Hinata's mind was blank. There were noises around him – boots scraping against soil, yells that sounded shocked and angry – they faded in and out, an uncoordinated cacophony ringing in his head. He felt himself sway, could feel his grip on Yui slipping –
Then there was an arm steadying him, preventing his legs from giving way.
Something like awareness flickered in Hinata's eyes and he stumbled backwards, blue eyes meeting concerned burgundy ones.
What was Otonashi doing here?
Yui and him had attempted to escape, but then they had met Naoi. Hinata remembered a gunshot, but there was no pain.
"Hinata, are you alright?"
"I'm fine, but…" he stopped, abruptly remembering something else. "Yui!"
Hinata's eyes flickered to the the girl in his arms, a pang of sadness coursing through him when Yui refused to meet his eyes. He supposed it was understandable, but all the same, it hurt.
"Yui…" His voice cracked upon seeing the tear stains on her cheeks. "Yui…"
"Easy there, Hinata. She's a little shocked, but otherwise unharmed. The same can't be said for him, though."
That was when Hinata saw it. Naoi had collapsed to the ground, clutching his right foot where a patch of crimson had soaked through. He yelled obscenities, olive eyes filled with hatred. A young girl with a gun in her hands looked down nonchalantly, silver hair glimmering under the setting sun.
"Hinata?" Otonashi's voice was soft, questioning.
"How did the two of you find us?" Hinata asked. "The siren just started wailing, we were under attacked…"
"It was purely by chance. I heard you shouting, and immediately decided to come over to investigate." At this, Otonashi's brow furrowed. "Good thing we made it just in time."
"OTONASHI!" Naoi bellowed, the loathe dripping from his words. "Are you betraying me, including your very own country, to side with this good-for-nothing scum?"
Perhaps it was just Hinata's imagination, but for a moment, he swore a flash of anger crossed the orange-haired teen's face. It was gone as quickly as it came, with Otonashi merely shrugging and turning away.
"We should find a place to rest," Kanade interrupted firmly. "Returning is impossible – we will have to spend the night in the forest."
"The forest?" Otonashi asked. His eyes darted around, looking a little uncertain.
Hinata could understand why. The possibility of being attacked by bloodthirsty wild animals didn't seem too appealing. "Are there any places we can use as a shelter?"
"There's…there's one." Yui's voice was small and shaky. It was the first time she had spoken. "If I'm not mistaken, there's an uninhabited cave just a little way away from the river…"
Hinata looked up, relief coursing through him. She was speaking – she hadn't descended into some sort of mental shutdown after all. Meanwhile, Kanade dragged Naoi roughly to his feet, pressing the gun firmly to the back of his head.
"Just kill me already, you little bitch!" Naoi spat.
Kanade remained unfazed, regarding the injured boy before her without any pity. "Move."
The rain had arrived in torrents that day, with howling gusts of wind tearing through trees, shacks, and umbrellas. Kanade struggled to keep her balance, determined to make her way through the storm. School had been exhausting - all she wanted to do was to get home.
Things had been chaotic as of late. Ever since the Japanese government had been toppled over, tensions had been high where ever she went. The people were suppressed by the new ruling party and those who disagreed with the economic, political or social reforms were trialed. Most of them experienced chilling consequences - Kanade had heard the stories.
School had changed. The happiness in it had disappeared. Students whispered to each other on the hallway nowadays, afraid of making too much eye contact with their teachers. It had been becoming too much, with rumours of revolutions and assassinations going on. Kanade herself was uncertain on what to do, for the ones who sat on their new thrones were nothing but oppressive. She would find a place to go, but there wasn't anywhere she could be.
"There there, kitty, I'm glad you're alright."
Kanade paused a few steps away, careful not to walk into the teenage boy in front of her. The boy's uniform was soaked, his orange hair plastered in a messy heap on his face. He held a tabby kitten in his arms, stroking it so gently as if it was the most precious treasure on earth.
Upon closer inspection, Kanade recognized him as Otonashi Yuzuru from her school. He was well-known for his brains – there was a brilliance in his mind which made others look up to him. Students would often speak to him while he poured over thick books and medical journals, asking him for help on their homework.
Kanade had assumed Otonashi was was just another student. Now, however, she found herself having newfound respect for the teenage boy who had rescued a kitten in the raging storm.
The cave in question was concealed behind moss and shrubbery. Had Yui not pointed it out, its presence would have easily gone unnoticed. A river flowed not too far away, blending in harmoniously with the chirping of birds and cicadas. Otonashi relaxed, feeling much more at ease now that they had a temporary place to rest. Compared to bloody warzones and the smell of burning flesh, this felt heavenly.
