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Michiru Kaioh is a prodigy. Michiru Kaioh is at the top of her class in every subject. Michiru Kaioh is turning fifteen in March and her art is already displayed in well-respected galleries, and people from all across Japan gather to hear her violin recitals. Michiru Kaioh is often hailed as a genius: in art magazines, among music critics, in talk shows on the radio.

It's fortunate indeed, then, that none of those people can see her for what she is.

There's something very wrong with her, Michiru knows. The signs have been piling up for years. She thought, at first, that things would change over time; that one day, when the girls in her class presented her with an opened teen magazine featuring a glossy spread of some boyband member or another, asking between giggles 'What do you think, Michiru, isn't he dreamy?', she'd clasp her hands together and wholeheartedly concede, rather than tilt her head at an angle and murmur a listless 'Well, I suppose'. ('Of course Michiru would have such high standards!' they'd always say, and one or two would roll their eyes, 'It'd take someone really special to impress you, huh?')

But it isn't happening. Instead, she sees models in two-piece swimsuits draped across billboard ads and spends a few moments longer looking than she should; when changing for PE, she catches sight of a bare side from the corner of her eye and immediately turns her head away, heart lodged in her throat; and on her weekly thirty-minute conversation with her parents when her father jokingly asks if she met any nice guy fans during her latest concert, her fingers tighten around the receiver, and her laughter no longer rings effortlessly natural.

She's given up on deluding herself that this is normal, that it will pass. But that doesn't matter-- she's busy with school, her music, her art. Even if she were normal, she wouldn't have had the time to waste on relationships. She would have still been alone. And that's just the way Michiru wants it to be.

She tells herself that, day in and day out. She tells herself that, seeing couples linking arms as they walk down the street. She tells herself that, passing by the wedding dress store at the shopping district by her home. She tells herself that, and she can almost, almost get herself to believe it, except--

"Who is that?"

"Huh? Michiru!" Her classmate looks up from the magazine in her hands, unfiltered surprise scrawled all across her face, and the three girls crowded around her follow suit with gapes to match. She presses the magazine closed, tapping her finger against the cover photo that Michiru had just touched. "Her? That's Haruka Tenoh! You really haven't heard of her? She's the youngest motor racer in Japan, and one of the best in the country, too!"

"Oh," says Michiru, then pauses. "May I borrow this for a bit?"

All four look at her as though she had just now landed from outer space. The magazine's owner is happy enough to shove it into her hands, however, with an awe-struck exclamation of "Wow, Michiru, this is really rare for you!" as she's apparently "never interested in this sort of stuff". Michiru responds with an "Oh, really" that's more of a stock reaction than a legitimate question, thanks her, and returns to her seat with the magazine in hand.

On the cover, Haruka Tenoh is beautiful. Perched on the driver seat of the racecar like it was built for her, helmet tucked beneath her arm, on an open road where you can see nothing but the sand and sky. "Faster than the Wind", the bold print reads, and in smaller letters describes the promising young racer who just got the gold in the nation-wide quarter-final and told Japan Entertainment Weekly all about her win and plans for the future, more on page three. Michiru traces a finger across the line of her jaw -- high and sharp like a man's, but with a fascinating sort of delicacy to it -- up to the line where her hair begins, short sandy-gold blowing back in the wind. And in that moment, every last hard-suppressed fantasy filters through the newly-formed crack in her mind's dam, flooding her.

They could be driving along the beach. She would feel warm summer breeze flutter through her hair, and breathe in ocean air. There would be no roads but the one they would make for themselves, and Haruka would turn to look at her, and smile.

Michiru's chest tightens. This is ridiculous. She really, really shouldn't.

She turns to page three.

--

But that is not the beginning. This, four months ago, is:

When her father returns home in the evening, he flashes her a winning smile and a pair of tickets to a junior motor-racing competition taking place this weekend. "You're always taking our daughter on such boorish activities," her mother remarks with palpable disdain over the rim of her teacup, and her father shrugs and laughs, "Then next time you should give me a son". Michiru smiles through carefully-shuttered eyes and, as always, doesn't say a word. Her parents have only been in the country for a week, and there's no telling when they'll be called back overseas for work -- this time is best not wasted, she's learned, on arguments and petty protests.

