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Kohane Hatoya's Smile

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Kohane often says to Uki, her blond childhood friend, "I like helping people!" Uki can't keep up with the small pink haired girl's enthusiasm and energy. She watches Kohane interact with strangers and help them. The barrier between strangers is intimidating, but to Kohane, it doesn't exist. It worries her how fast Kohane can cross that barrier. Over the peaceful years in school with Kohane Uki got used to that behavior. She expected to worry about Kohane, and expected to cherish Kohane's smile in her heart. Uki believes Kohane's smile makes it worth it in the end. As if the two of them could forget the past three steps, Kohane's smile wipes away Uki's worries. Uki believes in Kohane. Until that night.
Uki's peaceful life became a cursed one. Her body became a toy, Uki, in that shaken state, looked for something new to believe in, and she found it. Resentment and anger coursed through her heart as she couldn't see Kohane's smile. Kohane became her hope through hatred. When Uki saw Kohane for the second time since that night, she spouted anger. Kohane spouted tears.
~ Uki knocked Kohane on her head and a hollow sound echoed out. "What are you thinking about, Kohane? That sort of face doesn't suit you, did you get enough sleep?"
Kohane shook her light pink hair and her smile activated like a light switch. "No, it's nothing!"
Uki leaned in, squinting as if asking "really?" and groaned at Kohane, but Kohane's attention had diverted to doodling on her low scoring math test.
"What are you drawing?" Uki asked.
"A sword. Someday, I'm going to be a hero!" Kohane hummed.
"You never stop helping people, might as well make it a job in the future..."
Uki thought to herself, then making a knit brow she wondered aloud.
"If you become a hero, then you'll have to hurt the villains, right? You don't seem like you could handle it."
"he he" came out as Kohane's cheeky response as she jumped up and mimicked holding a sword by the side of her small head.
"This is my legendary sword, Kotetsu, evildoers beware!" and Kohane laughed, and Uki laughed with her. Grey clouds damped the light in the room, but to both girls the sun was shining.
After school and the Cheer Club, the setting sun shaded the two girls in light and dark. Uki had a spurt of energy during Cheer Club and suggested that they extend activities longer than usual. As their shoes tapped on the pavement taking them home. They had to get home. Kohane's humming felt out of place as they went down the wrong road.
"Kohane, this isn't the way home. Where are we going?" Uki's heart pumped a little harder.
"Oh, I heard about this sweets shop, come on, it'll be fun!"
"But, it's getting late, and I don't recognize this area..."
It continued like that between the two of them, as Kohane grew worried herself. Older tall men and scary looking shops, love hotels, and dark alleys seemed to enclose them as the sun set.
"Eh, are we lost, Uki?" Kohane shivered.
"Why would you ask?!" Uki grabbed Kohane's wrist, and ran. Both of them, even Kohane, knew in the back of their minds that they should ask for directions or use their phones, but they were too caught up in each other's panic. Both of them saw the other acting afraid, and neither had the presence of mind to think straight. And so Uki ran, carrying a panicking Kohane deeper into the city's night.
The events after were a blur. They stopped in the wrong bar, Uki asking breathlessly for directions and got a toothy grin in response. Uki's heart pounded louder and louder as the crowd around her increased, and then she got caught. Uki remembers yelling out Kohane's name, then being pulled into a backroom, fighting back with a sudden fury she didn't know she had but blacking out in the end.
~
Uki woke up in a cage. Things were not going to go well. She cursed herself and Kohane, calling herself stupid over and over as she worked on finishing waking up. Her head stung, she touched it and pulled away to see traces of blood. Her body felt sore. She picked herself up into a seated position, and then saw Kohane smiling in the corner of the cell. Moonlight bathed her, showing some wounds from who or what she couldn't tell, a shine of blood or something else on Kohane's lips brought tears to Uki's eyes. Uki tried to rush to her or call out, but got hit by a wave of dizziness. Her mind replayed
Kohane leaning agains the cell wall, her smile, her wounds, and Uki's anger drained into fear as she lost consciousness again.
Kohane saw Uki start up and break down like a cymbal-banging monkey toy. Her tears were already dry. Her smile felt no different than usual, and she already forgot to be angry anymore. Kohane looked at Uki and wanted to go over and help her. But, she had nothing left. She remembered when Uki scrapped her knee after Kohane took her into the forest, and how Uki cried when Kohane showed her a centipede she found. Uki's sleeping face looked peaceful, Kohane remembered sleepovers where she woke up and went to the bathroom and came back thinking Uki's disheveled sleeping form was cute. Uki is cute. Uki must be protected. Kohane must help her. Although to a normal person it might seem like there would be more hatred or fear in Kohane's heart, Kohane spent her life helping people. Day after day, person after person, she helped people with whatever she could, even if she messed up for some reason didn't blame her. All of those people's smiles became special memories to her. Even though she would never say it out loud, she felt like that when other people smiled, she could feel that smile merge with hers. Kohane filled herself to the brim with so many smiles in such a short time, something etched into her. And so Kohane smiled at Uki, thought of how she could protect Uki, and felt powerless. Her Cheer Power was at it lowest. As if it was and automatic defense, Kohane Hatoya's smile wouldn't leave her face for a second. In fact, she felt like laughing. Sound echoed out from her parched throat.
