resembling that of a puppy. “Please, Hisao? A frame would look so nice to commemorate our friendship, the wonderful times we’ve spent together.”

“Like me paying for your sweet tooth?” I asked sarcastically, even as I was pulling out my wallet again. Emi merely maintained her look of carefully fabricated emotion, though she really had no need to.

“Fine…” I sighed, not even trying to argue with her. A framed photo of the five of us would be something nice to have, a reminder of days that will be over in a few months time. Not all of those days spent together were nice and peaceful, but all of them were valuable in helping me recover from the sulky pessimist I was back at the hospital. They were more than worth preserving.

As I paid the students, Emi dragged Rin over to the wall, with Miki joining them shortly after. Only Hanako stayed where she was, holding the painting up to her face so that only her eyes were visible. She looked at me with an uncertain gaze, and all I could do was look back.

“Come on, Hisao. Hanako,” Emi demanded, waving at us. “Don’t keep us waiting.”

“I know you don’t like having your photo taken,” I said quietly. “Honestly, if it was my first day here, I wouldn’t either. So you don’t have to join us if you don’t want to.”

She narrowed her eyes as me with suspicion, as if she knew I wasn’t just going to end the conversation there. And I wasn’t.

“But I don’t think any of us would want to leave you out of this picture.” I continued as I walked to the wall, joining the others and leaving her on her own. “We all want to remember you, Hanako. Even after our days in Yamaku are long gone, I think we’ll still remember the time we spent here, together with you.”

We stand there, all of us looking at Hanako, waiting for her response. Her hands were shaking a little, and she looked at me with both surprise and hesitation. Finally, she nodded once and placed the painting down on the floor, leaning it against a wall.

Slowly but surely, she stepped closer and looked not just at me, but all of us who took time out of our day to spend it with her, for no reason other than a desire to have fun. She gave all of us a bright smile, her eyes threatening to tear up.

“T-Thank you…” she whispered, softly enough so that only we could hear it. “I u-used to think a lot of things about you all...and some of them were r-really bad, really h-horrible things. I still d-do, sometimes, when you aren’t around me. B-but y-you’ve all been so patient, and nice…so I feel bad afterwards...”

“Aw, don’t worry about it,” Emi said exuberantly, giggling a little. “I couldn’t go a day without thinking something horrible about Hisao.”

“Gee, thanks,” I commented dryly, but nevertheless gave Hanako a comforting smile. “It’s ok if you think that, Hanako. We may not understand a lot about each other, even now. But all that matters is that we care about you, and that you care about us in return. We want you to be a part of our lives both now and in the future, like you said back then. Isn’t that what you want?”

“...Yes, that’s what I want,” Hanako answered with resolve, and quickly walked over to the wall, positioning herself dead centre in the camera’s view, right in front. “I-It is okay if I still cover my face a little?”

“They can take my picture even if I have no hands,” Rin said, smiling just a little. It seemed she was aware of the happy atmosphere. “They can take Emi’s picture even if she had no legs. So they can take your picture even if you’re covering your face a little.”

Hanako giggled in response and covered a bit of her face with her hand before turning around to face the right way, and while I couldn’t see her face anymore, I knew she was smiling. An expression that was becoming more and more common for her, and more natural as well.

“Alright, if we’re all done with the sappy stuff..,” Miki said impatiently, striking a pose while she’s leaning back on the wall. “Hit the button! We’re ready!”

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MoashLannister
Posts: 22
Joined: Sun May 12, 2019 11:19 pm

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

Post by MoashLannister » Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:55 am

“Hey, we’re here to collect our photographs,” Emi exclaimed as we re-entered the photo booth several hours later. The white wall was now mildly orange thanks to the evening light, but otherwise it seemed like everything was the same as when we left the room, having been promised that our photos would be printed and framed before nightfall.

Everything save for the two booth runners, who looked as if the life had been sucked out of them. I suppose that’s what happens when you run this sort of thing, where countless photos needed to be printed out before day’s end. They nodded absently before handing me a stack of framed photographs, all depicting the same thing.

Five people facing the camera, with faces ranging from excitement to joy to obliviousness, in Rin’s case. A haphazard picture perhaps, but one with a sense of rapport around it. Regardless of whatever else could be said about the picture, it definitely was five friends who were in the photograph.

“Looks good,” Miki commented as she glanced over my shoulder, looking at the photographs. “You’ve got a real cute face, Emi.”

“Of course.” Emi exclaimed incredulously, as if the idea of her face being anything else offended her. “...You don’t look so bad yourself, Miura.”

I handed three of the photographs to Emi, Hanako and Miki. The other two I’d carry for myself and Rin.

“Alright..,” I said, feeling just a bit tired from all the festival activities, which had consisted of more food, games, and the occasional two-on-two competition that Emi dragged me and Hanako into, Rin getting to sit out and relax. We’d been having such a fun time that before we knew it, evening had arrived. “Now that we’ve gotten the photographs, I think it’s time we relax a little before the fireworks.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Emi nodded in agreement as we exited the photobooth. “I finally beat Miki at a game, so I suppose we can take a break.”

“Well, we still need to do that little plan of yours…” Miki mentioned, chuckling as she continued to stare at her photo. “So, should we split from Hisao and get ready?”

“Still not telling me what that plan is?” I asked as we headed down the stairs and towards the school entrance.

“Nope!” Emi replied. “Just go back to your dorm, rest a bit, and meet us girls at the gate by seven.”

The crowd of people that were enjoying the festival had thinned, though there were still a lot of people here, mostly students. As I passed by one of the few adults remaining, I wondered for a moment if I should have asked my parents to come. Sure, they’d most likely have refused due to their busy schedules, but the fact that I didn’t even think to ask them made me feel guilty all the same.

We exited the school building and walked together for a bit, conversations as energized as ever thanks to Emi. After a while, the girls split off towards their dorm, with Emi once again reminding me to meet them at the school gates. Rin was the last to leave, giving me a longing gaze before following the others.

And so I was on my own, though thankfully not for very long. I headed to my own dorm to catch a shower and rest a little. Fun as this day had been, I was starting to feel very sweaty.

After a brief walk, I entered the dorm and went straight to my room hallway. My hand was on the door knob until I heard a “Psssst…” coming from behind me. Well, I suppose now’s as good of a time as any to deal with him.

“Hey, Kenji,” I said without any hint of friendliness, turning around to face him. He looked the same as always, though his scarf was now covering his mouth. He eyed me up and down like I was some sort of artistic statue, and finally jumped back in what I assume was shock.

“God, dude! You smell like a girl’s bedroom!” Kenji commented with utter horror, pinching his nose. “What were you doing out there? Don’t you know today’s the day feminists gas the place with their chemical pheromones? Just a whiff of that stuff and you’ll be their slave in hours.”

“I was...having fun,” I responded bluntly, not in the mood for indulging his delusions. “I’m just here to take a quick shower and get out. That’s all.

“Oh, to wash off the effects. Smart man, smart man.” Kenji nodded with approval, giving me a thumbs up. “We all know true manly sweat washes off even the most dangerous of the feminist chemicals. You’re starting to be a real pro at undercover ops, my comrade.”

“Yeah…” At this point, saying anything to the contrary would be pointless. “Listen, is there anything you want from me? If there is, just say it.”

“Just to congratulate you on surviving the hell out there,” Kenji said with respect, which I had no desire in reciprocating. “And...to update you on the success of my mission.”

“Mission?” I asked with a loud sigh, hoping that he’d take the hint.

“Yeah, man. My inside man got back to me,” Kenji proclaimed in a hushed tone, lowering his head as if he feared some sort of spy might be watching. Knowing him, that might be exactly what he was thinking. “We’ve established contact, and now she’s leaking juicy intel on the feminists for me, allowing me to plan my attacks, saving the last bastion of free men from the clutches of tyra-”

“I get it, I get it,” I interjected in a fit of annoyance. “That’s the girl you asked me to send your letter to?”

“Shhh...no one can know,” Kenji said, putting a finger on his covered mouth. “This secret is between you and me, bro. If the feminists find out one of their own is a mole, the whole operation will be screwed. More than screwed.”

“Is she your girlfriend?” I asked. Knowing his supposed distaste for women, it’s more likely that he’s attracted to her and is simply using the double agent thing as an excuse to talk to a female for once. Or not, it’s hard to tell with him.

“Wha-No, dude,” Kenji said, shaking his head vigorously. Despite his denial, I can see a hint of red on his cheeks. “I mean, as far as candidates to ensure the next generation of feminist fighters, she’s a prime specimen but I’d never… never…”

He stayed silent after that, and the mere fact that I actually got Kenji to shut up for once astounded me. I should bring up that question more often.

“Anyways, I’m just here to tell you that we’re making great strides towards a utopia of manliness, comrade.” Kenji sounded more nervous when he said that, his blush still present on his face. “Otherwise, that’s all for my report. I’ll be seeing you.”

“Yeah…” I replied, grateful that the conversation was over. Turning to the door, I opened it and stopped as I heard his voice again.

