.hack//SIGN Fan Fiction ❯ Lost Ground ❯ Meetings and Reflections ( Chapter 5 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Five: Meetings and Reflections
Deep in a forest, somewhere, there was a clearing.
In the center of the clearing was a little girl. In appearance, she was perhaps four or five years old -- and thus it was peculiar that her long, straight hair was pure white. She was sitting comfortably on the ground, her head tilted back to watch the sky.
It was night-time, now. She liked the night; the sky was clear, and there was no moon, so that hundreds, perhaps thousands of stars were visible, sparkling overhead. They were beautiful to watch. She'd been doing little else, in all the time she'd been here -- exactly how long that had been, she was not sure, but it could not have been too long, she reasoned, or her father would surely have come looking for her.
That he might already have done so, and failed to find her, never crossed her mind. Her father knew everything, she was sure. Whenever it was time for her to go home, he would come to fetch her. Nothing to worry about, in the meantime.
Anyway, at most, she'd been here... perhaps a few hours, she thought vaguely. It could not have been much more, for the sun had been setting when she had first wandered here, down a path lined with red spider lilies, and it had not yet risen again.
It would be rising soon, though. Every night came to an end, eventually -- everything came to an end, eventually. The thought made her a little sad; it really was a perfect night. But that was all right; the end of one thing was always the beginning of another, and perhaps then it would be a perfect day, too.
Yes -- dawn would come soon.
Of that, she was sure.
* * * * *
People. There were always so many people around, being noisy and stupid and getting in the way. Tsukasa sat and stared numbly at the infirmary floor as what seemed to be half the school's staff fussed over her, and talked at her, and asked her concerned questions to which she gave little more than monosyllabic answers if she could help it. Hypocrites. It's not like any of you'd be sorry to see me go -- but the school'd look bad if you started misplacing students, and we wouldn't want that, now, would we?
"And you don't remember anything?" The question's tone stopped just short of being accusatory, perhaps, but it was definitely suspicious.
"No." But if you didn't believe me the first twenty-five times, I doubt you'll start now. Just go away, will you? Leave me alone. I'm tired. A small thought suggested that it was just possible that she ought to be worried at the gap in her memory, as well as at the fact that she'd apparently been missing for days, but right now she hardly had the energy. She'd think about it later -- after she'd slept for about a year, maybe.
She scarcely heard the ongoing babble of falsely sweet and solicitous words. It was doubtful that anything was being said by now that hadn't already been said a dozen times over, and most of it hadn't been worth listening to the first time. She should have ignored Mimiru -- simply turned around and walked away, before the other girl had succeeded in dragging her off to the headmistress's office. Of course, then they'd have come looking for her...
The one-sided conversation seemed to have come to a halt, at least temporarily. She looked up, and asked listlessly, "So can I go, now?"
"I really don't think that's a good idea, dear. You--"
"Don't call me that," Tsukasa said shortly.
The woman looked considerably taken aback. "I beg your pardon?"
"I'm not your dear. You barely know who I am. So don't try to pretend you care -- you're not fooling anybody, you know."
The woman's lips thinned at this. "Miss Shouji, I realise you've... been through a lot, the past few days--"
And don't call me that, either, Tsukasa thought. Shouji or Miss. Shouji's my father's name, and I don't want anything to do with it. As for 'Miss'... Why that particular title didn't quite seem to sit comfortably in her head, she could not in all honesty have said, but she'd never liked it. She didn't waste her breath saying so, however; she doubted the woman would really listen.
"--But there's no call for you to take such a tone. Everyone's been very worried--"
"Oh, yeah," Tsukasa muttered sardonically, before she could stop herself. "Bet the place was just falling apart without me."
"--And you might consider that, girl," the woman snapped, ignoring this.
Well? Even supposing any of you were really worried about anything besides your own precious image, I didn't ask you to be. So it's not my problem. Now, there were words that wouldn't go over well, if ever she'd heard any. "Fine. Look -- I'm sorry," she lied wearily, in a toneless voice. "But I'm really tired. And I can't tell you what I don't remember, so there's not much point in me staying here, is there?"
