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Origin Story

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There was one benefit of living in Ishikari, she supposed.

When Kayo was caught in her mother’s temper—when the high heels hollowed out holes in her skin, when the fists came crashing down—at least Kayo could stumble out into the cold. Getting to the backdoor was the hardest part, not that her mother was ever paying that much attention. After that, it was all too easy for her to slip outside, her knees shaking and fingers fumbling at the locks.

The musty dark of the storeroom was an old friend. The sun had already set, but its shadows brought her in regardless, swaddling her like a baby in a blanket. Kayo finally let her limbs sink to the familiar floorboards. Her nightdress did nothing to stave off the chill, but that was how she liked it: the cold was already numbing the pain, freezing the heat in her eyes before it had the chance to burn.

But it didn’t stop her lungs from hiccupping in her chest. The noise started as a whimper and bubbled up into a wail, and she smothered the sound in the crook of her arm, her breath hot and wet against her skin. At the time, she thought she had been quiet. Thought that her mother had beaten the silence into her, as thoroughly as she had beaten everything else.

But in hindsight, that was probably how he found her.

The storeroom door jumped open with a crash, and Kayo didn’t even have it in her to flinch. A shadow fell over her, smaller than her mother’s had ever been.

“Hinazuki?”

She peeked under her hair. It took a second for her to place him: despite sitting next to Satoru Fujinuma all year, they’d never even talked, let alone seen each other outside of school. But there he was: a winter coat thrown over his pyjamas, a heavy bag hanging from his shoulder. His hand was still clutching at the door, his boots rooted to the ground.

And staring. Kayo twisted her face away from him, legs curling in tighter. “Don’t look at me.”

That seemed to snap him out of it. He dropped the bag to the ground, contents spilling out across the snow. “You’re freezing,” he said, tearing off his coat. “Here—”

“Don’t touch me!” She hadn’t meant to scream. “G-go away!”

For some reason, he took another step forward. “But—"

“What’s going on here?”

Fujinuma jumped and whirled around. Kayo was past being surprised by her mother—instead, she just felt dread, sinking into her stomach like a stone. Pressing her hands to the dusty floor, she pushed herself up, voice weak. “Nothing.”

“Come on, then,” her mother said, grabbing at her arm. Kayo bit back a wince as the finger closed around a bruise. “We don’t want you to catch a chill, do we, Kayo?”

“No,” she agreed, letting herself be dragged to her feet. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Fujinuma looking between them, his mind slowly putting two and two together. His head whipped in her direction, but Kayo resolutely looked at her feet, refusing to meet his eyes. She didn’t want to see what he saw.

But Fujinuma stumbled after them anyway, his boot skidding in the snow. “H-Hinazuki!” he called, still clutching at his coat like a lifeline. “I-I’ll… I’ll see you at school tomorrow?”

She frowned, her stomach giving an uncomfortable twist. But under her mother’s watchful eye, she nodded. For better or for worse, she’d have to face Fujinuma in the morning.

But for now, she walked back inside, and didn’t look back.

 

 

The mornings after were always worse. In the middle of it, even when it hurt more than she thought she could bear, Kayo knew it would end eventually. Her mother’s moods were never that long; a quick flare-up, and then it died, smouldering until the next time. And in between, Kayo coasted through her mother’s indifference, a ghost creeping around the apartment.

The problem were the aches. Shrugging on her coat, Kayo bit back a hiss as the weight settled on her bones. This part wasn’t short. It was going to linger all day, and into the next, and then into the one after that. And instead of just lying there, like she did under her mother’s hands, she had things to do: she had to get to school, run around in gym class, and—

See Fujinuma.

Kayo scowled. At least she knew Fujinuma didn’t tell anyone. Not because she trusted him—but sitting next to him for so long, she’d noticed that no one ever really talked to him. He didn’t try to talk to them, either: aside from going to the bathroom, Fujinuma spent his breaks on the playground doodling in his notebooks, not even looking at the other kids.

Like Kayo, Satoru Fujinuma didn’t have any friends. Which was good—no one was coming by and bugging her during class.

It also meant he had no one to tell about last night.