“And dude?” he called quietly, and I could have sworn he sounded more serious than usual. “Thanks for all your help. I mean it.”

I answered by entering my room and slamming the door shut, thankful that it was finally over and I could get to more important things. Putting the framed pictures down on my desk, I stared at it for a little longer than I intended. It seemed to have that effect on me, no doubt because it was one of the few pictures I owned.

I had some at home, childhood photos with my parents and some classroom pictures, where I stood beside old friends and people who were strangers to me now. In a way, even the person I was back then was now also a stranger, unfamiliar despite...well, being me. How was I back then? Was I more reckless? More cheerful? It was hard to recall.

That is simply what time does to us I suppose, warping and changing us until we can’t even relate to who we were in the past. As I looked again at the expression I wore this afternoon, looking so happy together amongst my new friends, I could only hope that time wouldn’t make it just another memory to look back upon.

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

After getting a shower and some rest, I decided to head to the school gate a little early, wearing an extra layer of clothing to combat the cold weather. A short while later I arrived at my destination, where people were trickling in and out. The orange sky had turned purple, and the street lights had turned on. Looking around, I couldn’t see any sign of Rin or the others, so I simply leaned on the gate wall and waited for them to find me.

Looking at the people who entered and exited the gate, I could see that some of them were wearing yukatas. Perhaps for the next festival, I should bring mine from back from my parent's house and wear it, if nothing else than to feel nostalgic at the feeling of wearing one to a festival with friends.

Right, going back to my hometown...back to my parents, my old friends, and Iwanako. An event that’s going to happen in a few scant weeks, and has barely crossed my mind in the past few weeks despite the importance I placed upon it.

I wondered if my refusal to think about it was because I was afraid of dealing with my parents, and how they might react to Rin. Afraid that they’ll dislike and reject her, and say that I shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone like that. If that was going to be the case, I honestly didn’t know how I’d react.

Was I afraid that when I returned to my old friends, that they’d have all but forgotten me, that they’d found a replacement in the form of Iwanako, and they no longer cared anymore? If that was the case, then it was simply a product of both unfortunate circumstance and my own distant attitude, but it would still hurt to know that there’s no possible reconciliation between us after where we left off.

Or was Iafraid that Rin simply wouldn’t like my hometown, and she wouldn’t like my parents? Perhaps the most unfounded fear, but her uncertainty in accepting my invitation meant that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with going there. She’d made it clear that she was doing it entirely for my sake, so what would happen if it turned out she couldn’t stand the place where I was born and raised?

“Hisao!!” Emi’s voice broke me away from my musings. Approaching me were the five girls dressed in yukatas, their hair tied with floral accessories. Emi was ahead as always, her bright blue yukata overlaid with red floral patterns, accentuating her bubbliness. Just behind her was Miki, wearing a dark purple one with a gold starry inlays. The two seemed rather confident, casually walking up to me, their clothes not being much of hindrance.

Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for the two trailing behind them. Hanako’s yukata was the simplest of the four, a light purple one with black stripes. She looked very nervous, looking down at her feet, taking every step as if she were afraid of falling into a pit. Rin, whose Yukata was a dark green with patterns resembling wind currents, actively seemed to be struggling against her clothing, as her steps were erratic and unbalanced.

“So, was this the surprise?” I asked as they made their way towards me. They all looked rather nice, though with the unfortunate consequence of making me feel like the odd one out.

“Yep, we figured we’d do something like this before winter really sets in! Like it?” Emi answered, still managing to bounce up and down despite the more restrictive clothing and holding a plastic bag in her hand. “Mine’s the best, right, Hisao? Doesn’t this getup make me look even more adorable?”

“It looks good on you, though I figured pink was more your color,” I remarked, my tone not really conveying any sense of awe or excitement at her new look.

“Yeah, well you figure a lot of things. A lot of wrong things,” Emi huffed in mild annoyance, pouting and turning her head away from me, the reaction I expected and the one I sort of intended.

“It does make you look cute, Emi. Not that it was hard,” Miki acknowledged, giggling and pointing to Rin. “But come on, we all know who Hisao really wants to see in a yukata.”

Rin looked right at me, a surprisingly nervous expression on her face as she got closer to me. I had to admit, she looked great in a yukata. Amazing, really. Perhaps I was biased, but she had an ethereal feel about her that wasn’t really there when she was simply in her uniform, despite the awkward steps.

As she walked up to me, Rin dropped her body onto me without warning, her head hitting my chest so suddenly that I might have fallen if I hadn’t been leaning on the wall.

“I feel like I’m walking on ice,” Rin commented as she continued to lean on me for support, her voice as shaky as her body. “Like the ground decided to become ice just for me because it wants me to fall down, and I don’t like it. I feel like I’m going to fall and never get back up, like a leaf falling from a branch. Please help me, Hisao.”

“She’s always like this when she’s wearing a yukata. Happened last festival, too,” Emi commented without much worry, though her face did look just a bit nervous. “Probably because she can’t move her legs like she can while wearing pants, so be a good boyfriend and support her.”

I wrapped an arm around Rin, brushing her hair slightly as she looked up at me, a bit of anxiousness in her eyes. She looked so endearing that I couldn’t help but laugh a little, planting a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll keep you steady, ok? You won’t fall with me around.”

Rin nodded in response, her head lingering on my chest a little longer before reluctantly lifting away. I kept my hand wrapped around her back, which seemed to ease her as she now stood right beside me shoulder to shoulder. Turning to look at Hanako, I noticed that she was looking straight at me, covering some of her face with an attendant fan.

“I-I hope I look ok…” she said softly, sounding uncomfortable. “I-It’s been a while since I’ve worn a yukata out in the open this.”

“You look great,” I assured her, which simply caused her to blush in response, looking away. “So, shall we head out?”

The group agreed and we immediately headed out of the gate, approaching the forest with Rin and me leading the way. We were walking at a slow pace due to them wearing yukatas, but I didn’t mind. More time with Rin beside me is never a bad thing.

“I remembered something,” Rin said out of the blue. “An important thing, like remembering that you’re alive and breathing, even though you need to be alive to remember.”

“Your answer, right?” I mentioned quietly. “About whether or not you want to become an artist after today’s exhibition?”

“Mm,” Rin murmured in confirmation. “You know me, Hisao. You know what I’m going to say, and you know what to say to me, like a Spanish and a Japanese person learning each other’s language. That’s really good.”

“Well, I’ve certainly been learning a lot of Rin these past few months, so I’ve learnt a thing or two,” I said jokingly as we passed what could have been the thought tree, though the darkness made it impossible to tell. The moonlight was good enough that we could see our surroundings, but not good enough to discern any specific details. Another possible allegory to my relationship with Rin, now that I thought about it.

“Mm, you have learned about me, and that makes me happy.” Rin closed her eyes and rested her head on my shoulder as we walked, perhaps as a way of letting her appreciation be known. “But do you know what my answer is going to be, Hisao? I want you to guess, like those shows on television. Except I can’t give you a car if you’re right.”

I mused on the question for a bit, before eventually shaking my head. “I can’t think of one, but I know that the answer you want is the answer you’ve already thought of. Was that the answer you were expecting?”

“No,” Rin admitted, brushing her hair against my neck. “But I like that answer, even though it isn’t right. It’s right without being right, like fries being salty without salt. You’re like that sometimes, Hisao.”

After a brief silence, she continued. “I’m going to try and be an artist for other people again. I’ll go to art college and learn more and more, and then when I graduate I’ll try and sell my art and hold an exhibition. I think that’s what I want to do right now. Except I can’t do it right now...”

“Are you sure, Rin?” I asked, glancing back to see that the others were listening to our conversation. Emi waved at me to turn my head back. “Was it because of today?”

“Yes…” Rin answered with uncertainty. “I don’t know why, but when I sold my art off today, I didn’t feel like a part of me was being ripped apart. Even when they asked me questions about it, even when they didn’t understand, I still didn’t feel anything but tired. And then when I gave that painting to Hanako, I felt a little happy. Like giving someone candy even though you’re the one that bought the candy. I don’t think I’ve ever felt happy giving someone a painting, but now I have.

“I don’t know why I’m like that now. I don’t even hate that I don’t know, at least not as much. Maybe it’s because of you, Hisao. How you changed me a little, and then a little, and then those littles became a lot. But even if it isn’t, I feel like...I believe I can be an artist and still be me, and still be with you, if I do the right things. And I want to believe that I’m right about believing.”

She let out a deep breath after that, sounding tired. I tried to soothe her by placing a hand on her cheek, brushing my finger on her skin. Before I can say anything, I realize that we’ve arrived at our destination, and said to the others, “We’re here.”

The field looks pretty, even at night. The moonlight reflected light off what few dandelions remained, giving a faint impression that they were glowing. Crickets and cicadas could be heard, almost in a pattern, like they were playing a symphony from nature itself. And of course the open sky with stars dotting it all made for a suitably captivating environment.

“Whew, nice place,” Miki said, whistling to show her appreciation. “Very romantic. I almost feel bad coming here without a date to share it with.”

