149 Chapter Fifteen: Arrow

The first thing Kanako did when she woke up was stare at the ceiling. Her mind was still in a daze, but after staring for a moment or two, she realized the ceiling she was looking at wasn't her own. "Huh? Wait, this is… Haruna's room…" she thought, finally starting to wake up. Turning over, she saw that the owner of the room was nowhere to be found. Although, in a way, Kanako was thankful, because the more she woke, the more she began to recall.

There was embarrassment. A lot of it, in fact. The things the two of them had done last night were so fresh in Kanako's mind that she was sure her face was going to burn off. She threw her hands onto her face in some sort of failing effort to both cool herself and hide. "Oh God..." she groaned.

However… despite her embarrassment at remembering, Kanako also found herself to be extremely happy. "That… wasn't a dream, right?" she thought. Throwing the covers off, Kanako took a look under her shirt. Though it was dark, she could make out a couple of red marks, along with a bite mark or two. "It really happened…" she thought. "Haruna and I… slept together…"

Being the older-teenager-but-not-quite-adult age that she was, it was an odd feeling. On one hand, Kanako felt like she had taken a step further in many regards to her life. On the other, she felt incredibly naughty having basically done something so explicit behind her parents' back. "T-Then again, once we head off to college, this will probably happen more often, s-so I guess it's fine if I keep this a secret…" Really, just the thought alone of telling her parents about what she had done made Kanako want to die.

But putting that aside, now that the reality of her situation had sunk in, she was beginning to wonder just where her other half had gone. "Haruna does wake up earlier than me, but I didn't think she'd get out of bed without waking me up," Kanako wondered. Then, a concerning idea came to mind. "Oh no… she didn't get up early to try to make me breakfast like you see in movies, did she…?" Haruna in the kitchen was always a thought that greatly worried Kanako, especially with each successive failure she saw the girl make. And then, just as that worry had started to slowly creep up, it skyrocketed as Kanako smelled something… odd.

Quickly, she got up out of bed and headed downstairs. As she got closer, the smell became stronger, somewhat taking the form of eggs, garlic, something burning and… honestly, Kanako wasn't even sure what else. All she could do was nervously make her way into the kitchen. Unfortunately, when she arrived, it was as bad as she had feared.

In a word, it was a nightmare.

To start, all four of the stove's burners were on, but only three of them had things on them (two pots and one pan). The counter space was filled with both ingredients and tools and appliances all strewn about, and in the middle of it all was Haruna, humming away. Between the spill of sugar going from countertop to floor, the mixing bowl with splotches of something dark brown, and a sizzling that sounded far too loud, Kanako didn't even know where to start.

"G…Good morning, Haruna," Kanako said. Hearing the girl's voice, Haruna turned around. "Good morning, darling," she said very pleasantly. It was clear she was in a great mood. "If only the kitchen matched it…" Kanako thought before speaking again. "S-So, what are you doing in here?"

"Making breakfast!"

"I-I thought you didn't cook because you're bad at it?"

"I am, but I feel rejuvenated. Well, my body is sore as hell, but my spirit feels great, so I thought I'd try to make us something!"

"A-And what is this s-something?"

"I'm not skilled like you, so it's nothing fancy. Just some pancakes and eggs."

"P-Pancakes… and eggs?" Kanako repeated in her mind. "H-How?! I don't even see a pancake! And are those liquid-yellow things the eggs?! And why do I smell garlic?!" But, despite her internal screaming, Kanako did her best to remain calm. "H-Haruna, mind if I take a look?" she asked.

Haruna scooted over so Kanako could take a good look at the stove. In the pan were actually things that looked like pancakes, but when Kanako poked them with the spatula, they were as hard as rocks. "Why are these hard?" she asked. "The first batch I tried to make took a while and got really burnt, so I did a little research and found out that mixing more helps, so I mixed the batter a lot and then poured it on." "Ah…" Kanako let out, still trying to keep her composure. "And why is there a flame on in the back, but nothing on it?" "I figured it would heat things up faster having an open flame next to the ones that were under stuff. Double the heat, y'know?" "A-And… the garlic smell…?" Kanako asked. "For flavor!" Haruna responded enthusiastically. "........"

"...Haruna."

"Yes?"

"You know I love you, right?"

"Well duh."

"Great, because I have to say something kind of mean."

"What is it?"

"Don't ever cook again."

"Eh?"

"Have mercy on the food, I'm begging you."

"...It's that bad?"

