As dusk falls, Karasu sits on the roof of Haruka's home, waiting for the storm to come.
The rain that already veils Mt. Hakodate catches in his hair and weighs down his cloak. In the sullen orange dimness of the sunset, the mountain's silhouette recalls the ruined outline of La'Cryma as he left it instead of the green mountain he remembers from his childhood, and a sensation like vertigo pulls at him, a black gulf yawning at the edges of his mind. For the first time since the rain began, he feels cold.
He draws a deep breath to settle himself and waits for the sick feeling to pass. In a timespace so close to the past he remembers, it's not always easy to keep track of when and where and who he is.
Perhaps because those things don't matter now.
At the first rumble of thunder, the knot of tension in his chest loosens. If they can avoid it, the remaining Dragon Knights—just Kuina and Kosagi now—won't chance crossing over during a thunderstorm because of the electrical interference. It's no guarantee, but it's as close as he can hope for. He hunkers down against the wind and, just for a moment, lets his eyes fall shut.
They open at the sound of Haruka's voice, calling from somewhere below.
"Karasu, are you up there? Karasu!"
His body phases out, and he's hovering outside her bedroom window, where she's kneeling in the window seat, leaning out to catch a glimpse of him up on the roof. Her eyes light up at the sight of him, even though the rain is slicking her bare knees and dampening her nightshirt, and his own face can't help but soften in return.
"Careful," he tells her. "You could fall."
He's flown with her across the sky and seen nothing but exhilaration in her face, so he's not too surprised when she brushes past his words with, "Why aren't you inside, Karasu? You must be freezing."
"It doesn't bother me."
"You could stay with Tobi and Atori, just for tonight," she suggests, looking so like his Haruka when she was trying to get him to do the sensible thing that he has to avert his eyes.
"Tobi and I both think it's for the best if I don't spend too much time around Atori."
"In case he remembers who he is?"
Lightning fans out across the sky, and the cracking report makes Haruka wince. "Please come inside," she says, holding out a hand. "You can stay with me."
It's the one thing he shouldn't do. He stares at her outstretched hand, but her lips are pursed and stubborn, and he's never been able to say no to her. He flickers out, and then he's standing in the middle of her room, dripping onto her rug.
Haruka pulls the window shut and bounces down onto her bed with a triumphant grin. "Let me get you a towel."
"You don't need to." His body shimmers and then solidifies, leaving the dampness behind him in the dimensional rift. Being dry again feels better than he had expected.
"Wow!" she says, and Karasu's heart lurches as she grabs two handfuls of his cloak and beams up at him. "It really is dry." To his relief, she lets go and dances back a few steps toward her desk. "After all that rain I suppose the last thing you need is more water." She holds the bottle out to him anyway, just in case, but he declines.
Having emerged from underneath the bed, Tono rubs up against Karasu's leg, purring. Grateful for the distraction, he sits down on the rug and lets the cat climb into his lap. Haruka rummages around in her bookshelves, and when she turns around she's holding a box that sends a wave of dissonance rushing over him, because he remembers her bringing out the same game for him and Ai and the others on any number of rainy days, back when he was Yuu, an eternity ago. Before he left for Tokyo. Before La'Cryma.
Before her death.
"If you don't know how to play, I can teach you," she says.
He shakes his head. "I'm not much for cards. You don't have to do anything for me, Haruka. I'm fine." Tono butts up against his hand, and Karasu strokes back his ears to rumbling approval.
Haruka shrugs and sets the box aside. "Well, it seems unfair, just telling you about my day all the time," she says, not knowing how much he enjoys listening to her talk. She settles down crosslegged on the rug across from him. "I mean, even in La'Cryma you must have done stuff for fun, right?"
Between the attacks from Shangri-La and their other duties as Knights, there hadn't been much opportunity. Or capacity. "Sometimes Fukurou"—his throat tightens on the name before he pushes past it, but not before she notices—"or one of the others would organize a game of hanafuda. Kosagi had a shogi board." Might still have it. Whatever "still" means, across timespaces.
"But what about you?" she asks.
She always could see right through him. The rain pounds against the glass, and he finally says, "I whittled, sometimes."
"Really?" For some reason, this seems to fascinate her. "What did you make?"
"Mostly crows. Tobi had me do a kite for him, when he first joined the Dragon Knights."
"Like your names." She smiles. "Did you ever carve any people?"
He blinks, swallows, looks away. It's not the first time someone has asked. One night some years ago, he returned from his vigil in the room of glass cylinders to find Fukurou waiting up for him. Fukurou gestured to Karasu's collection of carvings and asked, "Would it help to do one of her?" The next thing Karasu knew, he had his friend's back against the wall, his fist slamming into Fukurou's stomach as if propelled by the cold wind that howled through him. Isuka and Tobi rushed in to pull him off, but not before he'd blacked Fukurou's good eye and worse. Days later, after they let him out of isolation, he apologized stiffly, not knowing what to say any more than he knew what had come over him. Fukurou shrugged it off with a wry smile, telling Karasu he'd pay him back when he least expected it, and punched him lightly on the shoulder.