"It should be interesting," her father says. "They're all young people, around your age."

"I look forward to it," she responds.

On Friday they are sat in the frontmost row of the stadium, Michiru with her hands folded neatly in her lap, families and groups of friends around them yammering away as they wait for the race to begin. Her eyes flitter over the line of racers, and though they're all just about indistinguishable in their baggy racing suits and helmets, for some reason she finds her gaze briefly settling on one of them. A tall, elegant figure in a purple-white suit, hands wrapped around the wheel of a slick red car like it's an extension of his arm. Her attention is inexplicably caught, but a moment or two pass and she's already moved on to observe some hulk of a man decked out in all orange, hunched over the wheel of his own car with two meaty fists clenched tightly around it.

The race begins. Michiru stares out at the road out of a sense of obligation, at first, but quickly finds it turning into something more. That racer-- the one who stood out to her-- gains the lead almost instantly, leaving the rest in the dust. He is unmatched, that much is plain to see from the very start, and though he's moving so fast that he's nearly nothing more than a blur, Michiru's eyes never leave him once. It is as alien to her as it is unexpected, but the sight of him makes her throat dry up, her tongue cling to the ceiling of her mouth. His face hidden by the helmet, his body obscured by the racing suit, and the whole of him impossible to focus on from the sheer speed and the distance between them, he's somehow captivating all the same. As Michiru watches him, she thinks to herself that this boy must be the embodiment of freedom itself, and finds herself not only fascinated, but coiled aching-tight with yearning. She tries to picture what it'd be like, in that car. To feel the wind against her face, to leave the whole world behind.

She swiftly shakes the image off. How utterly nonsensical. Proper, well-to-do girls have no place behind a steering wheel.

The race ends without him losing the lead for as much as a second, and as he hops out of the driver's seat, victorious, the helmet is pulled off. Michiru's eyes dart up to the large screen which hangs above the field, zoomed in on the winner, and her heart thuds to a standstill. Some small few knots in her stomach slacken, while others twist thrice as tight.

The graceful curve of jaw, the curl of full lashes, the pink tint of lips--

That's not a man.

The racer shakes her head into the open air, grinning wide and flushed from adrenaline. Michiru can hardly breathe, and her hands tingle with the jittery-hot urge to brush invisible beads of sweat from her brow with her fingertips, to tuck the stray locks of hair behind her ear. And to ask her, god, how did you do that? How can you do that? What did your parents say?

"That's Haruka Tenoh," her father's satisfied voice dimly registers in her mind. "You'd have to be out of your mind to get into this field as a girl, and a small force of nature to conquer it. I see great things in her future." Michiru gives a small, shallow nod, and finally forces her gaze away.

In the car, when he turns to her and asks "So how did you like it?", she surprises the both of them by answering with full earnestness: "I'd like to see it again." Her father chuckles, obviously pleased with this unusual response, and a small pang of guilt stabs at Michiru's abdomen, because he would never be beaming at her with this sort of pride if he knew the reason behind it.

Nonetheless, she makes the most of it while she can: in the month and a half that passes until her parents return to America, she goes with him to see Haruka a total of six times, always sitting in the first row. At no point does she become any less awe-inspiring to Michiru -- no, quite the opposite. Her fascination with Haruka only grows and grows each time she sees her, the pull in her chest only intensifies, and the burning in her fingertips never recedes.

She goes on her own two, three times after her father leaves, but without him, it feels wrong. She doesn't cheer the way the rest of the crowd does, doesn't raise her voice or pump her fists into the air, and amidst the hundreds of people she feels that she sticks out like a sore thumb. It's paranoid, irrational, no doubt born of an exaggerated sense of self-importance -- Haruka hardly ever throws a glance the benches' way, and even if she did she couldn't have possibly known -- but as Michiru sits there by herself at the end of each race, she's constantly seized by the fear that she will turn to her with a disgusted, ice-cold glare and say 'Hey, you. What's with you? Why are you always watching me?'

So she stops going, and locks all thoughts of her in the very deepest reaches of her mind, where they will be unable to break loose and float back to the surface.

It's a very well-constructed dam, she thinks. Untouched, it may well have held forever.