"Yes…"

And so, Haruna was sent out of the kitchen (and even though she knew she was bad, she still ended up sulking at the dining table). Kanako quickly cleaned up the mess, whipped up what Haruna had been trying to make for about an hour or so, and then served it. The result? Perfectly fluffy pancakes and bright yellow eggs with a nice balance of salt and pepper on them.

"You always make it look so easy…" Haruna muttered as she pouted. "H-Hey, don't be upset Haruna," Kanako said. "I know you tried your best, and I appreciate it." "You told me to have mercy on the food…" Haruna mumbled sullenly. "I'm sorry, I couldn't hold back my true feelings very well," Kanako said apologetically.

The rest of their breakfast passed peacefully, and after cleaning up both their dishes and what remained of the mess Haruna had made, the two of them were left with the rest of Saturday to themselves. "What should we do?" Kanako asked. "I'm not really sure," Haruna said. "It's not like there's much to do around here." "Oh, I know!" Kanako said, getting an idea. "Let's go for a walk." "A…walk?" Haruna repeated. Kanako nodded. "I know we walk to and from school, but we never really just walk around aimlessly. It could be fun. And the rain cleared up too, so we don't have to worry about getting wet."

It definitely felt out of the blue, but at the same time, Haruna thought it might be nice. "It at least sounds like a couple thing to do," she thought. So, the two girls got dressed (Haruna with a pair of jeans and a black jacket zipped up; Kanako quickly running next door to put on a yellow, long-sleeved shirt and a long, white skirt), and then they headed out.

"Which way should we go?" Kanako asked. "This was your idea, so you pick," Haruna said. "Hmm. Let's go that way!" Kanako decided, pointing to her left. So, hand in hand, Haruna and Kanako began walking along the side of the road. With it still being Saturday morning for a bit longer, there still weren't many people out yet. The scenery, the streets and the buildings all gave off an air of peace.

"...Hey, Haruna," Kanako said after they had been walking quietly. "Do you like living here?" "Huh?" Haruna let out. "Where did that come from?" "I'm just thinking," Kanako said. "It's so quiet here sometimes. That's not a bad thing, I guess, but sometimes…" "Sometimes you wish there was more going on," Haruna finished. "Yeah, I get that. It's not that you hate it here. You just wish it was bigger." Though, hearing Kanako bring up such a subject brought questions to Haruna's mind.

"Do you want to leave here?" she asked. Kanako looked up at her for a moment, then went back to looking ahead. "Truthfully, I love this town," she began. "The people are nice, the scenery is relaxing, and I've made so many memories here. I've met a lot of great people, learned a lot, and fell in love. Twice, actually. But… I know one day, I'll have to leave. The things I want to do, and the things I hope to achieve, aren't possible if I just stay in Iwanai."

"You sound like you have big dreams," Haruna said with a little laugh. "I-I guess so," Kanako said sheepishly. "But it doesn't really feel all that grand to me." "So what is the plan?" Haruna asked. "What do you want your future to be?"

"That's an easy question," Kanako said with a smile. "First, I'm going to learn all I can about cooking. Then, we'll get married, and then, we'll open our own bed and breakfast." "Y-You really say we're getting married so easily," Haruna said, feeling flustered. "We are, aren't we?" Kanako asked innocently. "L-Let's just focus on graduating first, okay?" Haruna said, averting her eyes as she blushed wildly. That reaction was enough to satisfy Kanako.

"But what about you Haruna?" she asked. "Did you have something different in mind?" "To be honest, I never really thought about my future much," Haruna admitted. "I was just kinda going along in life without a plan. It wasn't until I met Hayashi-san that I really started to get an idea of what I might want to do." "So you do want to open a bed and breakfast?" Kanako asked. "Well I don't really have any other plan in mind, so that's probably what I'll aim for," Haruna said. "But really, as long as I'm with you, I think I'd be fine with a lot of things." Hearing that, Kanako held Haruna's hand a little tighter.

As they continued to walk along, they talked about this or that until finally, Kanako noticed where they were. "We've really walked a long way," she commented. "We somehow made it to Mayu-chan's house." Being slightly removed from the city aspect of Iwanai, Mayu's house stood alone in the fields, allowing for plenty of space. The traditional design of the building fit the area perfectly, and it would've been quite picturesque had it not been for the scene playing out on the porch.

