LEVEL 1: A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
Haruhiro attempted approaching Yume and Shihoru with casual topics for starters. ‘So, how was your morning? Did you have trouble waking up? Same as always? I see…’
Or, ‘So, what’d you have for dinner last night? Same thing as always? I see…’
Or, ‘So, we met Renji last night. It was ridiculous. Not interested? I see…’
Or, ‘So, what’d you bring for lunch? Bread? I see…’
Or, ‘So, you look tired…’
So… so… so… Haruhiro was starting to sound like he compulsively started his sentences with ‘so’. He wasn’t exactly being ignored, but it depressed him that all the replies he got were the bare minimum. Mary was her loner self–cold, distant, and unapproachable. It made Haruhiro wonder if she found any joy in her life at all. He admitted that he wasn’t exactly enjoying his own life now, but it wasn’t as bleak as Mary seemed to make hers.
They returned from Damroww to Altana’s in the evening and sold their day’s loot. The day’s earnings came to one silver and fifteen capas each which, for a party like theirs, wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t good either.
Haruhiro skipped going to the tavern that night and returned straight to their lodge. After he finished taking a bath, he squatted down to wait in the hallway until Yume came, having emerged from the bathhouse herself.
Yume stopped, but didn’t turn to look his way. She continued to pat down her hair with a piece of cloth. Yume always wore her hair braided, and now that it was down she looked like a completely different person.
The awkward silence between them stretched a few seconds longer.
“Um, Shihoru’s not with you?” Haruhiro said, finally.
“She’s in the room.”
“I see. Umm…” Haruhiro stood up, rubbed the back of his neck. “Are you mad?”
“Really? But… It seems like…”
“Yume said she isn’t mad-yan. Has Haru just assumed that she was?”
“I… might have.”
“Because we invited Mary to join our party without asking you or Shihoru. I figured we couldn’t be left without a Priest, but maybe I decided on her too early. Though I wasn’t the only one who made the decision…”
“If it wasn’t you, then who?”
“…Kikkawa introduced Mary to us, and me, Ranta, and Mogzo made the decision. So I guess it’s the three of us to blame.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“I said that it isn’t-yan.”
“You’re an idiot, Haru.” Yume wrung her hair with the cloth. “It’s not the three of you. It’s not like that at all.”
“Yume, wait…” Haruhiro turned to face her, starting to reach out. But he pulled back. “Hold on… what’s wrong?”
“You don’t get it, do you? It’s because you don’t understand anything Yume and Shihoru are like this.”
“But…” Haruhiro dropped his gaze to the floor. “It’s just that… I mean, you and Shihoru never even tried to talk to me. How could I understand?”
“Yume’s not good at expressing how she feels-yan. It’s hard for Yume. Shihoru, not so much.”
“It’s not like I—!” Haruhiro felt his voice rising and consciously pulled himself back. “…It’s not like I’m good at talking either. And at the time… it all came as a shock.”
“If that’s so, then it was the same for everyone-yan.”
“The same… for all of us. I guess that’s true.”
“Then isn’t it everyone?” And Yume started to cry. “It’s not just one person’s fault that things are like this now-yan. It’s not just you, Haru, or Ranta, or Mogzo. It’s Yume’s and Shihoru’s fault too-yan. Is Yume wrong? We’re teammates, right? Counting Manato, the six of us were real friends. Was Yume wrong?”
“…No, you’re weren’t.”
She’s right, Haruhiro thought. Yume isn’t the one who’s wrong. I am.
Manato had said once that they had become a good team. He had meant himself, Haruhiro, Ranta, Mozgo, Yume, and Shihoru. The six of them, together, had become a good team. Even though one of the six was now gone, it wasn’t as if Manato had been able to do everything by himself. Even if the rest of them only contributed in small ways, the six of them together could accomplish things that Manato couldn’t do alone.
Manato had surely understood that, and understood it well. That’s why even though Ranta was selfish, Haruhiro was inept, Mogzo was dull-witted, Yume was awkward, and Shihoru was cowardly, Manato had never said a word in criticism.
The five of them were so lacking that nothing would work if even one were missing. Manato completed them, filled in the gap left over when the rest of them fell short. It was the six of them together that made the team.
When bad things happened, it happened to all of them. When good things happened, it happened to all of them. When things got tough, it was tough for everyone. None of them were strong enough to bear it all alone, but they could at least share in it, the hardship and the pain.
Haruhiro hadn’t thought to share anything. It was just him, Ranta, and Mogzo, three boys griping to each other over drinks every evening solely for their own sakes. What did Yume and Shihoru think about being left out? Of course they would have thought that they had been unwanted, been made to feel unbearably sad and lonely.
“Yume, I’m sorry—”
And as the words came out of his mouth, Haruhiro finally understood why Manato used his dying breath to apologize to him.
That day, Manato had praised everyone except for Haruhiro. To Haruhiro, he had said nothing, and so Haruhiro had been gloomy and depressed. That had been on Manato’s mind the whole time, surely.
Suddenly, he couldn’t see. Were tears something that came this quickly, overflowed this fast? The small semblance of calm he had maintained was swept away in an instant. Haruhiro’s knees gave out and he dropped, face in his lap.