--

She's not prepared for how quickly it collapses in the face of that single, tiny breach.

Ever since Michiru laid eyes on that magazine, Haruka has reclaimed the forefront of her consciousness with twice the gusto. She does all she can to force those thoughts down, stuff them back where they belong; it's like trying to push against a waterfall. The world around her seems to be conspiring against her, too: suddenly Haruka is everywhere, magazines, television, giggled-hushed chatter between her classmates. Every mention of her makes something in Michiru violently lurch: yearning reaching out its hands, only to be jerked back by reason's grip.

But yearning is more than just impulsive: it's relentless, clever, and honey-tongued. It whispers things like: Come on. What harm could this bring? And: You're only watching from afar. Like those hundreds, thousands of people. There's no difference. And: She won't know. Nobody ever has to know. This will be your secret.

Reason crumbles away along with the splintered ruins of her dam, and Michiru caves.

She begins collecting magazines, only casually at first, but with a rapidly growing dedication: old and new, anything she can find with even the smallest blurb featuring Haruka. Every other article in them is so disconnected from her it might as well be describing the inhabitants of an alternate dimension, but Michiru doesn't care; she cuts out the pages she needs, throws the rest in the trash, and places them neatly in the lowest drawer of her nightstand, beneath old school books and music notes. She lives alone nine months of the year -- there is no one to see it, even if she were to hang them in plain view -- but she cannot bring herself to put them anywhere else.

In four weeks' time her rekindled infatuation has yet to simmer down, and her drawer is quickly running out of space. Michiru knows more about Haruka now than she does about any of the people she sees on a daily basis. She's the same age as her, born the twenty-seventh of January, and goes to Minato-Ward Takamatsu Junior High. She excels at every type of sport, and is number one in Japan's junior track and field in addition to motor racing. She's had an interest in racing ever since she was a small child, but has only begun to partake in it this year, due to her young age. Yes, she has had to sacrifice some of her social life for the sake of her racing career, but she doesn't regret it. She is not currently seeing anyone.

Her answers are always crisp and brief, enough to teeter on bluntness while still meeting the standards of politeness expected. Always, except for when she's asked about racing, and it's as though a switch in her's been flipped: she talks about it in such detail, with such passion, that Michiru can practically see her eyes shine. Motor racing is the one thing she wants to dedicate the whole of herself to. Speed is everything to her. It makes her feel alive, no, more than that-- like she's surpassed human boundaries, with nothing to hold her down. She dreams of breaking free of Earth's gravity.

She is never shy; she never seeks permission. There is no part of Haruka asking others how to live her life. Instead, she tells them.

Reading her words, even for the umpteenth time, never fails to send warm butterfly-flutters spiraling up from Michiru's stomach to chest. She has, beyond the shadow of a doubt, become just the same as those giggling, vapid girls with their juvenile celebrity crushes, and Michiru knows this. Her feelings are of no substance, value or meaning, no matter how strong a connection she feels to this girl, the sheer force with which she's drawn to her. She's aware. But however many times she tries to chide herself for this, it never seems to matter.

In six weeks' time, she's begun to have dreams. Not the idle schoolgirl daydreams she'd allow herself on very rare occasions when there's no one around and nothing to tend to -- dreams of a cold, all-devouring silence, of darkness thick enough to choke, of an entire world crumbling beneath her feet. Michiru wakes up drenched in sweat, hair clinging to her face and pajamas to her body, heart thrashing out of control. She inhales, exhales, inhales, deep and wheezing, struggling to rein in her pulse and her breath while staring holes through the pitch black of the ceiling.

She has had nightmares before. This wasn't one. She was there, she could feel it, the voiceless screams of a dying world still echo in her ears. And she can't stop shaking.

Michiru gets up. Her wavering legs take her to the bathroom in dragging, uneven strides. She twists the tap up and furthest to the right, and spends a moment letting the icy current run over her palms before bringing them up to her face. Water, as always, offers instant relief: it jolts her mind from its sleep-hazed state, chases the sticky, putrid sweat down from her skin. She bows her head and leans in deeper, as far as she can beneath the faucet: thin rivers spill down her forehead and temples and nape, gathering on her eyelashes and seeping into her nightshirt, slithering inside her nostrils and lips. Michiru closes her eyes and holds still. She pulls away before her lungs begin rustling in agitation, head clear and sharp-alert.