“Alright! Since the fireworks haven’t started yet, I brought us something to have fun with while we wait.” Emi pulled out a small rectangular object and some sticks. Upon closer inspection, I realized what they were.

“Aren’t we a little too old for sparklers?” I said jokingly, though it really has been a long time since I played with those things. The last memory I could recall was at a festival of some sort during my early middle school days, a rare day where my parents were free to celebrate the occasion with me.

“Oh, don’t be such a killjoy. Not all of us had such a boring childhood,” Emi cried out before flicking the lighter on, the small flame illuminating her face with orange light. She immediately lit a bunch of sparklers at once with it, the ends of them glowing and emitting sparks. “Alright, come get one and don’t be shy. I brought us enough to last us a while.”

Each of us except Rin grabbed one, with Emi immediately playing with hers. She waved the sparkler in small circular motions, the light trailing just behind to create shapes in the brief moment they had before fading. Similarly, Miki and Hanako started playing with theirs as well, not quite as enthusiastically as Emi, but nevertheless seeming to have fun with it.

I took my sparkler and turned to Rin, who stared at it with some amount of curiosity. “Mm, I’ve never played with a sparkler before. No hands, and playing sparklers with my feet feels like holding a flame with my toes. Even though I’ve never tried, I always think it’ll be like that so I don’t want to hold it with my feet.”

“Would you like to play with one?” I offered, smiling fondly as I held it closer to her. “I can be your hands.”

“Can you?” she asked, her eyes glued to the sparkler, as if the light was hypnotizing her. “Without cutting off your own hands.”

My response was to move until I’m right behind her, my chest pressed against her back. Rin didn’t seem to react to that until I placed my hands on the sides of her shoulder, to which she then nodded in understanding.

“I figured this is close enough.” I mentioned, tilting my head to the side so that I could see what was in front of me. Or rather, us. “So, these hands are yours for now. They’ll do whatever you tell them to do.”

“Really?” Rin asked, sounding just a bit surprised at the gesture. “Is this what having arms is like? Telling them what to do?”

“Something like that.”

“Then I want them to hold the sparkler close to my face,” she said, and I did as she asked, moving the sparkler closer. “They’re slower than my legs, but I can walk while using them.”

As if to prove her point, Rin started moving, with me following closely behind her. She didn’t seem to have a direction in mind, simply wanting to see if ‘her’ arms would still be there even when she was no longer in place.

“My parents did this once. I just remembered it, which means I forgot about it until now,” she mentioned quietly, stopping to see Emi and Hanako playing with sparklers together, lighting new ones and holding one of them in each hand. “Back when I was small, they tried to be my arms just like this, but they were too big. The arms didn’t feel like mine, even though they said they were.”

“Oh…” I said, surprised at the coincidental idea that both her parents and I had. Perhaps it’s a sign that we’ll get along, if and when we meet. “Well, what about my arms?”

“They feel...right. Please wave my arms around, Hisao.” I did as she requested, waving my arms around in random motions, the light of the sparkler trailing behind. Emi and Miki were staring at us, laughing aloud at how weird we’re being. I could even see Hanako looking on with a smile on her face and a blush on her cheeks.

And then I heard Rin laugh, a rarity coming from her. It was brief, but the joy conveyed in her voice made this all worth it. The art stall, the trek here, the admittedly ridiculous suggestion of acting as her arms, everything today was worth that single moment.

So what if I’m being ridiculous? As long as it makes both of us happy, I’ll gladly indulge in something like this.

The sparkler dimmed and faded, and Rin tilts her head down. “That was fun. I want to try that again, Hisao.”

“Whatever you say, Rin…” I assured her, and she leaned her head back, nestling it below mine. If there was ever a feeling of complete bliss, it was this moment in time, the two of us closer than we’ve ever been.

“I want to touch my cheek, Hisao.” Rin requested. “Can you help me?”

Without saying anything, I lift my left hand up to touch her cheek, brushing her skin with my thumb. She let out an appreciative sigh, whispering to me. “I love you, Hisao. Thank you for being my hands, and for being Hisao.”

“I love you too.” I replied, kissing the top of her head. “Thank you for being here with me.”

As if they were waiting for those words to finally be said, the sound of fireworks appeared. Looking up, I could see them flying high into the sky before bursting into a multitude of colors. The five of us gathered together to enjoy it, sitting down on the grass to enjoy the show.

“You know, today’s been great,” Emi mentioned as the fireworks started to get into full swing, firing two, or even three, at a time. “I hope we get to do this again, I really do.”

“No argument there,” Miki said, sitting next to Emi. “And to think my plan was to find some random guy to have fun with…”

“T-the fireworks are really pretty…” Hanako commented, sounding as relaxed as I’ve ever heard her. “I hope we can d-do something like this next year.”

The three of them went quiet as they continued watching the fireworks. Meanwhile, I wrapped my arms around Rin, gently embracing her.

“Rin?” I said gently. “Once we graduate, let’s live together. I’m sure we can find some good colleges that are relatively close to each other, and then we can find a place to rent for the two of us. We’ll have a home all to ourselves while you work towards becoming an artist, and I work towards becoming...whatever I want to be.”

The offer was sudden, something I thought of in the moment, but it felt right to me. I wanted a future with her, after all. It was only logical that we live together once our days at Yamaku came to an end, once we’re working towards the careers that we choose to pursue. Another step in our relationship, one I truly wanted. The only question was, did she want it as well?

“Yes,” Rin said, in a tone that made it clear what she thought of my proposal. “Hisao, you’re giving me pictures in my head. Not literally, but now I can see something that hasn’t happened yet. I can see a room where I paint and you watch, a room where you cook something for the both of us, a room where you and I sleep. My eyes can’t see them, but my mind can.”

“Those pictures are in my head too,” I replied, stroking her hair gently. We may not understand everything about each other, but in this, it felt as if we were on the same wavelength.

“Promise me, Hisao,” Rin said, almost desperately. “Promise me that those pictures will be real someday.”

“I promise.” My reply was immediate. Despite how uncertain that image really was, despite the fact that all manner of things could make it false, I gave her my word. There’s nothing in the world that I wanted more than to fulfill that promise.

As the fireworks show continued, I conversed with the others. Miki, Emi and Hanako all looked happier than I’d ever seen them before, and while I couldn’t see her face, Rin seemed to be feeling the same way.

As the fireworks started to subside, I couldn’t help but think that this was the best day I’d had since coming to Yamaku. It was a culmination of a lot of struggles, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of grief, but also a lot of compassion, patience, and understanding from myself and those that I’ve come to care about.

I recalled what I told Hanako about our days here persisting in our minds, and it couldn’t be truer in this very moment. This was a memory to keep for a long time, perhaps forever.

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I didn’t know what woke me up in the middle of the night, but I slowly opened my eyes to see Rin snoring softly beside me, sound asleep. Smiling, I moved a stray hair from her face before getting up from bed, making sure to cover her with sheets to keep her naked body from getting cold. I looked at the wardrobe, where the yukata she wore hung on the knob.

When we were in the privacy of my room, I found out that it was the only piece of clothing she wore tonight.

Apparently that was also part of Emi’s plan, to have Rin wear nothing underneath them. Emi’s blatant attempt to nudge us into intimacy aside, it wasn’t a plan I particularly objected to, especially since Rin herself apparently approved of it.

Despite that, and despite feeling as happy as we had been while coming back to my room, we hadn’t done anything sexy tonight, either due to being tired or simply not wanting to. Cuddling her with nothing in between us was an equally pleasant experience, I found.

I went to my desk and sat in the chair, turning on the desk lamp. On it were textbooks and notes, but those were irrelevant right now. The things I was looking for were of more sentimental value: a note from Mom from when I first moved here, the two letters I received from Iwanako, and finally, the picture from the festival of me and my friends.

Those items almost felt like a timeline of my stay here, from who I was then to who I am now. After rereading the note and the letters one more time, I gazed upon the picture with a smile on my face, grateful for how far I’ve come.

And how far I could still go. With my friends, and with Rin most of all.

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(In celebration of 8 Chapters of Long Road done, as well as the unofficial end of Part 1, Tetrax333 did an artwork to commemorate it. Kudos to him, it looks amazing.)
Long Road Illust 8.jpg
Long Road Illust 8.jpg (19.32 MiB) Viewed 1484 times

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Mirage_GSM
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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/2/2020)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Feb 28, 2020 9:38 am

Approaching me were the five girls dressed in yukatas,
Five?
Anyway, very nice scene there at the end.

