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It was two months after the Clad 0 mission, everything seemed to go back to normal. We were able to deactivate the systems and secured so that it couldn’t be activated again. Since my school hasn’t opened back up yet, I was more active in Little Wing. Most of the time it was alone, but there were times I had Nagisa or Emilia accompanying me.

I was just coming back from a mission when I noticed my visiphone was ringing.

I still wondered who would call me on my terminal, since I always have my communit on.

“Ami?”

“Oh, hey Hyuga. You always seem to contact me using my terminal when I know you have my partner card.”

“Well, I know you’ll always pick up on your terminal.”

“What? Hey! I don’t skip out on your calls.”

“Ha ha, don’t get offended. It’s just a precaution.”

“If you say so. Any who, why did you call me?”

“Have you checked out the news on the Communion recently?”

“Who hasn’t?”

As it turned out, the Communion had found another person to take on the title of Divine Maiden. After the speech Karen gave after Rykros was sealed about how Gurhal is coming to a point that we didn’t need to heavily lean on a Divine Maiden anymore, one showing up now was odd. But it seemed that Karen herself approved the appointment.

“It’s been confirmed that her first public appearance will be at this year’s Holy Light Festa.”

“The perfect PR situation. Introduce the essential mascot of the Communion on the holiday that celebrates the Holy Light. Perfect timing.”

“And as you know, I’m a follower of the Communion. That and my status as a president of GRM have given me some perks. I got an invitation to view her divination in a closer viewing area.”

“That’s good to hear. Why tell me?”

“Well the invite was for me plus one guest. You should be free for that right?”

“Oh! Well sure, I’m free.”

“This weekend okay?”

“That’s fine. We can just meet up at the PPT Shuttle in Ohtoku.”

“Aright, see you then Ami.”

As I disconnected the link, I noticed a certain researcher was looking at me with a glint in her eyes. For a long moment neither of us said anything. I could already see the gears turning in her head.

“Emilia, don’t.”

“A development in your life and you didn’t tell me?”

“It’s not a big deal. Please don’t.”

“I’m helping whether you like it or not.”

“I really don’t need it.”

“Tell me Ami, when was the last time you’ve been on an actual date?”

“Um...Never?”

“Exactly! I’m sure Ursula wouldn’t mind putting something together.”

“Emilia! No, I’m fine with the clothes I have.”

But there was no stopping her once she had an idea in her head. I just hoped that she didn’t go overboard. But she probably would. Over the next two days, it had gotten out that I was going out on a date. I think only those close to me knew who it was. But apparently me being out when it wasn’t school or a mission was rare.

Was I really to myself that much?

Apparently so.

I honestly thought I wasn’t like that anymore when I got to Little Wing.

“What’s this I hear about a date?”

“It’s not what you think Maya.”

“You’re spending time with him alone.”

“It’s the Festa, there’s going to be people all over Gurhal there.”

“Oh, the Holy Light Festa. Isn’t Neudaiz your favorite planet to travel to?”

“Yes, why does that matter?”

“Hmm so Hyuga’s taking you to your favorite place.”

“Maya! It isn’t like that at all. It’s just coincidence. I’m just collecting on an offer he made to me when I was just starting out in the Guardians. Nothing more.”

“It’s an awful lot of thought and effort into an obligation. Just saying.”

Was that really a lot?

I mean I do love Neudaiz and it was the two of us.

When I was a kid, I did like going the Holy Light Festas with Mom.

And I did believe in some of the teachings of the Communion.

I shook my head at the thoughts. I couldn’t think like that now. There was no reason for me to actually hope for something more to happen. I made my peace that all I was going to get out of Hyuga was best friend status. I didn’t need Emilia’s or Maya’s thinking to raise my expectations.

“It’s really nothing more Maya. Hyuga has always been considerate of others. I’m no different.”

“Alright then. If you keep thinking that way chances are going to slip on by and you won’t even notice.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“I should be getting back to work. Laia is still the same about work ethic.”

“Yeah I understand. Give her and Lumia my regards.”

