The two were the best of friends ever since they met each other in middle school. Both members of the photography club, Koizumi and Sato looked after each other, however that may be. In Sato's case, that meant having to deal with Natsumi Kuzuryuu; constantly. It seemed as if from the moment Koizumi had stepped foot in the club, the girl had decided that it would be her personal job to make her life a living hell. The bullying was harsh, and sometimes it was almost too much to bear, but no matter the words Natsumi threw at her, no matter the weight her abuse took upon Mahiru's shoulders, Sato was always there. The Photographer would forever be grateful for that. Truly, she didn't know what could have happened had her friend not been there. Even so, they had distanced themselves from each other near the end of their last year. It had all been Mahiru's fault really, no matter how much Sato tried to convince her otherwise.
She remembered exactly what had happened. They were in Koizumi's house, laying down side by side on her bed one day after school had ended, talking and laughing to each other like they always did (Sato had always had a knack for making her laugh even when she was feeling horrible). Then, her friend had suddenly gone serious.
"Mahiru," she said, "Can I say something weird?" Sato asked, with such vulnerability like Koizumi had never seen her show before.
The red head gulped, hands smoothing over the fabric of her uniform shirt over her stomach. "Yeah, of course you can." she answered, turning to lay on her side, head propped up on one hand mirroring her friend's position.
Sato avoided her gaze then, a frown taking over her features. "It's just...I've been meaning to say this to you for a while, now." she started in a small voice, turning away from Koizumi as she put her hands over her face and exhaled sharply. She seemed hesitant, afraid even. "Goddamnit, I can't do this."
Mahiru was worried. Had she done something t upset her friend? Or maybe something had happened and she didn't want to tell her. "Sato..." she called, placing a hand on her friend's back in what she intended as a comforting gesture. The girl stiffened for a moment, before relaxing into her touch. "You know you can tell me anything, right? If it's something I've done, something I can fix–”
Sato sat up, quickly interrupting her friend. "No! It's not your fault, Mahiru!" she explained, seemingly enraged by the mere thought of that being the case. "I mean... It sort of is," Mahiru frowned, "But not in the way you think!" she quickly corrected herself, a blush spreading across her cheeks. It almost looked...cute, if Mahiru was being honest. That being said, she wasn't oblivious, she was aware of her friend's appearance. But it wasn't weird to think your best friend was cute, right?
"Oh? What is it, then?" The red-head asked, now curious as to what her friend wanted to discuss. She sat up as well, an inquisitive expression now on her face.
"You see...I..." she trailed off. Mahiru had never seen Sato this embarrassed about something, truly it couldn't be this bad.
"Come on, Sato. Now you've made me curious." she smiled, taking her friend's hand in her own.
The girl chuckled to herself, shaking her head. "Alright, alright. I'll say it." she acquiesced. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. Mahiru chose this time to give her friend's hand a reassuring squeeze, earning a shaky smile from her.
"Mahiru," she started, her purplish eyes staring into Koizumi's own green ones with an intensity she had never seen before. "I...I love you."
Koizumi laughed, "I love you too, silly. Is that what this was all about?" she sighed in relief at the admission.
Suddenly a frown took over Sato's face, and it was her turn to hold the red-head's hand purposefully as she clarified, "That's not what I meant. I'm in love with you." she explained, a resolute look clear in her eyes.
"I-I..." Mahiru stuttered, at a loss of what to say. How was this possible? Sure, she had heard the rumors, and the whispering behind her back. Not to mention how Natsumi always called Sato her "girlfriend", but she thought that was all to attack her. Sato had never...She had never told her anything about this...these feelings. What was she supposed to do? She tried to think of Sato as anything other than her friend. As something more than just her friend, but found that she...couldn't. Should she lie now, so her friend was not disappointed? Maybe that would work out, maybe she'd develop these feelings along the way. No, she couldn't possibly do that. It was unfair; to Sato and to herself. She had to tell the truth.
Still, Sato waited expectantly for her to speak. What did she expect? For Koizumi to say 'Yes, I return your feeling Sato.'? Besides, Mahiru had never thought about being with girls. Admittedly, dating boys was never in her to-do list –boys were rude and unreliable-, but she never missed it. Meeting a Prince Charming, or something like that...Those thoughts had never even crossed her mind. Even so, that did not mean she was automatically attracted to Sato. It was true that she had noticed girls more so than boys, but that didn't mean she was in love with them, for god's sake. Love...If Sato was being truthful, and she was really in love with Mahiru...
Mahiru sighed, sadly."I...I'm sorry, Sato. I'm not in love with you. I don't...I can't like you that way." she explained, and her friend instantly deflated.