Stupid Manato. Why were you apologizing? Why? There was no need to. I didn’t want…
It wasn’t right. That wasn’t the time. Manato must have known that he wasn’t going to make it. Surely, more than apologizing to Haruhiro, he had wanted to say other, more important things. He hadn’t had to make his last words an apology. But of course Manato would have.
Manato had said to Haruhiro: I don’t think I was the type of person that had a lot of friends. But he was completely wrong about that. Completely, utterly wrong.
Why? Why did he die? Why did he have to die?
“Haru…” Yume crouched down and embraced him. She was crying too.
Weeping, she gently stroked his back, his shoulders, his head. Their touching cheeks were both wet with tears and he could hear her raspy breaths near his ear. Haruhiro didn’t know how long he stayed like that, crying as he clung to her.
When he finally regained calm, he felt empty, as if he had cried out all the tears he ever would. Yume, too, had stopped crying some time ago, but even so they still held on to each other. It was strange… as if they couldn’t find a reason to part. They embraced each other just to embrace each other now.
But it felt good. Her body was soft and warm…
No. No, no, no. He couldn’t let his mind wander there. It would get awkward. Maybe even more than awkward. And naturally, Yume wasn’t thinking anything like that. Of course Haruhiro wasn’t either. They were teammates. Friends. Just friends.
“Y-y-yes?” Hearing her say his name was so unexpected and flustered him so much, he only barely squeaked out his reply. He kicked himself for getting so panicked.
“Yume…” she continued.
“Yume will try her best,” she said, hugging Haruhiro even more tightly.
And though it Haruhiro admitted that it felt good, at the same time he wished she wouldn’t do that. Wait. Where was she going to “try her best”?
“Try what?” he asked.
“With Mary. Yume doesn’t know if it’ll work, but Yume will try her best to get along with Mary-yan.”
“Ah, yeah. Right. If you can do that, it’ll help with stuff… I think.”
“Yume doesn’t know if she’ll manage to. In fact, Yume’s a little worried-yan. Yume thinks Mary might actually hate her.”
“Really? I don’t think she hates you, but…”
“Once a while, Yume and Mary will make eye contact, and her eyes are super cold. Her eyes and her expression too-yan.”
“It’s not just you, though. She’s like that to everyone.”
“Really? If that’s so, it’s okay-yan. Yume has a feeling it won’t be easy though.”
“Yeah. You’re probably right.”
“Can Yume really do it? Yume will try her hardest, but Haru, can Yume ask a favor?”
“A favor? From me? Like what?”
“Yume has discovered that that being hugged tight like this is super calming-yan. Hug Yume tighter and tell her she can try her hardest.”
“Is that… really okay?” he asked, uncertain. It would be a hug for encouragement, nothing more. It wasn’t as if he would mean anything else by it; purely an encouragement hug, that’s what it was. It should be fine. “If you say so…”
He drew her in closer, hugging her tight and with all his strength, until a sigh escaped her lips. He wanted to tell her to quit it, since he was hugging her for the sole purpose of encouragement, and yet at the same time, he felt a sort of excitement starting to come over him, threatening to overwhelm him, to make him explode.
Don’t give in! Don’t lose! He thought to himself. What did it mean to lose anyway? What did it mean to win? He had no idea. He just had a feeling that if he lost here, it would be bad. Really bad.
He closed his eyes. “Do the best you can, Yume.”
Yume didn’t say a word, but simply nodded.
Haruhiro opened his eyes and instantly froze. Shihoru was standing at the opposite end of the hall.
“Hm?” Yume looked over that way, too. “Ah…”
“Uhh… umm… uh…” Shihoru began to fidget with her feet, looking panicked.
But it was the same for Haruhiro and Yume. How long had she been standing there? Why hadn’t either he or Yume noticed her coming?
It really wasn’t what it looked like! But that wouldn’t do any good. No matter what he said now, it was too late. They had been caught in a position that just begged for a misunderstanding. He had to clarify, and clarify right now.
Haruhiro and Yume sprung away from each other.
“It’s not what you–” They both said in perfect unison then looked back at each other at the same time.
“I’m sorry! I–” Shihoru began to back away. “I didn’t know! My sense for this stinks so I didn’t notice! I-I-I’m really sorry!”
“No, that’s what I mean, it’s not what you think!” Haruhiro said.
“Haru’s right! It’s nothing like that-yan! Yume just asked Haru to embrace her tight, that’s all!” Yume added.
“Yume, explaining it like that isn’t helping!”
“Oh? How come?”
“I’m sorry, I’ll leave now!” Shihoru said, running away as fast humanly possible.
Yume groaned and placed her cheek in her hand. “Shihoru and Yume share rooms so Yume will explain everything to her later-yan. It’ll be okay.”
“I’ll… leave it to you,” Haruhiro sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.
He glanced back at Yume for a brief moment and for some reason felt embarrassed. He shouldn’t really hug a girl if he didn’t have any special feelings for said girl, but he had done it anyway. What was he going to do if, because of that, special feelings that weren’t there before started to sprout?
Nah, no way that’s going to happen, he assured himself.