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The first thing Miki thought when she met Ayumu was nothing more or less than ‘cute’.

 A cute, short-haired girl with big eyes and an awkward air around her. Miki couldn’t help but laugh, just a little bit, as she fumbled around in the small crevice on the roof. Unfortunately, the girl bolted before Miki could ask her name, but she shrugged it off with a mental ‘ah well’, and went back to enjoying the sunshine.

She didn’t really think about that girl at all for the next couple of days- not until she noticed her coming in to the Rainbow Café one night. It didn’t take too long for Miki to recognize her; she was just as jumpy and awkward as the day on the rooftop. Just looking at her was almost embarrassing. But for all her nervousness, she was still cute, at least when she was being honest, and she seemed upset about something. It made Miki want to see her be more open with her feelings, not that stupid faked polite crap. So she threw her wallet and teased her a bit. Of course it worked. Miki knew it would.

The next time she saw her, it was raining and dark. Miki almost missed her completely, but it’s not every day you see someone sitting out in terrible weather without even a coat. There was nothing she knew about the girl’s situation, and nothing she could say to stop her tears. This wasn’t something that could be fixed with a little joke. But she had work, and couldn’t stop to have a heat-to-heart with a near stranger, so she did what little she could and left behind an umbrella for her.

It wasn’t any of her business, though. Not really. And there were finals to study for, jobs to do, and her father to look after. The few times Miki went to school, it seemed like that girl was starting to fit in better. So she shrugged that day off as something that had managed to solve itself, when she thought about it at all. And she didn’t take it personally when, at the school camp, that girl’s friends started trash-talking her behind her back. It was just part of high school, and she barely attended anyway. It made no difference to her what others’ thought of her.

It did make her mad, though, to see those friends brush her off so quickly. That they treated her like some sort of servant, someone who they could push around however they wanted... it made her blood boil. Their opinions didn’t bother her at all, but they did bother that girl, and Miki thought of that day in the rain and hoped that every single one of those assholes were as drenched as Ayumu had been when she threw the bucket of water on them.

That night, she didn’t think it was strange how happy she was to see that girl had stumbled across her in the middle of a swim. She didn’t care much about school, or what anyone thought about her, but it was still nice to have someone to talk to. And she could tell that Ayumu needed someone to talk to as well. She was completely closed in on herself, and kept skirting around the real issues to instead pin all her problems on herself. It wasn’t enough, but their relationship still wasn’t at the point where Miki could just pry her way in. And, as she kept reminding herself, it really wasn’t her business. Ayumu had to learn to handle these things on her own. Encouragement was one thing- but Miki had enough on her plate already. She didn’t have time to become a babysitter.

But when Ayumu smiled so brightly and freely, Miki couldn’t help smiling too.

As soon as they returned to school, though, it was as if nothing had changed. Ayumu had gotten pulled back into Manami’s clique, and Miki went back to being the loner in the classroom. It didn’t bother her, not really. She’d known it would probably go this way. And after all, hadn’t she already decided that it wasn’t her business what Ayumu did? Her problems were her own, and they weren’t something Miki had any intention of interfering in more than she already had. There was no reason to feel hurt when Ayumu joined the others in ignoring her, no reason to feel betrayed. It wasn’t like they were even friends, after all.

And yet… and yet, she couldn’t help herself. She ignored Ayumu right back, snapped at her when she tried to pretend like nothing had happened and it wasn’t her fault. Because it hurt, to be right, to know that when push came to shove Ayumu would put those girls who treated her terribly over what she knew was the right thing to do.

And despite knowing how petty it was, how ridiculous, she felt betrayed by her anyway.

But school-Ayumu, Miki found, could not be held against outside-Ayumu for long. When she was away from that place and those people, Ayumu was back to being sweet and genuine, and Miki just couldn’t stay mad at her. Talking to her was fun. It made her happy, and it made Miki happy too.

But it didn’t matter. They’d both go back to school tomorrow, and they’d go back to ignoring each other while Ayumu got dragged along by her so-called ‘friends’. And no matter how sweet or nice Ayumu may be, it was only a matter of time before she ended up compromising herself too much. Sooner or later, she’d be no different from the rest of them. Miki knew that would happen, just like she had known everything else. When she got to school and her shoes were missing, she knew it was Manami’s clique that was to blame. They riled up the class and the teacher turned every voice against her. It didn’t matter, she told herself. It didn’t matter what anyone thought of her. It didn’t matter that she didn’t have anyone on her side. She didn’t need these people. She didn’t care about them either. She just flipped through her notebook and tried not to wonder what kind of face Ayumu was making all the way in the back of the room.

So absorbed in this was she, that she didn’t even notice Ayumu had gotten up and was walking to her until she held out her missing shoes right in front of her face. As she slipped them on, she gave Ayumu the biggest smile she could. “Thank you.” She said, knowing all too well how hard this had been for her, and realizing for the first time just how brave this girl really was. When Ayumu smiled back, something changed inside her. She didn’t know what it was, and decided not to give herself enough time to think about it.

For a few days, she stopped going to school. She had work to do, and she had a feeling she wouldn’t get much studying done in that place anyway. When it was time for finals, she could go back.

Ayumu’s probably still there’, she’d catch herself thinking during the day. ‘Wonder how things are going for her.’ But then that odd feeling would resurface, and she’d force it back down. No, she had too much to do to worry about Ayumu now. Her father needed her help, and she wouldn’t be able to do anything if she kept letting herself get distracted. Yes, her plate was full. She was too busy to be of any help to Ayumu now. And considering how hated she already was in that classroom, surely it would be better if they didn’t get too close.

Until, at last, on another cold rainy day, she found Ayumu again, and every last one of those tired old excuses came crashing down around her. On that day, she saw the cuts and blood on Ayumu’s wrists, and finally understood. This was not a girl who needed to learn how to take care of herself. She had already been doing everything she could just to keep herself going. What Ayumu really needed was someone to be with her, to share her problems with and help her with them. She’d already been living with too much pain for far too long.

And Miki knew she wanted to be that person for her.

When she gave Ayumu her wristband, she knew what she was doing. She was going to accept the responsibility of being Ayumu’s friend. No matter what happened from that point on, they were going to be in this together.

And that warm, gentle feeling that had planted itself in her heart was allowed to take root, and at last began to grow.