Anime Detour 2012
Fanfiction Contest Entry
Awarded 2nd Place
Disclaimer: I do not own or hold rights over any characters except those of my own creation. I just like to write about them. The English adaptation of "Air" and all related characters is currently owned by Funimation Entertainment. Please visit our heroes online and support the official release. Enjoy!
"Listen to Her Speak"
"I count myself in nothing else so happy
as in a soul rememb'ring my good friends."
- William Shakespeare
The air smelled of salt and foam as the wind swept up along the beach. The water lapped against the shoreline, spraying the rocks and dashing sandpipers with mist that sparkled in the air. In the distance far beyond the horizon where sight couldn't reach, the ocean seamlessly morphed into the azure sky. The yellow sun blazed brilliantly, warming the sands and streets as the winds stirred the humidity gently. A few lonely clouds clustered high in the atmosphere, like puffs of cotton glued against blue paper. And the sounds of the sea breathing against the earth were cut occasionally with the caw of a gull swooping towards the waves.
This was her favorite place to be, and she came here regularly each day after school. The beach was separated from the small town by a large wall of concrete, the seawall creating a barrier that protected the streets from salt and water crashing up during storms. The wall lead into harbors and boarding docks for fishing boats, pontoons, and speed boats that could often be seen pulling skiers behind them. On top of the wall, stairs led to the sands of the beach on one side, and another set led to the streets behind the wall's protection. The wall itself was a walkway, wide enough to provide safe passage for several people walking side by side. It was here that Misuzu enjoyed coming. It provided a great view of the ocean and the sunsets that came each evening.
She walked along with the ocean to her right, her arms stretched out to either side to maintain balance. Her waist long blonde hair, tied behind in a high-sitting ponytail, wipped backed and forth in the ocean breezes as she walked. Staring down at her shoes, she carefully placed one foot directly in front of the other, balancing on an invisible line that only she could see. Misuzu took her time, sometimes sticking out her tongue in her focus, to keep as straight as possible.
A sudden gust came up and raced along the concrete wall, causing her hair to whip around and cover her face. With a cry of surprise, the girl's hands automatically came up to pull her hair away. However, with one foot already in motion, her balance shifted too steeply to the left, and she wobbled dangerously.
Flapping her arms in a feeble attempt to stop herself, the girl felt her shoe slip along the boardwalk, and she crashed down.
"Owe..." Misuzu mumbled as she picked herself up, brushing sand off her school uniform and attempting to arrange the bangs from her eyes. As she looked up, something caught her attention on the beach. Usually the area was empty of people, but a short ways away she noticed a figure sitting in the sands, hunched over as if looking at something closely.
Curious, Misuzu picked herself up, and satisfied that she looked somewhat presentable, began to trot towards the nearest staircase. Hopping off the last step onto the beach, she approached more slowly as she realized the figure was a girl about her age, maybe a tad younger, bending over a notepad as she scribbled something in writing.
Before she got too close, Misuzu called out to the girl sitting down.
"Hello!" she said. The girl didn't respond at all. The blonde cocked her head, waiting. Then cupping her mouth, she shouted again, "Hello!"
Still, the girl didn't respond. Her thick black hair was pulled back into a braid which fell over her right shoulder and obscured her expression as she wrote. She wore a bright rose colored blouse and black colored capris. She sat cross-legged on a blue towel, and a pair of sandals sat next to her.
Misuzu wondered why the girl ignored her. Was she that focused on her work? But before the blonde could make a decision as to what to do next, a shrill caw from above caught her attention. The blonde gasped and looked up, finding a large crow spiraling downward.
"Sky!" The blonde smiled as the crow descended, coming in to crash just a couple yards from the black haired stranger. The girl blinked in surprise when she noticed the crow flipping sand in his flourish, paused in her writing, and looked up towards him in astonishment. Then a small, open smile came to her lips as Sky regained his balance, stepping back and forth. The girl continued to watch his quirky little dance as he hopped towards the blonde, and the black-haired girl's eyes followed the bird until they came to rest upon Misuzu.
