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Water Offerings

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Source: PET Bottle (500 ml)
Status: Potable
Use: Personal Consumption/Hydration

For all that Yuki liked to sleep late on school days, she usually remembered to get up in time for breakfast. Even if she had to race down the hall with her shoes barely on and her uniform tie still in her hand, so that Rii-san or Megu-nee wouldn't scold her for being late, she knew that it was important to adhere to the School Living Club rule of starting the day with a good, healthy meal. (For that matter, who didn't enjoy a good breakfast -- especially if Rii-san was making it?) But this morning, her head ached so badly that she didn't want to open her eyes, and so she rolled over on her side and burrowed deeper into her blankets to hide from the painfully bright sunlight.

There was only so much she could do to hide, though. There wasn't anywhere else she could go. Even if she stayed in bed, sooner or later someone would come looking for her. They'd look for her, they'd find her, they would grab hold of her and she wouldn't be able to --

'Takeya-san?' The gentle voice should have startled her, but it didn't. 'It's time to get up.'

Even though her head hurt, Yuki felt some of the tension seep out of her body. She pushed the covers back just enough to peep out from beneath them, like a hibernating animal that had woken up a bit earlier than expected, and gave her favourite teacher a bleary smile. 'G'morning, Megu-nee.'

'Sakura-sensei, if you please, Takeya-san.' Megu-nee's answering smile didn't conceal the concern in her eyes. 'Is something wrong?'

'Head hurts.' Yuki closed her eyes again. It was too hard to keep them open for very long.

Something brushed her forehead, light and soft as a breath of air. 'You're a little warm, but it doesn't feel like a fever,' Megu-nee said. 'Just your head hurts? Nothing else?'

Yuki nodded, bunching the covers in her hands. 'Just my head.'

'We'll get you something from the nurse's office.' Even with her eyes closed, Yuki could feel Megu-nee's warmth, and heard the soft clink of her necklace as she settled into place next to Yuki's side. 'There's headache medicine in there, most of a bottle. Remember when Wakasa-san and Ebisuzawa-san were taking stock of it the other day?'

Yuki dimly recalled sitting in the nurse's office, helping Kurumi spread things out on a long desk while Yuuri ticked things off on a clipboard. It was a fuzzy sort of memory, and it made her head hurt worse to think about it. But before she could answer, she heard the door slide open, and another well-known voice broke the silence. 'Oi, Yuki! Better get moving, or you'll miss break -- ' The words broke off, and Yuki heard and felt uncertain footsteps approaching her bed. 'Hey, what's up?'

'Takeya-san has a headache, Ebisuzawa-san,' Megu-nee said.

'Headache.' Yuki echoed dully. 'Need to go -- nurse's office.' She rolled onto her stomach and started to push herself up. 'Megu-nee -- '

'Whoa, whoa, whoa, don't get up!' Yuki opened her eyes in time to see Kurumi hurrying toward her. She set her shovel on the floor and put a firm hand on Yuki's shoulder to ease her back down to her futon. 'You stay here with Megu-nee. I'll get something for your head.'

As Kurumi grabbed her shovel again and left the room, Megu-nee started to get to her feet, and called out, 'It's in the white cabinet on the far left, Ebisuzawa-sa...oh.' She sank back to her knees, slumping over. 'She's gone.'

'Do I need a note for class?' Yuki knew there was something more she ought to be remembering, but the thought kept slipping out of her mind. Something about teachers, and being sick. 'I don't want to get in trouble.'

'I'll let your other teachers know, so they won't worry.' Megu-nee's voice was gentle, and soothing. 'If you feel better after you take the medicine, I'll help you catch up with your work after school.'

Yuki tried to smile. 'Thanks, Megu-nee,' she whispered.

Megu-nee smiled back. She seemed to have recovered from the disappointment of Kurumi leaving the room without acknowledging her -- though Yuki knew how sad poor Megu-nee could become about her lack of presence. It wasn't something she could change, after all, no matter how much she tried.

Yuki tried to make herself more comfortable on her pillow. Two half-hearted punches and a flip later, it didn't feel any fluffier, but by that point she heard the footsteps again, and soon Kurumi was bending over her with something in her hands.

'Here, this'll help.' She pressed two tablets into Yuki's hand. 'And Yuuri-san says you need to drink this whole bottle of water.'

