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Accepting Kindness

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Shiori never used to be good at taking compliments.

She didn't get that many of them in the first place, but when she did, she'd always assumed that they couldn't possibly have been genuine; as far as she'd been concerned, anything nice that anyone could say to or about her of all people had to be a lie designed to make fun of how plain and worthless she really was. Ever since some of her childhood bullies had used fake praise against her that way, she'd had the greatest difficulty trusting any kind words directed at her.

Yet the compliments she'd most refused to accept were the ones that came from her own friend, the one person who by rights she should've been able to trust. When Juri was so blessed with beauty and talent and everyone's adoration, her compliments always used to feel incredibly patronising, as if Shiori was a helpless little girl she was coddling and taking pity on for not being as amazing as she was. After a certain point -– around the time they were both just entering middle school, as Shiori recalled –- she started to question if Juri was even truly looking at her, which only served to bring her increasing resentment closer and closer to boiling point.

She'd hated her so much for that, even while she also loved her and hated herself for loving her.

More recently, there had been someone whose compliments she accepted -– or rather, she'd desperately clung to them, both because she wanted to feel loved and because she wanted to draw Juri's eyes to her again. It was bitterly ironic that the first time she'd believed in such words in so long -– or made herself believe in them, she'd realised too late -– was when Ruka was using honeyed lies to lure her into a humiliating trap.

After he'd made her the laughing stock of the entire school, at first she'd thought she could never so much as show her face to anyone again; suddenly, all the distrust she used to feel towards anyone complimenting her seemed utterly foolish compared to the sheer mockery she justifiably expected following the public breakup. It had initially added to her worst self-loathing yet -– but later, perhaps because her experience with Ruka and lashing out at Juri proved to be catalysts for making her truly examine herself for the first time in so long, she found that she was actually starting to grow a little stronger for it. Now that she had a better perspective on her own feelings, she finally felt as though she could take steps towards improving herself, and that she could improve herself -– starting with no longer assuming the worst of anyone's kindness towards her, least of all Juri's.

This had ultimately led her to join Ohtori's fencing team, with whom she had just finished practice for the day now.

"Your form's improved a lot since you started," Juri told her with an encouraging smile. "Keep up the good work, Shiori."

Instead of bristling at her words like she would've done years ago or even mere months ago, Shiori brightly thanked her for the praise.

She knew for certain that Juri wasn't talking down to her this time. She also knew the simple fact Juri let her join the fencing team meant she was no longer treating her like something to be coddled, and that she was willingly giving her this chance to grow and better herself, even though she could've just as easily turned her down and never forgiven her for what she'd done to her before.

Juri had changed and was moving forward, so Shiori felt it was only right that she was doing the same herself.

Accepting compliments at face value from the girl she loved was but one of many steps she was taking towards becoming someone who could finally feel worthy of them.