Misuzu placed her hand up towards her mouth shyly as the black-haired girl's eyes grew wider. But instead of looking away in shame or dislike, the newcomer waved.
Misuzu eyed Sky curiously, watching the crow shift his feet on the warm sands, and then in a frantic flurry of feathers, he took to the air with noticeable difficulty. Misuzu stepped forward with a desire to help, but the crow was already above her by the time she made it to him. She watched the bird in his struggles, battling the air as he faltered up and down. He eventually made it over the concrete seawall to the city on the other side.
Misuzu sighed, brushing her hair out of her eyes as she turned away and found the black-haired girl looking at her. She wore a very concerned expression on her face, but offered a small smile in support. She then gestured towards the sands next to her. Misuzu hesitated, but then decided to comply.
Resting on her heels, Misuzu turned to her new companion and smiled.
"Hi! My name's Misuzu. I saw you sitting here from up on the wall. What's your name?"
The girl watched Misuzu talk, and then the once cheerful glow in her eyes dimmed. She lowered her head and let her hair droop down unnoticed. Misuzu cocked her head at the reaction. Had she said something wrong?
Eventually, the girl lifted her head up again and shook her head apologetically. Then, to Misuzu's amazement, she brought her hands up and did a few quick motions. Her last one pointed toward her ear. Misuzu's head rolled to the side even deeper, an audible "huh?" escaping her lips. The girl lifted her shoulders as she breathed in. She placed a finger to her temple, contemplating.
Then she turned to her other side, and Misuzu noticed a backpack resting next to her. Reaching inside, the girl muddled in it briefly and pulled out a small white board and a single, thick marker. Popping off the cap with her teeth, the girl quickly scribbled onto the board. Misuzu watched with great intensity, but couldn't see what she was writing. When the girl was finished, she turned the board to face Misuzu. On it was the message:
"I'm sorry, but I can't hear you. I'm deaf."
"You're deaf?" Misuzu asked aloud, looking at the girl's brown eyes in surprise. The girl smiled again, pulling the board back towards her to erase the message and write a new one. When she was finished, she turned the board again back to Misuzu.
"Please, I can't understand when you speak. Do you mind writing it for me? My name is Ayame."
Misuzu gasped, putting her hands over her mouth. Then she said, "Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to make it hard for you!" She waved her hands back and forth as she apologized. Ayame watched her complete her sentence, but then simply shrugged afterward, tapping her ear as a reminder. She then handed the board to Misuzu.
"Oh!" the blonde said. She hastily wiped Ayame's message off and wrote her own. When she handed it back, it said,
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to! My name is Misuzu." Ayame took the board back gently and wrote a response.
"No worries. It's nice to meet you, Misuzu. Are you from around here?"
Misuzu took the board and wrote her own.
"Yes, I live walking distance from the beach. I come here after school a lot. What were those things you did earlier?"
"Oh, my hands? It was sign language. It's a way to talk without words. I had hoped you knew some, but it's okay you don't. Not a lot of people do. That's why I carry this board around."
Misuzu nodded in understanding when she read the last phrase, smiling at Ayame brightly. The other girl returned the expression.
"That's a good idea!" Misuzu wrote. She giggled, and Ayame placed her hand near her chin as her shoulder's bounced in silent laughter.
"Where are you from?" Misuzu asked next. Ayame took a minute to reply, cramming the board full.
"I'm visiting some extended family with my mother for this week. My mother is here for business. We recently arrived, and I wanted to visit the ocean right away. I'd never seen it before; it's beautiful! I was just busy sitting and writing when I spotted you."
Ayame looked out at the ocean as Misuzu brought her gaze away from the white board.
"You write?" Misuzu asked aloud, but Ayame didn't notice as she looked over the water. After a second of silence, Misuzu took the board gently from Ayame's hands. The deaf girl blinked in surprise as Misuzu took it and began to write rapidly.
"Do you know the area, Ayame? Have you seen a lot of it?" When she was finished reading, Ayame shook her head sadly.
"My mother is busy with work-related things. I assumed that I'd be walking around by myself."