The woman sighed. "Miss Shouji--" Tsukasa's shoulders hunched slightly at the name-- "You vanished days ago without a trace, and nobody knows why or how. You reappeared today, equally inexplicably, despite the fact that a number of very competent Knights have been guarding the school. As I was saying -- if you were listening to a word of it -- none of us feel it would be wise to leave you alone just now. The Knights believe it would be best to take you to stay at the keep for the time -- there are few places better guarded, after all--"
Guarded. Watched. Never left alone. Inwardly, Tsukasa cringed at the thought. It was bad enough at school, and here she could get away from people, sometimes -- leave the school grounds, slip through the Gate unnoticed, and spend a peaceful afternoon in the haven of the lost cathedral where no one but she had set foot in, perhaps, hundreds of years --
The hidden cathedral. She--
Walk by my side.
She'd -- been --
Darkness had beckoned, and for a long time, perhaps forever, there had been nothing. She had slept, and had not wanted to wake.
But then there had been dreams, or memories, of the sort that made her want to shrink in on herself and disappear just to make them go away. The sort that waking wouldn't erase, because they'd been real, once upon a time. And she had sunk further and further into the empty darkness, trying to escape them, until--
--She'd woken. Or thought she had, at the time, but now it was like trying to remember another, much more pleasant dream. Deep enough in the darkness, there had been light...
And now the Voice, familiar and -- unlike most voices -- much beloved, sounded in her mind with a quiet, kindly laugh. You want to get back there? Not to worry. You will.
Tsukasa's eyes widened. She'd never heard the Voice away from the cathedral before, and the strange sense of a presence in her mind had already faded as quickly as it had come. Had she only imagined it?
She became suddenly aware that a voice outside her mind had been speaking to her as well. She shook her head, blinking dazedly. "Uh... sorry. What?"
"I said, are you alright, Miss Shouji?" the woman repeated, eyeing her concernedly. "You had a very strange look on your face, for a moment."
"Oh. Nnh." Her spirits, lifted briefly by the memory and the Voice, plummeted sharply once again as she remembered what the woman had been saying. It was all very well for a possibly-imaginary voice in her head to tell her that she would return to the lovely, peaceful, solitary clearing in the darkness, but the strange certainty arose that she would only be able to get back there from the cathedral, and she couldn't get there if she was surrounded by Crimson Knights everywhere she went. "Y...yeah."
Her tone was clearly less than reassuring, though, for a fresh note of sympathy entered the woman's voice. Tsukasa noted this warily; she didn't trust sympathy.
"I do realise how frightening all of this must be for you, Miss Shouji."
Tsukasa shrugged indifferently. "I'm not frightened." It was partly true; she wasn't afraid of whatever had happened to her, and that was what the woman had meant, after all. Being surrounded by people pretending to be nice to her all the time, now, that was another matter.
The woman seemed uncertain of how to answer this. "...Well," she said at last, uncomfortably. "You're a very brave girl, then."
Tsukasa hunched her shoulders again, turning her head to stare out the window, and muttered, "Whatever."
* * * * *
Shortly after seeing the accursed creature Sora through the gates of the Crimson Knights' keep, Kamui had taken her leave of her fellow guards. They had not really been sorry to part company with her for the time, and she couldn't say she blamed them; she was ready to strangle somebody, and if it couldn't be the demon, it damned well might be someone else.
She'd have liked to go find someplace comfortable, where she could simply keel over and maybe get some sleep. She was exhausted; several days spent running on little other than anger had taken their toll, as she'd known they would. But she had someone to meet, first. Not for the first time, she directed a few heartfelt mental curses at her onetime commander...
"Sir? What are you doing here?"
"All in good time, lieutenant. A word with you, please."
Well, Kamui thought resignedly, at least he's halfway polite to me, now. She'd been terrified of the man, once upon a time.
Then again, she had to admit, if only to herself, I was kind of an idiot back then. She shook her head, remembering...
In Fort Ouph and Lia Fail, the Cobalt Knights had grand halls where their mages trained and studied. The magic that the Cobalts used was not normal magic, if any magic could be considered 'normal'. The World, legends said, had long ago been written into existence by one of the gods... and if one knew the secrets of such writing, one could change reality.
The Cobalts knew.
Or, at least, they knew in a very limited way. They were mortals, not gods, and they had been self-taught from those few fragments they could find of the original writings. It had taken them a long time to understand anything of it at all, and even now they had only a tiny fraction of the power which their studies might one day grant them. Still, it was more than anyone else had, and they were very careful to see that this remained the case; even the smallest of their secrets was jealously guarded. In the wrong hands, such power could be disastrous.
As a child, Kamui had had some minor facility for spellcasting -- ordinary spellcasting. And, with the optimism of a child, she'd dreamed of joining the Cobalts, furthering their research, learning all the miraculous things they were said to be able to do. There had been so much she'd thought she would be able to change...