Still, he had seen it—and asked if she was coming to school. Which meant he probably wanted to talk about it. Her backpack felt like a mountain on her shoulders, but she shrugged it on anyway, tip-toeing past the living room and her mother’s snoring. Carefully, she twisted the doorknob, peeking out of the front door.

She half-expected to see Fujinuma on her doorstep, but luckily, no one was there. Letting out a breath, Kayo stepped out, gently shutting the door behind her. It wasn’t like he was a stalker, or somethingthough she couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing out so late. Oh well. It wasn’t her business, and she didn’t particularly care anyway.

But just in case, she peered around the corner that led to the backyard. Fujinuma wasn’t there either, though she could see the footprints he’d left behind. The snow was rumpled where he had found her, probably from the stuff he’d dropped. For some reason, it all just felt—obvious, like anyone looking could tell what had happened. So Kayo gripped the straps of her bag and walked over, kicking the snow around to cover up the evidence.

Her boot caught against something, and Kayo stopped. A bit of plastic wrap was poking out, and she bent down, plucking it up and shaking off the snow.

It was stars. The cheap, glow-in-the-dark-kind that people stuck up on walls and stuff. Kayo had seen them around sometimes, and a tugging in her chest had always wondered what if, imagining the kind of family would buy this for their kids. The parents would probably help put them up. Once or twice, she’d wondered what it would feel like to fall asleep in a house like that, staring up at the glow.

Kayo held the package in her hands, the plastic crinkling under her fingers. Fujinuma must have dropped them last night. Gripping the stars tight in one fist, Kayo wound her arm back, intent on chucking them over the fence and forgetting about the stupid things. But her arm refused to move, and eventually, she let it fall.

Shoving the stars in her pocket, Kayo turned and marched back towards the road.

She made it to class just as the bell began to ring. The second she opened the door, Fujinuma’s head was snapping in her direction. Kayo pretended not to see him, shutting the door and trudging over to her seat. She could feel Fujinuma’s eyes on her as she sat down—but he didn’t say anything, fixing his gaze back down at his notebook. Kayo pulled out her things and settled in next to him, silently relieved.

Fujinuma, unfortunately, had other ideas.

At least he waited until after school to do it. Kayo was wandering by the river when she heard someone call her name. Turning, she watched as the last person she wanted to see jogged towards her, his face red and sweaty. Fujinuma came to a stop in front of her, pressing his hands to his knees as he caught his breath, rubbing his nose on his sleeve.

“S-sorry,” he huffed, stumbling back to his full height with an awkward smile. “I thought I’d lost you!”

I wish you had, she thought bitterly. Instead, she stared off to the side, eyes narrowed. “Are you an idiot?”

“Is that how you say hi to someone?” he asked, before immediately clamping his mouth shut, a mortified look on his face. Definitely, then.

“What do you want?” she mumbled.

“I, uh.” Fujinuma shifted his weight from side to side, his fingers flexing anxiously at his sides. Now he was the one who wasn’t looking at her, his eyes darting everywhere but forward, his shoulders tight. If Kayo didn’t know better, she’d say he looked scared, which was dumb. “I… wanted to know if y-you—w-wanted to be… f-friends?”

Kayo blinked at him, staring. “Friends.”

“Y-yeah,” he muttered, shoving his fretting hands into his pockets, staring down at his feet. “I mean, we sit next to each other, a-and we go home the same way, so…”

Liar. They’ve been sitting next to each other for months—it made no sense that Fujinuma would suddenly want to be friends now. Not after what he had just seen. Whatever this was, she didn’t like it, her eyes snapping into a glare. “Where were you going last night?”

He looked actually surprised, taking a small step back. “Huh?”

“Last night,” she repeated, her hands curling into fists. “You had your pyjamas on, but you had a bag. Where were you going?”

“T-that’s…” He swallowed thickly, his shoulders hunching closer, like a turtle trying to hide in its shell. “I…”

Kayo watched him for a few seconds, a cold breeze rustling through their clothes. When it became clear he wasn’t going to answer, Kayo gripped at her backpack, adjusting the weight to stay off the worst of the bruises. “I understand, a little bit,” she admitted. “We’re both fakes. And we both have things we don’t wanna talk about.”