Yuki managed to prop herself up on one elbow, and saw a fresh, unopened bottle of water next to her bed. 'All...of it?'

'Water's good for headaches. It's always important to stay hydrated, but especially when your head hurts.' Kurumi grinned heartily, showing lots of teeth in a way that made Yuki's heart beat a little faster. 'Isn't that right, Megu-nee?'

Megu-nee didn't reply, but Yuki knew that she was smiling in agreement. 'Okay,' she said, and picked up the water bottle. Her fingers were a little clumsy with the cap, and after two tries she was thankful when Kurumi took it from her and opened it while she put the pills into her mouth. They had that nasty medicine taste, chalky and bitter at the same time, but she screwed up her face and gratefully gulped the water as soon as Kurumi put the bottle into her hand. It was still cold from the little fridge in the School Living Club room, and droplets of condensation ran down her wrist as she drank it in several long, refreshing swallows.

'Just rest now.' She wasn't sure whether Kurumi or Megu-nee had said it, but either way resting some more sounded like a good idea. Her pillow was sure to be more comfortable now. She felt the bottle slip from her fingers, and a cool hand pulled the blankets up to her chin again. 'You'll feel a lot better when you wake up.'

Not for the first time, Yuki was glad to be a member of the School Living Club. Even when you were sick, there was always someone around to look after you.

 

Source: Ground (filtered)
Status: Potable
Use: Food Preparation

Yuuri lifted the little clear plastic cup, weighing it in her hand, then tipped it just enough to let a thin trickle of rice slip back into the bin. It wasn't the sort of thing she'd normally take pride in, but there was something satisfying about knowing when she'd reached the right amount.

At first, not wanting to waste so much as a single grain of the food stores that they'd scavenged from the school kitchen, she'd used the scale they had taken from the home economics classroom to weigh exactly 200 grams of rice per person per meal, and measure out the corresponding amount of water from the one tap they'd confirmed was safe to drink from. That had worked for a time, but the packaged sauces and other condiments for their meals were sometimes so salty that they all wanted more servings than the ones in the rice cooker, and they all ended up drinking a lot more water to compensate. Over time, Yuuri had come to learn how much rice was best for each meal, and how more rice at breakfast and dinner could sometimes make up for having a little less for lunch.

They were all learning things like that. The line between surviving and living was getting thinner with each passing day.

Yuuri wasn't necessarily sure that was a good thing.

As she tipped the cup of rice back upright, the door slid open. 'Morning, Rii-san!' Yuki said brightly, bouncing into the room.

'Oh, Yuki-chan, you're up early.' It was unusual for Yuki to show up for breakfast before Kurumi did, and even more unusual for her to appear before Yuuri had even set the rice to cook. 'Did you sleep okay?'

'Okay en-awwww-gh,' Yuki said, the words garbled around the huge yawn that interrupted her in mid-sentence. 'Sorry about that,' she added sheepishly, once she had regained control of her jaw. 'I think Kurumi-chan was kicking me in her sleep.'

Yuuri made a sympathetic sound, and poured the rice into the cooker. 'She does that sometimes. We should probably start kicking her back, just to see how she likes it.'

Yuki grinned in response, but her smile seemed to fade a little as her gaze travelled from Yuuri to the rice cooker. 'I wish I could cook like you, Rii-san,' she said, suddenly wistful. 'You make all of these nice meals for us, and I know I could never make anything as good as that.'

'Really?' Yuuri said cautiously. She and Kurumi had grown used to Yuki's abrupt mood swings, but some of them led to deeper depressions than others. It was best to tread carefully around them, to treat them as part of the normal ups and downs of school life. 'I thought you said you liked taking home economics classes.'

'I did, but nothing I make ever comes out tasting like yours.' Yuki sighed. 'The rice is crunchy, the curry's too wet, the vegetables go everywhere when I try to cut them up...no one would want to eat something that I've made.'

'It's just something you have to keep working at,' Yuuri said. 'And I'd hardly say I'm a very good cook. I've been cooking more often, and for longer than you have, so I know more about what to do, but there's still a lot I don't know myself.' It wasn't always easy to be creative with such restricted food supplies as they had. Then again, they were all lucky that there was any food for them to eat.