Unlike many childhood dreams, this one hadn't faded in a year or two. She'd joined the Knights as soon as she was old enough. They weren't in the habit of teaching sixteen-year-olds to reweave the fabric of reality, funnily enough, but they had an intensive training program for the many hopefuls who came along each year.
Shortly after she joined she'd been told, fairly bluntly, that she didn't have the talent required for their work. She hadn't been the only one, by any means; most of the others had been dismissed from the Knights entirely. But she, in all honesty, had not had anywhere else to go. She'd joined against the wishes of her family, and had left after a very noisy row, and she'd been too stubborn to slink sheepishly home and admit they'd been right.
So, she'd more or less begged her superiors to give her another chance. They'd eventually agreed, but it hadn't been the chance she'd wanted. She'd wanted another shot at becoming a mage.
Instead she'd been assigned to train in combat. Possibly they'd felt that her sheer bloody-minded persistence would serve her better, there. In retrospect, they'd been right, but at the time she had not been very happy about this. She'd been a frankly dismal student at first, not for any lack of ability, but simply because she hadn't cared.
And then she'd met Albireo Watarai. He had grumbled about it rather a lot, but High Command had insisted that he take on a few new trainees every so often, and somehow, Kamui had been one of the lucky -- or unlucky -- few.
Again, in retrospect, he probably wouldn't have wasted his attention on her at all if he hadn't thought she was worth it. At the time, however, it hadn't exactly seemed that way. Albireo had not had a lot of patience for self-pity. Or stupidity. Or... well... just about anything, really. So it had seemed, at least; Kamui had spent a lot of time trying to avoid him, over the first few months, once to the point of hiding behind a suit of armor when she'd seen him walking down a hall.
Eventually she'd realised that he was, in his way, a very patient person, and that if she didn't start putting a little more effort into her work, he really did intend to keep making her life miserable pretty much indefinitely. Kamui had always been stubborn, but she'd reluctantly had to conclude that maybe she wasn't quite that stubborn.
Soppy life lesson goes here, I suppose, she thought sardonically, remembering. But things had gotten better, once she'd finally stopped sulking about the talents she didn't have and instead started focusing on improving the ones she did. For a time, life had actually been... good.
And then, almost three years ago now... something had gone wrong. They'd met a demon, who had gotten away, and Albireo had gone hunting the thing alone. He'd caught it, but -- he hadn't been the same, afterwards.
It had been a shock, running into him in Mac Anu, when she'd been thinking of him only a short time earlier -- remembering what happened to those fooled into thinking a monster was human.
* * * * *
A wave of almost giddy relief had struck Sora upon his discovery that he was not, in fact, about to die, but it had washed away now, leaving only exhaustion in its wake. Lady Subaru was saying something; she was probably talking to him, but he barely heard the words as he stared down at his (tragically near-empty) bowl of stew.
So. Let's sum up the last few days, here.
Met a dragon. It stole all my money and tried to eat me.
Met some Cobalt Knights. Got in a fight. (They started it. Sort of.) Killed one of them. Got arrested, beaten, chained to a wall, ekcetra(1)... bad day all around. Thought they were going to burn me at the stake.
Somehow ended up on a two-day forced march to Mac Anu. Got handed over to the Crimsons. Who, um, should have plenty of reasons not to like me very much.
And what are they doing?
Giving me lunch.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, It's a good lunch. I'm not really sure what's in this stew, but I'm pretty sure it's the best whatever-it-is I've ever tasted.
I'm just saying I'm not entirely sure that my brain's caught up yet. I thought it had, earlier, but I think somewhere along the line it just stopped moving and fell over. So if you've got to ask me all these stupid questions, d'you suppose it could wait until after I've gotten some rest? I haven't got any good lies ready right now, and for once, I really think I'm too tired to improvise.
Gradually, he became aware that Subaru had stopped speaking and was looking at him as if expecting him to answer. He hesitated for a moment, trying to remember and piece together the half-heard fragments of her question, but finally gave up. Wearily, he shook his head, grimacing. "Sorry, m'lady. I, uh... it's been a really long week. What'd you just say, again?" Inwardly, a part of him groaned at the current sluggishness of his thoughts; another part, though, said, Y'know, it's probably just as well. If you were awake,you'd be playing up the pitiful, half-dead-on-your-feet, lost-little-kid act anyway. As is, you don't actually have to act very much, not for the half-dead piece.
