“Apologies for the wait. Here’s your coffee!” A first year high school girl set down two plastic cups of coffee in front of two second years. The shorter one immediately dumped most, if not all the milk they provided her into the cup, while the taller one pensively took in the aroma.
“Sorry, but do you mind if I could get another packet of sugar? You seem to be out at this table.” Mao requested as she pointed at the empty holder, having took the last two packets and seemingly needing another one. The first year laughed nervously and rubbed a hand at the back of her neck, but nodded and went to grab a new batch of sugar packets for them. Miharu took a sip of the coffee as it was.
She noted the similarities in Rinka’s brewing, as well as the differences. No doubt that Rinka’s is much more refined, but Miharu has to hand it to Naomi that she taught her class well in such a short amount of time. However, as much as she would have liked to dwell on that topic, she couldn’t help but worry herself over Rinka and the so called “transfer student”. She had left for a couple minutes already, so Miharu and Mao stayed put and got another cup together.
“Miharun, what’s up?” Mao chimed, noticing the creases between Miharu’s brows. “Is the coffee too bitter? I can give you the rest of the milk if you need it.”
The taller girl instinctively smiled and shook her head.
“Haha. No, it’s not, but thanks. I was just a bit curious about the transfer student you menti-”
And then it happened.
A roaring explosion so strong that it shook the ground at their feet, and sound of shattering glass pierced the air. Miharu’s eyes widened, having already connected the dots. The students that were in the classroom together with them had fallen to the floor, looking at each other in panic.
Miharu wasted no time. She shot up to her feet and darted for the door, not sparing a single thought for the spilt coffee soaking the tablecloth and dripping onto the floor.
“M-Miharun!” Mao called out after her.
“Mao! Call the police, now! I’m going to find Rinka!”
Mao flinched. She had never seen Miharu’s eyes so wild with emotion before. Brimming with courage...but also swirling with fear.
Without a second thought, Mao whipped out her cell phone and dialed the emergency number.
“F-Fire! There’s a fire! Everyone get out!!” A student shouted as crowds flooded through the halls. While everyone swarmed to the exits, Miharu was the only one going against the crowd.
There’s no doubt in her mind that the explosion wasn’t just a coincidence. Rinka’s in trouble, not to mention Naomi as well.
Miharu’s above average height (for Japanese high school girls, at least) gave herself an easier time to weave through the walls of panicking students and towards the stairwell. As she climbed, the smoke grew thicker. Her eyes began to sting and her chest felt as if it was being clogged, but it did not cause Miharu to falter in the slightest. At that moment, nothing mattered to her except for Rinka’s safety. It’s not possible to die during the Divine Selection process, but participants are still just as easily susceptible to being handicapped, and Miharu was not going to let that happen to Rinka.
Miharu arrived at the floor where the explosion had come from. She swung open the doors and ran into the hallways, quickly following the trail of black smoke. Not long after, she spotted a room with fire crawling out the doors and into the halls. Her heart nearly jumped out of her throat as she ran toward it. But just as she approached, she caught a glimpse of a silhouette through the thick, hazy smoke that spewed from the classroom. The silhouette was a lean looking figure, about Rinka’s height, but any other distinguishing features were indiscernible as the smog clouded their face.
“Who’s there!?” Miharu called out. There was no response, not that Miharu exactly expected one. But just before they turned around and faded before the ocean of flames, Miharu almost felt her soul getting pierced by a sharp gaze through fierce, yet grieving eyes. She quickly shook off the feeling, prioritizing her mission at hand.