Misuzu nearly gasped as she read aloud, and then her brow came together in a frown.
"Well, that won't do," she said to herself. Ayame looked at her confused, but before she could remind Misuzu that she couldn't hear her, Misuzu wiped the white board clean and began to write furiously. When she was finished, the blonde stood up and held the board out in one hand.
"I'll show you around town! Meet me here at this time tomorrow, okay? I'll give you a personal tour. Let's be friends!"
Misuzu presented the board to Ayame proudly, eyes closed and a broad smile on her face. Ayame read the message, then looked at Misuzu in shock. She took the board and smiled herself, gave a single nod, then moved her right hand towards her chin. With a small sweep forward, she extended her hand out towards Misuzu.
Ayame grinned ever broader at the blonde's quizzical expression, and then using the board wrote:
"In English, that sign means 'thank-you.' I'm excited to see you tomorrow, Misuzu."
The next day was just as beautiful as the last. The streets were rather calm and subdued as the afternoon sun baked the cement sidewalks and cicadas chirped ceaselessly within the thick branches of the trees. Practically skipping along the sidewalk was Misuzu, a purse slipped across her shoulders and hair swinging back and forth with her steps. Just a bit behind her and to the side, the young man Yukito shuffled along as well, head pulled back as he gazed lazily to the clouds above.
"You seem pretty excited," he stated as Misuzu continued her rapid walking. The girl looked over her shoulder, appearing confused.
"Well, of course I am! I get to see a friend again."
"You're calling her a friend already? You said last night that you just met yesterday."
"But I like her a lot. She's very nice. I'm sure she'll like you too!"
Yukito snorted, rubbing his nose with the cusp of his long sleeve.
"Whatever you say, Misuzu."
As Misuzu approached the stairs that would take her up the wall to overlook the ocean, a cluster of voices became audible. She paused to see if it was near her, but a quick glance around didn't reveal the source. She looked up the staircase and realized the voices were coming from the other side.
Curious, she skipped up the stairs to see what was going on. When at the top, Misuzu noticed a group of middle school boys yelling at someone sitting on the beach. The boys were several yards away from the person, nudging each other roughly and cupping their hands to shout. The figure in front of them, just out of sight, didn't seem to respond.
Misuzu leaned to one side, trying to get a better view. Then she gasped, pulling her hands up to her cheeks.
The figure in the sand was Ayame. She was sitting almost identical to the way Misuzu has seen her yesterday. The boys behind her were jeering at and taunting her. Then they would nudge each other in the arm, pointing and laughing at their target.
"She can't hear us! I can't believe it!"
"Come on girl, turn around!"
One boy stepped forward and kicked sand at her in a tease. The sand didn't quite reach Ayame, so nothing caused her to turn around. She continued to stare at the ocean in a pleasant demeanor, shifting her weight to lean back on her hands.
Misuzu felt her hands tense up suddenly. Turning, she whirled around at Yukito, who had just gotten to the top of the stairs.
"Oh, Yukito, they're being terrible! We have to say something."
Yukito eyed the young boys, pondering their behavior.
"They're just being boys."
"That's an awful excuse!" Misuzu scolded. Yukito eyed her oddly.
"Why are you being so defensive all of the sudden? What do you plan on doing to stop them? It looks like your friend is doing a good job ignoring them." Misuzu bit her lip, pinching her skirt in her fingers as she thought quickly.
"It's not fair they're making fun of her. It's not her fault." Yukito tilted his head, stepping forward.
"What do you mean by that...?"
"No, they could throw a rock or something at her! She might get hurt!" Without waiting for a response, Misuzu whipped around to go trekking down the stairs onto the beach. She didn't see if Yukito followed, but instead ran up to the boys. When they noticed her approaching, they stopped in their antics as the lone school girl walked up.
"What do you want?" one sneered, crossing his arms.
"Stop it, please," Misuzu said, standing straight with her arms at her sides. The ocean blew her long hair towards the city, her eyes sparkling in the sunlight. "That isn't right."
