Rinko awoke with the jolt that came from a nightmare. She shuddered, trying to catch her breath, feeling grateful that she didn’t remember the exact circumstances of her latest dream. Though she had a general idea what it had been about. All her dreams were just parodies of *that night* anymore.
As she caught her breath, her phone lit up, and she almost jumped for it. It was the middle of the night, and only one person would text her this late.
You awake? the text asked.
I am now she texted back, and then flinched a moment after she hit the send button. That sounded accusatory. Another nightmare she added in a second text. You as well? she asked.
Haven’t slept yet. I’ll only wake up once the first dream hits, and seeing that only makes me more tired.
Rinko sighed. She understood what Teppei’s motivation there was, she really did. After all, it was hard to sleep when one’s brain was just going to replay a horrific experience or find ways to twist said experience into something worse, but still, it wasn’t like staying awake all the time was an option.
You really should sleep she texted back.
I can’t stand to see them again he replied. Rinko cringed. It always broke her heart how much Teppei blamed himself for *that night*. Like he thought he could have somehow saved everyone, or at the very least, all the so-called witches.
You tried your best. What a lame attempt at comfort that had been. Should she try again? But how was she supposed to help him when she herself was just as broken? Maybe even more so.
I pointed Midori Kusanagi and her friends to the road when I could have taken them to safety myself, and they all ended up dead. Uh-oh. Here came a stream of Teppei’s self-loathing, and Rinko had no way to ebb the flow, no matter how badly she wanted to. The texts continued, faster than she could reply.
All because of a stupid grudge. I’m the worst.
And the twins?
If I hadn’t left Nagisa behind, then she wouldn’t have died.
And then Yunagi wouldn’t have gotten killed either.
It’s all my fault.
Rinko searched for something, anything she could say to make this better.
At least you didn’t kill anyone she texted, and ohhhh that was not the thing to say at all, was it? How was that supposed to comfort him and-
Oh. Oh right. That was the dream. The nightmare that had woken her up. It had been of the man she’d killed with her curse. And after that…
She shuddered. In reality, she had accidentally almost killed Teppei with that same curse, and then tried to kill the crazy hunter with it, and then when it had threatened to swallow her up, Makoto had subjected himself to the curse in order to find the way to undo it. But in the dream, after she killed the vengeful man who had caused her to curse her own body, no one stopped her from killing Teppei. And after that, she went after them all. Makoto, the twins, Midori and her two friends, Mahiro, even Chiaki who had already been brutally murdered at that point. And the hunters too. But not the crazy one. In the dream, it’s almost been like she was that crazy hunter. What a disturbing thought.
You only did what you had to.
It was the only way to survive.
Please don’t hate yourself.
Oh shit. She’d been trying to comfort Teppei and instead he ended up comforting her. Shit.
I just Rinko began to type, but then stared at the half-composed text, unsure how to continue it. After a moment, she backspaced the words away.
If you say so…
Ice cream tomorrow?
A smile crept across Rinko’s face. She couldn’t even begin to say how much she appreciated the way he knew when she needed a change of subjects.
I love you she typed, then quickly backspaced it. Nonononono, she was not going there. She certainly was grateful for the ice cream invitation, but, well… She’d kind of accidentally already rejected him, and she didn’t want to confess via text, and also it might seem fickle to say that because he’d offered to do something nice for her, and just- Yeah, it was a mess. She should have just kept her mouth shut when Makoto implied they were dating. Then afterwards she could have broached the subject with Teppei, something like “so uh, Makoto seemed to think we’re dating, why don’t we?” or “I guess Makoto could tell I’m in love with you” or something like that. But instead she’d panicked and squawked out something about “We’re not like that!”, thus utterly ruining all chances of actually starting to go out since now Teppei almost certainly thought she wasn’t interested. Nice going, Kisaragi.
Great, I’ll pick you up after you get out of school.
Looking forward to it. Now try to get some sleep, okay?
Okay. You too.
And she would. Rinko would never tell him, but texting him helped with the nightmares. As long as she’d already had one, a text from him would keep them at bay. She would sleep well for the rest of tonight.
As soon as cleaning was finished, Rinko was down by the shoe lockers and changing her footwear, and then she was running out the doors and across the street to where Teppei was waiting, leaning against a tree. His motorcycle was nowhere in sight, which meant he’d either taken a bus or parked elsewhere, and Rinko was grateful for it. She did like riding on his bike, but the last time he’d brought it to the school, she’d spent almost a week dodging questions about horsepower and other things she didn’t really understand because some guys had seen her get on. Normally at school, she maintained a slight distance from her peers, her status as a curse-breaker setting her apart from the other students. They were somewhat in awe of her, but didn’t really understand her, and so she was left alone most of the time, which was perfectly fine by her. Just as they didn’t understand her, she didn’t understand them with all their talk of fashion and idols and TV dramas.
They walked over to the ice cream parlor, taking a table inside and ordering a couple of sundaes. Like a ritual, Teppei only ate about half of his and insisted Rinko eat the rest so it wouldn’t go to waste, and Rinko complained about getting fat but accepted it anyway. She knew he’d had a similar ritual with his sister back when she was alive. It was just another complication between them, that sometimes Rinko got the impression that Teppei saw her more as a replacement younger sister than an actual love interest.
As always, they chatted about nothing. She grumbled about schoolwork, he told her that life after finishing school was way more exhausting, and so it went. Right up until a TV stationed in the corner spoiled everything.