Fujinuma’s face fell. It wasn’t just sad—there was something weird and helpless there, like something that had been kicked one too many times. Kayo would know.

Without another word, she turned to the stairs and started to walk away. Fujinuma didn’t stop her.

But that night, hidden under her blankets, she pulled out his stars, and watched them glow.

 

 

Maybe it was naïve, but Kayo had hoped that would be the end of it. The next day, Fujinuma didn’t even look up when she sat down—he just kept drawing, his pencil furiously scratching against the paper. That was what she liked about him: they didn’t talk, didn’t ask questions, didn’t bother each other. In that way, she supposed Fujinuma was probably her favourite classmate.

But it didn’t make them friends. She was sure of that.

He didn’t follow her after last bell, which was a relief. It meant Kayo was free to wander around the town, resolutely going anywhere but home. But as the sun set and the sky turned dark, her feet eventually carried her back to the same place they always did. The park was always empty at this hour, and the lamppost meant it never got too dark, making it as good a place as any to wait out the evening.

Except this time, it wasn’t empty. Kayo scowled from the sidewalk, and Fujinuma gave a small wave from his spot on the bench, that same awkward smile stamped on his face.

Kayo considered just turning around and walking away, but that felt like losing, somehow. So she bit down her frustration and began to shuffle across the park, fresh snow crunching underneath her boots. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” he said, reaching into his bag. He came out with two little cans. “Want one?” he asked, holding it out to her. The words Hot Cocoa! were printed on the side. “It might not be very hot, though.”

“Whatever.” The metal was still warm, and she cupped both hands around it, feeling the heat melt into her fingers. Reluctantly, she sat down, leaving ample room between them as she cracked the can open. The smell of rich, creamy chocolate wafted into her nose, and she took a tentative sip.

Next to her, Fujinuma did the same, his legs kicking off the bench. “I was thinking about what you said yesterday,” he said, staring off into the snow. “About being a fake.”

“So?” she mumbled, her lips pressed to the rim.

“I think you’re right,” he admitted, looking down at his own drink. “I’m ‘performing,’ I guess.” He reached up and scratched at the side of his nose, thinking. “Sometimes it just feels like… something is missing. Like there’s a big hole in my chest where something used to be, and it just makes me sad.” His face softened into a cold smile as he swirled the cocoa around, the drink sloshing in the can. “So I just try to pretend it’s not there. It makes it easier, you know?”

Kayo stared at him, and felt something warm wash across her skin. “Yeah,” she agreed. “When I’m performing, it feels like it might become real, somewhere down the line.” She frowned then, tilting her head. “Why are you telling me this?”

Satoru blinked, surprised, giving a little shrug. “I decided to stop lying to you, I guess.”

“Oh.” She dropped her eyes again, before looking out across the park. “Thanks.”

Silence fell, heavy like the world after a snowstorm, and Kayo’s hand wandered to her coat pocket. Before she had the chance to regret it, she held her hand out to him, the packet of stars sitting on her palm. “Here,” she mumbled, “you… dropped these. Before.”

Satoru’s eyes widened, before his face split into a beaming smile. “I thought I’d lost them!” he exclaimed, holding them tight with both hands. For a second, he just stared down at the stars, relief causing his shoulders to sag. “Thank you, Hinazuki. I really thought they were gone.”

“Don’t mention it,” she muttered. Especially when she almost didn’t return them to start with. Just thinking about it and staring into Satoru’s stupid happy face made her stomach curl with guilt. “What are they for, anyway?”

Satoru froze, a bit like a deer in the headlights. “Do you want to see?”

Kayo leaned away from him, suspicious. “See… what?”

“Where I was going that night.”

She stared at him. “Are you an idiot?”

“Mm,” he said, nodding. “I think so.”

Kayo sighed, looking away. She could—should—say no. But the only other place to go right now was home, and she had asked him, so…

“Fine,” she muttered. “Show me.”

