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Do Not Disturb

"Do not cross this line," says Teru. She scratches a furrow into the dirt and indicates it with the tip of the spoke. "Understand? Don't come any closer than this."

Saki buries her face in her hands and wipes away the tears that can't seem to stop flowing. "Onee-chan," she sniffs, "wh-why are you doing this? Why?"

Teru stares at her through the gloom cast by her fire-red locks. "I have my reasons. Nothing more." She walks away.

"But why?" Saki wails. "Why do you always avoid me?" She reaches out, and her fingers brush the knob of a shoulder.

Teru whirls around and knocks the hand aside, and the shock and hurt in those wine-rich eyes are too real to be denied. Too lovely and full of life to be dismissed as part of a dream.

(Just like hers were—)

She swallows thickly, and when she speaks she cannot stop the tide of emotion slipping through the cracks. "Because it's better this way," and she draws another line between them.

When Teru awakes, it's not to the comfort of the fan cooling the sweat on her body or in her eyes but a weight pressed against her.

"What the—?" She looks down and does a double take. "Awai?"

Awai grumbles in her sleep, too low and incoherent to make any sense. She shifts a little, stretches her legs along the floorboards, pushes her nose deeper into the crook of Teru's neck. One arm wrapped around the latter's hip lets go and rests in the valley of her bosom, fingers curled in a loose fist.

"Silly girl," Teru whispers, "the night's too hot to cuddle." She places a hand on the back of Awai's head and strokes the fine, flaxen strands. This elicits a pleasant hum from the girl, and her struggle to find comfort amidst whatever dream she is having ceases.

"Terry," she murmurs. The smile on her lips is enough to warm Teru's heart, and it aches with longing. It tugs at her, pulls at the strings attached to her soul, and it takes every ounce of willpower not to cry.

(She knew a girl like Awai once, in a different world and a different life. That girl was the sun incarnate: her smile outshone the day and punched through the darkness like a train in a tunnel, and her hands were soft and feather-light whenever they were entwined with Teru's rough, callused ones. Together they were the sun and the flower, and in the wild grasses they would dance beneath the mountains' gaze, breathing life into cold, sterile air with the sound of laughter.

(Sometimes, when the days aren't so hectic and the stress a forgotten memory, she dreams of her. Just the two of them, enjoying each other's company, inhaling the heady scent of dead leaves and autumn rain; and if she allows herself to sink deeper into the sea of seasons past, she can hear her name being called in that playful, singsong tone: Terry, Terry, on contrary~)

Teru sniffs and rubs at her eyes with the heel of her hand. She spares perfunctory glances at the other girls that comprise Shiraitodai's team—Sumire and Takami and Seiko—sleeping beside her, eschewing the thin sheets for the all-encompassing embrace of the A/C unit running at its highest setting.

Upon that realization, her skin puckers and gooseflesh spreads all over her arms and legs. She considers grabbing the blanket by her feet and covering herself up until she remembers Awai is practically lying on top of her, and Teru has no intention to disturb her rest for something so mundane.

(It reminds her of the good old days, when it was too warm to sleep in bed. Everyone would be on the floor with only a couple sheets and pillows beneath them and the incessant chirping of crickets to rock them to sleep. A particular memory surfaces: of one scorcher of a summer where they were without an air condition. The week had been unbearable and the nights miserable to endure. Hot days make for a difficult time falling asleep, something Teru had come to loathe as she got older, but she was there to calm those restless bones. Her and Saki, they would take one side and pin Teru in place, and for the first two nights she had struggled to still her form and allow their closeness to subdue her. In the following weeks did she learn to lay back and relax and let her mind and body go, one hand twined in one sister's hair and another round the waist of another sister, exhaling and inhaling and just being alive.)

"All that matters…is this moment," Teru murmurs. She ceases her ministrations on Awai's head and lowers her hand to the small of the girl's back, twines it in spun gold.

Her heartbeat slows. Her breath deepens.


Let go.

Be free.

"At least I have you, little one," she says to the sleeping Awai. "You and no one else."

That night, Teru dreams of a lonely white flower blooming in the shadow of a burning wheelchair. All around her the heavens weep not tears but ashes, and in the incalculable distance a siren blares.

She studies the barbed wire fence before her, stretching from horizon to horizon as far as the eye can see. Through the gaps she can see the flower better, a striking white against the desolation

"You deserve better than this," she sighs, letting go of the chain links. Blood drips from her fingertips. "Much better."

The darkness descends upon her like a hungry wraith. Teru walks away and, with great reluctance, doesn't look back.