“Of course. And one more suggestion Ami. Wear your hair down. Hyuga really likes your hair down.”

“Maya please! Cut that out!”

The day soon approached and I took Maya’s advice. It was a nice day to have it loose. I didn’t want to try and impress anyone.

Much to Emilia’s dismay.

“Emilia! What is up with this outfit?”

“It’s not bad, Ursula put her heart into it.”

“What did you tell her!”

“That you were going out on a date with a guy you really liked.”

“Oh my god Emilia. That’s true but not like this. He and I are good friends. I can’t run around a Festa and a divination wearing this.”

“Come on, let me see.”

The outfit itself wasn’t that bad. It was a white short sleeved top and blue plaid skirt with dark brown boots. The shirt was extremely form fitting and a belt was the only thing keeping it from being completely open. Just imagining myself in it with my body type made me cringe. And the skirt was way too short than I was comfortable with. I think the design is part of the Pop Series going about in Gurhal.

“There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“I know. But I’m not wearing it. I’m not going to present myself like this. The replica Ursula gave me is good enough.”

“Aww you’re no fun Ami.”

“Maybe some other time, but not with Hyuga okay?”

After some adjustments, I was ready to go. Even though Emilia couldn’t help me in the clothing department, she was attempting to give me tips all the way to the shuttle. With how she worded it, it was like a list of all my flaws or something.

“Just go for it. Don’t just be all sarcastic in the middle or anything like that.”

“Oh geeze, I thought my wit was my good point?”

“See, right there.”

“I know. Emilia calm down. I’m telling you, there’s nothing romantic about this at all. Hyuga knows me and I know him. There’s no reason for me to do extra.”

I appreciated everyone’s support in this. I really did. But I only needed to follow one piece of advice. It was bittersweet to remember it.

Professor Tomrain had told me to be myself more. To not hold back my personality for the sake of my duty.

It was odd, since Mirei said something similar when we separated.

Anyway, I arrived in Ohtoku on Neudaiz. It was less people than I imagined, but I suppose more would come when it got closer to the time of the divination. As far as I knew, there were no words of an assassination attempt on the maiden. I was glad for that actually. It made things less stressful. As much as I don’t admit it, I’m still a Guardian at heart and want to help them in any way I can. I found Hyuga sitting at a bench that was within the front entrance to the temple when I arrived.

It amazed me that he could be out in public like he is and have virtually no press following him.

I had to admit, I was getting nervous. But not as bad as when I was younger.

“Ah Ami, you made it. I was worried you might have been delayed or had second thoughts.”

“Nope. I collect on my offers you know.”

“That I should. And you wouldn’t intentionally stand people up. That’s why so many trust you.”

“You think?”

“It’s true. But lets not think too much about our jobs. We’re supposed to be getting away from all that right?”

“Right. How long until the divination?”

“Hmm, we have a couple hours.”

The time leading up to the divination, Hyuga and I spent just going to different vendors. It was odd to be out in public like this. We always seem to hang out at a cafe or out in the field during a mission. So this was a new experience for me. I was seeing Hyuga in a different way from what I’m using to seeing from a Guardian or a client. I could tell he really did appreciate the cultures that Gurhal had to offer. And he was knowledgeable. He didn’t seem to mind my wide-eyed wonder at what I was seeing at the Festa.

As a child I always thought that things regarding Neudaiz was pretty. But now I think I can appreciate it.

Mostly because I’m older and there’s actual peace in Gurhal.

I was so enthralled by the Festa event, I didn’t realize a hand was intertwined with mines until it was already done. Me being me, I let out a yelp.

“It’s just me Ami.”

“Why are you holding my hand Hyuga?”

“The closer we get to the divination time, the more crowded it becomes around here. I wouldn’t want to lose you.”

“But, we’re both adults and we have our communits. I doubt we’ll get lost.”

That didn’t loosen his hand from mines.

Not that I minded.

Once it was obvious that he wasn’t letting go, the blush crept in. I never held hands with anyone other than family before. I might have did a quick hold to show my support or give some encouragement but never like this. I enjoyed it when I finally got over the awkwardness. His hand was a comfortable kind of warm.