They left the warmth of lamplight and cocoa behind, two thieves sneaking back into the cover of night. Fujinuma led her through the town’s forgotten maze of back-alleys, ducking through holes in fences and cutting through backyards. Only after they left the houses behind did he finally relax, throwing an awkward smile over his shoulder. “Almost there.”

Kayo followed him through the trees. “Where are we going?”

“My hideout,” he said, pointing ahead. Kayo followed his finger, her feet slowing to a stop.

It was a school bus. Not a particularly new or nice one—it looked like it hadn’t been used in a while; the wheels were buried in snow drifts, and the paint was fading, but otherwise the whole thing was in pretty good shape. Satoru scratched at his cheek, suddenly embarrassed. “I think it used to belong to Izumi Elementary’s hockey team, but they got a new one, so… I’ve kind of been using it.”

“This is your hideout,” she said, disbelieving. She never even knew this was here.

“Yeah.” He walked over to the door, kicking the fresh snow out of the way. Gripping the edge of the door, he pulled it aside with a hollow thunk, shaking out his cold hands. “Uhm, it’s even better inside. If—if you want.”

She didn’t come all this way just to stand outside. Balling her fists, Kayo stepped past him, her boots echoing against the metal steps. She could hear Satoru coming after her, grunting as he pushed the door closed behind him. “It’s a bit hard to see in the dark,” he explained, shimmying past her. “Just let me—”

From the corner of the room, a lantern began to glow, and Kayo forgot how to breathe.

The place was less of a hideout, and more like a home: pillows and blankets had been thrown over the bus seats, and there was even a thin rug on the floor, a buffer between their feet and the cold. She could spy a heater in the corner, strategically located under the emergency vent in the ceiling. Cardboard had been taped over the windows, but the rest of the walls were covered in tear-away posters from anime magazines, with dozens of Satoru’s own drawings thrown in here and there.

At one point, he must have found a small bookcase in the garbage, because there it was: a bit worse for wear, but standing sturdy up against the wall. Random manga volumes had been tossed onto its shelves, alongside a single action figure, the red figure pointing triumphantly to the sky.

Fujinuma had clearly put effort into this place, and she suddenly felt like an intruder, a dirty piece in a pristine picture. “This is where you were going?”

“Mhm,” Fujinuma said, hopping onto one of the seats. He looked up at the ceiling. “I was thinking I could put the stars up there, but now that I look at it, I don’t think I can reach…”

Kayo didn’t answer, instead looking all around, letting herself take it all in. There was even a snack pile, stacked on top of a crate. “How often do you come here?”

“Most days,” Fujinuma admitted, kicking his feet. “My mom isn’t usually home until suppertime…”

And there’s no one else, Kayo guessed. “It’s pretty cool.”

Satoru’s eyes and cheeks both lit up. “You think so?”

“Mm.” She ran her hand along the battered seats. “Thanks. For showing me.”

“Of course!” he said, grinning. “Now, it can be your hideout too!”

Her eyes widened, and she turned to face him. “Mine?”

“I-if you want,” Satoru added, suddenly awkward again. Kayo was starting to realize that Fujinuma was both far too outgoing and far too shy, like a frightened puppy that couldn’t help but want to play. “I mean, it’s… better than just wandering around, right?”

Kayo frowned. “You barely know me.”

“That’s what the hideout is for,” he threw back. “It’ll be, like, our secret spot.”

“Don’t you think I’ll ruin it?”

He looked surprised, and Kayo realized that the thought hadn’t even occurred to him. “No. Why would you?”

Kayo just shrugged, ducking her face into her scarf. “I dunno.”

“Besides,” he said, pulling out the stars again. “You can help me put these up. It’ll be easier with two people, don’t you think?”

It all came back, then—all those little ‘what if’s that had been piling up in her chest ever since she’d found Satoru’s stars in the snow. All the dreams of comforting ceilings that she’d shelved a long time ago. Something in her chest melted and fell loose, and Kayo felt her throat twist closed. A small sniffle popped out of her nose. But all she could manage to mumble was a choked-up: “Okay.”

Satoru’s hand reached forward, giving hers a squeeze.

Years from now, when she looks back on this moment, Hinazuki Kayo will realize she had been saved.