"What should we do with him?" Kanade asked, eyeing Naoi gravely. She had blindfolded him after they had set off, threatening him every time he showed resistance.
Otonashi stared. "You…you don't know what to do with him?"
"No, I don't."
The orange-haired teen shook his head in disbelief. "But you seemed so confident and in control. I assumed you knew what to do."
Naoi, on the other hand, burst into laughter. "Pests like you sure are disorganized!"
Otonashi frowned in disgust. Despite being injured, blindfolded and held captive, Naoi still seemed to be as rude as ever. He didn't know who Naoi was acquainted with, but he seemed to know that girl - Yuri Nakamura - pretty well. Otonashi remembered Yuri saying that she knew the higher-ups – would she alert them to Naoi's disappearance? If she did, then that would mean possible trouble.
"Hey, Otonashi, look what I've found."
Otonashi turned to see Hinata with a coil of hemp rope, some blankets, and a couple of bowls. The bowls looked dusty and the blankets were moth-eaten, but that didn't seem to faze him one bit.
"But…that…Hinata, where did you find these?"
"At the back of the cave." Hinata looked genuinely pleased with himself. "Seems like someone left them in a hurry. With all the dust, I can safely assume that no one's going to come back for them too soon."
No one was complaining. With Kanade's help, Otonashi tied Naoi's arms and legs up together the best he could. Naoi panted harshly, the gunshot wound clearly wearing him down. For a moment, Otonashi felt a twinge of sympathy. No matter how obnoxious Naoi could be, he was still a boy.
Kanade looked pensive. "We should get some firewood."
"I'll go with you," Hinata said, setting the blankets down.
"No." Otonashi looked stern. "You stay here with Yui."
The blue-haired boy flinched at the mention of Yui's name, not saying anything else in reply. Otonashi sighed in frustration - sometimes what Hinata needed was a shove in the right direction. Although nothing had been mentioned so far, it was obvious that Yui had found out about Hinata's true identity as a government soldier and wasn't reacting well to it.
"Come on, Kanade. Let's go."
"It is compulsory for all students to fight for their government."
The voice echoed robotically around the country, every single word cold and harsh.
The new regulation had been set in stone.
No. No…this couldn't be. There was no way they were playing this in a public school. Kanade looked up from her book, alarmed. Her classmates looked equally confused, unasked questions written on their faces. The teacher, on the other hand, had stopped teaching and was listening to the announcement with pride.
"Kill the betrayers and squash the revolts. You will be rewarded."
No! This was wrong! Commanding students to kill was wrong and inhumane - Kanade knew that.
Teachers were yelling instructions, herding students out of their classrooms where military men awaited. There were scuffles, cries of protest - Kanade saw how her classmates were treated at their refusal, feeling an icy coldness in her gut. What were her options - to serve and live, or not to serve and die? More students filed past, their footsteps echoing in the corridor. Some, she recognized; some, she didn't.
That was when Otonashi Yuzuru marched past - he was already wearing the army uniform, a stony expression on his face.
Hinata sighed heavily, staring at the darkening sky from the cave's entrance. It had been only five minutes since Kanade and Otonashi had departed, but the seconds had dragged by like hours. All Hinata could do now was to keep a lookout, which wasn't too difficult. It was unlikey that the army knew about this place anyway.
What was he supposed to do now, then?
Naoi had eased himself up against the rocks for comfort, his face twisted into a grimace. Hinata was tempted to start a conversation, but he doubted it would be very productive. Yui, on the other hand, had requested to be left alone at the back of the cave. Somehow, the idea of her alone in the dark hurt. He wanted to embrace her, but at the same time he was so very afraid. What would happen if he reached out to her? Would she shatter like one of those beautiful glass pieces at a souvenir shop?
Hinata wanted to kick himself for his stupidity. While he may have been a coward, that didn't mean he was irresponsible. Was he going to abandon her? No. Never. Deciding that moping wasn't going to solve anything, Hinata stood up and headed to where Yui was. The darkness enveloped him and the teenage boy hesitated, wondering whether he should come back later.
No. He had to do this.
The only acknowledgement from Yui was a sharp intake of breath, but she ignored him otherwise. Hinata remained silent, knowing she would say something when she was ready.
At last, she did. "What do you want?"
He sighed. "Yui…"
"Stop doing that."
"Stop doing what?"