“Investigations continue as police try to determine the course of events that led to the deaths of at least 17 people on what has become known as “murder mountain”, and a reward has been offered for anyone who can offer pertinent information regarding-”
An employee turned the TV off with a disgusted look on her face, much to both Rinko and Teppei’s gratitude.
“Don’t they ever talk about anything else?” the employee muttered.
“Sure would be nice if they did,” Teppei murmured just loud enough for only Rinko to hear. She nodded, contemplating the remains of his sundae and suddenly feeling that she would vomit if she attempted another bite. She pushed it away, and Teppei put a hand on hers, an expression on his face like he was trying to give her a comforting smile but just didn’t have the fortitude to manage it.
The hand he was covering was the one that had lost a finger *that night*. With his hand covering hers like this, she could almost pretend she was still whole. Almost, but not quite. Her mind wouldn’t ever let her forget the finger that was no longer there.
“I-I need to use the toilet,” Rinko said, suddenly needing to get away. It was ironic, how Teppei was the one person she could let see just how broken she was, and yet he was also the person she least wanted to show her broken self to. She didn’t want him of all people to see her as weak.
He released her hand, and it took all her self-control not to run to the bathroom. She managed to keep her legs down to a walk, though it was still abnormally brisk. She was such a wreck, and at the moment, it felt like everyone could see it. She rushed into the bathroom and over to the sinks, choosing one at random and turning on the tap and letting it run.
Her mind tried to show her something else coming from the faucet, but she pushed the illusion away. It was just water. Water she could gather in her hands and splash on her face. Water that helped her calm down. She was okay.
When she left the bathroom, Teppei was waiting outside to take her home. He didn’t comment on her actions, or the slight wetness to her bangs. No matter how weird she was, he never said anything, just offered silent understanding. He probably didn’t have any romantic feelings for her, but gods did she love him.
Another night, another nightmare. Rinko reached for her phone and found texts already waiting for her.
I guess not.
In that case, I guess I’ll just say this since I never know how to say it to you directly.
I wish you’d rely on me a bit more.
Like, I know you probably don’t want to trust in someone who is struggling too, but it hurts a lot more seeing you trying so hard to keep it together on your own, since it’s something I can still do something about except you don’t let me.
Which, I can understand, really. You don’t really know me that well, and I did mess up a lot, and it’s not like I can say anything that will change what you’ve been through.
What we’ve been through.
But I want to help, any way I can.
I’m going to actually try to sleep now, but if you have another nightmare, feel free to talk to me.
Though I might not wake up unless you call.
But you can call, you know.
If you wanted to, I mean.
Rinko tried not to cry as she read his messages. He had it all wrong. It wasn’t that she didn’t rely on him. It was that she was scared of how much she did rely on him. She was scared that she would end up completely dependent on him, and then he would get sick of her and turn around and tell her to get lost and she would. She would be so lost, because she already cared about him this much and-
Her fingers had sent the text before she was even aware of them moving.
She waited a minute with baited breath, but there was no response. She sighed. Well, at least he was sleeping.
I know you’re asleep, but can we get ice cream tomorrow? There’s a few things that I never know how to say either, but I really should say them, and it’s better not to say them by text.
Just text me your response whenever you wake up.
I mean it.
She had to stop herself there. Any more and she might just end up spilling everything via text despite the fact that she’d just told him she wanted to say things face to face. She didn’t sleep the rest of the night, and so she was awake when his reply came.
Sure. What time do you want to meet?
Rinko was done hesitating.
Rinko was grateful that Teppei didn’t say anything about her skipping school. It was completely unlike her, and she knew he didn’t approve, and really she didn’t either, but she needed to tell him before she lost her courage.
“Thanks for coming so suddenly,” she said as they settled in at their usual table with their usual sundaes.
“Of course I would. Like I said, I wish you’d rely on me more. I- I really care about you Rinko.”
‘Oh.’!? Just ‘Oh,’!?!? What was wrong with her!? Could she really not have a better response than ‘Oh.’?!
“So what’s up?” Teppei asked, shifting nervously.
“I- Um- That’s uh-” Rinko stopped and took a deep breath. She needed to calm down and speak plainly. “Do you remember how when we were at Makoto’s, and he sort of implied we were dating, and I said we weren’t?” Teppei nodded.
“Yeah. I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you about that. S-since I did kinda assume we were dating, but you were right that we weren’t, and so I’ve been wondering how to get there.”
Rinko’s jaw hung open. Here she’d been trying to confess and he’d just beaten her to the punch.
“Rinko? Are you alright? Or- or is it that you don’t like me and I just- Sorry, I should have-”
Rinko’s mouth remembered how to work. In fact, it decided to work too well, and started babbling.
“I do! I do like you, and I actually thought maybe I ruined things by saying that, that time, and I also thought maybe you just see me as being like your sister, and it’s not that I don’t rely on you, it’s just that since I like you I don’t want to look bad in front of you and I really, really-”
Teppei’s smile was blinding, and managed to ebb the flow of redundancy that was her confession.
“In that case, Rinko Kisaragi, will you go out with me?” Teppei asked, and Rinko suddenly felt a lot like her ice cream, because she was melting too.
“I’d really like that,” she said, nodding. There were tears in the corners of her eyes. It was embarrassing, but she let them stay there, because for once they were happy tears. For weeks now, everything had just been tainted by the memory of *that night*, but finally, here was something good.
It would be a while before Rinko got over what had happened *that night*. It’d probably be a while before Teppei did too. But at least now they’d both have something positive to hang onto when things were at their worst. They would get through this together.