“Rinka! Rinka, are you in here!?” She shouted as she burst into the room. However, her only response she received was the crackling flames. Miharu put a sleeve to her mouth and nose as she coughed, the smoke burning at her lungs and throat. “Rinka!!” She shouted again, attempting to search through the scattered, burning desks for the girl’s golden streaks of hair or crimson red jacket. Somehow, through the waves of heat, Miharu spotted Rinka laying face down on the floor behind, the flames licking at her clothes and skin. A force seemed to take over Miharu’s body as she sprang into action, not wasting a second as she charged through the flames towards Rinka’s body. She grabbed a desk that was blocking her path, ignoring the stinging heat upon her hands as she tossed it to the side. Just as she kneeled beside Rinka to drag her away from the flames, she noticed another body being swallowed in flames in front of her.
The sight of it in itself made Miharu’s stomach churn, not to mention the nauseating scent. Her skin had already been mostly seared off, and her neck was twisted into an unnatural position. The smell of the burned flesh was something Miharu was sure she would never forget.
She turned Rinka over, placing an arm under her knees and across her back as she picked her up. Thankfully, Rinka was small enough for someone of Miharu’s height to carry easily. As she turned for the exit, she spared another sorrowful glance at Naomi’s corpse.
At that moment, a bitter wave of guilt and regret washed over her. The words she said, the disdain she held...she regretted all of it, and the foul beast of self-loathing that constantly loomed over Miharu’s head seemed to grow even bigger.
Miharu wished she could bring Naomi with her too. She truly did, though she knew she was already gone.
“...I’m sorry.” She choked out before tearing her gaze away from her underclassman. Whether or not the tears that followed afterwards were from the stinging smoke or a result of her own emotions would be a mystery to Miharu herself.
Meanwhile, outside the Amecha High building gates, swarms of the students had gathered together as they watched smoke billow from their beloved school. Mao was among them, frantically searching for any sign of her three cherished friends through the flooding sea of students running out from the building.
Miharu, Naomi, Rinka, any of them. But as the waves of high school girls trickled down to a stop, a buzzing panic took over Mao’s head.
“C’mon, you three…! Where are you!?” She muttered under her breath she tried to push back tears.
“The fire is from the third floor, get on it!”
Mao spun around as she heard a commanding voice from behind her, spotting the squad of firefighters marching towards the school. Without thinking, she ran up to one of them and grabbed hold of their arm.
“Please! Miharun, Rinny, Naorin...my friends…!” Mao begged. “They haven’t come out yet!! That idiot Miharun went off on her own and, and…!” The firefighter calmly placed a hand on top of Mao’s.
“We got it, young miss. We’ll be sure to get everyone to safety.” Offering these words of assurance, the firefighters took off with the rest of their squad. Mao could do nothing but watch as they charged through the entrance, her knees trembling underneath her. As the last firefighter disappeared through the doors, her legs gave in and she crumbled to the floor.
But she didn’t let herself cry. Not yet.
Not until she knew her friends were safe.
Mao wasn’t religious, but nevertheless, she closed her eyes tight and held her hands together to offer a plea to whatever god might exist, that her treasured friends would be alright.
“Yu...why…” Rinka winced as she muttered a name in her unconsciousness. Miharu heard it, taking note of it for later as she continued to carry her beloved down the stairs. For now, she was only concerned about getting them both out of the building. Miharu didn’t even have time to think about the way Rinka had been unconsciously gripping at Miharu’s shirt as she made her way downstairs. At this level, she’d already gotten away from most of the smoke, but her breathing has become ragged from what she’d inhaled earlier, and her hair stuck against her face and neck from her sweat.
“Hang in there, Rinka…” She muttered. Just as she was about to go down the last flight, she heard thundering footsteps echoing towards her.
“H-Hey, you! What are you still doing here! It’s dangerous!”
Miharu was stunned for a moment upon getting yelled at, but soon breathed a sigh of relief upon realizing they were uniformed and equipped firefighters.
“My underclassman...her body is still in the fire…” Miharu said as she attempted to gesture up the stairs. “She’s already…” She trailed off. Her gaze fell to the floor upon remembering the harrowing sight.
One of the firefighters approached her, gently taking Rinka from her hands. Another put their arm around her shoulder.