As for Nomiya... I've always been of the opinion that he is getting worse treatment than he deserves in many stories, but this is probably the one where he is depicted the most villainous.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/2/2020)

Post by EternityDragon » Fri Feb 28, 2020 7:34 pm

I’ve read this over once or twice now, and you’ve somehow managed to make the Master of Romance somewhat likable in my eyes. Not an easy task, if I do say so myself :D
The Rin-isms are perfect, and it feels this Rin is really the one that we got to know in the VN - confusion and fear of the future hidden beneath a stoic and deadpan shell. Here, she does seem a little clingy as well, and I really like that. All in all, seems like a really good epilogue. Definitely following this thread.
Just a couple issues that I noticed, though:
MoashLannister wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:51 am
I should feel more familiar with them, given that I was a member of the club once, but all I can do is give them courteous nod in response.
Missing article?
MoashLannister wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:51 am
It didn’t take long for students and what I assume were parents to come into the room, perusing the many paintings, sculpture, ceramics and miscellaneous art projects within.
Sculptures?
MoashLannister wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:51 am
“I lined everything up and the target moved the moment I threw it. It had to
No period...? The thought feels a bit incomplete as well, even if I just insert a period.
MoashLannister wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:55 am
An event that’s going to happen in a few scant weeks,
Wording here feels a bit awkward, but my command of the language isn’t the greatest. Maybe switch ‘scant’ and ‘few’?
MoashLannister wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:55 am
Just behind her was Miki, wearing a dark purple one with a gold starry inlays. The two seemed rather confident, casually walking up to me, their clothes not being much of hindrance.
A couple missing/misplaced articles here.
MoashLannister wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:55 am
Yeah, well you figure a lot of things. A lot of wrong things,”
MoashLannister wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:55 am
I kept my hand wrapped around her back, which seemed to ease her as she now stood right beside me shoulder to shoulder.
Missing commas?
MoashLannister wrote:
Sat Feb 15, 2020 5:55 am
She immediately lit a bunch of sparklers at once with it, the ends of them glowing and emitting sparks.
Shouldn’t it be “their ends”? This feels a bit awkward to me.
Anyway, sorry for the nitpicking. If pointing out mistakes or typos like this isn’t a good thing to do, please just let me know.

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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/2/2020)

Post by MoashLannister » Sat Feb 29, 2020 12:06 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:
Fri Feb 28, 2020 9:38 am
.

As for Nomiya... I've always been of the opinion that he is getting worse treatment than he deserves in many stories, but this is probably the one where he is depicted the most villainous.
Nomiya won't have a huge role in this. And I wasn't going for "villainous" so much as he's just done giving Rin any special treatment. He's going to treat her like someone who just isn't interested in the club anymore, which is true from a certain point of view.
EternityDragon wrote:
Fri Feb 28, 2020 7:34 pm
I’ve read this over once or twice now, and you’ve somehow managed to make the Master of Romance somewhat likable in my eyes. Not an easy task, if I do say so myself :D
The Rin-isms are perfect, and it feels this Rin is really the one that we got to know in the VN - confusion and fear of the future hidden beneath a stoic and deadpan shell. Here, she does seem a little clingy as well, and I really like that. All in all, seems like a really good epilogue. Definitely following this thread.

Anyway, sorry for the nitpicking. If pointing out mistakes or typos like this isn’t a good thing to do, please just let me know.
Thanks, I'll do my best to maintain the quality you expect of me. And no worries on the nitpicking, it just helps point out stuff to clean up later.

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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/2/2020)

Post by Hacksorus » Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:28 pm

Very nice, I'll want to keep up with this one for sure. Rin has always seemed like a rather hard character to write to me, especially in a more serious story with development, but I'm enjoying her portrayal.

There are times when I think that characters may be reacting somewhat unusually. Hanako seems very quick to open up despite having been practically just abandoned by the only friend she ever had. On the other hand, as we see with her at the end of Lilly's route, she can grow fast when she needs to, so maybe it's just me.

Is it just me, or is Miki seriously coming on to Emi? I hope I'm right :lol:
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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/2/2020)

Post by MoashLannister » Wed Apr 15, 2020 9:31 am

(Credit to Lap for proofreading)

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Chapter 9: Arrival

The view outside the train started to resemble the city I’d grown up in, and soon I could even recognize a few buildings here and there. I wondered if I would remember more of it if I hadn’t been away for so long, though I know it’s mostly the boredom of a two hour train ride that’s making me think about irrelevant stuff like this.

Granted, it was still a better thing to think about than worrying about this trip for the hundredth time. My anxiety had been almost palpable during the ride to the train station, and Emi’s relentless teasing about it hadn’t helped. Thankfully, it’s since calmed down to a low-key concern in the back of my mind.

I turned to look at Rin, who was sleeping soundly with her head on my shoulder. She was wearing a plain blue jacket, the sleeves tied into knots, with two shirts underneath, along with long black shorts. I wondered if she’s truly tired, or if this is her way of dealing with the anxiety of going to an unknown place, to stay in the home of strangers.

“Rin,” I say softly, then a little louder to wake her up. “We’re about to stop.”

Her eyes opened and she looked at me with an expression of mild annoyance on her face. “I wanted to sleep a little longer, like waking up from a nap only to realize you’re still tired…”

“Sorry,” I said, kissing her on the forehead to try and placate her. “But we need to get off soon.”

“Ok…” she muttered as the train slowed down. Once it stopped completely, we got up and started to exit the train. “Hisao, you’re forgetting my luggage.”

“Right,” I replied in embarrassment before taking her luggage, dragging both hers and mine as we got off the train. “Sorry, I’m not used to dragging around two luggage bags.”

“I’m not used to having luggage,” Rin replied as we exited the platform and into the station. We were changing lines to a local train. “Mom and Dad always handled my things, and then when I moved to Yamaku I didn’t really go anywhere, so my things are always in the same place. Though sometimes I can’t find them even though I know where they are, like a mole that dug a lot of holes, but not knowing which hole he stays in.”

“Emi helped you pack, didn’t she?” I asked, hoping the both of them didn’t forget to pack anything important like clothing, especially undergarments. I can already imagine the utter horror of having to explain to Mom the need to buy my girlfriend underwear.

Rin nodded once, and when I didn’t respond she elaborated further. “We packed last night. Emi wanted to pick out what clothes to put in, and I didn’t feel like doing it so I let her. I only wanted to bring a sketchbook and some pencils along, even though I know clothing is more important.”

“You can sketch once we reach my house,” I said as we reached the local platform, waiting for the train to arrive. Sure enough, one arrived a few minutes later and we boarded. The seats were all occupied, though thankfully someone was kind enough to allow Rin to sit in the disabled seats of the train.

Rin looked at me curiously once she sat down, and it’s only after a few seconds that I realized that she was wondering why I’m not taking a seat alongside her.

“I’m alright with standing up,” I assured her as the train began moving. “I’m a city kid, I’m used to it.”

“Mm...I’ve rarely been on a train. I think the last time was when I was heading to Yamaku, and before that was...I forget,” Rin admitted as the train announces its next stop. “And I don’t think I’ve been on a train like this...stopping and going so much. It’s like a boat fighting against the waves, slowly sailing past it before the wave crashes down and it has to stop.”

“You don’t have a train line where you live?” I asked curiously.

“My parents live outside the city, in a very grassy area with very short buildings compared to someplace like this, it’s like the difference between a hill and a mountain, except it’s concrete and steel and not rock,” Rin answered, closing her eyes. “We go to the city sometimes, but always by car. Otherwise, we just take walks around our house together and say hi to our neighbours. I think they know all of them, but I don’t. They always look at me weird, like I'm a kind of animal they don't know, even though I'm actually a human...”

“Was it nice?” I asked. The fact that Rin was a rural kid never really occurred to me, though it made sense now that I thought about it. “The place where you lived?”

“It was…” Rin said, a touch of fondness in her voice. “Dad would always pick me up from school, and we’d walk all the way back home. Sometimes we stopped at a store and ate ice cream together, though he told me never to tell Mom because you aren’t supposed to eat ice cream before dinner. When we reached home, it would always smell nice because Mom was cooking dinner.”

“Sounds like a nice childhood,” I said with a slight smile on my face. From what little I gleaned from her parents, they seem loving and affectionate towards her. All the reason I needed to like them, a feeling I hoped would be reciprocated in the future.

“I can remember all of it, but not a particular day. Like knowing a cartoon but not what episode is in order...” Rin stated, looking mildly confused at the prospect of it. “And I never thought about it until you asked me, but I feel happy that you asked and happy that I remembered it. Thank you, Hisao.”

“You’re welcome Rin,” I replied as the train stopped again. “I would like to meet your parents one day. They seem like really nice people.”

“Mm...I hope you meet them too,” Rin said in agreement. “I think Mom would like you, she always likes whenever I talk about my friends. Dad too, but he doesn’t like it when I talk about boys for some reason, even though he’s also a boy. It’s like a banker who hates banking.”

“I think he just doesn’t want you to date,” I suggested with a chuckle. “Dad’s generally don’t like the prospect of their daughters going out.”

“Mm...then Dad is going to hate you,” Rin said with such certainty that it bordered on terrifying. “You spoiled me for marriage, then dated me, then spoiled me again. So he’ll probably hate you three times, like someone who hates fish having to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ve never seen him angry before, so I wonder what he’ll be like...”

I wondered whether I should laugh or sigh, but I ended up doing neither and simply switched the topic to something less threatening to my well being.

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After a half hour, we finally reached the station closest to home. The afternoon sun was obscured by clouds, though thankfully it wasn’t snowing. We walked past familiar streets, ones I used to go by all the time.

