"You haven't moved a muscle in the last three minutes." Yuri observes one night when he and Layla are out for a drive. He slides his eyes over to her, but carefully returns them to the road before asking, "What's bothering you?"
Layla sighs. She braces her right elbow on the door frame and leans her head on her hand. The wind whips through her long blonde hair, carrying it up on the night breeze.
"Sora?" He ventures after a moment, slowing for a stoplight. The car comes to a halt and he turns to look at her.
"I've ruined her." The words are soft and self-condemning, the expression bleak, but the light has gone green and he can watch her no longer. "I asked too much of her, and she foolishly tried to give it to me."
"That's not true," he says, steering the car onto the highway. The wind picks up, and Layla spares a moment to pull her jacket tighter.
"Isn't it?" Yuri looks for her face, but she's staring off into the distant night, focusing on the mountains in the far horizon. The words feel bitter, chilled in a way he has never heard her before. "She can't compete against May. She left Kaleido Stage. She went back to Japan! She –"
"She's more resilient than you give her credit for. Even if she wasn't, it was Sora's decision to give everything she had. You belittle her choices by claiming responsibility for them." He's looking at the ocean now, at the road, anywhere but at her, because Layla's eyes have gone wide and her mouth is hanging slightly agape and he doesn't want to know how these things look on her. "She came back, didn't she?"
The Stage has appeared on the path before them, and he can feel her staring at it as they head towards it.
"She won't even fight against May – May, who wants most to beat Sora. This morning…" Layla's voice trailed off, and for a moment, only the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore and the roar of the wind could be heard.
"Maybe she needs to find her own path," he offers, glancing at her. His hands can steer this road without his eyes' assistance, would know it even if he were blind, and it is safe enough and necessary enough that he focus on her. She smiles then, for him, and he appreciates the effort even though he can still see the look in her eyes that screams that she doesn't believe him and holds herself responsible.
"SOPHIE!" The shout is loud, startling Yuri's attention back to the road. A woman with shoulder-length hair wearing a blue jacket is standing in the middle of the road. It is only after he has begun slamming on the breaks, after he feels Layla's hands jerking the wheel to the right and hears the blare of the horn that he recognizes Sora.
"SOPHIE!" The second scream is what tells Yuri who is screaming. A flash of long silver hair darts across the road and then both figures are gone, falling down the side of the road. Yuri can see her in his mind's eyes, forgiving him even as he damns himself for not meeting her as he'd said he would, for calling her in the first place, not being willing to accept the risk, the challenge that should have met them on the world stage.
The car spins out and his vision clears. Layla's hands are off the wheel and pulling at her seatbelt in an instant. She fumbles the buckle, and he marvels at how uncoordinated she becomes when agitated. He grabs her hand.
"Let go of me. We need to make sure they're all right." Her voice is calm like it should be, but the tight lines around her mouth and eyes are giving her away. He shakes his head.
"The hill is smooth. They rolled down to the beach, and both of them know how to fall well enough not to be hurt." He locks the doors and starts the car down the road before she can protest. "If they were hurt, they would have called for help, and May followed them down to the road. Besides, we didn't hit them - and there's something I need to tell you."
"Even still-!" She is horrified, and he cannot blame her, because Sora has been more important to Layla than herself ever since Layla broke her shoulder and lost the ability to perform. She looks angry in a way he can only remember seeing once, and his right cheek hurts even thinking about it.
"There's something I never told you," Yuri says. She waits for him to continue, but he needs to be closer to her house because she will not like what he has to say and the only way to get rid of her is to drop her off at a decent destination. Layla stares at him the entire trip, unblinking and unnerving in her determination. When they are a few blocks away, he continues, "It's my fault that Leon's sister is dead."
"It's my fault that Sophie died." His hands clench on the steering wheel, clinging to it tightly. "At the World Festival, I called her and told her I wanted to meet her in a park across town. She went, but I'd never had any intention of going. When she finally realized what had happened, she tried to rush back to the Festival, and that's when she got hit by the car that killed her." They have arrived at Layla's house, and he stops the car. "I'm sorry."
She looks at him, stares at him, and he cannot meet her gaze.
"Yuri…" He looks up, and wonders what she sees. It would be better if she were angry, it would be better if she would just hit him and curse him, but she doesn't seem to care about what he thinks would be best. She unfastens her seatbelt, and he is certain that she will open the door and be gone from his life, for good this time.
Instead, Layla leans forward and wraps her arms around him.
"I am ashamed of what you did. I would have liked the competition." She whispers into his ear. "We would have won even if you hadn't resorted to cheap tricks. Even still, what happened to Sophie was an accident that you couldn't control. It is pathetic to blame yourself for things that you couldn't have anticipated."
He feels strange as she draws back from him. She opens the car door and gets out, shutting it gently behind her. Then she leans over it, and her hands gently brush away tears he hadn't realized he was crying.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Yuri." She says, kissing his cheek, and then she is gone.
Yuri starts the car, and drives until it is morning.