It was nearly time for the divination to start so we went to the Pavilion of Air. I couldn’t think of a more fitting place to have the divination take place. I had been to the venue a few times on missions as a Guardian so it was a rarity to have the public have access to it. The crowds who came to see the new maiden was massive. The last time I’ve seen such a huge turn out was during the centennial celebration of the treaty alliance.

Back when the Seed first appeared.

Our seats were near the front, in a ticketed section. I felt a little common, maybe a bit nervous. There were so many high ranking officials along the same area. Many I recognize as various members of the Communion. I wondered if I was under dressed for such an occasion.

“Don’t worry too much.”

“Hyuga?”

“You’re fine.”

Was I really that easy to read?

The crowd quieted down as it became time to start. I was excited, just a little. I suppose my curiosity to know who was the new maiden was winning. I wondered who it was. From what I read, heard from Karen, and the little snippets of Mirei’s memories I retained being a maiden is taxing. You had to have a strong mental and technic threshold to be able to channel so much photons. Especially to the point to receive visions.

Then she appeared.

She was a Newman, something I shouldn’t have been surprised about. But she was so young, maybe a little younger than Emilia. But the way she walked and looked towards the crowd felt so mature. She reminded me of Mirei in looks. Her hair was long and a purple-blue color with her eyes being a dark blue. At the corner of her right eye I could see a beauty mark.

The placement of it felt vaguely familiar.

She must have been training in secret for a while. It felt like she was meant for the role of Divine Maiden. It sounds a little embarrassing to admire a kid. But there was something about her that resonated with me. Like I felt a sort of connection.

Then she looked at me.

The feeling seemed to intensify. Like something deep down was calling to her. It’s hard to explain the feeling fully.

It was like I should know her and who she was.

When she finally spoke, it only seemed to prove how mature she really was. She had spoke about how Karen was right in saying that Gurhal’s constant need of a Divine Maiden was truly over. But she took on the role, not to prove her wrong. Instead, she took the role because she felt that the Communion wasn’t as united without one. She stressed that Karen had her full support in taking the role and promised she would do the best she could. Soon after she performed the divination.

I was amazed at seeing it be done. This was the first I was seeing it live.

It looked pretty, that was for sure. I felt a strong force of photons gathering around her. With my apparent sensitivity to photons, I felt a little queasy. I think I was better at handling it since my photon poisoning, but only marginally so.

“Are you okay Ami?”

I guess it showed on my face.

“I’m alright, just a little uncomfortable.”

“Come on, we’ll get some fresh air then.”

It was nice of Hyuga to walk me out of venue. Just outside of the pavilion was a grand hall. It reminded me of when Ethan, Lumia, and myself were in a similar hall when trying to gather support from the Communion.

“Feeling better now?”

“Yeah, thanks. I feel bad about leaving during the middle of it. I honestly thought I could handle it.”

“Don’t worry about it. I had forgotten you don’t do well with higher amount of photons.”

“Being part Newman sucks.”

I was glad that Hyuga got a laugh out of it.

I looked over the grand hall before the two of us. I reminded me so much of my mission on Neudaiz back then. Even though I rather forget the bad parts of it. In a way, I was glad it happened, it helped sort out my feelings.

“Ah, I thought I saw you two here.”

Reo was standing right behind us. I immediately looked down at myself. The memories of Clad 0 was still strong in my mind. Reo hid very well any feelings towards the mission. Even though we both sorted it out, I still felt a bit weird being around him with Hyuga was right there beside me.

“Reo? What a surprise. What are you doing here on Neudaiz?”

“I’m on a mission as a bodyguard.”

“I see. I wonder why they ask Little Wing right when they have their own guards.”

“It was a personal request. Anyway, my client asked for both you and Amimi to meet.”

“What? Why us?”

“I have no idea. My client can be a little spontaneous. She just asked for the two of you.”

We agreed and Reo escorted us to one of the meeting rooms within the Communion temple. There was no hiding the look of surprise once we saw who had asked for us.

“Maiden?”