Standing there was one girl with black hair tied into twin braids who also wore a pair of simple glasses. At the moment, she was also dressed modestly, though from the distance and shadows it was hard to make out any other detail about her outfit. However, the most pressing detail of the whole situation was the fact that she, Mayu Kawaguchi, was currently being pinned to the wall of her own house.

In front of her with one arm up by the girl's head, was another girl who stood taller than her and had wavy, pink hair. Practically clashing with the traditional setting in almost every way, her clothes were black jeans, some sort of blue-ish top that revealed her stomach, and a white, open jacket with black highlights here and there. The girl, Jasmine Hiraoka, seemed to be enjoying herself.

"What are they doing?" Haruna wondered as she watched them. They were a distance away, so it was hard to tell, but it looked like Jasmine was saying something, and the more she spoke, the more flustered Mayu became. "Huh? Wait, don't tell me…" Haruna thought. "Are they…?"

Jasmine wasn't really one to talk about herself, and based on some of the things she had said recently, Haruna was pretty sure Jasmine wasn't in a relationship. "So does that mean… Jasmine-chan is interested in Kawaguchi-san?" Haruna wondered. "If that's really the case, that's pretty unexpected…" Of course, it wasn't a bad thing either. If anything, Haruna was happy that Jasmine seemed to be finding someone for herself. Although, she was also beginning to wonder just what exactly was going on around her. "Seriously, did we cause a lesbian ripple effect or something?" she thought. First Chiyo and Michi, now Jasmine and Mayu. "Well, whatever."

But just before they were about to continue on, Haruna and Kanako saw something else happen. While Jasmine and Mayu were… doing whatever it was they were doing, another party entered the scene. However, unlike the other two, she was much older, and almost immediately started to repeatedly hit Jasmine with a rolled up paper. There seemed to be a bit of arguing (though Jasmine didn't seem all that bothered), and then the gal took her leave. Of course, as she did, she spotted her two observers.

"Uh, hey guys," Jasmine said with a raise of her eyebrows. "You two here for somethin'?" "N-No, we were just walking, and um…" Kanako said, feeling guilty for watching. "So ya saw that, huh?" Jasmine asked. Both Kanako and Haruna nodded. "Meh, that's alright. Like, that happens a lot when I'm here," Jasmine said with a shrug. "Huh?" Haruna let out. "How often are you here?" "Not that much," Jasmine said. "Just now and then. But, most of the time, it ends with Ai-san chasing me out with a rolled up newspaper. She acts like a refined lady, but she totally doesn't hold back when it comes to me, haha." "She must really not like you," Kanako commented, getting another small laugh out of Jasmine.

"Well, I gotta get goin'," Jasmine said. "You have other plans?" Haruna asked. Jasmine sighed. "Chiyo texted me and practically begged me to go with her to Sapporo today, like, last-minute. Somethin' about Fukuhara-san being busy and some sale she just couldn't miss?" "Y-You sound like you don't want to go," Kanako pointed out. "Getting to Sapporo by public transit from here is a pain in the ass," Jasmine said bluntly. "Chances are, we'll have to spend the night there too, which means I'll be stuck with Chiyo for a whole day and a half. But, if I don't go, she'll just cry to me and tell me I'm mean, which is its own hassle. Haaah…"

"I honestly can't tell whether or not you like Chiyo," Haruna said. Hearing that, Jasmine gave a concerned smile. "I like her," she said. "But it's in more of a 'I'm worried what'll happen if I leave her alone,' kinda way. But, sometimes, Chiyo has her moments." Haruna wasn't entirely convinced by that answer, but she figured digging into Jasmine and Chiyo's past could wait for another time, so the couple said their goodbyes to the gal and then they parted ways.

For a while, they walked in silence, simply enjoying each other's company, but not too long later, Kanako let out a small laugh. "W-What is it?" Haruna asked. "This is just kind of funny, isn't it?" Kanako said. "If my past self saw us like this, I doubt she'd believe her eyes." "Yeah, same here," Haruna agreed. "Then again, I guess it depends how far back you go. If it was before our fight, then at least walking together is believable enough." "That's true," Kanako said. "Back then, we thought we'd always be together."

Thinking back on their past, an old question resurfaced in Haruna's mind. "Hey, Kanako," she said. "Do you… ever wish you could go back and stop us from having that fight?" Silently, Kanako gave the question some thought. Then, she answered. "No, I don't."