She breathes in, shallow but easier now, and studies her reflection in the mirror. Sickly-pale, eyes too wide, hair matted black to the sides of her face; droplets slip down in a rhythmic, unending stream from her nose and chin, drip drip dripping onto the immaculate marble floor.

A horrible, incorrigible mess. But she feels a bit better. Enough to tell herself a nightmare is all that it was.

She dreams again two days later. It's bright at noon, and she is wide awake. One moment she is halfway through her written explanation of the meaning behind The Catcher in the Rye's titular scene, and the next the silence is ringing through her ears, piercing arrow-sharp through her skull, and everything is howling and pleading and screaming without a single sound , crumbling from flesh to bone to dust, dust, dust. Her hands clutch frantically at nothing, desperate to save anyone, anything, be it a single blade of grass or a palmful of dirt. A blink and she's looking down at her test paper again, torn down the middle by a single sharp line spanning from a half-written sentence to the edge of the desk, where her pencil is gripped between ghostly-white fingers. It only occurs to her to let go after it snaps in half.

The ringing still echoes in her ears. Students around her are staring. The teacher in front of her, too. Michiru swallows, raises a trembling hand. "I'm sorry. I'm not feeling well. May I go to the bathroom to wash my face?"

She barely waits for a response before getting up, knocking the chair back with a loud clatter. In the bathroom, she splashes her face with cool water -- not as much as she'd like, not enough to help, because she still has to go back to class after this -- and stumbles into an empty stall, locking herself in.

It wasn't a nightmare. It wasn't a nightmare. It was real.

Michiru leans her back to the cool tiled wall, one hand pressed over the thunderous roaring in her chest, the other over the surging of bile in her throat. Screwing her eyes shut, she reminds herself to breathe, orders herself to focus. This-- this vision-- it has to hold meaning. Panicking will accomplish nothing. She has to make sense of it.

Once her heartbeat's quieted enough to allow it, she plays it all over in her head. The silence, the darkness, everything crumbling away -- a perfect repetition of her dream from that night, with only one exception: over the silence, she had heard a voice.

'The silence is coming'. That's all it said before she jolted back into reality. The voice was unfamiliar, the words ominous, and it should have rightly inspired nothing more than another layer of icy dread in the pit of Michiru's stomach. And yet--

There's something strange. It wasn't spoken as a warning: it sounded strong, assured, like the beginning of a promise. And suddenly it hits Michiru: there was someone there with her. Someone who hadn't crumbled away, whose voice didn't waver once.

Perhaps this is her lifeline. Perhaps this was her savior.

Or maybe she's just fooling herself. It's a distinct possibility. But when she opens her eyes again her breathing has become even, and the world around her looks just the slightest bit steadier.

--

The visions are frequent, and with each repetition, they grow easier to handle. They will flash before her eyes during violin practice, in the swimming pool, in the middle of class, and she remains outwardly unaffected, save for perhaps staring ahead a moment too long. They still push a wave of nausea all the way up to her palate every time, but she quickly and delicately swallows it down, and nobody around her is any the wiser. In the secludity of her home, she spends hours upon hours painting images of ruin, of death, of a world torn at the seams; she plays her violin with no regard for sense or rhythm, producing such a violent clashing of horrible discordant notes she feels her ears might bleed.

Life goes on.

The visions are frequent, and with each repetition, they grow longer. In an almost laughable paradox, this is what makes them easier to bear. The longer the visions are, the more of that voice she hears, and each time she turns towards its source, she can see a little bit more of the speaker. It's a woman, she's been able to make out that much-- around her age, maybe older, tall and broad-shouldered, muscles defined. Even without being able to catch sight of her face, everything about her radiates power. The firmness of her voice. The confidence in her stance. This is someone who stands fast against the end of the world without a single drop of fear in her veins.

That, along with the collection of cutout photos in her bottom drawer, serves as her biggest source of comfort. After a vision, she clenches her hands at her sides and grounds her jaw and tells herself, if she can remain unafraid, so can I. Before she sleeps, she closes her eyes and takes a moment to imagine that the breeze coming in from the open window is warmer, untainted with the city's dirt and smog, and that she is in the passenger's seat of a bright red racecar, cruising along an endless shoreline.