Yuri nodded, though she didn't seem reassured. 'Could you teach me how to cook, maybe? I thought about asking Megu-nee, but I don't want to make her feel bad if she doesn't know how to cook very well.'

Yuuri thought for a moment, looking down at the rice cooker. 'I don't know, Yuki-chan,' she said slowly. This was always the hardest part. Not explaining their limitations to Yuki, but explaining them in a way that might make sense to her. 'You know we have to be careful with our food. We can't just make things whenever we feel like it; since we live here all the time, we eat a lot more than students in other clubs.' Her voice almost choked on the words other clubs. She managed to keep it level. 'We really should be setting the best example possible, shouldn't we, because we're such a special case?'

'Oh,' Yuki said. 'I hadn't thought about it like that.' For a moment, her expression was dark and troubled -- but then her eyes flew open, and a brilliant smile lit up her face. 'I know! Why don't we have a cooking contest?'

Yuuri blinked, gaping at her. 'A...cooking contest?'

'You and me and Kurumi-chan -- we can each plan a meal that uses only the ingredients we can get from the club room or the roof garden, and see which meal tastes the best! Megu-nee can be the judge, and we can present it before the whole school to show that the School Living Club is fun and careful with the school's resources.' Yuki beamed, on fire with the delight of her idea. 'It'll be like that TV show from a while ago...what was it called...Chef of Steel? Cooking with Steel?'

'I think I know what you mean,' Yuuri said, turning the idea over in her mind. As bizarre as it sounded, there might be something useful in it. Not only would it keep Yuki occupied in planning it, but it would break up the routine of their food preparation. They'd been careful enough so far that one special, unusual meal wouldn't be too much of a sacrifice. 'I'll say yes to it right now,' she continued, 'but on one condition: even if our meals don't taste all that good, we all still have to eat it so it doesn't go to waste. Okay?'

'Yes, ma'am!' Yuki saluted. Her eyes sparkled at Yuuri. 'We'll plan it for dinner tonight, so we'll have all day today to come up with our meals.'

'Maybe we should do it for lunch tomorrow,' Yuuri said. 'If we're going to present it to the school, we should do it when everyone else will be here, right?' It would also ensure that they wouldn't go to bed completely hungry if their meals turned out to be inedible.

'Oh, yeah, I forgot.' Yuki rubbed the back of her head. 'And even though we'll be competing, can I still ask you for help with the cooking and stuff?'

'Of course I'll help,' said Yuuri, relieved that Yuki seemed to have shaken off her earlier depression. 'Until then, could you get that box of hardtack from the shelf over there?' She picked up her measuring cup full of fresh water, and nodded to the familiar cardboard container. 'I thought we should have that on the side with the rice and miso soup this morning. And if you could set the table afterwards, I'd appreciate it.'

Eagerly, Yuki scurried over to get the hardtack, and Yuuri filled the rice cooker with water and closed the lid. No sooner had she pressed the button to start it cooking than the door slid open again and Kurumi strolled in, shovel in hand.

'Morni -- oh, geez, am I late for breakfast or something?' she said, startled to see Yuki in the club room ahead of her.

'Kurumi-chan!' Yuki bounded forward, an intent look on her face. 'If you had to make a meal right now, right this very second, with just the ingredients you can see, what would you make?'

'Right this very second?' Put on the spot, Kurumi looked desperately around the room. Only the rice cooker and the box of hardtack in Yuki's hand fell within her line of sight, so she tried to make the best of what little material she had to work with. 'Well, uh, there's rice, and there's hardtack, so....um....okay, how about we crumble the hardtack over the rice, and call it o-kanpan-don? Like oyakodon?'

This time, it was Yuki's turn to gape at Kurumi. 'O...kanpan-don?'

Yuuri clapped a hand over her mouth to stop herself from laughing out loud. Yuki's cooking contest was already off to a flying start.

 

Source: Ground (filtered)
Status: Potable
Use: Personal Hygiene

It was beyond strange, Miki thought, to be shown around her own high school like a transfer student who had just arrived in the middle of the term. For all that she was glad to be out of the mall at last, every broken windowpane and blood-smeared door brought home how much had changed since she had last been inside the school grounds. What was most amazing to her, though, were the number of things that were still fully functional, even when so much else inside and outside the school had been damaged or destroyed. She had spent so much time in that single room with Kei and Taroumaru that even the old classrooms seemed bright and spacious -- and when the other girls led her to the bathroom with its multiple toilet stalls and shower areas, she felt almost dizzy from the openness of the space.