"What do you care?" another one scoffed. "We're just having fun. Besides, she's obviously deaf-"
"That's not fair!" Misuzu yelled. The boys started, surprised at her sudden outburst. "Stop teasing her and leave her be. It's very mean of you." One boy shrugged his shoulders, shaking off the expression to be replaced with determination.
"What of it? Maybe you're being mean to us. You should go away."
The others looked at their friend, and then their own looks changed. They built up their own courage, starting to walk towards Misuzu. The blonde inhaled shallowly, stepping backwards a couple times.
"You're being mean. We can tell on you and get you into so much trouble," one boy warned. Misuzu gulped, staring at the sand and seeing it swirl around her feet. Her vision went in and out of focus for a second, and then she blinked, feeling tears building up.
No, I need to do something. I need to help her, she thought desperately. Looking back up, the boys had suddenly frozen. Misuzu clenched her fists, feeling her nails begin to bite into her fingers, and she marched right up to them. The boys' eyes drifted up to her, and then up and beyond, as if frightened of something looming from above.
"It's not right to pick on someone that can't do anything about it," Misuzu said to them. "No, you need to be the one to leave, and never treat someone so unkindly, especially if they have done nothing wrong to you." Misuzu then closed her eyes and, taking a deep breath and raising her fists up, she slammed them down towards her thighs and roared.
The boys gasped in terror, and when spinning around lost their footing in the sands. Stumbling, they picked themselves up and ran away, shouting at each other to go faster.
Misuzu opened her eyes in time to see them dash away, and she watched them go in fascination.
"Was I really that scary?" she said softly.
"Oh, you were terrifying." She heard Yukito's voice from behind her, and she turned slightly to find him standing directly behind her. He was considerably taller than her, and he stood so close she had to look straight up to see him. The sun was behind him, casting a shadow against his face that made his features almost ghoulish with his bright eyes.
"Was I really?" she asked, almost sorry she had scared the boys. Yukito chuckled, resting a hand on top of her head.
"No, Misuzu. You were very brave."
Her eyes lit up, and he was momentarily captured in them, seeing her soul ignite with fire from his compliment. He tore his gaze away, and he found himself being watched by the girl that he was supposed to meet.
Ayame had turned from her seated position, leaning on her right arm to stare at the two in wonder. Misuzu noticed Yukito's fixed gaze, and she gasped when she remembered her friend waiting for her.
"Oh! Ayame!" Misuzu waved enthusiastically, and the black-haired girl returned the gesture. She stood up and gathered her things, folding her towel neatly and placing it in a bag beside her. From what Yukito could tell, the girl hadn't noticed the boys behind her at all. She then approached the two, her braid swaying as she walked.
Yukito eyed her with suspicion as she approached, and when Ayame got close enough she gave a brief bow to greet, setting her bag down to pull out a small whiteboard and marker.
The young man look at Misuzu questioningly, but the girl didn't appear concerned in the least. Ayame wrote swiftly on the board and, turning it around, showed it to Yukito.
"Hello. You must be a friend of Misuzu. My name is Ayame, it's nice to meet you."
When Yukito looked towards Misuzu again, she just gestured towards Ayame with encouragement. Yukito stammered, placing a hand behind his head.
"Um, it's great to meet you too," he said. "Call me Yukito."
Ayame continued to watch him with a quiet smile, and Yukito felt himself shift with unease at her look. She sighed and shook her head. Yukito lowered his hand, wondering what she was thinking, but Ayame simply erased the board and wrote again.
"I'm sorry, but can you write it down for me? I can't hear you when you speak."
She then held the board out to Yukito, and he exhaled in astonishment as he realized exactly what was going on. Now he understood what Misuzu had meant, and why Ayame had been so good at ignoring the boys. It was because she never knew they were there in the first place.
With a grab, Yukito took the board and quickly re-wrote what he said earlier, adding an apology afterward about his misunderstanding. When Ayame read it, she merely smiled, waving her hand back and forth as if it wasn't a big deal in the world at all.
"Are you looking forward to seeing the town?" Misuzu asked Ayame using the board. She nodded when she read the message, doing a few gestures with her free hand. Afterward she wrote:
"That means: 'I'm very excited.'"