--

'The silence is coming.'

Again, the darkness. Again, people frozen in place, as if time itself has ended for everything and everyone but her alone. Again, the cold, the fear digging holes into her stomach, as the very air she breathes begins to break apart.

'We need to find the Messiah as fast as we can.'

Again, the voice. Again, the words she doesn't understand, but desperately clings on to all the same. Again, Michiru turns.

'The only ones who can do it are you...'

And for the first time, her eyes are able to focus on the radiant figure amidst the dark. It's only for a second or two, but she can see her face with stark clarity. A sharp, defined jaw, and sandy-gold hair framing her face like halo.

'... and I.'

When Michiru wakes up, her heart is pounding for more than just fear.

It had to be her. Had to be, had to be, had to be. Michiru's mind is racing a mile a minute: what does this mean? Has she been having those dreams all this time, too? Dreams of her? Did she ever pass her by for one fleeting, inconsequential moment on the street, or catch a glimpse of one of her concerts, and felt this all-consuming, undeniable pull that she could not possibly explain, only to one day successfully make out the face of the girl in her dreams and have everything slide into place? Are the two of them destined to fight against this, together? The higher those questions keep on piling up, the louder her heart beats in her ears, until Michiru can't hear her own thoughts anymore and her head and chest both feel like they're going to burst.

Gulping down a steadying breath, she presses her hands over her temples; her skin is burning-hot to the touch, and the frantic throbbing there ripples through her palms, making her fingertips tremble. And it spreads from her fingertips-- to her elbows, up her shoulders, down her spine, to the tips of her toes. It's terrifying, and dizzying, and--

And kind of gorgeous. Michiru's never felt anything like it in her life. Something so rich and vivid and pure like paint freshly-squeezed from its tube, and she never once realized how murky and muddled her palette had been until this very moment.

It's Haruka. She's the one.

Michiru bundles her covers up between her arms and squeezes, not knowing how else to alleviate the giddy tension bubbling through her bones. Feeling all at once wounded-up and weightless, she shifts from her back to her right side, then from her right side to her left, and then to her right again. Her heart still won't quiet down.

With a deep, wheezing inhale, she buries her face in the rolled-up blankets and screws her eyes shut. She wills herself to be still, even as her muscles twitch and whine in protest. The longer she keeps still, the more her body settles, and once the silence of the night manages to sneak into her ears past the drumming of her pulse, Michiru opens her mouth.

Like that, she allows Haruka's name to pass her lips for the very first time. A tiny, sheepish whisper-mumble, but as soon as she hears it -- Haruka's name in her own voice, aloud -- it's as though the contents of her heart have been replaced by nothing but hot air, and it lifts up and up, threatening to flutter away through her throat.

Haruka. Haruka.

Even the end of the world seems conquerable.

Michiru barely sleeps a wink that night. In the morning, her mind feels like it's been wrapped in a thick layer of cotton, and there are dark circles under her eyes that no amount of makeup can completely conceal. And yet that lightness in her chest remains, accompanied by a new, steady drumbeat. She understands clearly now: her purpose, her goal. Not simply to grit her teeth and endure -- no, something far, far greater. She has never been surer of anything.

And the blood that pulses through her veins, her chest, the side of her neck, the inside of her wrists, is all pulling her towards Haruka.

She will go to see her. She must.

--

As far as Michiru's friends go, Elsa would be one of the closest she's got. Her mother is a business associate of her own, and so they would often spend time together as children: either when their parents had the time to take them places, or more often when they didn't and left them under the watch of a shared nanny, as it's a well-known fact engaging with others their age is good for one's child. The first time they met was when they were nine and their mothers took them to the pool, and while they sat in plastic chairs on the cement floor and talked, Michiru taught Elsa how to do a backstroke, beat six other kids in swimming contests while she watched, and swam to the deepest part of the pool even though she wasn't supposed to. With the two of them now teenagers and Michiru's parents out-of-state, they haven't had much reason to meet over the last couple of years, but they still keep in touch by means of the occasional vacuous phone call.