"Oh, I see." she said quietly. "But, maybe you could, if you tried. Don't you think it's worth it? Don't you think we're worth it?" she asked, hopefully. A small smile grew on her face, and Mahiru cringed.
"No, Sato. I can't do this with you. I don't feel this way. It would be unfair...for the both of us." she said, hoping with every fiber of her being that her friend would understand. This was so...confusing. How could only a few words from her best friend make Koizumi question her entire life?
"How do you know what would be fair for me, Mahiru? You don't, that's the answer. I'm not asking much of you, just that you give this a try." she pleaded, and Mahiru noticed her eyes were shining with unshed tears.
Koizumi shook her head. "I can't. I don't want to hurt you, Sato." Truthfully, Sato didn't deserve this. Even if Mahiru was really attracted to her, she couldn't possibly be enough. Her friend deserved so much better, and Mahiru simply couldn't give her that. Not right now.
"Well, you're hurting me right now!" Sato yelled, pulling her hand back as if it had been burned. Koizumi could feel her heart clench in her chest. Why did it have to be like this? If Sato hadn't spoken those words, they could carry on with being friends, and Mahiru wouldn't have to be so confused.
"Sato, listen to me." she tried, reaching again for her friend. "Can't we just...forget about this? Pretend it never happened? We are a team, Sato. Me and you against the world, remember?" the red-head smiled sadly, trying to dissuade her friend to the best of her abilities.
"No. I can't just forget about this, Mahiru. Maybe you can, maybe you won't even remember this by tomorrow. But these are my feelings you're asking me to forget. I...I can't stay here." she said, getting up. The girl pulled her shoes on, getting her book bag from where it was sitting against a chair.
"Sato, please..." Mahiru called after her. "I didn't mean it like that..."
"Goodbye, Koizumi." The girl said, her voice wavering. She rushed through the door, slamming it on her way out. The red-head tried to run after her, chasing her until she was almost at the front door, but Sato wouldn't stop for anything. Whatever they had had before, it would never be the same again. And it hadn't been.
Sato hadn't gone to school for the next few days, and Mahiru was miserable all through them. Had she really screwed up this badly? Could absolutely nothing of their friendship be salvaged? Either way, she was left alone with her thoughts, and the days stretched on. 'Where's your girlfriend now, Koizumi? She get tired of defending you?' Natsumi would say. Normally, Mahiru would have argued, but now, she didn't have the strength. Maybe she should've complied, should've said yes to Sato. That didn't matter now, though.
It turned out that the first day that her (former?) best friend decided to show up was the same one where a Hope's Peak scout came to their school. The man, who looked to be somewhere in his late thirties, had blonde hair and a stubble, and seemed as unprofessional as they came. Mahiru couldn't for the life of her remember what his name was. What she did know, though, was that he didn't come to any of the school's clubs, except for the photography one. It was needless to say that Natsumi Kuzuryuu was excited. "Finally someone recognized me for my talent." she had told them all.
Mahiru had never prided herself in laughing at other's misery, but she would pay to see the look on the Kuzuryuu's face once the scout told them he had come for Mahiru, not her. She had been devastated, and the red-head almost asked the man to stay a for a little longer inside the classroom, if only to catch one more glimpse of Natsumi's desolate expression. As she made her way out of class, trailing behind the scout, Mahiru chanced a last look inside the classroom, enough to notice as Sato chuckled to herself at Natsumi's expense. The sight brought a bittersweet smile to her face.
Apparently, Hope's Peak academy had thought her to be deserving enough for a scholarship there, where she would reside under the title of Ultimate Photographer. She was ecstatic, of course. Everyone knew of the Academy, and while she wasn't one of the people who dedicated their lives trying to get in, she still recognized the prestige. She had smiled a face-splitting grin, nodding all throughout the talk she had with the scout. He smiled at her as well, his face tired and his breath smelling like cheap beer, and sent her back in with a pamphlet of the Academy and a promise to get in touch soon.
Mahiru got back into the classroom that doubled as the photography club's room with renewed resolve. She simply had to tell Sato about this, she'd be so excited...'Then again, she probably doesn't want to hear it, now.' Koizumi thought to herself, sighing.
"Koizumi." she heard her name being called, head whipping around from where she was staring at the pamphlet the scout had given her. There she saw Natsumi, hands on her hips, with a murderous look on her face. "How dare you?" she questioned, narrowing her eyes at the red-head.
Of course, her good mood was too god to be true. Now she had to deal with this, too. "What do you want, Kuzuryuu?" Mahiru asked, annoyed. She had a feeling the bully had wanted to fight, but this wouldn't be the first time. Of course, the other instances where they had argued Sato had been involved, but now at least they'd be on even ground.