“Please, Kusari is just fine.”

“Y-yes of course, but why the meeting?”

“Please have a seat. It’s nothing important. I just wanted to meet the two people my bodyguard talks so much about. I’m happy you accepted my invitation to the Festa, Hyuga.”

“That was you Mai-I mean Kusari?”

Being this close to Kusari brought that feeling of familiarity back in full force. Questions were running in my head at a breakneck speed. Why would Kusari take such an interest in us? Did she even know that Hyuga would try to invite me?

Something didn’t add up.

It felt off.

“You’re giving that look.”

I was shocked at the blunt tone Kusari was speaking.

“You’re trying to piece everything together. Not everything has to have a reason behind it. I can assure you, as long as you’re my guests you are safe here.”

Kusari had a point. She didn’t have to do all of this for us, so I suppose I shouldn’t be so suspicious of everything if it didn’t make sense. I looked down at my hands in shame. I shouldn’t have let my mind reach that way.

“I apologize Maiden.”

“It’s quite alright Ami. Your way of thinking isn’t completely without merit. You’ve gone through a lot in these short years. I don’t blame you at all. How about I offer a personal vision as a token of friendship?”

“Are you allowed to do that?”

“If no one says anything. Besides it’s just for fun.”

I was curious about what she would see.

“Alright then.”

“You sure Ami?”

“Well, I’ll be fine Hyuga. Besides it’s not like she’ll see the end of the world or anything.”

“That’s true...”

I took my hands into Kusari’s. Instantly I felt complete? It was a weird feeling, almost like this was meant to happen. It felt weird watching Kusari look at me so intensely. Almost like looking into my soul. Seeing her in this state really reminded me of Mirei. Despite the intensity, there was a hidden kindness flickering in her eyes.

I missed Mirei a little then. Even if it was a complete accident she was inside me.

I would have became a pawn of Dark Falz long ago if she hadn’t.

“Hmm, very interesting...”

“What did you see?”

“Well, it’s hard to say. But you need to let go. Let things be as it should.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You try too hard for others’ kindness. You hide your wants and needs behind the justification of making it easier for them. In the end, you really just make them worry more. Your sacrifices aren’t any less important even though you’re still living. Let go of that. Let go of that martyr-esque thinking and just let things happen for what they are. Don’t suffer alone anymore.”

Immediately I moved my hands away from Kusari. It was almost like her hands had burned me. I felt so sick to my stomach. Those words had hurt me more than any physical attack had. And the worst part was that, in the deepest recess of my mind, she was right. The air around me felt stagnant, suffocating.

I needed to leave.

“Excuse me.”

I left before anyone could stop me. I needed to get away from the temples. I needed to get away from Ohtoku. I wasn’t even thinking as I took a flyer to one of the creature infested islands of Neudaiz. Even though Dark Falz and its fragments were gone, mutated creatures as a result were still rampant through Gurhal.

It would be a good way to not think about what just happened.

I was glad for the distraction. Just purifying mutated creatures. I had done this so many times for so many years, it was almost no thought process put into it. I was done with the purification all too quickly. I found myself in one of the heavily forested areas. Now that I was without a distraction, Kusari’s words came back.

Was I really thinking like this?

I thought had I gotten over that when I talked with Karen.

Was I really content with suffering quietly?

Discomfort led to frustration. So much so I wanted to scream. The temptation to do so was so strong. I thought I was okay with Dark Falz and the Seed gone, but it just seems that I have a mountain of personal issues to take up the mantle.

God, I hated this part of myself so much.

When I think I’m doing okay, I get a brisk reminder that I wasn’t.

“Ami? Ami!”

I looked and saw that Hyuga was coming towards me. I didn’t want him to see me at such a state. So I ran further into the area. I really just needed to be by myself for a little while. But with the sound of his footsteps, he wasn’t going to let it happen. I knew I had to face him eventually. So I stopped.

“You should really stop running off on your own.”

“I’m sorry, I just wanted to be alone.”

“Come on, lets at least sit down and talk about it.”