“Don’t worry. We’ll make sure to do the best we can. Come on.”
“...Thank you.” Miharu could only offer weak words of gratitude to the rescuers. She was nearly running on fumes.
As they were exiting the building, Rinka began to regain consciousness. The lids of her eyes fluttered open as she coughed. “Mi...haru…?” Rinka mumbled, having heard a familiar voice. Miharu’s eyes widened at the sound of her name.
“I’m right here, Rinka.”
As the firefighters came out from the building, Mao gasped, shooting up to her feet. Rinka was being carried in one of the firefighter’s arms, while Miharu trailed not too far behind as another firefighter guided her along.
“Miharun!! Rinny!!” Mao shouted, running towards the former.
Tears came streaming down Mao’s cheeks as she all but leapt into Miharu. She wrapped her arms around Miharu’s neck, weeping into the crook of it. Miharu’s mind went blank for a split second, not exactly used to physical affection like this, but she eventually smiled and wordlessly returned the embrace.
“Stupid, Stupid Miharun!” Mao scolded as she pulled away to pound Miharu on her shoulder with a fist. The taller girl has no response other than an apologetic smile, to which Mao’s face twisted into a mix of anger and worry. “How can you still smile in a situation like this!? I was worried sick!!” As Mao looked around, her eyes widened in realization. “Where’s Naorin?”
Miharu flinched. The image of Naomi’s corpse flooded back into her mind upon hearing her name. She could only imagine the face Mao would make upon learning of her death, and it was something Miharu wasn’t ready to see. Not when Mao was both her and Rinka’s form of support. Their only pillar in the midst of the life changing disturbance in their daily life.
“I...don’t know.” She lied. Miharu wondered how many times she’d be forced to lie time and time again throughout this Divine Selection. The taste on her tongue every time she spat out a lie to protect the ones she cared about wasn’t one that she wanted to get used to. She could tell that Mao wanted to ask more questions, but the firefighter interrupted them.
“Miss, we should head over to get you treated. The smoke from the fire has probably affected you, so we need to get you taken care of.” The two girls shared a look with each other for a few seconds before nodding, agreeing to put off the conversation for later. They headed over to the ambulance car side by side, Mao clinging onto Miharu’s sleeve with one hand while she wiped at her eyes with the other.
Mao watched as the medics gave Miharu some basic care, after which came the police questioning. She could tell that Miharu was giving them vague answers.
Once they were done, Miharu and Mao sat in silence at the back of the ambulance. They patiently observed Rinka from the distance as she was being treated. She had suffered the brunt of the fire and was closest when the explosion happened, and thus required more extensive care. The police attempted to ask her some questions as well, but Rinka seemed mainly unresponsive, barely nodding or shaking her head.
Miharu tore her gaze away from Rinka to look down at her own bandaged hands, which were a bit pink and blistered from her burns. They were only minor, but she never even noticed the pain of them until now. Her eyes trailed up to the charred hems of her sleeves, tracing over the scars revealed underneath them that marred the skin upon on her wrist. The medic from earlier had obviously noticed them, but said nothing about it as they bandaged Miharu’s hands. However, the sympathy that flickered in their eyes and the gentle smile they gave her was something Miharu wouldn’t forget.
She sighed, trying to pull down the cloth before accepting that it would no longer hide the scars and instead settled on rubbing at her wrists.
“I knew you were madly in love, and they say love makes you stupid things, but…” Mao said, much calmer from earlier now. “Look, I’m not going to say what you did was wrong, but please, Miharun.” She put a hand on Miharu’s shoulder. Miharu hesitantly lifted her head to look at Mao in the eyes. “Take some more consideration for yourself before you throw yourself in a room on fire. I care about you too...Okay?” Mao tilted her head, the smile on her lips betraying the glisten in her eyes.
