I was always watching Komaru from the back.
I'd learned to read the feelings written there, between her shoulders, as they gradually straightened from a meek, cowering bystander into something more.
Watching from the back had been a comfort, until I'd seen her from the front as if for the first time, standing on that truck and baring the hope that was in her heart to people who were suffering, sick with despair.
She'd touched their hearts, but for it, the adults had bound her hands, had perverted the justice and encouragement she'd tried so hard to impart.
Let go of her. Don't drag Komaru into despair. Don't use her words so purely spoken to excuse the damage your war will reap from her conscience. You're all disgusting, worse than the lowest and most vulgar of them all. Don't. Don't you dare hurt her, or I'll hurt you worse.
Komaru kept fighting, and I kept following. I watched her legs straighten, no longer shaking like a newborn fawn's, a current of lightning in motion tracing up from her stance all the way into her shoulders, square and defiant.
For the first time, I find myself fearing light that I find in her eyes, because she's done everything to ignite it, to nurture it.
It's a light that's warmed me as well.
If despair crowds around it, Komaru will feel it to her core.
She has no idea how vulnerable she is, and the feeling that she'll be shown, that she'll be hurt-is inexorable and suffocating. The worry lingers unread upon my back as we approach the end.
Imagining the worst case scenario is no comparison to watching it unfold before my eyes.
Komaru holds the controller. Monaca gloats, Kotoko screams, I push. She won't break it. Monaca gloats, Kotoko screams, Haiji threatens, I watch. My fingernails are disgusting, chewed clean off, but Komaru won't break it, and a mob of idiots are heaping their broken dreams upon her back, upon Komaru's back, and she's crying, they're hurting her they're all hurting her they're hurting my Komaru-
Monaca shows her, and Komaru's light vanishes. Hope was excised from her throat in an instant as, brittle and broken, she apologizes.
She believes those horrible words again.
What she'd gathered of a crumbling world to find the most meager of footholds on, suffering heartache every step of the way, had been pounded to powder right before her eyes. In the corner of my eye I see Monaca smile, I know she used Komaru-
-groomed her, toyed with her, lead her by the nose the whole way. Built her up, let me build her up, made me take part in molding her for this moment-she used me too, the jagged parts of me to carve an idol, an angel with waxen wings in the middle of hell; she used our friendship-
-my love for Komaru.
She raises her arms high and my words can't reach her.
My words were the only part of me that were worth anything, until now, until her.
It's normal for a friend to help a friend.
We're but a few steps apart and yet Monaca's evil has put her a thousand leagues away. She's in that hell all alone now. The light around her is gone, leaving only darkness, but I know there's nowhere I'd rather be in this moment than at her side.
Deep in my heart, from the light Komaru left me, I hear it. I hear her crying out to me for help.
Don't let me. Don't let me do it, Touko.
My legs are free. They take me there, to her.
I won't let you. I won't let you. Just come back to me.
She's still so far away, but I got it. I have it.
Her life, in my (wretched, ugly) hands. I'll hold on as long as I have to.
I endure the pain. Endure, endure. Thank god. Thank god he's hitting me. Pain like this is transient and temporary compared to a life where Komaru lives in despair.
The word friend comes out of my mouth so easily when it's about her. The ceiling collapses, but I can take Komaru from here. Her hand feels cold inside of mine, but I can feel her holding on.
My hand stings as I clap it across her cheek.
A small price to pay for reigniting the light in her eyes.
Why, with her, do I find myself just...doing things, without question?
I don't know what to call it.
I know exactly what I think of Komaru, but-
She does the same for me, and I can't hide from it.
She's here with me. Suffering with the same stinging hands, our hands that have protected each other.
"My hand hurts...But that's not the only thing that hurts."
Mine don't shake when they pull her close.
"We're the same. If you can't do something on your own...all I have to do is help you. If I can't do something on my own...all you have to do is help me. Helping each other...that's the advantage of working together, right?"
Komaru is warm. She's getting warmer and I can feel her breathing lightly against my throat. A ragged sigh tears through my chest, and my glasses start to fog. My fingers grasp the back of her shirt a little tighter.
It doesn't make sense.
Or rather...it shouldn't.
But looking at her...
Well. I'd said it myself.
We're the same.
I see feelings reflected in her eyes, that have been there maybe longer than I could've...understood.
"We can't be distracted by the stuff that doesn't make sense. Focus on what's happening now. What do you want to do right now? Have you decided...?"
"...Yeah. I have."
She echoes my words back to me.
"I want to protect both."
Komaru bites her lip like she's thinking deeply. It's just a moment.
It's just another moment when her hands ease under my bent elbows, unsure, at first, then tighter.
It's just another moment when she clutches the fabric in her hands, another when I hear my name, pressed reverently into my own mouth.
I can't move at all. I can't fathom what is happening.
Every time that she spoke my name...
...it had come from so soft a place?
That my name could pass through somewhere so-
I feel warmth in my eyes. It escapes down one cheek, then the other. My mouth is shaking and my chin feels numb. I can't believe it. I can't believe it at all, but-
-I want to remember this forever. I want to remember Komaru forever.
I don't know when my fingers had decided to clench themselves into her sleeves, but they drop and slip perfectly between hers as she eases back, not meeting my eyes.
"...And...that. I wanted...to do that. Right now...and maybe for-for a long, long time already, Touko-I-"
"H-Hold on. Not yet. N-Not yet, Komaru." She swallows. "Hmph. Greedy girl," I add, "now's...not the time. After all-"
We face the edge of the world together.
"-we've got a job to do."
Despair approaches, but we're ready for it.