Hurried footsteps, hair in eyes, hand reaching for doorknob, it's twenty past three and --"You're late, Sumire. Where were you?"
A bow of the head, apologetic. "I-I'm sorry! I was with my friends."
A pause, followed by a puff of cigarette smoke.
"Very well. Now, hurry up and get changed."
Sumire was having trouble sleeping.
Since her friends' visit to the shop, she couldn't get the thought out of her head, and the knot in her stomach refused to loosen.
"You're fifteen years old?!" the girls squealed as they surrounded Luchia, eyes shining in admiration. "Then you're the same age as us! That's so amazing!"
Perhaps it was her eyes, dark with knowledge of things beyond Sumire's grasp; perhaps it was her voice, calm like the sea after a storm; perhaps it was the way her body moved, sharply and accurately but never lacking grace.
While Sumire could not pinpoint the exact reason, Luchia always seemed so much older.
But if she was her age, why didn't she go to school? She was smart, she would have done well. All the teachers would have liked her for her wits and kindness, and so would the students. She was that kind of person -- the kind who would attract people, if only she'd let them go near her.
She could have made plenty of friends.
Sumire was always surrounded by people. People who were smiling, people who made her feel warm inside. People she loved. It was a given; she never thought she had to be alone.
She was spoiled, wasn't she?
Before I came here…
She remembered Luchia's tears, and the way she held on to Sumire like she was the only thing she had in the world. Like a child. Just that one time, no one else may ever see.
She was starting to understand it, now, the reason Luchia acted like an adult.
Her childhood was taken away from her.
Before I came here, were you all alone?
For the whole day, Sumire was lost in thought. Other than exchanging a few words with Luchia, she remained silent.
Right now they were having tea. They had tea every day. But it was livelier than this, usually. Never this quiet.
Sumire could feel Luchia's eyes on her. Was she worried? Sumire was making her worry, wasn't she?
Say something, she mentally ordered herself. Say something!
"Luchia-san!" she put down her cup with a thud., causing the other girl to swallow her tea and blink in surprise.
"What do you want to be when you're older?"
"Isn't that a question for little children?" Luchia replied, eyebrow raised, and for a moment Sumire felt flustered, felt the urge to apologize for bringing up such a silly subject, but she pulled herself back together. She wouldn't give in so easily.
"I-I know, but… isn't there something you want to do?"
"I'll just keep doing my work here."
The reply was instant, no fickleness behind it. Sumire's gaze dropped to the lukewarm liquid in her cup.
"What's the matter, Sumire?"
What's the matter? You'll forever stay in this shop, putting your life on the line every day for the sake of saving people. Of course helping others is important, but not as much as living your life the way you could have, the way you want, and why do you have to be so selfless, I don't understand--
"Ah, it's nothing."
After all that time fighting Viruses, blood was something Sumire should have been used to seeing. But there was so much of it, trickling out of Luchia's wounds, soaking the fabric of her clothes, and Sumire's own blood dripping into her eyes and tinting everything red, and she was shaking, she really had to stop shaking.
Pull yourself together. Pull yourself together.
How could this happen? They were strong, weren't they? They had gotten out of each of their battles victorious, with nothing more minor wounds. But this time was different, and Luchia was hurt, and Sumire had to move, why can't you move?
"Sumire-kun, can you stand?"
Nod. Nahashi was bleeding, too. But he didn't seem to mind his injuries at all as he carried Luchia – looking so small and fragile all of a sudden – back home.
Why can't you be stronger?
Sitting by the bed, watching her, waiting for her to wake up, and the question that spread from the pits of Sumire's stomach threatens to choke her.
Even though Luchia can't hear her, or maybe because of that reason exactly, she asks.
"Why do you fight?" Even though you get hurt, even though there are so many other things you could do if you only wanted... why?
Eyes still closed; lips curving upwards ever-so-slightly before forming the words, and Sumire flinches a little before breaking into a smile of relief.
"It's what I do."
Simple words, proud words; 'It's what I want to do'. Luchia's voice is small, but it's like a massive boulder rolling off Sumire's heart - because at that very moment, holding her bandaged hand in her own, Sumire realizes that Luchia has been living her life to the fullest.