Coming back here drives home how long it’s been since my departure. Though it’s only a few months, it still felt like an age has gone by. As I pass by a convenience store, the memories come flooding back to me. The many times I’d stopped there for a drink or a snack on the way home, and the times Shin loaned me money for a drink because I forgot to bring some.

Except...they didn’t feel like my memories anymore, at least not entirely. They felt like someone else, someone that was also Hisao but was no longer “me” anymore.

“Hisao?” Rin called out to me from ahead, and it’s only then I realized that I’d stopped. “You stopped, and you’re making that face again. The one you like to do when you’re thinking about things that aren’t easy, like how to fix an airplane.”

“Sorry, sorry…” I responded, feeling bad that I’d worried her. “Do you want to stop and grab something to eat or drink? It’s not like my parents were expecting me to be punctual.”

“I’m not hungry, and I’m not thirsty,” Rin stated, walking back to where I am. “Are you ok, Hisao? I feel like you want to talk about it, but also don’t want to talk about it...even though I don’t know what ‘it’ is.”

“I’m fine,” I say. “Just having a moment. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, so the memories just sort of...overwhelmed me, I guess.”

“Like how a tank overwhelms a soldier in war? But in your head?” Rin asked, and I nodded in response. “I’m trying to imagine that, and it feels painful. Not to me, but to whoever is actually feeling like that. Are you in pain, Hisao?”

“Just a little…” I admitted. “Come on, let’s go.”

We said nothing more as we continued our journey towards home. My home, where I wandered the streets at night, where I hung out with friends, where I had a life full of little moments that I’ve taken for granted. As we continued on, the memories continued to come back to me, moments long buried resurfacing and taking hold in my mind.

In a way, it’s like walking through a graveyard. Every familiar building just made me remember something that I’d lost, a moment in time I’ll never truly get back. It wasn’t sad, or even annoying, it just...was.

Eventually we reached my street, with houses lined side by side. The fifth one from the corner was my old home. It looked exactly the same as when I left it, a two story building painted yellow, with a small stone yard outside.

And waiting right outside of the entrance is Mom. She’s dressed in a winter coat and dark blue jeans, sitting outside and talking to someone on her phone. The moment she saw me, her face lit up and she ended the call.

“Hicchan~” she said in a loud voice, immediately rushing towards me to give me a hug. “I missed you so so much…”

I hugged her back. However distant we may have become, she was still my Mom and I still loved her. We stayed like this for a bit before parting, and she looked me up and down, a bright smile on her face.

“I was so anxious, waiting for you to come home” Mom said with a smile, as she rubbed my head. “I was almost about to call you. You look like you’ve grown a little bit taller.”

“Maybe,” I answered, before motioning over to Rin. “This is the person I told you about yesterday, the one I wanted to bring over. This is Rin Tezuka, another student from Yamaku.”

It seemed as if that moment was the first time Mom recognized her existence, and her brow furrowed slightly as she gave Rin a confused glance, then a scrutinizing one. In the end, she gave her a smile, though it was definitely different from the one she gave me, more forced and less natural.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” She said in a more formal tone than the one she addressed me with, extending a hand towards her before immediately pulling back, a gesture I can’t help but cringe at how awkward it was. She could clearly see the knots on her jacket, but I suppose she wasn’t used to greeting someone without arms. “My name is Ikumi Nakai, I hope you’ll find our home accommodating.”

“Thank you.” Rin said in a soft voice before moving closer to my side, looking slightly uncomfortable at my mother’s presence. Mom seemed annoyed at that, and gave me a look that said ‘We can talk about this later,’ before motioning us to come in.

Well, not exactly the first impression I was hoping for, but not quite a disaster just yet. At least, I hoped so.

“We shouldn’t stay out here long. Your father wants to see you too, Hicchan,” Mom said, sounding like her usual self again. “Oh, and I bumped into Shin this morning. He said he was looking forward to seeing you, Hicchan.”

The fact that Shin was aware of my arrival came as a surprise, though not a big one. We were neighbours, and Mom was more than familiar with him, so it made sense that he’d know about it. I could even imagine Mom incessantly asking him to come over and wait for my return for old time’s sake, and suddenly I can’t help but pity my old friend for having to deal with that.

Was he the same person as the Shin I knew back then? I can’t help but wonder.

I followed Mom and walked to the entrance of my house, Rin tagging behind me. As I went through the door, the three of us took off our shoes and entered the living room proper, where Dad. He looked the same as ever, wearing a white jacket and long pants, a thick mustache and beard covering most of his mouth.

“Glad to see you, son,” he said quietly, walking up to me and brushing the top of my hair. A gesture I used to find slightly demeaning, but I found it comforting now. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” I responded. “I’m glad to be home for the winter.””

“And who is this young lady?” Dad said, looking at Rin with a curious eye. “A friend of yours, son?”

“Um, sort of,” I said nervously, wondering how Dad would react to the news I’m about to give him. “This is Rin Tezuka...my girlfriend.”

“You never told me anything about a girlfriend,” Dad stated, though the look in his eyes told me that he wasn’t exactly surprised. He walked up to Rin, thankfully not giving her any sort of odd look before saying. “Greetings, I am Hiroki Nakai. It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Miss Tezuka.”

“My name is Rin,” Rin said quietly, as if to herself. “You’re Hisao’s dad, which means you’re important to him. Like how my dad is to me.”

I can see Mom giving her a scrutinizing look again, though thankfully it’s from an angle where Rin can’t see her expression. However, Dad just seemed mildly amused at her less than normal response. “I would hope my own son is important to me, given how much I’ve provided for him.”

“You must be terribly tired, Hicchan,” Mom interjected, and I can’t help but notice she didn’t address Rin at all. “Why don’t you go to your room and unpack? Maybe take a hot shower while you’re at it, hm?”

“Yes, I suppose the journey here would make you a bit fatigued,” Dad agreed, turning to me and giving me a slight smile. “You’ll probably need to unpack for Rin as well, considering she’ll be staying in your room. We’ve already set up a futon there for her to sleep in, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Dear…” Mom sighed, glaring at him. Dad seemed to ignore her, motioning towards the stairs with his head. A sign that he wanted me upstairs, probably to talk with Mom about things in private. About Rin, most likely.

I carried our luggage upstairs, Rin following closely behind me. Opening a familiar blue door, I’m greeted by my old room. Much like many things since I’ve returned here, it felt as if nothing has changed since my departure. On the walls hang some posters Dad gave me, featuring famous baseball players, and at the end of the room was my desk with my old books stacked on top.

One thing that felt different was the bed, which was neatly made, instead of the mess I usually left it in, no doubt thanks to Mom. The addition of a light blue futon for Rin was also new.

“So...this is my room,” I announced to Rin as I placed our bags down on the floor, closing the door behind us.

“Mm...it doesn’t feel like a Hisao room, even though it is,” Rin noted before sitting on my bed, immediately lying down on it and completely ignoring the futon. “So it’s your room, but not really your room. Like a hammer you loaned to a friend and then got it back after it’s been used a lot.”

“Actually...yeah. It does feel like that,” I agreed as I opened my bag and started unpacking. “When I was a kid, this place used to be a lot messier. Mom probably cleaned up just before we arrived.”

“Your Mom…” Rin let that word hang in the air, sounding like she’s trying to find the right words to say. “She looked at me funny, except it’s more scary than funny. Like how someone is afraid of a clown even though they’re supposed to make you laugh.”

“That’s probably my fault,” I said as I took out my folded clothes and placed them on the bed away from her. “I was pretty vague with describing you when they called me, and I never said you were my girlfriend. All I said was that I wanted to bring you over and that you didn’t have arms, so they might have even thought you were a guy.”

“Mm...I’m not a guy though…” Rin muttered. “Why didn’t you tell them?”

“I was a bit afraid,” I said guiltily, recalling the conversation I had with my parents just before heading here, which I intentionally kept brief. “I didn’t know how’d they react to the fact that I have a girlfriend from Yamaku.”

“Are you ashamed of that?” Rin asked innocently, sounding completely unoffended despite the nature of the question. “Like how some people are ashamed they can’t do certain things right?”

“No, I’m not,” I answered firmly. I finished unpacking my clothes, then began pulling out my books, toiletries and medications. “It’s just...I don’t know what they expect from me coming back, so I didn’t really want to give them anything TO expect. I’m not the same person that I was when I left them, and I wasn’t sure if they’d understand that.”

“Mm, sounds like something I know. Like a food I like to eat a lot, so I remember how it tastes even if it looks different,” Rin noted blankly, which coming from her meant that I’d said something truly nonsensical. She sat up and looked at me, giving me a gentle smile. “Everything is going to be okay, Hisao.”

“Really?” I responded, surprised that she’d say that.

“I don’t know,” Rin admitted with a shrug, her smile quickly fading. “But I felt like I needed to say that to you. You said that to me before even though I never asked for it, and it always made me feel a little more okay inside, even when things aren’t really okay. So I wanted to try that, even though I’m not sure if everything is going to be ok.”

Despite my worries, I can’t help but feel a little bit touched when she gave me her reasoning. “I think I feel a little more okay too. Thank you, Rin.”