"Michiru!" comes the surprised exclamation from the other end of the line, which Michiru supposes was expected -- their last conversation was only a week ago, and so the next one was only due in about three more from now. "Yes, hello," she answers politely, and spends the next eight minutes going on about how they've been doing, the weather, and their upcoming exams, before carefully steering the conversation towards her goal.

"You have that important track and field competition on Thursday, don't you? I wish you the best of luck. You'll be racing against Haruka Tenoh, the junior champion, correct? Well, I imagine it won't be easy, but you'll just have to give it your all. Actually, I'm thinking of coming to watch it -- yes, unusual, I know -- and was wondering if you could do me a small favor..."

--

Watching Haruka run is different to watching her race. When she runs, there is nothing to obscure the sight of her: Michiru can see the sunlight glimmer off the tips of her hair, the way the muscles in her knees flex and bend as she pushes herself forth. And she's beautiful, absolutely, breath-catchingly beautiful, but-- there's something else.

She looks for that flushed-faced exhilaration from the ends of her races, and doesn't find it. She looks for that energy, that shine she envisioned in her eyes when she'd talk about wanting to become the wind, and doesn't find it. Haruka's movements are those of a well-oiled machine, nothing more -- it's like she's on a wholly separate plane from all those other runners, and no one can even hope to touch her.

And Michiru, who has gone through every day at school, every conversation with a fumbling male fan, and every family dinner with the movements of a well-oiled machine, only finds herself all the more captivated.

It's oddly comforting. All of this, in fact, is odd. The nearer the date of the race drew, the more her sureness had wavered: that dream-induced high could only last so long, and with the jittery haze dispersed, reason poked its head through the cracks in her rationale. But what if you're wrong, what if she isn't like you, what if this is nothing more than wishful thinking-- with those questions drilling at the back of her head like a woodpecker, Michiru had expected nervousness. She had expected her palms clammy with sweat, her heart beating out of control. Yet watching Haruka, all she feels is a sense of calm, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes; like being suspended underwater without having to breathe.

Her fingers still tingle, though.

Once it's over, Michiru rises to her feet and makes her way down, descending through the rows and rows of benches. Her sketchbook is tucked beneath both her arms, pressed to her chest; she needed an excuse to see Haruka, for one, but it's a promise to herself, too. When doubt began to gnaw through her resolve, her sketchbook served a source of comfort. See: even if it all amounts to nothing, even if Haruka looks right through you without a flicker of recognition, maybe, just maybe, she'd still let you draw her. Holding it to her is something like an anchor.

(Like a child with a security blanket, really, but so long as she keeps her back straight and holds her head high, no one has to know.)

Elsa waves her over, and at long last, she can see Haruka from up close. Those sculpted, graceful features, the hardness to her eyes -- it is the face from her visions, there's no mistaking it. Even Michiru doesn't expect the ease with which the words leave her lips. Can't you hear the sound of wind rustling?

Haruka's eyes widen, and in that moment, she knows, every last trace of uncertainty wiped from her mind. Knows that Haruka is the same as her, that they are bound by fate. That Haruka feels it too, that sensation of being submerged in the most wonderful of ways, with no fear of drowning. All she has to do is say yes, to agree to go with her, and as Michiru paints her onto the canvas they will talk and make sense of it all, together. If she has Haruka by her side, she will no longer have anything to fear. All she has to do is say yes.

Michiru watches for her response with anxious, pleading eyes. Haruka holds her gaze for a moment that stretches on into eternity. Please, please, I know you're the one--

"Pass." A sharp turn of the head, hand grabbing for the strap of her bag. "I don't like stuff like that."

All at once, the air is stolen from her lungs, and she is drowning. Haruka walks away without another word, and Michiru cannot even open her mouth to stop her. She shrinks behind her sketchbook, hands trembling at its edge; her knees are shaking, too, and she stumbles, the ground no longer solid beneath her feet. Was she wrong? After everything -- after that moment of perfect, crystal-sharp conviction -- was she wrong all along? Was she only ever kidding herself with those delusions of destiny, of a purpose, of a savior? Did Haruka feel nothing, looking at her? Did she see nothing in her but a groupie who'd taken it a step too far? Is that what she is, after all?