The group then headed up towards the town and proceeded to walk through the streets. The sun was warm and comfortable on their backs, and a few people were out in the town here and there. The birds chirped in the trees, the cicadas having finally stopped their chorus. Yukito would turn and look up at the noises around him, noticing the cars passing by, the people calling to one another, and the wind rustling the grass and leaves. Then he would look at Ayame, speaking with Misuzu on occasion with her board to communicate. He found himself feeling strangely sympathetic. This girl couldn't hear any of the things he could. He had never really acknowledged the sounds before now.
It was odd, but although their communication took some time to go back and forth, the messages still managed to get through. And Ayame had tons to talk about. She told the two about her older siblings, how hard her Mom works, and how much she had been enjoying watching the ocean. She tried to describe how it felt to feel the wind but not hear it, and she found it amusing that her descriptions made absolutely no sense to her two friends. But her smiles were endless, and Yukito found them contagious. It confused him at times just how it happened, but she was incredibly happy.
Misuzu laughed a lot as well, and Yukito was reminded just how amazing that sound was.
"Wow, I'm getting thirsty!" Misuzu mentioned to Yukito, bringing him suddenly out of his daze. When he realized the comment that had been made, he suddenly put his hands up in defense, spitting out at her.
"Gah! I don't want any of that terrible peach nectar!" Misuzu's excitement deflated like a balloon, and she pouted like a small child at him.
"I don't think it's terrible."
"Yeah, well it is," Yukito replied, crossing his arms defiantly.
Misuzu pinched her skirt between her fingers, rolling the fabric back and forth as she stuttered.
"Well, we don't have to..."
Ayame watched the brief exchange between them, and then looking down the road, she perked up when she spotted a particular shop. It had a large cover of white and red stripes hanging over the front. A couple of benches sat before the windows at the front of the shop, but no one was occupying them. The sun was beginning to turn the horizon a slight orange, and a small light hanging near the doorway alerted to passerby's that the shop was open.
Misuzu followed Ayame's gesture to spot the shop, and then she turned around with renewed energy.
"Oh, that's the town's ice cream parlor! It's a very cute, little place that I went to all the time as a kid. I haven't been there for a while, but it's..." she drifted off when Yukito waved his hand in front of her face.
"What?" she asked. He pointed towards Ayame, and Misuzu looked at her to see her smiling with her eyes closed, shaking her head in amusement.
"Oh, I'm sorry Ayame. I keep forgetting." Misuzu then just pointed at the shop, and then bringing her other hand up towards her face, stuck out her tongue and pretended to lick an ice cream cone.
Ayame's lips peeled back in an awe-struck grin. She quickly wrote on her board with vigor, her braid jerking with her hand movements.
"I LOVE ice cream! Can we go, please?"
Yukito chuckled as he read over Misuzu's shoulder.
"Sounds good to me."
The trio went inside, each purchasing a small cone. Together, they sat on one of the wooden benches outside, watching the sun sink behind the short houses and shops surrounding the area. Yukito leaned back, a single arm resting on the bench, while the two girls sat close together, exchanging small bits of conversation on the white board.
Misuzu began to giggle intensely. Yukito lifted a brow.
"What's so amusing over there, you two?" he asked curiously before popping the last bit of his cone in his mouth.
"Oh nothing! Nothing!" Misuzu covered, falling into another fit of giggles.
"Oh come on," Yukito prodded still chewing.
"Well, Ayame called your hair a 'nest fit for an owl', and I just find it really funny-"
Yukito began to choke, leaning abruptly over to cough heavily into his hand.
"She said what?" he gasped as Misuzu laughed again. Ayame placed her hand against her mouth too, her eyes glittering.
"It's pretty much true!" Misuzu laughed. Yukito glared at her from his position, then pushed himself off his knees to lean back with both his hands behind his head.
"Well, tell her that owls aren't my thing."
Misuzu scribbled on her board, Ayame read it and then replied.
"She says, 'Then how about a raven'?"
"Hey!" Yukito shouted back. "I'm not going to have any birds living in my hair!"