"I think back when we first made up, I would've said yes. That way, we could've just stayed friends instead of having to have gone through those years of fighting. But now… I feel differently. I don't know if our relationship is fate or anything like that, so to say we would've ended up together regardless of circumstance might be assuming too much. Without that fight we had, without Akio-kun's intervention, and without all of the hiccups along the way, I don't know if we would've gotten to where we are now. So no, I don't wish to change what happened."

Haruna was quiet after hearing Kanako's answer. "Haruna?" the girl said. "What's the matter?" "It's nothing," Haruna said. "It's nothing, but… I agree with what you said. It makes sense, and you're probably right. It's just… if I was given the chance to get those years back, I'd be really tempted to take it, y'know? I mean, we lost actual years of time together just because of misunderstandings and jealousy… It might be stupid to think we were fated to be together, but I'd like to think that even if one of us did change the past, we'd still be a couple now."

Hearing Haruna say something like that really made Kanako happy. "She really believes in us now, doesn't she?" she thought. It was a far cry from the girl who had run away and hid at the inn. "Past me, if you do ever see this, I hope you know that being with her is what will really make you the happiest."

While thinking all that, Kanako was smiling at Haruna. "W-What?" she said nervously. "Nothing~," Kanako said, sounding content. "Shall we start making our way back?" "Yeah, sure."

*****

The rest of the girls' Saturday (and really the weekend as a whole), was like a small dream come true. Haruna and Kanako spent as much time together as they wanted, or at least as much as was possible. Knowing how two kids can be when dating and alone together, Kanako's parents were reluctant to let Kanako have that time, so the deal was that she at least had to come home once it got late. Compared to having the rest of the time to be with Haruna, Kanako felt like it was a fair enough compromise.

So in their time together, the two did all the couple-like things they could think of. They cuddled up to each other whenever they sat down, they watched movies and played games, and they flirted as much as they wanted. Having the house to themselves, the freedom they had been given gave both Haruna and Kanako a strong desire to be all sorts of intimate. And yes, that included going another round or two in bed.

By the time Sunday night came around, Haruna and Kanako both felt extremely satisfied in heart and extremely sore in body. "This weekend has been a lot of fun," Haruna said. "But walking around school tomorrow is gonna be so awkward." "I-It's not like they'll know what we've been doing," Kanako said. "Other students might not, but I bet Chiyo will," Haruna said with a sigh. "I'm sure she'll figure it out immediately too. That girl is way too good at picking up on things like that." "I-Is she?" Kanako asked. "There were plenty of times that Chiyo would ask Jasmine-chan about stuff like that after a weekend. I never noticed, but Chiyo always did."

Having a new, impending sense of dread did dampen the mood a bit, but what dampened it more was knowing that the weekend was ending. "I know we see each other all the time, but this just felt… different," Kanako said sadly. "I know what you mean," Haruna agreed. "It was almost like we were adults." "I-In one way, we are," Kanako added quietly, causing both of them to blush. "H-Hey, why're you getting embarrassed?" Haruna asked. "You're the one that started it most of the time." "I-I! …w-well, maybe…" Kanako admitted.

After spending just a little more time together, the two finally parted. "I'll see you tomorrow," Kanako said with a smile. Then she stood up on her tiptoes a little, and Haruna bent down to accommodate her, receiving a kiss on the cheek. Then, before Kanako could pull away, Haruna planted one on Kanako's cheek. With that, the two of them said goodnight.

*****

As a side note, a week later as promised, Haruna's parents returned. They stumbled in through the doorway, and Haruna couldn't recall ever seeing them so haggard and weary. Her mother looked exhausted beyond comprehension, and her father's eyes seemed to be bloodshot. And behind them, beaming, was Sara. "Boy, that was fun, wasn't it?"

"...I-I'm… so tired…"

"Why is your version of fun so terrifying…?"

"Ahahaha!"

And so Haruna's parents' nightmare vacation with Sara came to an end, but the retelling of those events is a story for another time.

*****

In all of her life, Haruna had never felt more cornered than she did at the present moment. Following what felt like a perfect weekend, Haruna was met with another Monday. This of course meant classes, homework and other such things, but it also meant that there would be no escaping Chiyo's curiosity. She had gotten lucky that she and Kanako hadn't run into Chiyo on the way to school, but as it turned out, that was because Chiyo had arrived early. Unfortunately for Haruna, that meant that as soon as she stepped foot into the classroom, Chiyo looked her way. When she did, a big smirk crossed the gal's face, with "I know what you did," written all over it.