'I can...take a shower?' was the first coherent thought that made its way out of her mouth.

'Of course, Mii-kun!' Yuki held up an admonishing finger, and declared with lofty authority, 'It's a very important School Living Club rule that we have to look after ourselves from top to toe. Brush your teeth and wash your face, to keep your smile right in its place!'

Kurumi snorted. 'What are we, five years old?' she said. 'You sound like the worst kind of kindergarten teacher when you say it like that.'

'We all have to keep clean, Kurumi-chan.' Yuki tried to scowl, but only succeeded in looking sulky. 'It's a very important rule.'

Kurumi grinned, seemingly on the point of teasing Yuki further, but Yuuri interrupted her. 'The water recycling system in the school lets us filter and reuse our shower water for the garden and for washing our clothes and dishes,' she explained, redirecting the conversation back to Miki's original question. 'It takes a lot of electricity to heat up so much water, so we usually limit our full showers to five minutes, every other day. But considering what you've been through....'

'Hm?' Yuki suddenly perked up, and half-turned away from the other girls. 'Oh, don't be silly, Megu-nee, you smell just fine!'

'Feel free to take as long as you want this time,' Yuuri continued, calmly ignoring Yuki's remark. 'I'll get some fresh clothes for you to sleep in, too.'

Miki couldn't quite bring herself to smile, considering that Yuki still appeared to be listening to the empty air and was eagerly nodding along in response to whatever she was hearing. But she'd already determined that she wouldn't start an argument over it, not tonight at the very least. Yuki and the others had rescued her -- had risked their own lives to save her -- and she would have to go along with their rules if she wanted to stay with them in the safety of their school. And even without that consideration, her skin had started to itch in longing at the thought of being able to take a shower for the first time since everything had fallen apart.

'Thank you very much,' she said quietly, with a slight bow.

'Don't mention it.' Yuuri's smile hadn't changed. Miki wondered how much effort it took for her to keep it in place.

A scuffling sound from the floor attracted their attention, and the four of them turned to see Taroumaru investigating one of the floor drains in the nearest shower stall.

'Hm.' Yuuri looked thoughtful. 'Should Taroumaru have a bath tonight, too?'

Kurumi, quick as ever, entered the stall and scooped the little dog up, and in spite of his squirming she proceeded to bury her nose in his fur. 'Eh, I think he'll be okay for a little while longer,' she said after taking several long sniffs. 'He doesn't have fleas or anything, as far as I can tell.'

Taroumaru whined unhappily, and Yuki rescued him from Kurumi's grip. 'Ooh, who's not a stinky puppy?' she cooed, rubbing her cheek against his muzzle. 'Who's not a stinky puppy?'

While Yuki and Kurumi fussed over the little dog, Yuuri turned back to Miki -- and an awkward, half-embarrassed look crossed her face. 'While we're in here, do you need anything for...you know, your cycle?' She twisted her fingers in the sleeves of her cardigan.

'Huh?' Miki blinked, puzzled.

Before Yuuri could repeat herself, it was Kurumi's turn to cut in. 'What she means is, are you on the rag?'

Miki flushed pink at the bare-faced question, and instinctively pressed her knees together. 'N-no. I'm not...that is, it's been -- ' An unpleasant memory rolled up from the depths of her mind: Kei washing her underwear in the storage room's cramped bathroom sink, grumbling as she scrubbed it as clean as possible with the little amount of hand soap left in the dispenser....

'There's a bunch of supplies in the nurse's office, but we've barely used them at all,' Kurumi said, with a blithe wave of her hand. 'I haven't needed anything for ages myself.'

'That's not good, is it?' Miki did her best to force the memory of Kei and the bathroom sink out of her mind by trying to picture the pages of her health class textbook, and what it said about the menstrual cycle. But health class might have been a million years ago; she couldn't even remember what her textbook had looked like.

Kurumi shrugged. 'It's not something we can control, really,' she said. 'But I get a lot of exercise and take my vitamins like a good girl, so I'm not worried.'