Both girls laughed, and Ayame showed the board to him.
"Fine. Have it your way." She grinned from around the board, and Yukito could do nothing except sigh in reply.
"Hey, Misuzu," Ayame then asked. "Do you have any big dreams or wishes at all?"
"Do...do I have a dream?" Misuzu asked aloud. Yukito opened an eye in interest, but otherwise didn't move.
"Yeah, like a goal you'd like to do someday or something you would wish for if you could."
"Well..." Misuzu thought about it for a second, placing her pointer finger against her chin and looking up as she mused. Eventually she wrote a message.
"What did you write?" Yukito asked.
"I said that I'd love to be able to visit places around the world. If I could fly, it'd be easy to!" she chuckled.
"'If you could fly'?" Yukito repeated.
"Yeah, but that only happens in my dreams, so that's not possible here. But I certainly can imagine it." Yukito was silent.
Ayame nodded with enthusiasm. She then wrote her own message.
"If I could wish for anything, I'd wish that I could listen to music. People have said it's something truly amazing."
Yukito looked to Misuzu, her demeanor suddenly becoming shadowed in sorrow and sympathy. She gazed down in her lap, her fingers resting on top of one another, brows coming together in thought.
Ayame wrote again.
"Sometimes I can feel the music inside me. You know, when speakers are up too loud, or a large drum is hit and the entire floor shakes? It's so enthralling, but I've read in stories how it's something that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. That would be my wish."
Ayame looked up to Misuzu expectantly, but appeared surprised when she saw the girl next to her drooping her head. With concern, Ayame looked to Yukito with an expression that clearly said: Did I do something wrong?
Yukito shook his head with a smile. He gently took the board from Ayame and wrote to her,
"No, you did nothing wrong. We just wish we could help, that's all."
Ayame nodded, understanding. She turned to Misuzu and placed a hand on her shoulder in comfort.
"Hey, I'm going to go back in for a second," Misuzu suddenly stated as she stood up.
"Why?" Yukito asked.
"I'm going to bring something back for Mom," she said. "She'll probably be wanting something sweet when she gets home." Misuzu's previous darkness had completely vanished, hidden by the distraction of her new task.
Yukito grumbled as the blonde girl disappeared into the shop again. Ayame watched her go.
"Just don't get lost in there," Yukito mumbled.
After a few seconds, Yukito felt a slight weight be put in his lap. Opening his eyes, he saw the white board resting on his legs, a new message written on it.
"I've been having a lot of fun. Just so you know, I noticed the boys at the beach running away. I think I know what was going on. I like Misuzu a lot, and you're very nice too. Thank-you for showing me around."
Yukito took the board and wrote for her.
"Of course. Misuzu likes you too."
"Does she always hide her sadness like that? Is she always so happy?"
Yukito paused, looking to Ayame questioningly. She peered back at him, her eyes shining with concern.
"No, not always," he eventually wrote. He hesitantly added, "She has trouble making friends."
"That's a shame. She's so nice. You obviously care about her very much. Is she important to you?"
Yukito stared at the board for a while, mouth open in surprise, then stared at the young highschooler next to him. She cocked her head, appearing suddenly saddened. She took the board back from Yukito and wrote another message.
"I'm sorry. Did I ask something wrong? You don't have to answer me."
Yukito shook his head and took the board back.
"No, I just look out for her when her Mom can't. At the moment, she's kind of taking care of me too."
"I see. I'm glad to see she does have friends like you. I sometimes have trouble too. Maybe that's why I like her so much." Ayame offered a warm smile at Yukito's hesitant nod. Then she erased the message and added, "I can tell there's something very special about her. Maybe if I could hear her, I could figure it out. I suppose you'll have to listen for me!"
"'Listen for you…?'" Yukito quoted aloud, gazing at the words held between his fingers. Before he could reply, a little bell jingled as the shop door opened again. Misuzu walked out, a small brown bag held in her arms.
"I'm back!" she announced. "Should we start heading home?"