Subaru smiled gently. "I was only saying that I know you've been through a lot over the past few days, Sora. There's obviously a... lot that needs to be sorted out, but I think perhaps it can wait until you've gotten some sleep. As soon as you've finished eating, I can have someone show you to a guest room, if you'd like?"
He blinked owlishly as this sank in. "Oh," he said at last, vaguely. "Um... yeah. That'd be, uh, that'd be great. Thanks."
That bit of his brain which had approved of his current fatigue suggested that this might, from a theatrical standpoint, be a good time to look away, and that maybe throwing in a few surreptitious but audible sniffling noises wouldn't be a bad idea, either. So he did. Only for appearances' sake; he could count on one hand the number of times in his life that he remembered crying over anything, and he wasn't about to start now, just because he'd gotten some scrapes and bruises and missed a few nights' sleep.
But the frightened little kid that he was supposed to be, who'd just barely escaped a horrific (and, of course, thoroughly undeserved) death... well, he'd almost surely be trying not to cry at this point, and would look all the braver for managing it. And indeed, when Sora darted a glance towards her, the Lady's brow was creased in nervous concern.
"A-are you all right?" she asked softly.
He resisted the urge to let his head fall forward into his hands. He even -- barely -- stopped himself from rolling his eyes. How much detail about the last few days of my life do you need, Lady? Good grief. What do you think? In his effort to keep this comment to himself, he sank his teeth into the inside of his lower lip with such force that after a couple of seconds he tasted blood. Ow. Stupid, stupid.
When at last he trusted himself to sound halfway polite, he nodded, and mumbled, "'M fine. It's, uh..." He sniffed again, and rubbed at his nose with a self-conscious air which was, he considered, probably quite convincing, if he did say so himself. "'S been a... long day, milady."
Crim, Sora realised, was by now giving him a look that clearly said, You couldn't have acted like this for the last two days? The boy hesitated, but then thought resignedly, He could be trouble, you know. Better be nice to him, too. For now.
"S-Sir Crim?" The title stuck in his throat. Little kid. Frightened, pathetic little kid. Remember? That's what you're going to be, if you want to get out of here alive. Right now, you're in no shape to deal with the consequences of annoying somebody like him -- well, any more than you already have. "I -- I'm s...sorry--" That is how you pronounce that word, is it? I use it so rarely. "--For all the t-trouble I caused you, on the way here..."
"Yeah, well," Crim said gruffly. "This once, consider it forgotten. You had no way of knowing I was on your side." After a brief pause, he added, "Besides, Kamui didn't help matters, and she should have known better. But jeez, kiddo, be a little more careful, yeah? I thought you'd get yourself killed before we got anywhere near Mac Anu."
Sora made a face. "Th...thought the Crimsons were going to be worse than the Cobalts, sir, and when you figure what they wanted to do to me--" He swallowed, and added in a smaller voice, "Well, getting strangled by Kamui kinda seemed like the better deal."
"Ah," Crim said quietly.
"S-till..." Sora hunched his shoulders with a calculated awkwardness of which he was rather proud, when he stopped to think about it. "S...sorry, sir." Wow. That's, what, twice in five minutes I've said that? I do get some kind of prize for this, right?
...Yep. It's called staying alive, moron.
What, no money? Bo-ring.
Well, hey. You play this right, you never know. Lady Subaru said something earlier about trying to find a spot for you in one of the city schools -- and if she seriously thinks that's a good idea, then she's dumb enough to buy just about anything.
Right. So. Get some rest, get back on his feet, and then get around to swindling the Lady of the city out of as much money as humanly (or half-demonically) possible.
Sounded good to him.
First things first, though. Right now, he could really do with another bowl of stew.
* * * * *
By the end of the meal, Sora had practically been asleep at the table -- and who could blame him, Subaru thought, from what Crim had said of the last few days? Good grief, Crim had looked nearly ready to fall over, he'd only had to get the boy to safety. He'd not actually said very much on the subject yet, but Subaru knew the Cobalt Knights could be less than easy to deal with.
...Well. Crim was a grown man; he could presumably take care of himself. Sora was clearly another matter, and so Subaru had sent a servant to see him comfortably settled in one of the keep's guest rooms. At Crim's insistence, two knights had accompanied them, having been quietly instructed to stand guard outside the boy's door. Subaru had questioned the necessity of this; it wasn't as if Sora was a prisoner, and he was only a child, but Crim had shaken his head wearily.