'We'll show you where everything is tomorrow,' Yuuri said, and gave Kurumi a grateful look. 'I just wanted to be sure that you didn't feel like you had to ask us for anything. We're all girls here together, after all,' she added, and this time her smile had a touch of shyness to it.

'That's right!' said Yuki, jumping back into the conversation. She put Taroumaru down on the floor. 'Girls have to stick together, don't they?'

Taroumaru let out a sharp, eager bark, which sounded so much like a noise of agreement that it made all of them laugh.

'Yes, you too, Taroumaru,' Kurumi said. 'So let's make dinner first, and then we can all get cleaned up before bedtime.'

I can take a shower, Miki thought, as they all left the bathroom and made their way back to the School Living Club's room. Kei, I hope you've found a place as nice as this.

 

Source: Rooftop Collection/Recycling
Status: Nonpotable
Use: Irrigation

'Yuki!' Yuuri lifted her head, looking over the top of the row of plump white daikon. 'Could you fill the watering can for me?'

'Roger!' Yuki picked up the empty can. 'All the way full, or just half full?'

'All the way.' Yuuri gave her a stern look. 'I know it's heavy when it's full, but don't slosh the water out of it when you bring it back here just to make it lighter.'

Yuki slouched her way over to the tap, her secret plans for making the task easier completely shot to pieces. Kurumi took the opportunity to sit back on her heels and wipe the sweat from her forehead. 'Do we get a break soon? This weeding is killing me.'

'You still have one more row to go,' Yuuri pointed out. Her own row was neat and tidy; Kurumi would not have been surprised if the weeds had figured out that it was better not to grow when Yuuri was around. 'But I promise, we're almost done here.'

'I knew we had a gardening club, Yuuri-sempai, but I never thought you guys would have done such a great job with it,' Miki said admiringly. Kurumi and Yuki were used to the hard work -- more than used to it, in fact -- but for her it was still a new experience.

'We had a lot of members when I was a first-year,' Yuuri said with a modest smile. 'I think one or two of them wanted to go to an agricultural college -- there was all this talk about drainage and fertilizers and organic compounds that I couldn't understand at all. I think it scared people off, because there were a lot fewer members my second year.'

'But you were able to keep growing things,' Miki said. 'I think I remember hearing about it during the opening week club fair, but I wasn't much for clubs when I was a first-year.' She looked over at Kurumi. 'You weren't in the gardening club, were you, sempai?'

'I was on the track team.' Kurumi made a jogging motion with her arms. 'Sprints and some middle-distance stuff. Tried to be a manager, too, but I wasn't much good at that.'

'And Yuki-sempai? Was she -- '

There was a loud crash, and the three girls in the vegetable bed looked up to see Yuki face-down on the rooftop, with the contents of the watering can spreading out in front of her, down the roof drain.

'Part of the Walking Disaster Club?' Kurumi finished dryly, as Yuuri jumped to her feet and went to help Yuki. 'Yes.'

Together, they got Yuki back on her feet and retrieved the watering can. Kurumi went to refill it as Miki and Yuuri checked Yuki over, brushing the dirt from her skin and uniform.

'Just a scraped hand and knee,' Yuuri proclaimed as they surveyed the damage. 'I can get some bandages for it.'

'Sorry, Rii-san,' Yuki sniffled. 'The watering can was bumping my legs, and I tripped.'

Yuuri shook her head. 'It's all right, Yuki. You just wait here.'

Even with Yuuri's words of patient comfort, Yuki seemed to be on the point of tears, so Miki tried to distract her. 'Yuki-sempai, were you in any other clubs before you joined the School Living Club?'

'Hm?' Yuki rubbed at her eyes. 'What other clubs, Mii-kun?'

'You know, like Yuuri-sempai was in the gardening club, and Kurumi-sempai was on the track team,' Miki said. 'I would've thought that you would be involved in lots of things, since you like school so much.'

'I don't think....' Yuki squinted, as if trying to remember something more clearly. 'No, I didn't have a particular club. Because if you joined one club, then you really couldn't be in other ones, and I didn't want to feel like I was missing out on anything!' She was warming to her topic, her scrapes and bruises all but forgotten. 'So that's why, when Megu-nee wanted to form the School Living Club, I thought it would be the best idea ever! We wouldn't have to miss out on anything, because we'd always in living in the school.'