"Seriously, how the hell does she have an instinct for something like that?" Haruna complained to herself. "There's gotta be something wrong with her to just know when someone's done it." But regardless of her complaints, Haruna's impending doom was drawing nearer, and when the bell for lunch rang, her fate was sealed.

Within seconds, a gyaru had taken each of Haruna's arms. "Eh?" she let out, not expecting a kidnapping. "Ohhh Haruuu-chiii, why don't'cha come with us?" Chiyo sang. "We promise to be real gentle," Jasmine added. "U-Um, g-guys?" Haruna sputtered, but before she could get out another word, she was quickly dragged off into the unknown.

Really, the unknown just turned out to be their usual spot on the roof, but that provided little solace to the girl who was beginning to feel more and more like someone's choice of entertainment. Sitting across from her were both Chiyo and Jasmine, all giddy as they prepared to interrogate their target.

"So like, Haru-chi, ya look a lil' different today," Chiyo said knowingly. "Right?" Jasmine added. "Like she's a little more grown-up." "I expected this from Chiyo, but even you Jasmine-chan?!" Haruna cried. "Sorry girl, but your love life is actually like, pretty entertaining," Jasmine said, causing Haruna's shoulders to drop in defeat. "Ugh… it shouldn't even be possible for a person to tell…"

Then Haruna remembered something. "Hang on," she said. "Jasmine-chan, we ran into you over the weekend. Why didn't you say anything then?" "Ah…" Jasmine let out. "Well, I didn't wanna spoil the mood you two had goin'. Figured I'd wait until school to have my fun." "You looked like you were having plenty of fun with Kawaguchi-san though," Haruna said in an effort to turn the tables. "Ahahaha…" Jasmine laughed nervously, then cleared her throat. "Unfortunately, that story is boring. What isn't though is what you've been up to Haru-chi." "Guh…"

"C'mon, spill, spill!"

"Tell us, tell us."

"Argh, shut up!"

And so, having no escape route available, Haruna had to tell the two curious gals all about her nights of passion. Yes, not just the first one, but all of them. By the end of the recounting, Haruna was thoroughly embarrassed and wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and hide away forever. "Just kill me…" she muttered, tears forming at the corners of her eyes.

"Ah, maybe we went too far," Jasmine said, beginning to feel bad. "Yeah, sorry Haru-chi," Chiyo said. "Snff…" Haruna sniffled. "I-If you guys… would've stopped asking so many damn questions…" "Well neither of us have ever done it with a girl, so we just really wanted to know," Chiyo said plainly. "Just do a search on the internet!" Haruna shot back. "Or better yet, you two have your own crushes don't you? Just do something about that and find out for yourselves!"

"W-Well, that's a little…"

"...."

"It's not so fun now, is it?"

""Sorry…""

With all three girls now emotionally wounded to one degree or another, the rest of lunch proceeded more awkwardly than it ever had between them.

*****

Meanwhile, as Kanako and Haruna were progressing even further in their relationship, the unwanted third party involved was busy trying to figure out what her next move should be. "Maybe if I can just make Endo-san look bad, Kana-chin will come to see that I'm the better option after all," Katsumi thought. Really, this wasn't much different from what she had been doing already, but in Katsumi's mind, it was a change in perspective.

Throughout her pursuit, Katsumi had been solely focused on making Kanako fall in love with her. To this point, that hadn't changed. However, after having been rejected multiple times, a shift had begun to occur within Katsumi. It was hardly a conscious one either, because if it was, she wouldn't have allowed it to happen at all.

Katsumi wanted Kanako to love her. That much was true. But, her constant frustration and failure had started to twist that desire. Without realizing it, her sole pursuit was getting divided, with one part being her original goal, and the other being a new hatred.

Katsumi really believed that if she could show she was superior to Haruna in every way, that Kanako would just naturally choose her. But without realizing it, Katsumi had also simply started to want to beat Haruna. Whether it was in looks, grades, skills or anything else, Katsumi wanted to prove that she was better. This wasn't out of a sense of competition, nor was it to strive for better. All her actions served was one purpose: to justify her ego and narcissism.

She was better. She was the best. She was more beautiful, smarter, more talented, richer (assumed; also Katsumi didn't have any real money of her own), and possessed better character traits across the board than most (according to Katsumi). Truly, it was beyond her comprehension that she could be losing out to some bland and rude girl like Haruna. And, as time went on, her thinking began to become less about proving that to Kanako and more about making Haruna look bad.