"Hey," Elsa turns to her, wrapping a careful hand around her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Michiru. I didn't know she'd be like this..."

Michiru's jaw clenches. The wobbling of her legs subsides. No. No. She definitely saw it, that fear-tinged realization in Haruka's eyes. There's no amount of doubt or self-questioning that can make her disbelieve it. And she will not give up on Haruka until she has a definite answer.

"Michiru? Where are you--"

She runs, paying no heed to Elsa's calling behind her. There's a sizable gap between her and Haruka already, but she's running as fast as her legs can carry her, scrounging up every drop of energy her body still holds. "Wait!"

Haruka's back stiffens. Exactly three steps later, she stops in place, and rewards Michiru with a narrow-eyed glare over her shoulder. It's another moment before Michiru's caught up, her chest heaving as she gasps for lost breath, perfectly-styled hair sticking out in every wrong direction and matting against the sides of her face. It's the least put-together anyone's seen her, but right now that's the last thing on Michiru's mind.

"I," she stammers out without thinking her words through beforehand, sucks in a breath, releases it-- "I have a concert on Monday, from half past nine to eleven, on the Crystal Star, if you're familiar-- I play the violin. I'd be honored if you came." She searches for Haruka's gaze, hoping to hold it, if only for a moment. "I'll ask for nothing more, after."

Haruka's brow lifts. "I'll consider it," she says flatly, and turns away from her again. With a small, murmured 'thank you', Michiru does the same. Her heart is still pounding as she walks back towards Elsa, with her sketchbook tucked under one arm as she smooths her hair into place. There is a certain relief to the sloping of her shoulders, though, and the usual grace settles back into her gait with surprising ease.

It may have been meaningless, it may have done nothing but tear down her pride -- but with this, Michiru can honestly say she's done all she can.

The rest is up to Haruka.

--

She seeks her out among the crowd from the moment she sets foot on stage. The bow between her fingers glides effortlessly over the strings, each note played with perfect precision and heartrending emotion, but the pit of Michiru's stomach is a mess of tangled-black knots and slowly-setting seeds of anxiety. Her eyes scan over the audience again and again in the most subtle way she's capable of, but no matter how many times she searches for her, Haruka is nowhere to be seen. The music flows flawlessly from beneath her hand; the seeds take root, the sprouts beginning their climb upwards through stomach, lungs and throat. And three pieces later when Michiru just about feels she's going to choke, Haruka casually strolls into the middle of the crowd, drink in hand, and seats herself at an unoccupied table some distance away from the stage.

Michiru's eyes lock in on hers. They are on a moving ship; one cannot simply walk in late. If she spent fifteen minutes aimlessly roaming the other areas of the ship for the sole purpose of putting her on edge -- which the blasé, unaffected look on her face as she stirs the glass's contents with her straw only cements further in Michiru's mind -- well then, she's done a solid job of it. Michiru should rightly be indignant. She would be, had Haruka's appearance not instantaneously filled her with an overwhelming surge of relief.

She wonders, briefly, whether Haruka had seen it yet. But Michiru's quick to rule against it; she doubts she would just be sitting there with that cloud of ennui surrounding her, if she had.

As it is, however, the girl sits and listens with dim interest for roughly twenty minutes, before rising from her chair and exiting the room. Michiru retains her characteristic placid smile for the remainder of the concert, bows politely to the wave of applause, and follows her out. She somehow knows with perfect certainty that she will find her in that room.

Her footsteps are inaudible against the plush-carpeted floor as she ascends the staircase from below, until sure enough, Haruka's form comes into her view. Michiru soundlessly tucks her legs beneath her as she settles onto the floor, and watches. Studies every inch of Haruka's face, as she studies her painting.

It's here just for her, shut away from the crowd's oblivious gaze. As soon as she laid eyes on it, Michiru knew, she would understand. And from the way Haruka is staring at it, so wholly engulfed by the darkness and devastation and death that she's yet to notice her presence at all, she was right.

The seconds tick by. Michiru allows Haruka just a little more time. Haruka and, undeniably, herself.