“...Yeah...Thanks.” Miharu looked away. Seeing the rare look on Mao’s face somehow made her feel vulnerable. Mao frowned at Miharu’s clipped response, but she easily picked up on her body language and decided to not push it any further, opting to change the topic instead.
“Rinny sure is out of it.” She pointed out. Rinka was staring into the floor, all determination and life drained from her eyes. “You should probably take her home, Miharun. If she tries to go by herself, she might end up who knows where.” Mao encouraged, nudging Miharu with an elbow.
“Yeah...you’re probably right…” Miharu nodded. “You ought to head home too, Mao. They’ll probably chase you away soon, too. It’s getting late, after all.”
Most of the remaining students had already cleared out of the front of the school building, taking off for home. Only a few teachers remained with the police and investigators.
Mao reluctantly stood to her feet to take her leave after noticing the police eyeing at them. She gave Miharu one last hug.
“I’m glad you’re alright, Miharun.” She whispered softly. Once Miharu returned the hug, Mao shakily walked over to Rinka to give her a tight embrace as well, though Rinka didn’t respond; Not that Mao was expecting much in the first place. She let Rinka go as she stepped back, turning around to head for home. Mao waved one last goodbye to Miharu, and Miharu waved back as she watched her back disappear into the violet hued horizon.
“Hey, Rinka...Let’s go home…” Miharu said, quietly approaching Rinka. Rinka continued to stare off into nowhere, as if her own soul had disappeared. Miharu sighed, though she understood. She gently took hold of her hand and pulled her up to stand. Though she complied easily enough, she still seemed to have no sense of self-autonomy, prompting Miharu to place a hand on the small of her back to get her started on walking as they headed for the train station.
The train ride to Rinka’s home was made mostly in silence, unsurprisingly. Though it was already dark, night people still packed themselves in the train, on the way to club and drink. Miharu ushered Rinka on the train, to which they garnered raised brows. Two high school girls in the middle of the night, covered with ashes and soot isn’t quite something you see everyday. While Miharu was aware of these curious glances, she paid them no mind, being already preoccupied with Rinka’s state.
While Miharu held onto one of the hand grips above, Rinka did not follow. As the train moved back into motion with a steady lurch, Miharu quickly reached out and pulled Rinka towards herself by the waist to stop her from falling over. The taller girl sighed, already having lost count how many times it’d been today. She tightened her grip on her loved one’s waist, riding the rest of the trip in silence. Miharu simply stared ahead into their reflection upon the window, tracing the lines of Rinka’s features upon her darkened and hopeless face.
Once they approached Lion House, Miharu dropped Rinka off at the entrance. Rinka seemed to have some sort of will regained, as she weakly thanked Miharu before heading inside. Miharu quietly watched as her back slinked into the darkness of the building. She turned and took a deep breath. There’s no doubt in her mind now what she must do, after seeing Rinka in a state she never wanted to see her in again. Miharu’s determination to see Rinka’s smile again burned greater than the flames that she braved that day.
Miharu barely managed to catch the last train home. Normally at this hour she would be approached by sketchy men asking how old she is with an all too familiar sly grin, but thankfully her current appearance seemed to fend off such unwanted advances tonight.
She approached her apartment, shakily sliding the key in and unlocking the door with a click. She entered, taking off her shoes by the door before closing it behind her, sealing off the light within the pitch black apartment.
She stood there in silence for a moment, peering into the thick darkness of the room.
No worried text or phone call. No lights left on for family members who haven’t returned home yet. No “welcome home”. It’s something Miharu has learned to get used to over the years.
After taking a deep breath, she flicked on a dim light. It didn’t surprise her that there were bottles of alcohol scattered around the floor. Despite her exhaustion, she gingerly picked them up and tossed them into the garbage.
Miharu sauntered into the bathroom afterwards, switching on the light and peering into the mirror.