Again the void hovers, threatening to roll him under. Tono stretches and wanders off, now that he's no longer being petted, only to be scooped up by Haruka.
"No," Karasu says. "Just birds."
Haruka looks pensive. "I wish I had some wood for you, but I'm pretty sure we don't have anything like that. Wait, I know!" She claps her hands together, and Tono leaps out of her lap, shaking himself irritably. She goes to her desk and presents Karasu with a spiral-bound notebook and mechanical pencil. He stares at them blankly, and she hastily says, "Yuu is always doodling, so I thought that maybe..."
Because she seems to expect it, he takes the notebook from her and flips it open to a page empty of math homework. The pencil feels awkward in his hand, keyboards and carving materials being far more common in La'Cryma than writing utensils of any kind. Experimentally, he lays down a few short, sharp lines, and Haruka sits down against his left side, leaning over his lap so she can watch. She smells distractingly of rain and strawberry-scented shampoo, and beneath that, herself, and he hates himself for noticing.
The cell phone on the bed chimes out a tune, and Haruka groans, "Ai, not now!" She leaps up to answer it, and soon the two girls are discussing Ai's parents' upcoming wedding—another event he dimly remembers from his own past because of its novelty, though he was too busy with school to attend. From the end of the conversation Karasu can hear, Ai wants to know what Haruka will be wearing, and she paces as they talk.
Freed of the pressure of her gaze, his pencil traverses the page, sketching out rough, straight-sided shapes. Still talking to Ai over near the bed, Haruka cranes her neck to see, and he feels his mouth turn up at the corners.
As he continues, Karasu finds that drawing is a very different beast from whittling. The jagged line he's scrawling becomes the edge of a crow's wing—but when the wing itself starts to look more like a plank, he draws lines through it in annoyance.
"No, don't do that!" Haruka protests, and as his head jerks up, the tip of his pencil snaps off. "Sorry, Ai, not you. I've got Karasu here with me, and he—" She pulls away from the phone at Ai's shriek, and Karasu doesn't need any help from Haruka's end of the conversation to get the gist of Ai's opinion on their arrangement. "You don't need to yell in my ear. It's really no big deal." More heated words from Ai, and Haruka sighs and says, "Listen, I'll call you back tomorrow, okay?"
Having shaken Ai, she plants herself next to him again and says, "Why did you scratch that out?" She takes the notebook from him and smiles at the half-drawn crow. "It's nice."
"Hm," he says skeptically, but she tears out the page, folds it carefully, and tucks it inside the notebook's back cover.
"Can you draw me another?" Haruka asks, her innocent cat eyes shining, and it's an effort to look away as he takes back the notebook. It takes him a moment to remember how to eject more lead, but soon he's sketching out another crow. For some reason, the lines flow more easily now, even though she's watching as intently as ever. Back in La'Cryma, one of the first crows he whittled was for Haruka. She'd wanted something of his to hold onto while he was out fighting. The memory threatens to choke him, and with an effort, he pushes it away for the Haruka who's here with him now.
"It's just like it's flying overhead," she says as he completes the soaring crow's outline with some rather messy tail feathers. On impulse, he roughs in a circle an inch or so away to the right of its head, and she leans forward, delighted. "Oh, I see. It's turning toward the sun."
"Tobi says crows only fly by day." Like the gulls, they could still be found in La'Cryma.
"Does Tobi like birds? I thought that was just his and Atori's cover story."
"He only came to Hakodate after the cataclysm. Learning about the area's biology before it was destroyed was something of a hobby for him."
"It must be interesting for him to see what it's like now." Haruka yawns and leans into him, and Karasu looks down at her with a combination of bemusement and alarm. "Can you do a kite? Like the statue you did for Tobi?"
"I can try." He starts to sketch in its shape, but it looks nothing like the bird it's supposed to resemble. Remembering her previous protest, he stops himself from scribbling through it and begins another drawing near the bottom of the page. When he finishes, he looks up to find Haruka has dozed off, a soft, slight weight against his side.
It seems impossible that she should fall asleep so easily next to him, a gift he couldn't have conceived of when all this began, and one he doesn't know how he can begin to deserve. He studies the soft curves of her face. Even after all the terrible things she's gone through since he and the others from La'Cryma have invaded her life, she looks peaceful. Carefree.
His pencil returns to paper. The line he draws resembles the outline of her face, but the chin is more pointed, the cheeks not so round. The half-moon shapes of her closed eyes are the same. When he sees what—who—he's drawn, the image blurs in the low light of the room. He sets the notebook aside and runs a hand over his eyes.
The rain is slowing. Much as he doesn't want to, he should return to the roof. As gently as he can manage, he scoops up Haruka, cradling her in his arms before laying her down on the bed and pulling the comforter up over her shoulders. She stirs but doesn't wake. He allows himself to smooth the hair away from her face before stepping back and letting his body flicker out.