"I'm going to help Uki. I'm so happy."
~
Uki didn't get up as the sun rose, and a large man came to the cell and opened it.
"Hey, could you help me?" Kohane said, thinking she could ask for a first aid kit for Uki.
"No one's helping you," the man grunted back as he left some food. He didn't even consider both of them enough of a threat to bother pushing the food in through the cage opening.
"Uki needs help." Kohane said. Her voice sounded like she was talking to a friend at school, and that tone in this situation caught the man's attention. Looking at Kohane, her saw her smile and shivered unconsciously. Her eyes looked bright, and he couldn't shake her gaze, he didn't want to either.
"Could you get her a first aid kit? I'm kind of tired, so could you treat her too?"
The man mumbled an assent and walked away, leaving the cage door open and came back soon, carrying a small tub of warm water and a first aid kit.
"Boss would want you taken care of, I guess." He made an excuse as he tried to avoid Kohane's face but it haunted him.
"Uki first, please. I'd do it but I can't move. Thanks," Kohane Hatoya said.
~
Kohane regained her strength over the course of the day and tended to Uki the best she could, holding her close like monkey plushie. Night came, and Uki still didn't wake up. The man came back.
"Let's go." He muttered, avoiding Kohane's gaze. For some reason he didn't even think about grabbing her. He expected her to come along naturally, and Kohane as if answering him came along naturally, humming to herself.
"Are we going back?" Kohane mentioned what happened last night with no weight to her words.
"Nah. You're going to see the boss."
"Ahh, I like meeting new people. What's he like, is he nice? Maybe he needs help with something..."
The man said nothing as they walked down the hall in silence. Kohane followed him into a room filled with expensive brown leather furniture, mahogany cabinets, and a hook nosed man in a white suit with blond hair. He drank some whiskey as they walked in, then poured two glasses. The white suit nodded to the man and he left them alone.
"What's you name, girl?"
"Kohane Hatoya. Nice to meet you."
"Sit down."
She sat down across from him as she thought that would be polite.
"You've got a strange look in your eyes." The white suited man brought it up immediatedly.
"What's your name?"
"What?"
"What's your name, sir?"
"You want to know my name?"
"Ah, I'm sorry, this isn't the right way to introduce myself, right? I should let the older person guide the conversation, am I being a bit awkward? I'm sorry..." Kohane panicked and hung her head.
The white suited man laughed at her and gave her his name. He told her far more than she asked for, bragging a bit, and then bad things happened.
After what felt like a long night, Kohane was moved to a fancy room. She asked the man about Uki, but he didn't tell her anything.
"Ask the boss."
"Okay, thanks!"
Weeks went by, and Kohane got to know the white suited man much better. All she felt like she did was listen to him and helped him with whatever he wanted her to do.
"Uki?" Kohane asked one night.
This became a greeting between the two, Kohane would cheerfully raise her hand and say "Uki!" some nights her cheer power rising, and on other nights she would have a more somber smile and say "Uki..."
The white suited man told her everything was fine. Things were not fine for Uki.
On that one night after several more weeks of "uki..." and "Uki!" and "Uki?" in shifting patterns the boss broke.
"Do you want her?" He said, feeling almost as if he was giving a girl to one of his underlings at this point. Kohane smiled.
"Is Uki doing well?"
"Nope. But, you've grown on me, so I feel like rewarding you somehow."
"Could you let us go home, too? My mom must be so scared." Kohane said so in a light tone. This became normal to her. It was as if she was talking about inconveniecing a friend and not letting them know about your weekend plans.
"You know I'm not going to do that."
"ha ha, yeah." Kohane laughed it off like a joke. "Please let me have some stuff to take care of her, too?" She begged like a daugther asking for some toys for her pet monkey, and it worked.
~
Uki appeared in Kohane's room one evening a week later, washed and bandaged. Some supplies and food were stocked in the room as well, and extra bandages and some pills in a small bag were left on a nearby table. Kohane dragged her unconscious body to the bed, slipping her under the covers and changing her clothes to some extra ones the white suited man allotted her. She started taking care of Uki, examing her body carefully, smiling and humming as she did, singing a song she forgot the tune to but had to playing in her head. Looking at Uki's sleeping face, she felt her cheer power rising a little, and laughed by herself.
~
Uki woke up when Kohane was with the white suited man. She stumbled into the bathroom, looking at her face, and realized she couldn't take a shower or the bandages would fall off. The room itself had Kohane's taste all over it, as Uki raided the fridge and found some bananas to eat. There was enough in the room that Uki thought that Kohane is being treasured. Uki wore a tight grin at that thought. Uki thought about what Kohane must have done to get treated like this, what that must have meant about her time here, and replayed the events of the past months in her mind. She stroked her hair, crawling back into the bed with a pigeon plushie she grabbed along the way there, and cried.