Her bandaged fingers brushed over the black smudges of ash on her face. Miharu normally took the effort to look presentable whenever she went out: Pretty clothes, perfect makeup, silky smooth hair…
Seeing herself like this was almost a breath of relief, thinking that it was as if her outward appearance finally reflected more of what she felt on the inside day after day.
Just an exhausted child who grew up faster than she ever wanted to.
A child who can’t and doesn’t know how find her own way in life.
Miharu turned away as the taste in her mouth grew more foul the longer she looked at the girl in the mirror. She quickly undressed herself to shower, unwrapping the bandages on her hands as well. Though the water stung at the burns, Miharu’s thoughts were already filled with what her next step would be the next day to care.
She dressed herself back as she finished, neglecting to treat her burns. Miharu folded her school uniform and set it aside, reminding herself to get a new one later.
As she made her way to her bedroom, not having the energy to make dinner nor the appetite to eat, her gaze trailed to her mother’s own bedroom door. For a split second, Miharu dangerously entertained the idea whether or not her mother would care had she known she’d flung herself into a room full of flames. Her consciousness, however, immediately provided her the answer she’d already known. Holding back a laugh at her own weakness, Miharu entered her room.
Miharu all but threw herself on her bed, her body grateful that she finally found a moment’s respite. Though the lids of her eyes already weighed down like lead, she was afraid to close them. She was afraid to see her again. Even so, the events of the day forcefully replayed themselves through her mind’s eye.
The roaring explosion.
The shake of the building and the panicked cries of students.
The shadow beyond the smoke. Crackling fire.
Rinka’s body. Mao’s tears.
Though she begged her own self not to remember, the image still wormed its way into her head. Miharu tried to force down the lurch of her stomach, heaving as she clapped a hand over her mouth. Though it was only a fleeting flash of memory, the sight still seemed to etch itself permanently into Miharu’s mind. Perhaps it was the right decision to not eat that night.
As exhaustion continued to wrap itself around Miharu’s being, she reluctantly decided to finally give in. She could only pray that those same images would not haunt her in her dreams.
But her prayers would not come true.
On the way back from negotiations with Odette, Federico, and Scale, Miharu stopped by Lion House. The mental toll of negotiating life and death matters weighed heavily on her shoulders.
“I wonder what Rinka’s doing…”
She didn't want to go inside. Rather, she was afraid that her presence wouldn't do anything to comfort Rinka given the situation. She’d convinced herself that she alone cannot give Rinka hope after Naomi’s death.
This side of her – her complete lack of faith in her own being and giving in so easily to her flawed reasoning – is something she doesn’t want anyone to see.
She gazed through the window, perhaps in some hope to see Rinka. As she pondered, she noticed a silhouette move slightly. A flicker of both excitement and panic pins a needle in her heart, though the black shadow disappeared as soon as it came. Miharu sighed, figuring it was about time she headed home. She turned to leave, only to see a similar black blob at her feet.
It was Lethe. Rinka had told her about her cat on numerous occasions before, but she’d never met him until now.
“Hey there, little one. I’m more of a dog person, but…” Miharu reached down with a hand outstretched to pet Lethe. Just before her fingers brushed against his fur, a sharp pain speared her head.
Miharu touched a palm to her forehead as she collapsed on the floor. Blurry images of what seemed to be an androgynous looking man flowed into her mind, but they quickly disappeared before she could wonder why he seemed so familiar.
A loud mewl brought Miharu to her senses. She opened her eyes and saw the black cat sitting in front of her with its head tilted to the side in what Miharu deciphered as concern.
She slowly stood to her feet as she rubbed at her temples.
“What in the world was that…?” Miharu bent down to try and scratch at Lethe’s head one more time. This time, the same thing didn't repeat itself. “I must be exhausted or something. I should probably go home to get some rest.”
After Lethe purred at her touch, Miharu turned to leave, but Lethe meowed at her once more. She looked down at him.