 

 

They fell into a routine. They never really spoke at school, despite sitting next to each other—something about it seemed to make Satoru anxious, like he was about to be scolded for something, so Kayo dropped it. Besides, if they got all chummy now, people might ask questions, and that was the last thing either of them wanted.

The bell rang, and they went their separate ways—only to meet back up at the hideout, not even ten minutes later. And Kayo found it oddly fun, like they were playing a spy game, where no one could know they were friends. It felt like they had something secret—something special, that only good friends could do. It was… nice.

Besides, Satoru usually showed up with snacks, which was a good bonus.

They put up the stars, like Satoru said they would. When Kayo sat on his shoulders, she could reach the ceiling, so that’s how they did it. Satoru insisted on moving this way and that until Kayo had picked the perfect place for each and every one. When they finished, they congratulated themselves with cup ramen, courtesy of the kettle Satoru had set down on the heater.

“I think they look good,” Satoru concluded, slurping at his noodles. “You did great, Hinazuki.”

“I didn’t really do anything,” she said, smiling all the same. “But thanks.”

“If you want to add more stuff, you can,” he offered. “It’s your place too, you know.”

Kayo hid her face by sipping at the broth, feeling a warmth in her gut that had nothing to do with the soup. “It’s okay,” she said. “I don’t really have anything.”

The stars were all she had really wanted. Besides, she liked how much of Satoru there was here. Anything she brought would just remind her of home, which was the last place she wanted to be. The hideout felt like another world—a softer, nicer one, where kids got to dream of superheroes and fun-filled adventures. Her things would just ruin it.

When Satoru wasn’t there—pulled away by classroom duty or what have you—Kayo entertained herself with his drawings. She’d never been to a museum, but she imagined she was in one then, stopping in front of each one. Most of them were relatively simple: a doodle of a cat on the side of the road, something that looked vaguely anime, a monster with a gakuran.

But only one really caught her eye. It must have been drawn by a much younger Satoru: the whole thing was hastily scribbled on with crayon, and the paper was peeling at the edges. Curious, Kayo leaned closer. One of the figures, the smaller one, was Satoru himself, if the messy ‘Me!’ written underneath was any indication. But the taller one was coloured a stark red, and instead of a smiley face, there was a harsh line where its mouth should be.

Something was written underneath that one, too—but it was hard to read. Kayo squinted, leaning in.

“What are you looking at?”

Kayo yelped. Satoru was standing in the entrance, a pack of gummies in hand. He didn’t look angry—just curious—and Kayo knew that, but…

Her shoulders curled, her pulse jumping inside her clenched fists. “It’s… it’s nothing.”

Satoru ignored her. He moved closer, peeking past her—before his face burst into mortified pink. “Oh.”

“I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s okay,” Satoru assured her, rubbing at his neck with his free hand. “I just… forgot that one was here, is all.”

Kayo wrung her fingers, unconvinced—but if Satoru said so, then… it was probably fine. She turned back to the picture. “Is that you and your Dad?” she guessed.

“No,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “My Dad isn’t really… around.”

Oh, that made sense. “Me neither,” she said, turning to him. “Who is it, then?”

His blush thickened to red. “It’s dumb.”

“I won’t laugh.”

Satoru chewed on his lip, and Kayo gave him the time to mull it over, pretending to inspect a loose thread on her sleeve. After a few seconds he took a long gulp of air, like he was trying to inflate his courage, before letting it all out in a big puff. “It’s my imaginary friend,” he blurted out, before adding, quieter: “Or, was, I guess.”

Kayo blinked at him. “Oh.”

“I didn’t have any friends back then, either,” he explained, mumbling through the burning on his cheeks. “My Dad was already gone, and my Mom was working all the time, so… I just made someone up to play with.”

Huh. Kayo turned back to the picture, staring at it in a new light. She supposed that made sense—but at the same time, only made her more confused. If Satoru had been that lonely—if he still was that lonely, then…

“Hey, Fujinuma.” She turned to look at him. “Why don’t you have any friends?”

“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?” he grumbled.