"He's a demon-child, Subaru. A tired and presumably very scared demon-child, and his first reaction to fear is notto go hide his head under a blanket, it's to pick a fight with somebody." He winced slightly. "Trust me on this. We're not talking about your basic childhood tantrum, here. We're talking about somebody getting killed."
"Surely you don't think he would--"
"What I think is that it's been a long couple of days for all concerned, and right now I wouldn't trust him not to... overreact. Charity's one thing. Completely abandoning good sense is another."
Her face coloured. "I try not to make a habit of that, thank you," she said stiffly. "But the advice is appreciated."
"I--" His mouth opened, then shut again, and he drew a deep breath. "I'm... sorry. I meant me abandoning sense, not you. You haven't spent the last two days traveling with the kid; you weren't to know."
She had thought this a rather half-hearted excuse, but she had bitten back the brief impulse to argue. Crim might still talk, sometimes, as if she were a child, but that was poor reason to start squabbling like one. Anyway, you know he doesn't mean it that way. Not really.
...Well, he doesn't, does he?
At any rate, the conversation had ended there.
And now, there were other people to whom she had to see...
It was good, certainly, that the Shouji girl had reappeared. By all accounts, though, the girl herself wasn't very happy about it. In fact, by all accounts, she was rarely very happy about anything.
Subaru really wasn't sure what, in the face of a total unwillingness to communicate, she herself could expect to accomplish. She felt, though, that she ought to make some effort. Tsukasa had been brought to the keep a few hours ago; it was simply to give the Knights a better chance at guarding her, since she had reappeared at her school practically under their noses and yet they had managed to miss it, but still, it made her a guest of sorts. And certainly, given their total failure to protect her from whatever had happened, they owed her something. She had to be frightened, in the circumstances; perhaps, at the very least, it would put her a little more at ease to talk to a girl relatively near her own age.
Probably not, Subaru thought ruefully, but face it -- I'm looking for any chance to feel a little less... useless. It isn't as if I even know how to talk to anyone near my own age. The Knights, yes. Servants, yes. Off-plane diplomats and nobility and so on, yes. And councils, and committees, and all sorts of officials...
Teenagers are another matter. Crim did used to say I ought to get out more...
Steeling herself, she nodded to the guard outside Tsukasa's room. He bowed to her, and hastened to open the door.
She ventured inside with trepidation. Two knights, both female, were stationed inside the door as well; they were taking as few chances as possible. That might be necessary, Subaru reflected, troubled, but it might not be helping Tsukasa's frame of mind very much.
Tsukasa herself was sitting on her bed, hugging her knees to her chest and staring out of one of the room's narrow windows. She had not so much as turned her head at the Lady's entrance, and Subaru hesitated, uncertain of how best to announce her presence.
One of the girl's guards cleared her throat and attempted to help "Milady Subaru, this is miss Tsukasa Shouji. Miss Shouji," she added pointedly, "Lady Subaru Misono -- ruler of Mac Anu -- is here. To see you."
The girl hunched her shoulders, and, still not looking around, muttered, "Make her go away."
"This is the Lady Subaru you're--" the Knight began in scandalised tones, but Subaru shook her head, holding up a restraining hand.
"Would you step outside for a few minutes, please? I should like to speak to miss Shouji, and I expect she would prefer some semblance of privacy."
Subaru drew herself up to her full height, wishing, not for the first time, that it was a slightly more imposing height. Still, being ruler of the city had to count for something. "Leave us, please," she repeated, politely but in a tone which, she hoped, brooked no argument.
The guard opened her mouth again, but clearly thought better of it, and inclined her head reluctantly. "As you wish, milady."
When the two guards had gone, Subaru took a few steps towards Tsukasa. "May I sit?"
"Do as you like." The younger girl's voice was barely audible.
Subaru sighed, and settled herself in a chair by the bed. "Everyone's been very worried about you the past few days."
"So I've heard." The tone of the words was unmistakably sardonic.
"Miss Shouji," Subaru began gently, but Tsukasa stiffened as if struck.
"Don't call me that."
"I -- I beg your pardon?" Subaru asked, taken aback.
"Shouji," the girl mumbled, her voice once again barely on the edge of hearing. "Or--" But she stopped short, and though she had not been looking at Subaru to begin with, nonetheless she turned her head a little further away. "Just... don't," she said eventually. "Milady."
"May I ask why not?" Subaru asked mildly.
To her surprise, the younger girl actually turned almost to face her, and one corner of her mouth twisted upwards slightly. "You can ask. But--" The brief flash of humour faded as quickly as it had appeared, and she hugged her knees a little more closely to her chest. "There's not much to say about it," she went on tonelessly. "I just... don't like to be called that."