“Hisao, give me my sketchbook.” Rin asked politely. “I feel like drawing something, even though I don’t know what I want to draw. Like a writer not knowing what he’s going to write, but writing anyways.”

I stopped unpacking my stuff for a moment and opened up her bag, rummaging around until I found her sketchbook and a pencil, placing them right in front of her. She opened the sketchbook with her feet and started to draw.

Knowing I wasn’t going to get any more conversation out of her for the time being, I silently unpacked the rest of my things, along with Rin’s luggage that didn’t involve her undergarments, which I left in her luggage bag for the time being. In the meantime, my thoughts turned to my parents downstairs, wondering what they’re doing.

Or rather, what they’re saying. There’s little doubt in my mind they’re talking about Rin right now, and I have the sinking suspicion it isn’t joy that I finally brought home a girl I’m romantically interested in, at least on Mom’s end. My lack of a love life up until this point is something they’ve never really cared about, despite some mild teasing from my Dad about getting a suitable wife.

Turning back to the bed, I saw that Rin was still busy sketching away, her eyes completely glued to the book she’s drawing in. With nothing else to do, I took one of the books I brought and sat down on the swivel chair next to my desk, and began reading a novel that Hanako had recommended to me as a decent read.

As I read, I can’t help but occasionally glance at the sight of Rin drawing on the bed. My bed, which was a stark difference, at least to me. Every time I accompanied Rin to see her draw, it’s always either outside or at her dorm room. Never mine, which didn’t matter much to me, as I enjoyed spending time with her regardless of the location.

But with the fact that she’s in my room, my musings wandered to the fact that she’s actually going to be staying in my room. It was a logical choice, given our lack of a guest room and the fact that I’d heavily object to the idea of her sleeping on the couch, but it does highlight that for the next few days, we’ll be living together under the same roof.

Living together…my mind goes back to the festival, and the words I said to her on that dandelion field, and the promise I made those words come true.

“Once we graduate, let’s live together. We’ll have a home all to ourselves while you work towards becoming an artist.”

Just the thought brought a smile to my face, and I can almost visualize it in my head, much like she did back then. Coming home from college with her greeting me, or the other way around. Eating dinner together in the privacy of our home, and ending every night with her beside me.

“You’re thinking about something, Hisao,” Rin stated, still in the middle of sketching. “Please tell me what you’re thinking.”

“Just thinking about living together,” I replied. “I know I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but I’m already imagining it in my head. The two of us, in a cozy little apartment.”

“Mm, I was thinking of an apartment too. Not now, but back when I thought about living together.” Rin said. “Our minds were thinking the same thing, which is good. If we weren’t thinking the same thing about living together, we’d probably argue like people who argue whether chess or checkers is better, even though they’re different games.”

“You think so?” I snorted in amusement as I turned the page, my interest in the book slowly waning. “Well, an apartment is all we could probably afford anyways. But I was thinking that besides a living room, we’d have a room where we sleep, and a room where you can paint and store all your artwork.

“So a room for us, and a room for me…” Rin seemed to ponder that for a bit before answering. “What about a room for you? If there isn’t, wouldn’t the apartment be too much Rin and not enough Hisao? Like how a watermelon is more melon than water.”

“I’m fine with that.” I said, the image of our future residence growing stronger with each sentence. “Though if you really want it to be more Hisao, you can let me choose some of the furniture to place there.”

“Okay,” Rin replied in agreement. “I’m not good at picking furniture. I’m better at it than moving furniture, but it’s still not good. Like water being bad at turning into air during a rainy day, but even worse at turning into ice.”

“It probably won’t be anything much, honestly,” I admitted as I started to think of what to even buy for our hypothetical home. Despite Rin’s claims, I’ve never really been so independent as to buy my own furniture. “A bookshelf, probably, some tables and chairs, maybe a small TV and a couch, but otherwise I can’t really imagine it being filled to the brim with things.”

“I want a balcony…” Rin said. “Not now, but later. When we get a new place to stay, I want to seem to be able to touch the sky, even though you can’t really touch it. I want to lean back against the wall and look up at the stars, and then sleep there even though I really shouldn’t, like a cat who doesn’t sleep in its bed.”

“Sounds romantic…” I replied, putting the book down and imagining the two of us sitting on a cramped balcony, happy as can be. “I’ll make us something to drink while we look at the stars, and if it gets cold I’ll put a blanket around us.”

“The sounds warm,” Rin murmured out, smiling as well at the thought. “Not the hot kind of warm, the kind that you feel in your chest even though it’s not there. I’m done drawing, come look.”

I went back to the bed, sitting beside Rin and looking at what she sketched. What I see was a really accurate rendition of my face, smiling ever so slightly.

“I wanted to draw your body, but when I thought about drawing your chest I suddenly didn’t want to, like a person finding out the restaurant he’s going to is horrible because the food is all rotten.” Rin rambled before shaking her head a little, presumably to get back on track. “So I just drew your face from my memory. I think I always wanted to do this, though I’m not sure if I really did.”

“You wanted to draw my face?” I asked, looking at the picture more closely. Like all of Rin’s work, it was haunting in its nature despite the simplicity of it. It’s almost as if I’m looking at a twisted mirror, refusing to match my movements and simply content with sticking to one expression in perpetuity. “You see me every day, though.”

“I do,” Rin replied, nodding. “But I still wanted to draw your face. Even when you’re not around, I want to see your face even though I know I can’t. It’s like answering something you know is wrong, like two plus two equals five. And yet you still answer five because you want the answer to be five.”

Rin held the sketchbook with her feet, holding it closer to her face. “Now, I can see your face even if you’re not with me. Whenever I feel like I want you close by, even though you aren’t, I can just look at your face and pretend that you are.”

“Rin…” I didn’t know how to feel about what she said, and it looked as if she didn’t either. “I’m here, I’m close to you. You don’t need to pretend that we are…”

“I know.” Rin didn’t seem to want to talk anymore after that, and simply laid back down on the bed again, her feet placing the sketchbook on her chest.

“I think I’ll take a bath,” I said as I got up. “Then I’ll be right back, okay?”

I didn’t know why I felt I had to say that I’d be back, the fact being obvious to the both of us. And yet I felt like I needed to say that to her. Rin responded with a nod, her eyes closing. Picking up a new set of clothes along with a towel, I headed to my bathroom.

My bathroom was unsurprisingly unchanged, except for the addition of a couple of new conditioners and shampoos courtesy of my parents. Blue tiling on the walls, a decent sized sink, and the option of having either a quick shower or dip into the bathtub. I liked having the choice, especially compared to Yamaku where a shower was pretty much the only option.

Still, I felt like I shouldn’t keep Rin waiting long, so I simply decided to take a quick shower. It’s only in the middle of showering that I started to wonder what Rin meant by me not being around. The most obvious answer would be my condition, but at the same time she seemed to have forgotten it’s existence at this point.

Or perhaps, she only pretended to have forgotten it.

I emerged from the bathroom more troubled than I thought I’d be, and even more so when I saw that Rin was sitting up on the bed, looking right at me.

“I was waiting for you,” she said. “Even though I know you’re going to come back, I wanted to see you come out with my eyes. Like a man waiting for mail that he knows is going to come.”

“Rin…” I said, not knowing what to say.

“I don’t like this place,” Rin said in a mildly irritated tone. “I don’t know why, but I don’t. I wanted to nap while you were in there, but every time I tried to this room just dragged me out and forced my eyes to open. It’s supposed to be your room, but I feel like it doesn’t like me all that much…”

I went up to her, sitting beside her on the bed. She seemed to enjoy my presence as she immediately rested her head onto my shoulder, letting out a comforting sigh.

“I’m sorry,” I said as I brushed the top of her head. “I know you came here for my sake.”

“Help me sleep, Hisao. Even though it’s not time to sleep yet.” Rin requested as she nuzzled my neck gently, ignoring my apology. “Lay down with me and hold me, like we’re back at your room in Yamaku.”

“Alright,” I replied as she started to lay down again, and I laid down alongside her, the both of us facing one another. I wrapped my arms around her and held her close, somehow feeling both relaxed and worried. “Rin…”

“Yes?” Rin closed her eyes, resting her head on my chest.

“Do you regret coming here with me?” I asked, closing my eyes as well.

Rin didn’t respond, and I was worried that she wasn’t going to answer, but eventually she did.

“No, I don’t,” she said softly, her voice barely audible. “You’re here, so I want to be here, even if I don’t like ‘here.’”

Content with her answer, I allow myself to sleep beside her, holding her close and letting our worries go for the time being.

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“Hicchan…”

The voice, while soft, was enough to wake me up in a rather unpleasant fashion. I didn’t know how much longer I’d slept but I definitely wanted it to last a little longer.

I opened my eyes and realized that Mom was looking at me, or perhaps us, with an unfamiliar expression on her face. It wasn’t angry, or even disapproving, it was...sad. Reluctantly, I slipped away from Rin a little before sitting up to face her more directly.

“Mom…” I said nervously. “Um...how long were we asleep for?”