Miki couldn't help but let her eyes flicker over to the untilled plot of garden with its makeshift cross -- the plot that would never be used for growing plants. 'It does seem easier that way,' she admitted.

'And this way, we get to help all the clubs!' Yuki added. 'Like weeding for the gardening club, and cleaning the fish tank for the biology club! It's a club that's just for people who love their school and want to give back everything they can.' She gave Miki a quizzical look. 'But why did you want to know?'

'N-no reason,' Miki said quickly. 'Just curious. I wanted to get to know more about you, Yuki-sempai.' It was the safest answer...and a true one, if she were honest with herself.

Yuki swelled up with pride; even with repeated use, the sempai title had lost none of its shine to her. 'You can always talk to me about anything, Mii-kun.'

'Except how to use a watering can, apparently.' Kurumi appeared at Yuki's side, and plunked the full can down at her feet. 'Want to try it again before Rii-san gets back?'

'I can help you with it,' Miki said, hoping that the offer would keep Yuki's spirits up. 'It's just this spot here, right? If you could show me how to do it, I'd appreciate it.'

Over Yuki's head, Kurumi mouthed a silent thank you to Miki. The latter gave a tiny nod, and let her eyes smile where her mouth stayed flat.

Satisfied, the three girls went back to work on the last of their garden chores. As Yuki and Miki moved from row to row, the soft spray of water pattering onto the ground and the plants almost drowned out the faint moans and slow shuffle-drag sounds that drifted up from the courtyard several floors below.

 

Source: Rooftop Collection/Recycling
Status: Nonpotable
Use: Decontamination

It had been a long day, and Yuuri found herself taking more than the usual amount of time to finish her dinner preparations in the garden. Yuki had spent a lot of time talking to Megu-nee that day, so much so that Kei's patience had frayed and she'd snapped at Yuki to go somewhere else if she wanted to chatter about nothing all afternoon. But before Yuki or anyone else could react, Kei had been the one to retreat, taking her book and fleeing the School Living Club room without another word.

Yuuri had gone after Kei. Kurumi had stayed with Yuki. No apologies were exchanged, but out of a sense of mutual agreement Kei decided to take an afternoon nap and Yuki went back to working silently on their graduation album. That left Kurumi and Yuuri free to go their separate ways, downstairs to patrol and upstairs to the roof. It was one of the first afternoons in a while that the four of them had spent some time alone, apart from each other -- and much as Yuuri hated to admit it, the solitude was starting to wear on her nerves.

She had a basket of greens for dinner, ready to serve with rice and miso. Just as she decided that she couldn't feasibly stay outside any longer, she heard the roof door scrape open, and looked up in time to see Kurumi step outside.

Yuuri smiled, and started to raise a hand in greeting, but stopped when she noticed that Kurumi was holding her shovel down and slightly away from her side, not slung over one shoulder as she normally carried it. Even at a distance, in the fading light of the afternoon sun, Yuuri could see dark smears on its normally clean surface. Her initial suspicions were confirmed when Kurumi went straight over to the water tap nearest the open drain, and reached for the bucket that she and Yuuri had designated for special cleaning purposes. It was always set aside, stored apart from the other gardening implements, because it had only one use.

As Kurumi took a pair of rubber gloves and two rags out of the bucket and started to fill it with water from the tap, Yuuri got to her feet, hugging the basket to her chest. Her feet felt slow and heavy as she crossed the roof, passing the garden plots, because not even the fresh, clean smell of green vegetables in her basket could completely blot out the rotting-sweet stench of decay that seemed to linger around Kurumi after she had spent any length of time outside their barricades.

Kurumi didn't look up from her work as Yuuri approached, and Yuuri didn't speak to her immediately. Instead, she watched Kurumi methodically clean the shovel head -- first using running water to wash off the clotted gore, then wetting the rags thoroughly and using them to wipe off anything that remained, and rinsing the whole thing with fresh water until it was as clean as if it was new from the store. Only when it seemed that Kurumi was almost finished with her work did she finally speak, in a voice that came out sounding more tired than curious:

'Another one?'