"Stop saying my name that way!" Yui's voice was shrill. "You say it with so much sadness – it's as if you're expecting me to drop dead any moment or something! It hurts me, don't you know that?"
Hinata felt the strength drain out of him. "Yui…"
"I know you're not on their side - at least, not anymore. But still, I can't help but wonder how things have come to this! Damn you, Hinata, damn you!"
He sat in silence, wanting to know how she felt despite how painful it was to hear it.
"I want to hate you, but I can't. I try to convince myself that you're a liar, but something tells me you're not one. You've tricked me, that much is obvious, but why…" Yui choked, her next words a garbled mess, "…why do I care so much?"
That was all it took for Hinata's resistance to break. He crossed the tiny space between them and embraced her tightly, ignoring the way his knees were pressed against the stony ground. She clung onto him like a frightened child, burying her face into his chest for all that was worth.
"Yui…I'm so, so sorry."
She didn't say anything, but her grip tightened. There were no tears – she had cried enough. Somewhere along this Hinata realized he was crying – it was him shedding tears, it was him feeling the pain, anger and indescribable sadness at the thought of losing her.
"Hinata…" Her voice came out soft, gentle. "Why did you betray your army?"
Hinata recoiled, eyes widening at the question. When he spoke again, his voice was hoarse. "…I don't know what the correct answer would be."
"In that case…why not just tell me the truth?" Even in the darkness, Hinata could tell there was a feeble smile on Yui's face. She reached up and touched his cheek – it was a gesture so intimate that Hinata rested against her palm, relishing the warmth that it brought.
The truth? What exactly was the truth? He would scrape out all his thoughts with a spoon and present them on a platter just for her, if that was ever possible.
"The truth was that…I had no idea what to expect when I became a soldier. I was a regular schoolboy – not a bright one, mind you, just a normal one like everyone else. I hated waking up early, played baseball with my friends often, and disliked schoolwork." He gave a short bark of laughter, suddenly feeling disgusted at his tears. Wasn't he supposed to be stronger than that? "But I couldn't kill. I get it – we see it on shows and games all the time, the guns and fighting. I was supposed to be used to it, but I wasn't. That was why I was sent on an infiltration mission instead."
"An infiltration mission?"
"Yeah. Otonashi and I were supposed to get some useful information from the rebels."
Yui gasped. "So that means when we found you in the bushes that day…"
"Yeah." He sighed. "We lied. You were too innocent and trusting, Yui. Initially, I was happy at the idea of how easy things were going - but then I got to know you."
Yui trembled - though whether it was from happiness or sadness, Hinata didn't know.
"You…you were so strong, Yui. I mean, you were stupid for wanting to throw yourself into the battlefield…" At this, Yui gave him a light whack, but Hinata could tell there was no venom behind it. "…But you were strong. Determined. You...fascinated me."
He threaded his fingers through Yui's hair, relishing at how smooth it felt against his fingers. Absent-mindedly, he twirled a pink lock.
"Please, Yui, please understand – I could never hurt you. I was conflicted with all sorts of thoughts – I wanted to tell you, but we were interrupted with the base being attacked and all."
Yui took a shuddering breath. "So the thing you wanted to tell me back there was this?"
"Yeah. I couldn't stand it, I guess. I wanted to tell you so badly – you had the right to know, and…and…" Hinata trailed off helplessly, unsure of how to go on.
"Did you…mean it?"
"Huh?" Hinata asked dumbly, momentarily taken aback by the sudden question.
"You asked me about my dreams, and I told you what they were. Did you mean it when you said you would…marry me?"
The shy hope in Yui's voice made her sound so fragile, so broken. It was endearing, and yet it hurt Hinata at the same time. He held her closer, lips brushing her cheek tenderly. "I meant it. I meant every word I said."
And he did.
"I guess…that's all that matters in the end, doesn't it?" she asked, laughing softly.
He chuckled. "Yeah."
They lapsed into comfortable silence after that. Yui slipped her fingers between Hinata's and hummed in contentment, appreciative of the warmth he brought. Here they were, two teenagers with no idea what the future held - but somehow, Hinata knew that they would be able to stay strong for each other. They would survive the war and go out on dates, where Hinata would spoil her rotten with ice cream, flowers and little surprises.
They had a future. Together.
Hinata closed his eyes and drifted into the depths of slumber, a small smile on his face.
Everything was going to be alright.
Had a tough time with this. URGH. *facedesk* 3am, headache, hope you guys enjoyed this somewhat crappy chapter despite the mistakes or loopholes. Wasn't planning on doing any back stories, but it probably wasn't possible to avoid that...