“What is it? I’m sorry, but I have to-” Lethe meowed again, but louder with what seemed to be a hint of eagerness. His tail flicked to the left and right smoothly as he trotted over to the entrance of Lion House, then pawed at the door, looking at Miharu eagerly afterwards. “Oh? Are you stuck outside?”
Obviously, Miharu couldn't understand what the cat was trying to say, but she assumed this was the case. She took a deep breath and exhaled through her nose.
“I guess I don’t have a choice…” She took a step forward and pressed the buzzer. Lethe sat next to her feet as they waited. A minute passed, yet Rinka didn't come down. “What should we do? It doesn’t seem like Rinka’s coming…” Miharu said to herself–well, to Lethe as well, as odd as it sounded to her own self.
“Meow.” Lethe slinked away, and Miharu found herself following after him. He looked up at the same window Miharu had been gazing up at just moments before. Lethe glanced at Miharu before he stared back up and meowed loudly.
“You're...trying to call to your master, aren't you? To Rinka…”
Suddenly, Miharu recalled a conversation she and Mao had just the other day.
“Miharu...You haven’t gone to see Rinka yet, have you?” Miharu hadn't responded, though Mao did see her read receipt.
“You know, Miharu...I know we’re used to being alone and shunned and all that. But that doesn’t mean we have to treat each other like that. Especially right now, when we all need each other the most…”
“I guess what I’m trying to say is, Rinny’s not the kind of girl who will ask for help on her own. She wouldn’t want to burden others for her own sake...Heh, sound familiar to you?”
“Well, in any case...I’m planning on meeting Rinny later this week, no matter what, even if I have to shout from the entrance of Lion House to get her to open up, whether you decide to or not.”
Miharu read the message thoroughly before sending a short response three minutes later.
“Thank you, Mao.”
Though it was such a short message, Mao knew Miharu had taken her words to heart. That girl was a woman of few words, after all. Through text, at least.
After scrolling through the messages, Miharu huffed and put her phone away. She breathed in deeply through her nose and exhaled, placing a hand on her chest to calm her erratic heart. Then she cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted upwards.
Miharu exchanged glances with the cat. He seemed almost as if he was helping her, more than her helping him. Miharu looked back up to the window and saw no sign of movement. She repeated the procedure, calling out louder this time.
Still, nothing. Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone out on the street at this time, which gave Miharu a final push to try one more time. She mustered her courage to shout with all her might.
Finally, she saw a familiar silhouette fidget through the window before the window swung open. Just before she could see her face, Miharu plastered on her normal smile to continue her facade of strength.
“Miharu…? What are you…?” Rinka said. It was difficult to hear what she was saying, but Miharu happened to catch it.
“Um...your cat. It seemed like it couldn’t get inside so…” Miharu trailed off. Rinka looked terrible, and normally Miharu would have said something along the lines of “She’s still cute no matter what”, but under the current circumstances, a wave of concern washed over her instead.
“Lethe…?” Rinka noticed the black cat at Miharu’s feet. When she made eye contact with him, he flicked his tail and moved towards the entrance door. Rinka sighed. “I’ll be down there in a minute, alright? Wait right there.”
Rinka knew she looked like a mess, but since it’s Miharu, she didn’t spend more than running a hand through her hair as she scrambled down the stairs before opening the entrance door, not really bothering to turn on the lights either. The two girls watched as Lethe darted in and slinked off somewhere in the shadows of the cafe.
“...Thanks. I’m pretty sure Lethe was with me in my room just now, but I guess I must have been imagining it…”
“Is that so?” Was the only thing Miharu could manage to say after seeing the state Rinka was in. There were so many things to say that she didn’t know which to ask first.
“Are you eating?”
“Have you been staying in all this time?”
“Have you talked to anyone?”
All of which, she believed she knew the answers to already. Reminding herself of Mao’s words, she mustered up her courage once more.
“Rinka, can I come in?”
“Do you want to come inside?”