'Two. Found 'em in the entrance hall, near the shoe lockers.' Kurumi turned off the tap, but did not turn to look at Yuuri. Her gaze was fixed on the shovel, the head glinting dully as the reddening sunlight skimmed through the beads of water on the metal surface. 'And don't nag me for being all the way down there,' she added, a little crossly. 'I heard something banging, like one of the boards on the front door had come loose, and wanted to be sure that there wasn't anything worse going on.'

I wasn't nagging, Yuuri wanted to retort, but she didn't have the strength to make an argument out of it. 'Was everything else okay?' she settled for asking.

'Okay enough,' Kurumi said. She sat back on her heels. 'They were students. It wasn't anyone new from outside.'

There was no point in asking if Kurumi knew who they were. Whoever they had been before, it wasn't important any longer. 'If that's the last of the rags,' Yuuri said, 'I can take them and wash them tomorrow.'

'You've got enough disinfectant?' Kurumi glanced at the wet rags in her bucket. 'I could make a run down to the school store -- '

'I have enough.' She didn't want Kurumi going outside the barricades again tonight. Even if it was theoretically safer to go out at night, if the journey wasn't crucial to their survival then it didn't make sense for anyone to risk it. 'Miki-san said that she'd help me take down the rest of the clothes before dinner. It looks like it might rain a bit tonight.'

Kurumi looked up at the sky, scanning the darkening clouds scudding overhead. 'That's good,' she said. 'At least it'll be after they've all gone home.'

Yuuri nodded silently.

Kurumi turned back to her shovel, and even though it looked clean she turned the tap back on and rinsed it with fresh water. After another minute, she turned off the tap and shook a few drops of water from the end. 'There,' she declared as she got to her feet. 'Clean as it needs to be.'

'You certainly take good care of it,' Yuuri said.

Kurumi's mouth twitched. 'Have to. After you guys, it's my best friend these days.'

'Oh? I suppose I should be glad that we come in first,' Yuuri said with a laugh. 'Just don't start having long heart-to-heart conversations with it.' It wasn't until she saw Kurumi's expression change that she realised exactly what she'd said. 'Sorry. That wasn't meant to be -- '

'It's okay,' Kurumi interrupted, forestalling a longer apology. 'I know what you meant.' She held up the shovel, turning the blade this way and that. 'I feel safer with it, that's all. It helps to have something to hold on to.'

'Like Miki-san and her friend's CD player.' Yuuri knew how much Miki treasured the player, the one connection she still had to the friend she might never see again.

'Something like that.' Kurumi paused, and bit down on her lip. The hesitation lasted only for a second, but her next words came out stiff, almost halting. 'What do you have, Rii-san?'

Confused, Rii blinked. 'Hm?'

'I was just thinking that I never see you with anything like that.' Kurumi tried her usual breezy tone, though it didn't seem to have quite the right inflection to it. 'Miki's got the CD player. I've got this.' She brought the shovel to rest on her shoulder. 'Even Yuki has Megu-nee, most of the time. So...I was wondering if you had...something. That's all.'

The evening breeze was cool on the roof. Yuuri could feel the growing chill through the fabric of her cardigan, and shivered faintly. But when she replied, her voice was calm and warm.

'I wouldn't want to have anything like that,' she said. She raised her shoulders, not quite a shrug, considering the basket in her arms. 'Because if I had it, I'd always be afraid of losing it. So for me, it's better not to have just one thing. If that makes sense.'

Kurumi considered her words, and nodded at last. 'Fair enough,' she said. 'Whatever works for you. But I still think it's better to have it, even if you might lose it.'

There was very little that Yuuri could say to that.

By the time they got downstairs, Kei and Yuki were sitting at the same table in the School Living Club room. Their quarrel, if it could be called a quarrel, was mostly forgotten, and that night the four of them ate dinner and finished their chores with no bitter words spoken. They even laughed a bit when Yuki showed them her latest attempt at drawing a picture of Taroumaru chasing his tail. But Yuuri couldn't push Kurumi's question out of her head, and in the darkened room when they were all in bed, she lay awake with open eyes, listening to the thin patter of misty rain on the intact windowpanes.

She did have something. She was afraid of losing it. But it wasn't a weapon, and it wasn't a memento, and it wasn't a delusion. And Kurumi and Yuki and Miki wouldn't understand it if she tried to explain it to them, so it was best to keep silent about it.

Outside, the rain fell steadily. Soon, it would be morning -- and school would be in session once more.