"No, I'm the one who's asking the questions. How dare you take my place in Hope's Peak academy?" she yelled, pointing menacingly at Koizumi. Natsumi huffed, "You probably only got the spot because your mom is famous. After all, everybody knows your pictures are crap." she smirked at the end, and Mahiru could hear some of the other members of the club snickering from further inside the classroom. She really didn't have the patience to deal with this, now.
The red-head sighed. "Look, I really don't want to have this conversation right now." she said, moving to where her bag was in one of the class' many desks.
"Oh ignore me all you want, you know it's true. In fact, I should've been the one to get the spot, since my pictures are so much better than yours." Natsumi scoffed.
Truly, Mahiru couldn't take this anymore. Normally she would ignore this, but this time, Kuzuryuu had asked for it. "You know what, Natsumi?" Koizumi started, clenching the pamphlet between her fingers. "The fact that you always pretend to be better than everyone when you're clearly not is quite pathetic. Maybe your pictures could be better than mine, but frankly? I could care less. Do you want to know why?" she continued, stepping forwards towards the blonde as her voice grew in intensity with each word. The closer she got to the bully, the further she stepped back, until she had her back pressed into what Koizumi assumed was the teacher's desk. "Because not only do I have fun while taking my pictures, they also have at least some semblance of feeling in them, unlike yours. So yeah, I got the spot. Are you really that surprised that a spoiled little brat like you didn't get what she wanted for once?" Mahiru yelled, jabbing a finger into Natsumi's chest. She felt a weird sense of pride fill her heart, and a smirk made its way slowly into her expression.
"You bitch..." Natsumi spat, reaching back for something that was resting on top of the desk. "You'll fucking regret saying that to me! I'll kill you" she yelled, suddenly raising her arm above her head and bringing the scissors she had just retrieved down in a blow against the red head. Mahiru's eyes widened, and she stood there reactionless as the gleaming point came closer to her face.
"ENOUGH!" someone yelled, and the next thing she knew, Mahiru was being pushed back, staggering from the force.
"S-Sato?" she questioned, seeing her friend now standing between the both of them, arm raised in a defensive gesture. Mahiru's stomach dropped. Where the girl's uniform sleeve was a pristine white before, now it had a large slash running down its length, the sides of which were quickly turning crimson with blood. "What have you done?" she yelled at Natsumi, who was staring wide-eyed at the damage she had caused. The girl seemed shell-shocked, and soon everyone heard the clatter of the scissors colliding with the floor.
"I...I..." the blonde mumbled, before getting a grip on herself. "Serves you right." she scoffed, turning around and walking towards her desk. Mahiru didn't know what she had expected. Sato then started to pull her outside of the classroom, and frankly Mahiru was thankful. She didn't think she could stand being in here for a second more.
"Sato, are you alright?" Koizumi asked once they were outside, instantly berating herself for asking such a stupid question when her friend had just literally thrown herself into harm's way for her.
The girl gulped before nodding. "Yeah. Are you alright, though?" she asked shakily, even still with concern evident in her voice.
Mahiru instantly enveloped her friend in a fierce hug, shaking her head in disbelief. "Never do that again." she breathed out, voice muffled from where she had her face pressed into Sato's shirt. She felt Sato's uninjured arm wrap hesitantly around her shoulders, and it was as if she suddenly remembered their situation. Koizumi quickly pulled away, a deep blush on her cheeks –only to find a matching tone of crimson on her friend's face.
"I'm sorry...That was very insensitive of me." she apologized quietly, averting her gazer to the floor.
"No, it's...it's alright, Mahiru. I...I'm really sorry about what I said, a few days ago. I was being childish and I shouldn't have tried to force you to be something... someone you're not." Sato said, holding her injured arm close to her chest. Oh, that's right. Sato was hurt. She was bleeding, too.
"It's alright, but I think we can talk some more once we take you to the infirmary. I really don't want you to lose an arm for me." Koizumi chuckled, trying to break the tension that had settled between them.
"I don't think it's that bad. I was lucky that Kuzuryuu bitch didn't hit an artery, otherwise I'd be a goner by now." Sato scoffed.
Mahiru flinched, and the girl immediately regretted her choice of words. "But she didn't, and I'm okay now." she reassured, "We should probably still go to the infirmary, though. Otherwise this," she pointed towards the wound, "Might turn into an ugly scar."
"Oh, that's okay. I think scars are cool." Koizumi said, absent-mindedly. Maybe they really could be okay again.