Love is a violent emotion. The moment it seems safe, it can contort out of recognition. For Katsumi, a girl who had held the same love for many years, she was experiencing this process now. She hadn't realized it yet, but she was slowly heading down a path she wouldn't be able to return from.

So, unaware, Katsumi continued with her plotting. "I have to find some way to show off," Katsumi thought, not even bothering to hide her intention from herself anymore. "But what kind of display would Kana-chin like? And at the same time, what would Endo-san be really bad at that I could use?"

At the moment, a lack of information was Katsumi's biggest issue. So the question was, just how was she supposed to go about getting the information she needed? The simple fact was, there was really no one Katsumi could rely on. She obviously couldn't ask the people in question, and just about everybody connected to them wouldn't help her out either. Even outside of the main group, the others in class mostly avoided Katsumi. While it was true for a couple of them that they avoided her because of her bold announcement of only being into girls, most avoided her in an effort to stay out of trouble. It was clear from the start that she was going to cause problems, so everybody just decided to keep their distance. Of course, this meant that Katsumi essentially had no friends either.

It really was a bizarre sight. Objectively speaking (or as objective as the evaluation of a person can be), Katsumi really was the "she's got everything," sort of girl. The fact that she was pretty much always alone (unless she was bothering Haruna and Kanako) just seemed wrong. And yet, it was the truth. With such strong tunnel vision though, Katsumi didn't think much of it.

"Is there any way I can find out what I wanna know?" she wondered. "Most people in our class don't really talk to Kana-chin or Endo-san, so they probably wouldn't know much. Then again, I don't know why anybody would want to know about Endo-san. Hm…? Wait a minute…" As she thought that, Katsumi remembered something. "I'm pretty sure I remember someone mentioning something about Endo-san having a fan… who was it again? Yana… Yame… Yamane-san? Was that it?"

Opening her notebook, Katsumi went over the class roster she had been given. "Let's see… ah, here it is! Hinami Yamane. Sits… over there." Looking to where Hinami's seat was, Katsumi spotted the girl with the plain black, bob cut hair. "Hmmm…"

*****

Hinami Yamane, by all accounts, was an average girl. Nothing about her was especially notable, other than perhaps her usually quiet and shy demeanor. Though despite all that, she had several friends, had gotten to become friends with the girl she admired, and overall felt like she was living a fulfilling life. Nothing was bad, and nothing troubled her.

That is, until one day, when someone completely unexpected approached her. "Heyyy," the girl called to Hinami as she sat in her seat. "You're Yamane-san, right?" the girl asked. "Y-Yes, that's right," Hinami confirmed, staring up at the girl with blazing red hair. "A-And you're Ikehara-san… r-right?" It was easy enough for Hinami to remember her. After all, Katsumi's introduction had been memorable enough on its own. Although, that wasn't the only reason Hinami had committed this girl to her memory.

Being the fan of Haruna that she was, seeing someone constantly interfere in Haruna's relationship really irked Hinami. She wasn't one to get openly upset or yell at someone, but within her, Hinami habored nothing but bad feelings toward Katsumi. "All she does is cause trouble," she thought.

She wanted to just tell Katsumi to leave her alone, but truthfully, Hinami was intimidated by Katsumi, so she found it pretty difficult to say much of anything, let alone to be rude right to her face. Regardless, she was wondering just what Katsumi could want with her. "It's not like she would need to ask me specifically for help on anything," Hinami thought. "Anything I can do, anybody else can too." This wasn't necessarily a thought that brought Hinami down. Really, it was just more of a statement or observation (sad as that may sound to some).

"I don't think we've talked at all yet," Katsumi said, taking the free seat next to Hinami. Of course, it didn't need to be that seat in particular, as most of them were empty thanks to classes having just ended. But being that close apparently wasn't enough, as Katsumi suddenly got closer, taking a good, long look at Hinami's face.

"W-What is it?" she managed to ask. After a few more seconds, Katsumi returned to a more suitable distance. "Nothing much," she said. "You just remind me of this girl I knew." "O-Oh, is that so?" Hinami said. That explanation made her wonder just what kind of girl it was that Katsumi was thinking about, but knowing she'd never know the answer unless she asked, Hinami decided to just move on.