Though their words collided, they realized they both beared the same intentions. They chuckle awkwardly as Miharu steps into the Lion House.
There was another blanket awkward silence. Rinka held one arm with her other, standing there looking thin and frail as if she might crumble at the drop of a dime.
Miharu, unable to search for the right words, opened up her arms. Rinka was taken back by the gesture, but upon seeing Miharu’s look on her face, her composure broke into pieces. Tears gushed out as if a dam had broken as she all but leapt into Miharu’s body. For the second time during those past few weeks, Rinka cried her heart out to Miharu.
Miharu embraced her as tightly as she possibly could as Rinka wailed, her clothes muffling her cries. It took all of her strength to keep herself from crying too, though she could not hold back a few tears as they streaked down her cheek.
When Rinka’s sobs slowly quieted down, she separated herself and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hands.
“...Thank you, Miharu.” She said with a sniff.
“Think nothing of it.” Miharu replied, unconsciously reaching out and putting a hand upon Rinka’s cheek, stroking away a stray tear with her thumb. As she realized what she was doing, she tried to pull away, but Rinka put a hand on hers and leaned into her touch.
Rinka had been alone ever since the funeral until now, devoid of another person’s warmth. When Miharu reached out to her, she realized how much she craved someone elses touch.
“Rinka…I…” Miharu’s mind jumbled at the unexpected affection. As much as she would like to indulge in the feelings flaring up inside her chest, she put up the steel face of faux determination again. “I...I know you’re hurting right now. I am too...not only from seeing you like this, but Hitsuji-san as well. Rinka, I promise you this,” She declared. “I’m doing everything in my power to fix this.”
Though she knew these may not be the words Rinka wanted, but Miharu believed they were ones she must hear. After seeing her downward gaze, Miharu took Rinka’s hand and put her other over it, squeezing it gently as she smiled. Whether this one was just another to cover up her fear or a genuine one, Miharu wasn’t sure herself.
Thinking that she’d overstayed her welcome, Miharu let go and turned away to leave. However, Rinka stepped forward and caught her hand before she could reach for the door.
“Wait...please…” She said, barely above a whisper. Miharu slowly turned to look at Rinka. “Can you...stay with me a while longer?”
Miharu’s heart clenched at the sight of Rinka’s eyes. While they once flared with determination to rival a lion’s, they now flickered weakly like a candle at the last of its wick. She couldn’t find the heart to turn down such a request.
“...Alright.” She nodded and moved closer to Rinka, hand still in hers. The corners of Rinka’s lips lifted ever so slightly as she whispered a thank you. But as her gaze fell downward, something seemed to catch her attention. She lifted Miharu’s hand up closer to her eyes to inspect it, then frowned.
“Your hands...they’re burned.” She pointed out.
“Oh, that. It’s alright. It doesn’t hurt that mu-”
“It’s not alright,” Rinka interrupted. “They’re from when you were pulling me out of the fire, right? It doesn’t look like you’ve been caring for it properly, either.” Miharu’s silence and sideward gaze was enough to answer Rinka’s suspicions. “Come here. Take a seat.” She pulled Miharu along to one of the chairs by the window. Miharu followed Rinka obediently and sat in the chair to wait as Rinka left and headed upstairs to grab what she assumed was some first aid supplies.
Miharu watched as Rinka disappeared up the stairs, then gazed out the window and into the golden streaked sky. It reminded her of the ones Rinka’s hair. She looked down at her hands, tracing over the pink outlines marked along the back and fingers before she heard Rinka’s footsteps coming down the stairs. She lifted her head and watched as Rinka set a kit down onto the table and took a seat close to Miharu. Miharu’s breath hitched at the proximity before Rinka asked for her hands. She quickly snapped out of her trance and held out one of them to her as Rinka gently grasped it.