Well, there were certainly more important things to worry about, Subaru thought. "Shall I just call you Tsukasa, then?"
The girl glanced at her, her eyes widening slightly, perhaps in surprise at the lack of argument. Her mouth opened, but she closed it again soundlessly, and only gave a brief, stiff nod.
Subaru smiled. "All right. Tsukasa -- I'm really not here to argue with you. I only -- I was very glad to learn that you were alive and well, and I wanted to--"
She hesitated, briefly. Why am I here, really? Except in some effort to make myself feel that I'm doing something halfway useful...
Tsukasa did not miss the hesitation. "To what?" she asked sharply. "Come and stare at me like I'm some sort of curiosity in an museum?"
"No!" Subaru protested, hurt. After a moment, she asked, more quietly, "Is that really what you think?"
"Nnh." Tsukasa shrugged, resting her chin on her knees and staring at the bedspread. Subaru waited, but the girl did not elaborate further.
Swallowing a little uneasily, the Lady of Mac Anu persisted, "I only -- wanted to talk to you. To see if -- if there was anything you needed, if there was anything I could do."
This received no response, and Subaru added, uncertainly, "I thought -- I thought you might like to talk to someone, after all you've been through."
The younger girl raised her head and subjected the Lady to a long, blank stare. Eventually she said, tonelessly, "I like your dress. You look nice."
"What?" Subaru blinked in puzzlement, taken aback. "I -- thank you..."
"There you go." The girl looked away again, her voice still flat and expressionless. "I've talked to you. Happy?"
"I--" Subaru sighed. "I didn't mean you had to talk me if you don't want to, Tsukasa. Of course you don't But if, for instance, there's anyone you'd rather see..." She brightened slightly as she recalled one of the original reasons for her visit. "Your friend Mimiru has been asking after you, you know."
Tsukasa said nothing, but only drew her knees a little more closely to her chest.
"She's been very worried," the Lady persisted gently. "She was one of the first to volunteer to help search for you."
This brought a quiet, humourless laugh from the younger girl. "I'll bet she was, yes."
Uncertain what to make of this, Subaru said only, "She would very much like to come and see you, if she may."
Tsukasa was silent for a moment before echoing, in a strangely blank tone, "If she may." She paused, and then muttered, still not looking at Subaru, "Do I have a choice?"
Subaru suppressed another troubled sigh; she didn't want to put pressure on the girl, who was already too wary of her intentions. "Of course," she said quietly.
Now Tsukasa looked at her, and asked bluntly, in the same dull, empty tone, "But I haven't got a choice about you being here?"
"Do you want me to leave that much?"
Tsukasa rested her chin on her knees once more, her gaze drifting back to her feet. "Yeah."
No sense in pressuring her... and the mere fact of my presence is doing that, it seems. Rising to her feet, Subaru said simply, "Then I'll leave." I mean you no harm -- please see that. Someone would have to ask the girl questions, sooner or later, but it was obvious they'd get no answers if they tried now. Perhaps, given a day or two of rest in the solitude she seemed to crave, Tsukasa might be more willing to speak.
Nonetheless, she made a final, hesitant effort. "I do realise how fr--"
"Frightening this all must be for me," Tsukasa finished in a weary sing-song. "Haven't heard that twenty times already today. Anyway," her shoulders hunched defensively, "It's not, really."
"What? But--"
"I don't like it here. I don't like the school, I don't like the city, I don't like the people. So why should I care if I've been gone from it all? And not being able to remember..." She shrugged. "There's lots I wouldn't like to remember, if I could help it. So it doesn't bother me."
"I thought," Tsukasa interrupted, her voice once again a monotone, "you were leaving. Milady."
Subaru closed her eyes for a moment before nodding, and said, a little more stiffly than she had intended, "I apologise for the intrusion."
And she left.
* * * * *
In the hidden clearing, the little girl lay back on the soft grass, folding her hands behind her head as a pillow of sorts. The stars were pretty, but she had been watching them for a long while, and she was starting to find that she was growing tired of it. And starting to grow tired in general, really. It was suddenly seeming a very long time since she had last slept.
Well... there would be other nights for star-watching.
Slowly, her eyes drifted shut, and a few seconds later, she was asleep.
(1) I know it's et cetera, not ekcetra, but Sora insists on saying the latter. (shrug) Whether he really thinks it's pronounced that way, or just does it to annoy, I'm not entirely sure.