“A few hours, Hicchan,” Mom said as she leaned on the wall, right next to the door. “It’s almost evening, and I was getting worried about what exactly you two were doing up here.”

“We didn’t do anything, I swear,” I quickly responded, feeling mildly embarrassed. “We were just sleeping together...wait, that came out wrong...we were just sleeping next to each oth-”

Mom held up her hands to silence me. “I know, Hicchan. I know. I just wanted to let you know that your father and I were discussing certain...subjects...while you were asleep. We’d like for you to join the discussion tonight, after dinner; he feels like treating you to something fancy tonight.”

I couldn’t help but grimace a bit by the way she emphasized it. Whatever she wanted to discuss, I had a feeling that it wasn’t going to be good.

“We’ll leave in twenty minutes,” She said before getting up, turning back to face me one last time before leaving. “Hicchan?”

“Yeah?” I responded, still feeling dreadful about things. Rin’s snoring only serves to make the mood a little more awkward than it already is.

“What exactly are your feelings towards her?” She asked gently, sounding as serious as I’ve ever heard her. “I know she’s your girlfriend but, where do you see yourself with her?”

“I can’t imagine my life without her, Mom,” I responded, as earnestly as I could. Her only response is to give me a solemn smile before exiting, making me feel even more grim than I already was. With that expression, it’s clear that Mom is at odds with the idea of me being in a long-term relationship with Rin.

“Mmh...Hisao?” Rin’s voice caught me by surprise and I looked down to see that her eyes were already wide open. “I couldn’t feel your arms around you, so I woke up. It’s like you’re a pill I need to sleep, except I hug you instead of swallowing you down my throat.”

“Sorry, Mom came in and I had to talk to her,” I responded, trying to downplay my apprehension. “Um...did you listen to our conversation?”

“I heard you two saying some words, but I don’t know what words they are,” Rin explained as she sat up, looking mildly irritated that she’s awake. “Should I have listened to that conversation, Hisao?”

“No, it’s not really important,” I responded after a bit of silence, feeling awful for lying to her. “She told me we’re going out to dinner in twenty minutes, so you probably want to have a shower before we go.”

“Okay…” Rin said absentmindedly, getting off the bed and standing up. “But I don’t think I can wash my body all by myself. Can you help me, Hisao? Like how Emi and Miki helped me, except you’re a boy and they’re not.”

She asked that so innocently that I was almost oblivious to the fact that she was asking me to shower with her. Rin stared at me with waiting eyes, expecting an answer. I let out a sigh and nodded, which she seemed to appreciate as she gave me a subdued smile before heading to the bathroom.

I couldn’t help but think about that short exchange with Mom, how she looked so torn before leaving. No matter what, that inevitable conversation was probably going to leave both of us at odds with one another.

I made sure I locked the door before heading to the bathroom, where Rin was already sitting down, in the process of taking off her clothes. If nothing else, an intimate moment with her would hopefully take my mind off things, at least for the time being.

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“Ah, well I’m glad you had a great Culture Day,” Dad said as the traffic light turned red, forcing him to stop the car. “You never liked that day back in your old school.”

“Didn’t I?” I mentioned, unable to recall any memory where I specifically showed disdain for that particular holiday.

“Well, it was more the fact that you hated having to do anything to contribute,” Mom noted, seeming to remember it better than I did. “Aside from soccer, you were rather apathetic about most things. Your grades were perfectly fine, but you just didn’t seem to have the drive to do anything else, even your own chores sometimes.”

“Oh...I guess I don’t remember that part all that well,” I said, feeling mildly embarrassed by my younger self. “I’d like to think I’m more responsible now after living on my own.”

“I’d hope so,” Dad teased as the light turned green, allowing us to move again. “Or I’ll never hear the end of it from your mother. She isn’t the only one who suffers whenever you get lazy. I had to hear about it whenever I was done with work.”

All of us let out a bit of laughter at that. All of us except Rin, who seemed content with staring out the window. She’d been like that ever since we got in the car, not even attempting any sort of conversation with my parents. I wondered if she simply found them too hard to talk to, or she was simply afraid because they’re my parents.

As fun as it was to reminisce a little with Mom and Dad, her silence was getting more and more noticeable with each passing second.

Dad seems to notice it as well, as his next question was directed at Rin. “Do you like Western food, Rin? That’s what we’ll be eating tonight. It’s a really good place, one of the best in the city.”

Rin finally seemed to break out of her own little bubble as she turned to look at the driver’s seat. Her brows furrowed slightly, and she seemed to take a deep breath before finally replying.

“It’s okay,” she said in a tone that’s very much not like her, completely devoid of emotion or personality. I expected her to go on some tangent about how Western food isn’t actually made in the West, but she seemed to settle on that short and concise answer.

“Do you have any interests?” This time it’s Mom who asked, though her tone was less casual and far more prying.

“Painting,” Rin answered, looking back at the window, and the city outside. “And drawing.”

“So you’re an artist…” Mom noted, and I wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Did she approve? Disapprove? Her tone and the fact that I couldn’t see her face was made it hard to guess. “So you plan to go to art college, I assume?”

“Yes…” Rin replied, maintaining that same monotone voice. She isn’t acting like her usual self, something I realized was deliberate on her part. Perhaps she thinks that talking ‘normally’ would go over better with my parents.

I almost wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her that she could speak however she wanted, but I knew that wasn’t going to work and would only serve to unnerve her even further, so I decided not to comment on it.

“Do you have a phone, Rin?” Mom asked as the car took a hard turn left. This caused Rin, who wasn’t wearing her seatbelt, to slide over towards me. She immediately scooted back to her position, not even bothering to look at me. “Can you use one? Given your...”

“Dear…” Dad said, sounding mildly exasperated, cutting her off before she could even finish that sentence. I couldn’t have been more thankful to him than at that moment.

“No,” Rin admitted, and what followed was possibly the most awkward silence I had ever experienced.

Mercifully, we arrived at the restaurant not long after that. Mom, Rin, and I got out of the car while Dad went to find parking. As we walked, I placed an arm around Rin’s shoulders, trying to make it clear that I was here for her. Once again, there was no reaction from her, which worried me to no end.

Turning to Mom, I could see her giving us a solemn look again, and I could feel my frustration at her growing. Playing coy with her opinions on Rin, negative or not, was really testing my patience with her. But I remained calm, because the last thing Rin needed was for me to blow up right in front of her.

We entered the restaurant, which was full of people dining and conversing. The windows were adorned with red silk curtains, the floor was carpeted with intricate patterns of black and white, and the lighting was bright enough to see, yet dim enough to have a sense of ambience. There was even music playing, a soft piano piece that was easy on the ears.

The place was definitely what I would consider a high-class restaurant, though perhaps to a more wealthy person it would be just be considered a cheaper version of the real thing.

A waiter guided the three of us to a table in the back corner, and I took my seat beside Rin and opposite Mom. Once again, there was nothing but silence as Rin looked around the restaurant with a curious gaze.

Some of the customers here were looking right back at her, noticing her lack of arms. I gave them an angry glare, and they promptly went back to eating their dinners.

“I was lucky that someone was just about to leave as I pulled up,” Dad said, announcing his arrival before sitting down beside Mom. “Alright, let’s decide what we’re going to have.”

Despite the fact that I didn’t have much of an appetite, I opened the menu and browsed through it. Rin leaned her head closer to me to see the menu as well, and I took the opportunity to quickly whisper to her. “Are you okay?”

“Am I not okay?” Rin whispered back. “Do you not think I’m okay? Do your parents think I’m not okay? It’s like trying to find out how to make grass red, or how to make water green.”

“Rin…” I didn’t know how to answer that. After all this time, I thought I had at least some idea about whatever analogy or tangent she could possibly say, and yet I was completely clueless as to what she was trying to say. “What do you want me to do? Let me help you.”

“Then let me not be Rin for now,” she answered, despite the fact that she grimaced at that statement. “I’m still Rin, except I won’t really be. I’ll just be a Rin that can talk to your parents and then eat dinner and then go back and sleep. Like a wall painting itself blue so that it can be part of the sky.”

“Have you two decided what you’re going to order yet?” Mom’s voice causes Rin to jerk away from me, looking straight at her. “Your father and I have already decided, Hicchan.”

“I’ll have what Hisao is having,” Rin answered, once again responding in an unnaturally concise way. Mom and Dad turned to look at me, and I immediately fumbled with the menu, trying to find something that I’d like that would also be easy for Rin to eat.

“U-Uh...I’ll have pasta,” I said. Dad called the waiter and gave him our orders. Soon after, another waiter came and poured each of us a glass of water, asking if Rin would like a straw. In an effort to calm myself, I quickly took my glass and drank it, but unfortunately it did very little besides quenching my thirst.

“So, Rin…” Dad began. “How are your grades? Did you do well on exams?”

“I skipped my exams,” Rin said after a pause, her voice flat and emotionless. “I had to take supplementary classes.”

Dad and Mom exchanged a look, and I almost tried to explain things before remembering that it would mean bringing up the gallery. Desperate as I was to improve my parent’s view of Rin, I wasn’t willing to use that memory as a way to do so.