“Um...you don’t mind, do you?” Rinka asked in a soft tone, looking into Miharu’s eyes with a smile. Miharu knew what she was talking about, and ideally she wouldn’t want to show Rinka the marks of what she considered to be her weakness, but Rinka had already known about them from the start. Thus, Miharu silently shook her head as Rinka slowly pushed up the sleeve of her blouse up to her elbow.
She wiped at the burns with a cold, damp cloth before applying ointment onto them. Miharu winced as the ointment stung at the pink marks upon her skin, but the pain quickly subsided into a cooling sensation. Once Rinka finished applying the ointment, she paused upon touching the scars that marred the skin on Miharu’s wrist. She softly brushed her thumb across them as her brows furrowed together. Though Miharu’s first instinct was to pull away, a sort of comfort seemed to sooth the buzzing anxiety in her mind as she felt Rinka’s touch upon them.
Rinka rolled the sleeve back down to cover her wrist before repeating the procedure with Miharu’s other hand. Miharu gazed into Rinka’s eyes as she did so, watching the light that filtered in from the windows from the setting sun reflect in her eyes, as if the fire in them was slowly regaining its strength.
“There. It’s done.” Rinka said after rolling Miharu’s sleeve down again.
“...Thank you, Rinka.”
“You should take care of yourself, you know?”
“And look who’s talking.” Miharu chuckled as she reached out to fix a bit of Rinka’s tousled hair.
“Touche.” Rinka laughed along with her. Another silence filled the air as they sat together, Rinka still holding Miharu’s hands in hers. She pursed her lips and looked away, something not unnoticed by Miharu.
“What is it?” She asked, tilting her head a bit to see Rinka’s face.
“Um, Miharu...can you...stay with me for tonight? I don’t really want to be alone, and, uh...” She trailed off as she rubbed at the back of her neck. Miharu was taken back at Rinka being so straightforward, but considering her state, she thinks nothing more of it and nodded her head.
“Of course.” She answered.
“...Thank you.” Rinka smiled as gently squeezed Miharu’s hand before she stood up and guided Miharu by the hand upstairs. Miharu’s chest continued to constrict itself as she followed Rinka, hand in hand.
They took their baths separately, after which Rinka set the futon down for Miharu. They settled in and say goodnight when Rinka turned the lights out. Neither could sleep, but Rinka called out to Miharu to check if she’d already fallen asleep.
Miharu was indeed awake, but she feigned slumber. After a moment of silence, she heard a quiet shuffling, followed by footsteps, then felt the covers lift ever so slightly as a body pressed against her back. Miharu nearly held her breath at that moment of realization as Rinka gently nuzzled her forehead against Miharu’s back.
“Miharu…” She said, voice barely above a whisper. “Ever since that day you told me you’d give your life for me, I’ve never been able to stop thinking about it. Especially now, now that…” She didn’t finish the thought. She couldn’t, but it didn’t stop her from bearing the rest of her feelings that she’d been holding inside of her. “I’ve found myself thinking sometimes, too. I’m not certain of it, but I think...I think I know. How you died, I mean. I hope that I’m not right, but I can’t think of any other reason...and it makes me even more scared. If the Divine Selection never existed, you would be gone. Forever.” Rinka clutched at her chest, trying to push the thought away from her mind. “I care about you, you know? I can’t even imagine what it would be like if you died too. I’m...I’m glad that you’re alive, Miharu...I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want anyone to leave. I wish this was all one big nightmare.” Rinka curled into herself as she pressed her body closer to Miharu. Miharu, whose pride is not above comforting the girl she loves, turned and placed a hand atop Rinka’s head.
“M-Miharu…? Were you listening?” Rinka panicked, but when she saw the look in Miharu’s eyes as she stroked her head silently, a wave of comfort seemed to wash over her, quelling the fear in her mind. Rinka threw her pride away as well, inching closer into Miharu’s body. The other girl pulled her into her arms and nuzzled her nose into her hair.
“I’m sorry,” She whispered.
“I’m so sorry…”
“...I love you.”