“You don’t even try to talk to anyone in class. You don’t have any clubs after school. Whenever there’s a group project, you look like you’re going to be sick. If you want to make friends, why don’t you just do it?”

He curled in on himself, biting back. “It’s not that easy—”

“You said you wouldn’t lie.”

Satoru’s eyes widened like he’d been slapped. His eyes slid away from her—and Kayo felt a little guilty too. Satoru had shared so much with her already, and maybe she shouldn’t have pushed him so hard, but—he’d promised. So she stood firm, until Satoru gave a tired sigh, slumping into a sit on the floor. “You’re right. I’m sorry, Hinazuki.”

Kayo watched him for a second, before sitting down as well, leaning back against one of the crates. “It’s fine.”

He brought his knees close to his chest, wrapping his arms around them. He looked so small. “It’s not like I don’t want to,” he admitted. “But whenever I think about it… I get this really scary feeling. Like something really, really bad is going to happen if I try.” His voice sounded tight, and Satoru pressed his forehead against his knees. “I know it sounds dumb.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Kayo knew that feeling: she’d felt it that night when Satoru found her in the storeroom, after all. Whenever she thinks of telling someone about her Mom… it wasn’t that she was scared of what her Mom would do—she was just scared, plain and simple. In a moment of panic, she raked her eyes over Satoru, searching for the bruises she’d only ever found on her own skin.

“Why do you think you’re scared?” she asked. Satoru didn’t look up, and just shrugged.

Kayo made a short hum, and looked back up at the picture of Satoru and his grim-looking imaginary friend. The entire time since then, he had been too scared to reach out—even though he’d wanted to. As if the second he did, some big, scary, evil thing was going to come and get him. It was… weird to imagine that the boy that had jumped into her life had always been so afraid.

Wait. “Fujinuma?”

He raised his head. “Yeah?”

“Why did you ask me to be friends?”

He stared at her, straightening up a little, even as he squeezed his legs tighter. “I was scared to,” he admitted, his voice quiet. He gave a wobbly attempt at a smile. “But I realized that… something bad already was happening, you know?”

Kayo felt the heat creep up from her neck, bursting on her face like fireworks. “Are you an idiot?”

Satoru laughed then, the sound bright like a bell. “Yeah, I think I am!”

Good, Kayo thought, smiling. She liked it that way.

 

 

The weather lately had turned from bad to worse. Satoru and Kayo stood inside by the school doors, watching as sheets of snow and sleet pelted against the glass, the winds wailing outside. Most kids had been picked up by a parent in a car—but Satoru nor Kayo had that particular luxury.

“I don’t think going to the hideout is a good idea,” Satoru whispered, looking around to make sure there was no one to overhear. “When it snows a lot, it blocks the door.”

Kayo had guessed as much, but her heart still fell. Ever since they’d “become friends,” Kayo had gone with him to the hideout every day after school—and even on the weekends sometimes, though Satoru didn’t need to know about that. It felt safer than the storeroom, and the heater seemed to melt the pain, even if the bruises stayed.

“What do we do now?” she asked.

Satoru frowned, tilting his head to one side. “Normally, I’d go home, but… that’s kind of far. Oh!” His eyes lit up, but the sparkles faded as soon as they had come, his smile weak and wobbling. “H-have you ever been to the Children’s Centre?”

Kayo reached over and gave Satoru’s hand a squeeze. It seemed to help, when that weird fear of his reared its head. “I don’t… think so?”

“Okay,” he said, nodding to himself. “Do you think you can run?”

They managed: fingers tangled together, heaving each other forward as they skidded in the snow and ice. It was messy and awkward and cold, but Satoru was laughing every time they went down, and Kayo had to stifle her own giggles in her scarf. By the time they burst into the museum, they were both battered and frozen, but in the fun way—a concept that Kayo still didn’t quite understand, staring down at her skinned knees. But she liked it.

Satoru’s hair looked more white than black, at least until he scrubbed his nails through it. “Are you okay, Hinazuki?”

Her lungs were burning. “Yeah.”

She patted the snow off her coat, and Satoru slid out of his entirely, tying his wet sleeves around his shoulders like a cape. “Over here,” he said, jogging up to the big bear statue in the centre of the room. He motioned towards it with a heroic flourish. “This is my friend!”

