He opens his eyes to discover that he is outside the shop. He frowns, looking around at the moonlit yard. Yuuko-san is standing underneath the sakura tree, hand on the trunk, face raised to the sky. She is bathed in the silver light, and he thinks that he can see a faint gold shimmer, outlining her figure. He blinks, shaking his head, and the glow is gone.
The air caresses his skin, as if coaxing him to move forward, toward her. He takes one step, then another, and suddenly he is at the base of the tree, standing behind her. She turns around and smiles sadly at him, placing a cool hand against his cheek.
His eyelids are heavy, and he struggles to keep them open. Yuuko-san is speaking, but he cannot hear her. Finally, his eyes close and he slumps to the floor. Just before he loses consciousness, he thinks he hears her voice.
It has begun.
He wakes and sees Doumeki’s face hovering over him. The lines on his face are tense, and Kimihiro can read the worry in them.
Wake up, Watanuki, Doumeki says softly, forehead creasing.
He wants to frown, to say I am awake, you idiot, but his body isn’t responding. Doumeki is brushing a strand of hair away from his forehead, but he cannot feel that touch.
Panic seizes him. He should have been able to feel the heat of Doumeki’s finger, just as he was able to feel the cold of Yuuko-san’s hand. But his body is not moving, and now that he is thinking about it, he cannot even feel the ground beneath him.
He is outside now, on the school grounds. Himawari-chan is beside him, reading an astrology book. He shakes his head and sits up.
Did you have a nice nap, Watanuki-kun? Himawari-chan asks.
Kimihiro frowns, but replies with a cheerful, I did.
She smiles at him. It doesn’t look like you’ve been sleeping, Watanuki-kun, she is saying. You should take better care of yourself. Doumeki-kun and Yuuko-san will worry.
He doesn’t say anything, thinking of the two dreams he has just had.
His head feels heavy, and he puts his hand to his forehead. Himawari-chan is looking at him, concern etched in her face, and she leans over.
Instinctively, he smiles. Himawari-chan frowns, and asks him something that he cannot make out. He blinks, and she is gone.
I have heard that, one day, the student becomes the teacher, a voice says. What will you teach me, I wonder?
There is nothing I can teach you that you have not taught me, another voice says quietly.
There is silence, followed by a chuckle. I’m sure that there are things you know that I do not.
Perhaps, the second voice replies.
He will teach you things that I cannot, the first voice announces.
He will teach you nothing, the second voice remarks softly. You will be gone.
So, what will you teach me?
Another pause, then, finally, I will teach you to say goodbye.
The sound of wind chimes wake him, and he finds himself in an unfamiliar garden. Cautiously, he looks around, spotting two people sitting on a terrace.
As he draws closer, he recognizes one of the figures as Yuuko-san. She is sipping from a tea cup, eyes focused somewhere in distance. The man beside her is talking quietly, telling her something that Kimihiro can see she does not want to hear.
Yuuko-san replies, and the man laughs.
He thinks it’s odd that he can hear everything but them, but shakes it off. Instead, he presses closer, waving his arms.
Yuuko-san does not see him, and, instead, replies to the man.
The man turns his head, and smiles. He is speaking again, and Yuuko-san is replying.
He is at the foot of the terrace now, but still Yuuko-san does not acknowledge him.
Yuuko-san, he says, but his voice is carried away on the wind.
The man looks at him, still smiling. He says, So you will, and everything fades.
You have a choice, a voice announces. Here or there, there or here. You are in neither, but you are in both.
He does not understand.
You will, the voice replies. Soon, you will understand it all, except for the things you will not, can not. You will see, and you will be blind.
That doesn’t make sense.
It does if you know, but you do not.
Soon, but first, first. You must choose. Here or there, them or us. A pause. This life, or that one? Which is more important?
There are people everywhere, yet he is by himself. Himawari-chan and Doumeki stand off to the side, chatting and smiling while he looks around.
Mugetsu wraps itself around his arm, squeezing it. He scratches under its chin.
The little fox spirit is at his feet, hands encased in the gloves he gave it. He frowns. It was too warm for gloves, wasn’t it?
He looks at Himawari-chan and Doumeki, who are in their winter uniforms. Perhaps he just thought he had seen them in their summer attire. When he turns his attention back to the fox spirit, it is gone, replaced instead with the ghost woman whom Doumeki had destroyed.
Ghosts don’t really die, she says. We move on.
She changes into the boy he had met before middle school.
What about you? the ghost boy asks. Will you move on?
Move on to what? Kimihiro asks.
From this. The boy motions to the area around them. Will you move on?
He turns around to find Doumeki and Himawari-chan are gone.
Will you disappear?
Don’t disappear. We’ll try our best, so you should, too.
Haruka-san is standing next to him when he opens his eyes.
Is this a dream? he asks.
Haruka-san shrugs. It depends. What do you think?
Kimihiro hangs his head. I have to make a choice, but I don’t know between what.
Can’t help you there, Haruka-san replies. That’s something you have to figure out on your own.
How do I know what I’m choosing?
You don’t. You feel it.
How do I know if it’s the right one?
Haruka-san smiles. There is no right choice, Watanuki. It just is.
And with that, Haruka-san disappears, leaving him alone.
He wakes up to find Yuuko-san sitting on the bed, watching him calmly. He can see the worried faces of Himawari-chan and Doumeki behind her.
Welcome back, Yuuko-san says softly, and smiles.