"U-Um," she said. "D-Did you, um… n-need me for something, I-Ikehara-san?" "Yeah, actually," Katsumi said casually. "Y'see, I've heard that rumor has it you're Endo-san's biggest fan? Is that true?" "W-Well, yes," Hinami admitted. "I-I admire her a lot…" "Admire her huh?" Katsumi repeated with some disgust, but she did her best to move past those feelings. "Alright Yamane-san. When you admire someone, you wanna talk about them, right?" "I-I guess so?" Hinami said uncertainly. "Then I want you to tell me alllll about Endo-san. And I mean everything you know," Katsumi said.

"Eh? W-Why?" Hinami asked, getting a bad feeling. "Because I feel like if I can understand Endo-san better, it might help us to stop fighting so much," Katsumi lied. "And I'm sure you hate seeing the girl you admire constantly having to argue with people, don't you?" "W-Well…" Hinami said. "T-That's true, but it's not like I-I'm obsessed with Endo-san or anything. I-I don't think there's much I could tell y-you…"

"I'm sure you can think of something," Katsumi said.

"Ummm… S-She likes lime-flavored things?"

"Lime? Seriously? Gross. What else can you tell me?"

"S-She… really loves Kana-chan?"

"I know that, stupid! Tell me something useful!"

"E-Eep! U-Um, uh… s-she hurt her ankle!"

"...what?" Hearing that, Katsumi's full attention was given. Hinami noticed, and as soon as she did, she immediately wished she hadn't said anything. "Oh no!" she cried inside. "This is bad, isn't it?!" Now of course, Katsumi had no plans to physically hurt Haruna, but finding out about a past injury could certainly be used as ammunition. "Tell me all about Endo-san getting hurt," Katsumi demanded darkly.

"Hm? What's this? Is poor little Yamane-san getting bullied?"

Slipping into the scene, a girl slid down and wrapped her arms around Hinami protectively. "Hey Hinami-chan," the girl whispered. "Is this mean girl bullying you?" "E-Eh? C-Chiyo?" Hinami sputtered, completely confused by this development. However, while Chiyo seemed like she was acting flirty, that was all it was. An act. She was actually trying to protect Hinami, putting the girl in her embrace to signify Katsumi should leave her alone, and adding a fierce glare on top of that.

All Katsumi did in response was smirk. "Whatever," she said with confidence as she got up. "I already got what I needed. Thanks Yamane-san~." Picking up her bag next to her, Katsumi left.

Chiyo released Hinami, but as soon as she did, Hinami turned around to face her with tears in her eyes. "C-C-C-Chiyoooo," she cried. "I-I-I think I-I-I m-messed up! I-Ikehara-san is g-going to hurt E-Endo-san, and i-it's all my fault!"

No lecture came. Instead, Chiyo just patted Hinami's head. "That was scary, huh?" she said. Hearing that, Hinami looked up. All she saw was a gentle smile from Chiyo, like that of an older sister comforting her little sister. With that one expression, it was like Hinami's worry that had skyrocketed came down just as fast. That worry didn't disappear, but it stopped dominating her heart.

"Don't worry, Hinami-chan," Chiyo said. "It'll all be alright. I'm going to protect everyone, y'know?" "P-Protect everyone?" Hinami repeated. "W-What does that mean?" "Mm, well, it's more like, I'll have to do something about it if things go too far," Chiyo answered vaguely. "Then again, I'm probably just like, too much of an optimist, because I'm totally hoping people come to their senses before it gets to that point." "C-Chiyo, do you know w-what's going to happen?" Hinami asked. "Nope~," Chiyo said breezily. "But…" Whatever else could've come after that word never did, as Chiyo fell silent.

Her hand dropped back to her side, and she crouched down so she was eye-level with Hinami. "Thanks for carin' so much about Haru-chi, Hinami-chan," Chiyo said with a smile. "It really makes me happy to see so many people lookin' out for her." Then Chiyo stood back up, and she walked out of the classroom.

Hinami watched her go, and as she did, she wondered about what Chiyo had just said. The way she had said it… Hinami wasn't the best at picking up on subtle things, but even she noticed the sadness and pain in Chiyo's voice. "She's happy people are looking out for Endo-san…" she thought. "But… is there anybody looking out for her?"

Even if Hinami possessed some amount of boldness, she knew she couldn't presume to be such a person for Chiyo. However, for the girl that just bailed her out of a tough situation and made her feel better, Hinami hoped with all her heart that there was someone. And as she did, she recalled a line she had read in a book once.

"Who is stronger? The one who takes one arrow, or the one who takes many? I tell you, the answer is neither, because in the end, they will both fall."

"Then what should one do if they do take arrows?"