"Yeah, it's beginning to get late. Haruko may actually worry about us." He then stood up, followed shortly by Ayame. The three began on their way back in towards the city where Ayame would wait for her mother to pick her up, and Yukito and Misuzu would continue back on towards the house for the evening.
"And she certainly won't want her juice to be warm!" Misuzu exclaimed.
For the next few days, Misuzu had come home directly from school, sadly stating that Ayame had been busy helping her mother out with tasks and chores. Misuzu had finally received a message, however, stating that Ayame had some free time this particular afternoon. Misuzu was to meet her downtown, and Yukito was playing chaperone in tow as the two walked along the sidewalk adjacent to small houses and narrow streets.
Yukito glanced around as the buildings passed. Something was different today, and he was having difficulty figuring out exactly what it was. The sun was pretty much the same, the warmth and comfort from the ocean breeze breathing in his face.
After a few minutes of silence, he realized that that was exactly what was different. When Misuzu wasn't speaking to him, the surrounding world was so quiet. No birds, no insects…just the wind empty of extra sounds within it. It was a strange aura of the neighborhood that Yukito simply didn't like. Something was wrong.
Suddenly from around the corner, Yukito and Misuzu spotted a figure come dashing around on the sidewalk. It was a girl about Misuzu's age, and behind her ran a little ball of fluff yipping at her heels.
"Kano!" Yukito started.
"And little Potato!" Misuzu added. The girl ran up to them, her short hair bouncing with her stride. When she got close to them, she paused to place her hands on her knees, breathing heavily. The yellow ribbon that she wore tied around her wrist was damp with sweat.
"Kano, what's wrong? Why are you running?"
"I'm...looking...for help..." she stammered between breaths. Tossing her head up, she looked at them desperately and said, "There's been a terrible car accident just down the road. I've been running up and down these streets looking for additional help."
Misuzu gasped, covering her mouth with her hands in shock.
"Was anyone hurt?" Yukito asked. "Is there anything we can do?"
"I don't know," Kano moaned, holding out her arms as Potato jumped into them. "I overheard people say, though, that one of the cars had a young woman and teenager in it. The car that they were in had license plates from out of town. The view is awful and the car is completely totaled-"
"What?" Misuzu yelped. Yukito looked behind him to view her, and he noticed tears had begun to overflow onto her cheeks.
"Misuzu, don't jump to conclusions," he said reaching out for her. "We don't know yet if-"
"No! It can't be!" she shouted before he could stop her. And in a dash, she took off around him and down the road. Kanno watched her go startled.
"Misuzu, wait!" Yukito took off after her, and as he ran he heard Kano's feet pounding the pavement behind him.
Although he was faster than Misuzu, she had gotten enough of a lead that he couldn't catch up to her before she rounded a corner and vanished behind a building. When he came to that point and veered to his right, he had to quickly stop to avoid running into her. She had halted to a stand, viewing in front of her a large intersection that had been cut off by rescue vehicles, pedestrians, and wreckage. A small car lay crumbled against the light post, the street light having come crashing to the ground and shattering into hundreds of pieces. Just adjacent to it stood a truck, the entire front having been crumpled inward from the impact. Tall buildings crowding the intersection, lack of stoplights, and with it being set on a hill...it set up a perfect possibility for a traffic accident.
Misuzu stood watching, her shoulders trembling. After a brief repose, Yukito dashed up to her, wheeling around to come facing in front of her. Bending down, he placed both hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. Her blue eyes swam in tears, her cheeks glistening.
"Listen to me, Misuzu," he breathed hard after his sprint. "I know you. I know what you're thinking. This isn't your fault. Misuzu, pay attention to me!"
The girl stared emptily into his eyes. Finally, she spoke.
"It's happening again." Yukito's breath caught, himself unsure how to respond. "Everyone I'm close to just ends up going away."
"That's not true-" he tried to say, but Misuzu shook her head.
"Mother hurts, and Ayame hurts. It's because of me."
"That's ridiculous, Misuzu." He saw Kano standing just a short distance away behind Misuzu, Potato in her arms. She held very still, as if she was frightened of interrupting. "How can you say that?"
"It's not fair!" she abruptly cried, burying her face in her hands. "Yukito...are going away?"
