The young girl continued to work diligently on the fairy lights, her forehead creased with lines as she frowned in concentration. Beads of sweat rolled down the sides of her forehead, and her knees and neck were starting to hurt - but not for the life of her would she stop halfway. The entire village knew how much she loved the summer festival. Her excitement was infectious. However, lost in her focus, she did not hear the annoyed voice calling her, albeit sounding slightly furious by now.
"Hinami! Oi!" She jumped with a start, finally glancing behind her - only to be greeted by an angry scowl. She smiled.
"'Hello Ayato' my ass!" He snapped. "Are you deaf, you dumbass?!" The angry 14 year old stomped over to the 13 year old, still scowling. "I've been calling to you for the last 10 minutes!"
"Sorry," Hinami looked apologetic. "I wanted to hang these up but then the wires are all really worn, I had to fix them with tape. I'm still not done," She gestured at the bundle of fairy lights lying on the porch of the wooden house. "Do you want to help?"
Ayato scowled even harder and mocked her. "No, I don't want tohelp with your fairy lights. I have more important work to do back in the fields."
Hinami couldn't help but let out a small chuckle, tilting her head and glancing up at Ayato. "Of course, important work as in raking up the cow dung. I'm sorry I forgot Ayato."
"Like you're one to talk. One of these days I'll shove you into it and then we'll see if you're still laughing." He retorted and turned on his heel to make his way home. He paused, "I called to tell you that your Irimi's looking for you. She's kinda pissed." His lips turned up in a superior smirk as Hinami turned around to face him, genuine disbelief clearly visible on her face. Irimi never got mad. Maybe he was making it up?
"Don't say I didn't warn you." He hummed and headed off, his hands shoved into his muddy pockets.
Hinami said nothing as she watched him retreat, the sun had almost set and the golden lights of the fireflies had started to dot the air around them. Now between a bush and then high up in the branches of the trees. It was the middle of summer now and Hinami liked this time of the year the best - when everyone danced to music and stayed up well into the night, when you could eat steamed sweet potatoes sitting on the porch during the summer thunderstorms and the weeks were littered with festivals.
Ayato's retreating back would disappear now, his house was just around the next bend.
"Wait, Ayato!" He stopped, his eyebrow raised as he turned to look at her. "What?"
"Do you want go up tonight?" Hinami's eyes reflected the last traces of the fading sunset. A breeze ruffled their hair and their light clothes, cooling the day's perspiration off their skins. Ayato couldn't see her face very clearly; Hinami was quite a distance away from him now but her voice told him she was eager. It had been a while since they last visited.
"Yeah yeah." He raised a hand in response and trudged up the road, as she watched his figure grow smaller and smaller until the mist engulfed him far off in the distance.
"Ayato! Hinami's here!" Ayato woke up with a start and forced his eyes open. He was so tired, his limbs ached and he felt numb and heavy all over – Nishiki had not shown up that morning and he had been forced to till the soil all day. And it was cold too. But that wasn't very new because up here in the mountains it was always cold, all year around.
"Shithead! You get down here right now!" He winced at his Touka's sharp tone and cursed under his breath. "I'm coming, I'm coming, quit screeching!" Crap, he'd overslept. Grumbling at his own incompetency, he pulled on a faded sweater and ran down the stairs, three steps at a time.
"Hey, watch it." Touka grabbed a hold of his arm when he nearly slipped on the last three steps. "If you break any more bones, we won't be able to pay for it you know, prick."
"Oh shut up." The younger boy glared at his sister who was shot an equally venomous glare back at him. "And stop smirking!" Ayato must have blushed a bit because Tsukiyama giggled and held up his hands in mock surrender.
"I'm going!" Ayato called over his shoulder as he half ran, half speed-walked to the front door.
"Don't be too late!" Touka called after him, but that received no response as Ayato had already stepped outside. The porch was dimly lit with a light bulbs, but the moon was full and bright, casting a haunting glow on the surroundings. Besides that, there were a million fireflies, flitting in between the dense greenery. His house, just like every other house in the area, was pretty to look at. Simple wooden architecture and minimalistic - and he had never admitted it, but the pretty sakura pattern on the wind-chime that Kaneki had gifted Touka last year was very beautiful.
To say that the mountains were anything less of a natural wonder would be an understatement. Up here, the soil was very fertile and thousands of flowers would bloom in different seasons, coloring the hills with their vibrant hues. Fruits and vegetables in abundance to the point that sometimes nobody wanted them. The conifers were his favorite trees – they remained green all year around and the smell of pine cones always assaulted his nose. Rare fruits and wild berries would grow on the trees and shrubs and the squirrels and birds would get the first pick, and when they ripened and fell, the rabbits would steal them away before any human could have a go. A green carpet of fresh grass was the robe of the hills - friend to anyone who wanted to sit down and gaze at the world below - and foe, if you ran around on bare feet and the grass was wet. Narrow pathways wound their way around the curvature of the mountains - patterns almost carved into the Earth since people had made the mountains their home. And then of course, modern technology had brought roads into the scenery, hairpin bends around the peaks which had made it possible for people to drive up and down. Early morning brought dense fog and mist, and the sun beat down softly as afternoon and evening wore on. The night gave in to clear, crisp, fresh air and soothing breezes, and a fantastic display of the dots of lights in the night sky. Scores and scores of stars, all twinkling brightly, and the core of the Milky Way, spread out for all the creatures of the Earth to see.
It took him a while to realize that there was a figure crouching behind a bush.
"What are you hiding for?" Ayato said lazily, his hands shoved into his jeans pockets.
"Shhh!" The figure replied. "Keep quiet, you're loud!"
"Touchy." He sniffed, casually noting that she was wearing the hairclip he'd given her last year as her birthday present - and walked around the bush to see what Hinami was looking at. He crouched down beside her. "What are you looking at?"
Hinami sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve. Then she held out her cupped hands. In it lay a firefly, glowing in pulses.
"Ah…" He sighed and traced a delicate wing with his finger. "I see."
"It's dying." Hinami's voice shook, her lower lip quivered, and his eyes rose to meet hers. "It's dying, Ayato. It's over." A lone tear escaped and rolled down her cheek, falling on to his wrist. He sighed and looked at the firefly again, it's glowing back flickering. A few seconds passed before the light disappeared. Hinami started crying.
"Hey… hey, it's okay." Ayato muttered softly into her hair as Hinami's head leaned against his shoulder. He blew air out of his cheeks and rose a hand to pat her shoulder. The girl had always been a crybaby and she still hadn't grown out of it. He had to somehow see that she became a tougher person - or she wouldn't be able to face much of what life would bring her someday.
"Why do they have to die so soon?" Hinami hiccuped, her fingers digging a small pit into the soil beneath the bush - a grave for the firefly.
Ayato couldn't say anything to that. He just continued to pat her back and comfort her as best as he could. His parents had died when he and Touka were very young and he had tried to cope with it for years - but he realized that you couldn't cope with death in any other form other than acceptance. Death was inevitable. "You know…" He craned his neck up to look at the bright night sky.
"Some of the most beautiful things we can touch never last long."
The crying faded slowly. A few sniffles. The moon shone brilliantly, its numerous impact craters in stunningly sharp detail even to his eyes.
"The things we can't touch… they last forever and ever."