"Do the sensible thing of course. Find someone to heal you."

*****

"Hey! Homewrecker!" Chiyo called down the hall. Naturally, several other people stopped and stared at her after hearing such an accusation, but only one actually responded. Marching back toward the gal, Katsumi glared at her. "Homewrecker?" she repeated, irritated. "Shouldn't that be Endo-san? I had my whole future planned out with Kana-chin before she came along and ruined it." "'Kay, first of all, that like, is actually kinda creepy," Chiyo said, getting an even stronger glare from Katsumi. "Wasn't it that ya hadn't even seen Kana-chan until ya came back to Iwanai?" "So what? Ever heard of distance makes the heart grow fonder?" Katsumi shot back. "Are ya sure yours didn't just get weirder?" Chiyo said.

"Look, I don't have time for this," Katsumi said. She turned to walk away, but as she did, Chiyo grabbed her wrist. "Make time," she demanded. "Why should I?" Katsumi said, trying to free herself. "Damn it, why is your grip so strong?" "Awkward positions make you good at grabbing things," Chiyo said flatly. "Positions? Like… ew, that's so gross…" Katsumi groaned, figuring out Chiyo's meaning.

"Ikehara-san," Chiyo said forcefully. "I'm warning you. Don't you dare hurt Haru-chi." "Yeah? And what if I do?" Katsumi asked arrogantly. "I'll make you regret it," Chiyo said. "Oooh, scary," Katsumi said, finally managing to escape from Chiyo. "I'm sure you're nothing but talk. What do you think this is, some sort of TV drama or something? It's not like there's actually anything you can do to me." And with that strong confidence, Katsumi walked away, leaving behind a very frustrated Chiyo.

*****

"I have to protect them…" Chiyo muttered as she very slowly walked down the empty hallway. "I have to protect them… I need to…" With each step, a metaphorical drop of blood hit the floor, falling from her wounds where each arrow had pierced her.

She didn't want to be confrontational. She didn't want to be this involved. She didn't want to have to do what she was doing. But to Chiyo, she felt like she had to. In order to protect Haruna and Kanako's relationship, in order to make sure her friends didn't get hurt, in order to keep safe what she had worked so hard to gain…

Her past with her so-called "friends."

Arrow.

Her many, many nights with so many men she had lost count.

Arrow.

Her involvement with Akio.

Arrow.

Her fight with Haruna because of it.

Arrow.

Her unrequited love for Michi.

Arrow. Arrow. Arrow.

Her fight with Michi.

Arrow.

And now, her constant defense against Katsumi.

More arrows.

Just how much could one gal take? To Chiyo, if it meant protecting everyone, then it was fine. Everything would be fine. "It's okay. I just want them to be happy," she told herself. "That's all that matters." But if it were possible to see her wounds, one would see a back filled with the hits she had taken. And no matter how hard one tries, they can only go on for so long carrying so much pain. That is, unless there's someone waiting for them. Waiting to catch them just before they fall.

"Chiyo?" a voice said. Looking up, Chiyo saw light. One bright point to keep her going. "Mi-chan…" she uttered. "What are you doing here?" Michi asked. "I told you to go home, didn't I? I have club stuff to do. I'm actually in the middle of- w-whoa!"

Before Michi could finish explaining, Chiyo had walked over to her and hugged her. "C-Chiyo?!" Michi exclaimed. "L-Let go of me! W-We're… we're at school, you know…" "Mi-chan…" Chiyo whispered, but she said nothing else. After a couple more seconds, Chiyo let go, and she smiled at Michi.

"Okay, I'm all charged up! Thanks, Mi-"

"Stop it."

Chiyo froze. "You really think, after doing that, I'm not going to see through you right now?" Michi said, frowning. "You know how much I hate that fake smile of yours." "...sorry…" Chiyo said, barely audible as her facade dropped. "What happened, Chiyo?" Michi asked, concerned. On this rare occasion though, Chiyo didn't feel like speaking. She remained silent, causing Michi's worry to rise.

"Talk to me," she said softly. "Is there anything I can do?" "...I just… feel like being with you right now…" Chiyo said quietly. "I-I'm a little busy right now…" Michi said. "But… I'm free tonight…" Hearing a phrase like that come from Michi, Chiyo stared at her. "Mi-chan, what're you…"

Awkwardly, Michi looked off to the side. "D-Do you… want to spend the night at my place?"

"...eh?"

End of Chapter Fifteen.

Next chapter