The question was so sudden, the man was speechless. Misuzu peered from between her fingers at him, and her shoulders began to shake violently.
"Are you going to leave me too, just like all the others?" After she spoke, her legs collapsed and she fell to her knees with a sob. The drop surprised Yukito, and he fell with her until they faced each other on the ground. When he regained his senses, he sighed deeply and pulled Misuzu into an embrace. She wept and wept, crying out in her misery. It pained him to think that she was blaming herself, but anything he would say at the moment would never make it to her ears. She would never hear him even if he shouted. But regardless, he tried.
"Of course not. I'm not going anywhere, Misuzu."
Just a day later in the evening, the front door of the small house opened up to reveal Yukito walking in. He bent down to remove his shoes, stopping to run his fingers through his hair restlessly. He did his best to remain quiet so as not to disturb anyone.
But he wasn't the only one awake in the house.
"Did you find anything?"
Yukito looked up from his kneeling position to see Haruko standing before him, leaning against the wall with her elbows in her hands. She appeared very tired, as if she had been up for days with worry.
"The hospital was not keen on letting me know the details, but I managed to get the gist out of them." He sighed, rubbing his temple between two fingers. "The mother appears stable. As for the young girl, she didn't survive that night. They wouldn't tell me names, however, so I still don't know for sure."
"Misuzu is convinced, though," Haruko noted softly.
"Yeah, which gives me that awful feeling...that she's right."
Haruko smiled gently, lowering her gaze to her bare feet.
"You need to let her know."
"She's sleeping," he stated. Haruko chuckled.
"I doubt it." She shook her head, brushing some loose strands of hair behind her ear. "Just don't break her heart, Yukito," she continued as the man stepped up into the house. He hesitated beside her, frozen momentarily with her comment.
Eventually he said to her, "It's already been shattered, Haruko. But..." he paused and nodded to her. "I'll mend what I can."
Yukito walked to Misuzu's room. His hand rested on the wall, waiting. Exhaling again, he quietly opened the panel to let the hall light stream into the room.
The room itself was filled with soft and pleasant colors. Sentient plushie dinosaurs of all sizes stood guard along the walls, casting protective shadows on the other helpless toys. The walls held pictures and drawings from throughout the years. It stood as a sanctuary for a lost soul, seeking the happiness of childhood.
Against the far wall was the bed, placed underneath a wide window that opened into the outer world. Misuzu was there, awake as Haruko had predicted. She was sitting on her knees, elbows resting on the window sill as she gazed upward into the sky. The moon must have been quite large, because its rays cascaded through the window like rivers of light, casting Misuzu's long, loose hair and pink pajamas into a shimmering hue.
She must have known he was there, so Yukito walked up through her room to sit on the bed beside her, taking a moment to stare out at the sky like she did. The moon was so bright, it obscured the surrounding stars. One had to look at the horizon to view any.
"I had a dream before you came," she said after Yukito had sat down for a few moments.
"Really? Were you in the sky?" he asked somewhat worried. Misuzu looked at him then, but shook her head.
"No, and I wasn't alone this time. I was with another person. It was...Ayame."
Yukito blinked, slightly startled. Misuzu returned her gaze out towards the moon, and her face glowed in its light.
"I saw her, but she was the one wings this time. Wings just like I would like to have, to see the whole world. And she was very happy, Yukito."
She looked down at her fingers, twiddling her thumbs.
"I guess I was happy for her, then. I remember saying that I felt sad, but she let me know it was okay."
"You heard her speak?" Yukito asked. Misuzu shook her head slowly.
"No, but I understood. Then she said she had to go, but even though I'll miss her, I was so happy that she was happy."
Yukito held very still, watching a single tear drip down her cheek. It sparkled and glistened, and he found himself lost gazing at her. He wanted to say something, anything, that would bring her comfort. And yet she was smiling, just like she always did when faced with troubles and sadness.
"And you know what else, Yukito?" She glanced at him, and then returned her gaze up into the sky. "Her wings were the most beautiful wings I've ever dreamed of..."