“I’ve been helping her study,” I said instead. “We’ve been having study groups with some of our classmates, trying to improve our chances at finals.”

“Ah, that’s good to hear,” Dad responded. “It’s nice to know you have a social circle, Hisao. After you looked so sullen at the hospital, we were worried if you were going to isolate yourself further while you were at Yamaku.”

“I did start out that way,” I admitted, recalling my first days in Yamaku. “But some people convinced me not to. That I could make a new life there, with new friends. Rin did a lot to help me out in that regard.”

“Is that so?” Dad raised his eyebrow, looking at the both of us with curiosity before turning to Rin. “Well then, thank you for making my son happy, Rin.”

“You’re welcome. I want him to be happy,” Rin answered, sounding stilted but otherwise genuine in her desire to see me happy. Despite my discomfort at the fact that she’s changing how she is, the fact that she’s doing it for my sake is touching.

However, Mom seemed to remain unconvinced, still looking at us with a neutral expression. It was a natural look for someone like Dad, but coming from Mom it just came off as very...secretive.

“So, Rin,” Mom said, looking right at her. “Have you ever lived on your own before?”

“No,” Rin answered simply, looking as if she just wanted to turn away from Mom’s gaze, but refusing to.

“Can you take care of yourself?” This time the question was actually delivered with a hint of empathy. “If you were to be by yourself, that is?”

“I don’t want to be by myself,” Rin stated before shaking her head slightly and answering properly. “I think I can. I can do a lot of things with my feet, like eating. I can also change my clothes, even though it’s hard.”

That answer didn’t seem to satisfy Mom, who simply nodded before looking away from her. Rin also decided to look away, and I saw Dad giving me a sympathetic look.

Our food finally arrived as the waiter placed our meals down in front of us. Mom and Dad immediately started to eat, and I decided to do so as well. The food was admittedly very good, despite the fact that I wasn’t in the mood to fully enjoy it.

Unfortunately, as I was eating, something happened that completely spoiled whatever enjoyment I had for the food.

Mom and Dad stared at Rin as they ate, refusing to turn away. Specifically, they were looking at her eating, leaning back on the chair and picking up a pair of fork with her toes.

And they weren’t the only ones staring at her. As I looked around, I saw some of the customers and even the staff glance over at Rin, watching her eat with her feet. I could even see a few people pointing at her. Some looked with curiosity, some looked in awe, and some looked on in disgust.

No matter what the reason, the fact that they were staring at all was enough to tick me off. Rin seemed oblivious to all the people looking at her, or at least I hoped so. I couldn’t imagine how nerve wracking it would be to have that kind of attention upon her.

It was in that moment that I fully realized that Yamaku’s attitude towards people with disabilities was an isolated one. That what passed for everyday occurrences there was far more intriguing to the world outside of it, and that some people would not hesitate to look upon it like it was an attraction at the circus.

And among those people were my parents. I gave them a look that made it clear I didn’t approve of the fact that they’re staring at her, though I tried my best not to look angry. They seemed to get the message as they quickly looked away from Rin after that, looking ashamed.

Still, that’s only two out of who knows how many stares. I looked at Rin, who was quietly eating her pasta, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. I wondered if she was truly unaware, or if she was merely pretending to be. Either way, it felt like she was being singled out as ‘different’ from the entire restaurant, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

The rest of the dinner was mostly silence, even after we finished our meals. When the bill was paid and we made our way towards the exit, there were still people who stared at Rin as she walked by them. I could hear whispers and murmurs about her, which made me clench my fist.

Despite the good food, I was relieved when we left that place, as I felt nothing but anger and contempt towards the people inside.

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

The drive home was even more awkward than the drive out, with barely any conversation. When we did get home, Rin went upstairs without a word, leaving me to deal with my parents. Mom headed to the kitchen, leaving me and Dad sitting in the living room, waiting for the inevitable conversation to happen when she finally emerged.

“So…” Dad said awkwardly. “I know you’re mad at your Mom at me for staring at her.”

“Just a little,” I admitted. “Is it really that distracting to you? That you’re seeing someone eat with their feet?”

“Well, yes,” Dad gave me a serious look, though not an angry one. “You have to realize that we haven’t been through the same things you have. I know you’re used to it since she’s your girlfriend, but for us it’s something we haven’t seen before until now. Assuming you’ll continue to bring her home, I’m sure we’ll get used to it.”

“Assuming I’ll continue to bring her home?” I raised my eyebrow at that implication. “As opposed to…”

Dad stayed silent for a bit, probably because he knew that this conversation would get heated if he answered. Mom finally entered the room, setting down a tray with four cups of hot chocolate on the table.

“Just something to keep you warm,” She said in a motherly tone before sitting down beside Dad, who promptly put an arm over her shoulder.

“Thanks,” I said as I took a cup, sipping it. “For making four of them.”

“Of course. She’s a guest here, Hicchan,” Mom responded as she took her own cup and sipped it. “Once we’re done talking, you can take it up to her.”

“Talking about…?” I asked rhetorically. We all knew what this discussion was going to be about.

“Hicchan…” Mom said, sounding as serious as Dad was. “I need you to promise me not to be angry, alright? I know you won’t agree with what I’m going to say, but I want you to know it’s because I love you, and because I want what’s best for you. Can you promise me that?”

I stayed silent, looking at my parents. They looked nervous as they awaited my answer, and I sighed and nodded in response. We might be a little distant, but they’re still the people who raised me from birth and gave me a stable and happy childhood. I couldn’t be angry at them, at least not in any serious manner.

“So…” I said, wanting to be the one who initiated this conversation. “Are you two...mad that I brought Rin here?”

“What? No, Hicchan…” Mom responded. “We wish you hadn’t hidden that fact that she’s your girlfriend from us, but we liked that you brought someone home. It shows that you’ve grown close to people in Yamaku.”

“Then…” I swallowed hard before continuing my question, knowing how accusatory it’ll sound. “Do you not like Rin, Mom?”

She stayed silent at that, and Dad answered. “She’s certainly not who I expected your future girlfriend to be, son. But I don’t hate her, if that’s what you’re asking. And neither does your mother.”

“Your father is right, Hicchan,” Mom added. “We’re sorry we stared at her during dinner, and if it felt like we made her uncomfortable. But it just feels like she doesn’t want to be here, you know? That she doesn’t seem to want to talk to us.”

Suddenly, I felt guilty for being so frustrated with them. It’s clear that they’re trying to accommodate Rin, and they’re having a hard time getting used to her. Still, there’s definitely something that they’re not telling me.

“But, Hicchan…” Mom said in a low voice, almost a whisper. “I don’t believe you should see her, at least not for too long. If you say that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with Rin, then that’s where I have to say...no.”

And there it was, the thing I feared the most coming here. Her disapproval of our relationship, and the desire to see it end. The worst possible scenario was now no longer a worry in the back of my mind, but it’s now the reality that I’m currently dealing with.

As I looked into Mom’s eyes, I could tell she was going to be adamant about this. She wasn’t going to change her stance, and she certainly wasn’t going to drop the subject.

But...neither was I.

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Mirage_GSM
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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/4/2020)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Apr 17, 2020 2:01 pm

She could clearly see the knots on her jacket, but I suppose she wasn’t used to greeting someone without arms.
Not that Japanese people greet each other with handshakes in the first place...
Mom and Dad stared at Rin as they ate, refusing to turn away.
And that makes me wonder what they expected when they decided to take them out to a high-class restaurant - or what Hisao expected going into this.

Still one of the best interpretations of Rin around here imo.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Hacksorus
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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/4/2020)

Post by Hacksorus » Sun Apr 19, 2020 3:06 am

“Mm...then Dad is going to hate you,” Rin said with such certainty that it bordered on terrifying. “You spoiled me for marriage, then dated me, then spoiled me again. So he’ll probably hate you three times, like someone who hates fish having to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ve never seen him angry before, so I wonder what he’ll be like...”
Solid contender for my favorite Rin line on this website.

Again, very nice update. I feel like I had more to say, but it's 4am and my brain is fried. So I'll leave it at that.
I go by Snowman in most places now (SnowmanSSB if I have to sometimes). If you run into me somewhere in the internet feel free to say hi!

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Akko2099
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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/4/2020)

Post by Akko2099 » Fri May 01, 2020 2:48 am

“I know you’re mad at your Mom at me for staring at her.”
at your Mom and me
“I couldn’t feel your arms around you, so I woke up.
around me

Other than that this is a great story. The way you write Rin is almost perfect.
I knew what the last chapter was, I freaking knew Hisao's parents wouldn't approve. They control the money, so unless Hisao has the opportunity to get a scholarship or a loan, and a job on top of that to be able to live, he won't be able to be with Rin. She could stay with her parents while studying since they are so supportive, but how much would our best couple see each other?? one or two days a week? That would actually be torture, Hisao spoiled Rin (and himself) too much by being together all the time.
Rin > Hanako > Lilly > Emi > Misha > Saki > Miki > Yuuko > Akira > Hideaki > Kenji > Shizune

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