Kohane came back with a cheerful "Uki!" She didn't rush to Uki's side, her face looked so similar to before all this that Uki remembered sleeping over at her house when they were younger. As if three steps were enough to forget. Uki felt like she entered a dream as Kohane began talking to her.
"Ah, it's been so long, Uki! Are you al-" Even the current Kohane caught herself before she said something unforgivable. "H-how are you, today?" Kohane corrected herself, going all formal.
"You're still like that?" Was what came out of Uki's throat.
Kohane's blood froze at Uki's tone, but her smile didn't waver. Uki looked into Kohane's bright eyes with dim ones, her hair dishelved and her body not much better. Kohane looked away from Uki's bloodthirsty stare, her face frozen.
Then, Kohane broke. A trickle at first from one eye then the other started to flow. Kohane moved her head with a twitch like a pigeon and stared into Uki's rounded eyes and furrowed brow as the dam burst. Kohane Hatoya's smile got wider as her teeth showed, even though she kept crying she didn't make a sound. Until Uki's brow untensed just a little, then Kohane started wailing and fell to the ground, covering her face with both hands.
"I...I... Uki! Uki! Uki!"
Uki started crying herself, light started pooling in her eyes. She got out of bed and walked over, gracefully enveloping Kohane as she cried silently, hugging Kohane to her broken body like the pigeon plushie she let go of to get to Kohane. Uki's hand unconsciously gravitated towards the back of Kohane's head, and she stroked, repeating again and again "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," as she tightened her hold on Kohane.
After they had settled down and shared more time together, they parted and spoke softly to each other about little things. Kohane for the first time since that night had no smile on, and her eyes were dim, yet for the first time since that night, Uki's eyes were bright and her smile was wide. The two switched roles completely as Kohane tended to Uki's wounds. Occasionally there was a strangled sob out of the either of them, and the other offered words to cheer the other one up. As Kohane went to sleep, Uki stayed up smiling. She walked over a dresser and searched inside, hoping to find something she lost. Two hairbands happened to be there, and she gathered her glimmering blonde hair into a side tail. Then, she used the other on the sleeping Kohane to give her the ponytail she had in Cheer Club. Uki Sawatari's smile shined in the moonlight.
~
A week later, Hizume Arima's Brother had finally tracked down the Kohane and Uki, leaving a mountain of bodies and dance numbers in his wake. It is said that Kotetsu Tatejima revealed her true skill as a sword saint at the final battle and fought side by side with Hizume Arima's Brother wielding an ancient cursed sword, felling all opponents in a single strike as Hizume Arima cheered her brother on in full cheerleading regalia. Kana Ushiku called the cops from a corner to come clean things up.
A peaceful life returned to Kohane Hatoya and Uki Sawatari. Although the counseling, rumours and attention they got during their recovery was stressful, Arima kept them focused on Cheer Club activities. Arima cried herself to sleep some nights thinking of what they must of went through, sometimes going to each of their houses uninvited with Kotetsu in tow who shared her concern. Hizume Arima's Brother baked cakes and made handicrafts for the Cheer Club, and even Kohane's teacher Inukai had a kind word to offer now and again. The captain of the Basketball team avoided Kohane out of fear of bringing up the topic, however Kohane and the Cheer Club sought her out anyways and cheered for them at their games. One evening, they stayed too late again, this time at Arima's urging. She felt like Uki and Kohane needed more attention and structure, and so she ended up going too far.
"Oh no, it's this late already?" Arima worried out loud, looking at the setting sun.
"I'll call Brother, he'll come and escort you home! No, we'll all escort you home!"
Kotetsu eyed her sword with a side glance, and with a deep voice thundered out, "Am I not enough to protect these fair maidens?"
Kohane grasped Kotetsu's hands and Kotetsu blushed from her radiant smile. "Kotecchan, you'll make a fine husband one day! I feel so safe with you around!"
Uki blushed and looked away, pouting. "What about me?"
Kohane's bright eyes met Uki's full on as she grasped Uki's hand as well.
"I love you, Uki!"
Uki's face went red, and looking away, she opened her mouth a little squeaking out a little "uoo uoo" like a monkey before her face settled into a smile and she met Kohane's bright eyes full on with her own.
"I love you, Kohane." Uki Sawatari's smile mirrored Kohane Hatoya's smile, until Kohane's broke a moment later and her face went red.
"Like, love love?! It's too soon for us! I'm not ready to get married yet! And anyways, we're both girls!"
Uki's monkeying grin drew close as she hugged Kohane and stroked her head.
"I'll never let you go again."
Kohane Hatoya's smile met Uki Sawatari's smile, and Kohane's Cheer Power maxed.