He knew that she once was a cheerful spirit that unified and strengthened her party. He knew that she was free with her laughter, and easy to tease. He knew that she must have loved them dearly, because in the weeks that he’d spent with her, he’d never once heard her laugh – and, until two days ago, hadn’t even seen a ghost of a smile on her face. It was impossible to reconcile that image with the frigid, aloof girl that even Yume struggled to get along with.
Now, though, waking up to her mellow humming, warm, prickly straw under his back, he finally grasped the piece that had been missing along. He cracked his eyes open slowly before pushing himself upright with difficulty, the straw shifting beneath his weight. A hazy warmth suffused throughout his chest when he saw her sitting on his left, waiting for him to wake up.
Her humming stopped abruptly as she turned to face him, her clear sapphire eyes wide with delight and relief. His heart skipped a beat as he saw the pure joy in her expression, and the way the layers of blue in her irises spun and folded in the soft light from the window. Stunned, he blurted the first thing that came to mind.
“Is this… heaven?”
For a brief, bird-sung moment, neither of them moved, trapped in the slow-flowing honey of time, before she bent over double, peals of her laughter sounding through the small cabin room. When she opened her eyes again, there were small tears in the corners, sparkling like stars in the light.
And though he’d never heard her laugh before, the sound was somehow comfortingly familiar like the warmth of a fond childhood memory, and it finally sunk in that he was home.
Haru sat up in his bed before quietly getting off and walking out, checking to make sure he hadn’t woken the others up. It was around midnight, but between having only woken up hours ago and Mary’s healing magic, he couldn’t manage to fall asleep.
He made his way outside, taking special care to avoid the floorboards he knew to be squeaky, feeling his way along the rough plaster on the walls. Outside, the cool night air raised the hairs on his arms and neck. The sight of the red moon no longer unsettled him, and he gazed wondrously up at the vast fabric of the night sky, the stars like colourful dewdrops of light.
He almost jumped out of his skin when he felt something touch his elbow, spinning around in alarm. Mary stood there, mouth half-open in surprise at his reaction, one pale hand outstretched towards him.
“Y-you scared me there,” he managed shakily as his heartbeat gradually returned to normal. She laughed again, quietly, and even though her features were more difficult to see in the dim starlight, he was struck again by how beautiful her smile was.
“Some kind of thief you make, letting someone like me sneak up on you,” she teased, her voice light and playful. She dropped her hand back to her side, and stepped forwards until she was beside him. Drawing in a slow, deep breath, she also looked up at the night sky, tracing the constellations with her eyes. After a pause, he turned to look with her.
“What keeps you here, at this time, Mary?”
She glanced down at her clasped hands shyly, her shoulders tensing slightly. It was hard to tell in the dark, but he could have sworn she was blushing.
“I… was thinking,” she began, slightly uncertain, but growing more confident with each word. “About how lucky we are. That we made it out of those mines, that you’re here now, safe and well. I wanted to stay here with everyone a little longer, to make sure that none of this is a dream.”
Her voice grew quieter, but the sound carried clearly through the still night.
“I was also thinking about how lucky I am that you found me, and were willing to accept me into your group, despite how I pushed you away every time you tried.”
She turned to him, grabbing hold of his hand, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears.
“I’m sorry I was like that,” she said, her voice cracking slightly. “And thank you, for staying with me.”
He looked down at her in surprise for a short beat, but let out a quiet laugh.
“There’s no need to be sorry,” he chided her quietly. “And we’re also glad that you gave us a chance, even though we were such a mess.”
If the smile she gave before was beautiful, this one was pure brilliance. It whisked away his breath and tightened his chest, and somehow, the feeling was achingly familiar. For the first time since waking up in that tower, in this unforgiving, savage world, he knew where and who he was, and he felt confident in belonging. Like a plan laid out before him, he could see the world around him with clarity. He knew all that mattered. Mary’s laugh. Mary’s smile. Protecting her so that she would never lose it again, and never leaving her so he could be there to experience every moment of it.
She leaned on him, nestling her head on his shoulder, her cold hair pressing against his cheek. He could smell her easily; a refreshing, gentle blend of some sweet flower he didn’t recognise, and something distinctly belonging to her. It made him feel weightless and timeless, and he was suddenly struck with an intense feeling close to homesickness. He wrapped his left arm around her, drawing her soft, warm body towards himself, and the strange aching ebbed away incrementally down his torso, through his feet, and into the cold stone paving.
For the longest time, neither of them said anything, just standing together in silence, savouring one another’s company. Haru realised that this was the first time since Manato’s passing that he’d felt so unburdened, so at peace. Unconsciously, he rubbed her shoulder with his thumb.
The two of them continued to watch the stars in silence together, their mingling breath fogging in the crisp air.