Kayo felt a small pang in her heart. So far, Satoru’s only friends were either imaginary, statues, or—well, her. It wasn’t the best list. “Idiot.”

They wandered through the empty halls, Satoru pointing out all the little things he loved along the way. It wasn’t exactly like the hideout, but it wasn’t too different either: Kayo still felt like they were the only two people in the world, like shipwrecked survivors on a deserted island of their own making. Every so often, their sleeves would brush, and all Kayo wanted was to lean into the feeling.

Satoru was rushing ahead—saying something about animals and foxes—when Kayo stopped. He’d blown past the thick, orange doors, but she took her time, reading the sign standing to the side. She’d never been inside a planetarium before, and her eyes fell to the time sheet. One of the shows was coming up soon.

“Hey, Fujinuma?”

Guessing by the way he whirled around, he didn’t realize she wasn’t behind him until he spied her from the opposite end of the hall. He came back at a light jog, his jacket flapping loudly behind him. “What is it?”

She pointed at the sign. Satoru quietly recited the katakana as he read it through. “Do you want to go?”

Kayo shrugged, and Satoru smiled. “Okay,” he said.

The doors were heavier than they looked. Satoru pulled until it was a little open, and then Kayo worked at pushing, at least until Satoru had scurried inside behind her. Only then did she let it go, the door swinging shut with a soft hiss and a heavy click, leaving them both panting inside.

“Maybe we weren’t supposed to do that without an adult,” Satoru said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“Maybe,” Kayo agreed, but oh well. “Have you ever done this before?”

Satoru frowned, tilting his head back and thinking. “I don’t think so.”

Good. This entire time, Satoru has been the one showing her things—it was sweet, but it also made her feel like she was always a step behind. It was nice, to be the one showing him something for a change. “Where do you want to sit?”

It didn’t really matter, since they were the only ones there, so they wound up just picking a random spot. Somewhere in the distance, there was the whirl of a projector, the crackling of speakers from some corner of the room. A woman’s voice rippled out, and Satoru jumped, his hand leaping to Kayo’s own, gripping tight.

Kayo turned to ask what was wrong—but then the stars came out.

Two of them, at first—hanging alone in the deep, dark sky. Kayo entwined her fingers with Satoru’s, feeling his heartbeat against her palm. But then the Milky Way poured in: a river of soft light, wrapping them together, hundreds of stars and galaxies bursting above their heads. Kayo felt her breath stop as she watched the universe unravel in front of her eyes. It was big and beautiful and bright, and for the first time since she could remember, Kayo didn’t want to disappear. She was right where she wanted to be.

Smiling, she turned to Satoru, and found him crying.

He was still watching the stars, the little lights dancing in his eyes—but tears were cutting down his cheeks, his lips twisted like he was trying to keep it all in. His hand was shaking in hers, his shoulders skipping with every hiccup he tried to bury in his chest. When he realized Kayo was looking, he buried his face in the crook of his arm, scrubbing his face on his sleeve. “I-I’m sorry,” he choked out.

“It’s okay,” Kayo whispered, squeezing his hand.

“I—I don’t know why I’m—”

“It’s okay, Fujinuma. It’s fine.”

After a long moment, Satoru nodded, dropping his arm. But the tears didn’t stop—he just sat there, crying over something neither of them understood, wet sobs bursting out of his mouth. The planetarium continued to spin around them, and Kayo waited out the storm, until, one by one, the stars faded to black.

The last one went out with a whisper, and Satoru’s shaky breath in the dark.

“Is—is it over?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

Kayo looked over. Even in the dark, he looked terrible, his eyes red and face swollen from crying. He looked like he could start crying again any second, so Kayo leaned back in her seat, staring at her feet. “We can wait for the next one,” she offered. “If you want.”

Satoru sniffled, and rubbed at his face. “Okay.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Kayo watched him cry.

Kayo was hurting, and Satoru had found her. But someone had hurt Satoru too.

His grip on her hand weakened. Kayo held on harder.

Neither of them had to be alone in the dark.