He led me to the clearing of the forest, which turned out to be a ledge that oversaw the entire forest district. I sat at the edge, letting my feet dangle. Once upon a time I would have been afraid of falling but it seemed so insignificant now. I heard shuffling as Hyuga took a seat beside me. For a while it was just silence with the both of us taking in the sight.

“How did you know where I was?”

“Kusari suggested I check out the flyer base. When you’re a president of a company, information is a bit easier to come by.”

“I see...sorry I basically ruined our date.”

“It’s not a problem. You can’t help what happened. I just wished you could open up to me a lot more.”

“Wha-”

“I know what happened on Clad 0.”

That, really wasn’t that surprising.

“I assume Reo told you then.”

“When he was cleared from the hospital actually. You know I don’t believe that there’s suddenly a dragon down there when there was not even an inkling of it when we did our original analysis. Reo knew this too so he told me the truth. I didn’t think his powers would manifest like that.”

“Wait, wait wait. You’ve known about his powers and you neglected to tell me?”

“It’s not my place. But that’s hardly the point. You feel the need to hold stuff back on the count of others’ feelings. But we’re not made of glass, we can handle it Ami. Don’t struggle on the inside for our sake.”

I knew that. In my brain I knew what he was saying was true. I should open up to him and the others more. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want the others to be burdened by me. Especially for Hyuga. He’s been through so much already. I didn’t want to add my troubles to it. I sighed again. It seemed my solutions made things worse.

Just like Kusari said.

“I’m sorry. It seems I keep screwing things up. But I do trust you. I trust you with my life even.”

“I know Ami. I trust you with mines too. When I turned into Seed-Venas, a lot of things were hazy. But I remember fighting you all. I didn’t want to hurt any of you. I...was alright dying if it meant I couldn’t kill any of you. But then I remembered what you told Howzer. I remembered what you told me that day in the hospital. It was a small part in keeping me going. I knew I couldn’t die until I got to talk to you about it.”

I became silent.

Wait a second.

“You remembered? How long?”

“I never forgot. Like I said, things were hazy, but slowly it got clearer. I guess after Rykros everything came back.”

“How come you didn’t tell me?”

“I wanted you to be the one who said it. It didn’t feel right to bring it up until you were ready.”

I started to laugh. I wasn’t laughing at him. But at myself. I was so stressed about what ifs and rejections and Hyuga knew the entire time I had fallen in love with him.

“Ami?”

“I’m fine. I really should have known. You were closer and more personal after you woke up and I should have realized. I was thinking about telling you but then Dad told me he was working for you and I just decided to not say anything.”

“That shouldn’t matter. Besides I’m sure Shion wouldn’t have minded. He has your happiness and mines in mind. If it happened to be with each other then it’ll be just two less things for him to worry about.”

“Wait a second, with each other? You’re willing to give this a try?”

Hyuga responded to my question by putting his arms around my shoulders and letting me rest my head on his chest. This was different from any other moment we had together. This felt more personal. For the first time in a long while, I felt safe with someone so openly. It was comforting.

“I wouldn’t have done so much if I wasn’t the least bit interested. Lets see how it works.”

“You’re not saying yes because of feeling sorry for me are you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous Ami. I genuinely want to try this with you.”

It was silent afterwards. I was absorbing all that just happened. In the span of a day I just released years worth of hidden feelings and I felt alright with it.

“Thanks Hyuga. Really.”

“It’s the least I can do. We should head back, I’m sure the others would want to know what happened.”

“I’m starting to have a feeling this was their objective.”

“You too?”

He helped me up. Instead of letting my hand go, he kept holding on to it. I was a little embarrassed. But it was something I was going to get used to. He lowered his head to mines, just enough to touch foreheads. He smiled his usual smile at me, which was charming.

“Before we go back, I want to hear it from you.”

“Oh? And what if I don’t?”

“After all we’ve been through Dear Ami?”

“Fine. Fine.”

I used my free hand to touch his cheek. He smiled some more as he leaned into it. It felt weird to show so much affection so openly now. I had never guessed that I would be in this situation.

“I love you Hyuga.”