The girl looms over her in every sense of the word -- stood five steps above her while she sits in the shadowed corner of the stairwell, tall and broad-shouldered and striking in a way Michiru, small-framed and delicate, could never aspire to. She truly can't come close to touching her, but there is nothing to stop her from watching. Inquisitive eyes travel up her suit-clad figure, black and lavish and tailored perfectly to size, and take note of every little thing along the way: the hand dug into her pant pocket; the faint tightening of her already thin lips; the lock of hair that's pulled free from its rightful place behind her ear. And though it's easy enough to miss at a glance, from this close up, she can make out the subtle creases in the fabric where it hugs her hip, stretches across the slight raise of her chest.

Her gaze catches there for longer than it ought. Michiru clasps her hands together with a small swallow, and forces the same on-stage smile back to her lips. It's time to stop.

"Did you find it to your liking?" Her voice is smooth as silk, legs folded elegantly beneath her. The earnest, eager schoolgirl got her nowhere -- tonight she is all coy, dressed up, made up, and unafraid. Now that she better knows what to expect, she will not let herself hesitate. She will see this through to the very end.

Though Haruka makes no move to acknowledge her, she takes an odd sort of pride in noticing the minute tensing of her shoulders. "Thank you for coming here tonight. The prodigious racer, Miss Haruka Tenoh."

"You seem to know quite a bit about me." The statement falls from her lips like it holds no weight at all, and in the same breath she goes on to ask: "This piece-- did you paint it?"

But Michiru ignores the question, and provides the response Haruka didn't care to hear. "You're rather famous," she explains, and goes on without thinking to pace herself. "There are a lot of freakish fans of yours at my school, as well. One of them is a girl, but even so, she still says she wants to go cruising along the beach in your car." It's surprising how easily the words bubble from her throat as soon as they've formed in her mind -- honey-coated and dripping with venom, harsher to her ears than even she expected, while surely sounding subtly mocking at worst to Haruka's own. But in a way, it feels good, freeing -- pulling every last magazine cutout from her bottom-most drawer for it to be ripped to shreds. But the retribution doesn't come; Haruka doesn't recoil, or sneer, or so much as raise an eyebrow. The only response from her is a low chuckle, and her eyes never leave the painting once. The anticipation is left to simmer beneath the surface.

"The end of the world, huh? I'm surprised that a well-to-do girl who's incapable of killing even one bug can draw such a tragic fantasy."

It's an instant reaction, beyond her control, the white-hot burst of anger shoots up her spine. Haruka knows. Haruka is the same. Even at reason's insistence, Michiru can no longer force herself to question it -- it's in plain view, reflected in her eyes, written all over her face. "It's not a fantasy," she barks out before she can think to hold back, "I can see it clearly!"

Her voice echoes in the silence of the staircase. She takes a moment to restrain it again.

"Just like you can."

For the first time, Haruka turns to look at her. Really look at her, through her furrowed brow and the twisting of her mouth. Like something in her has caved, loathe as she may be to face it. Michiru rises to her feet. Their eyes meet -- the closest to level, she thinks, as they are able to get -- and she does not plead. It is a moment of understanding, of acceptance: the two of them are bound by fate. From here, there is no going back.

Or so Michiru felt.

"This is ridiculous," Haruka jerks her head away, the eye contact severed. "I'm Haruka Tenoh, the number one Junior racer in Japan. Memories of a previous life or the end of the world have nothing to do with me. If somebody has to do it, you can." Michiru feels herself go very, very still, breath locked behind the gates of her ground teeth. "And while we're at it, I'd like you to stop investigating me, too."

And there she has it: that stone-cold disgust, a rain of paper clippings torn in a thousand unmendable pieces. This is expected. It should not affect her at all. But her knuckles are white in the lap of her dress and her voice bursts forth from her throat, red-raw and wavering at the edges. Don't be so selfish-- I don't want this, either-- I have a dream of my own, the violin-- of course I can't do something as absurd as saving the world from destruction--!

Haruka, towering over her still, stares at her for a long moment with her face a perfect blank. As soon as her outburst is over, Michiru's facial features rearrange themselves to match. Lips pursed neatly together, dim-lit eyes half-lidded, not a single crease to mar the surface of her brow or the corners of her mouth. She challenges her gaze out of some left-over, sad sense of dignity, but there's really nothing left for her to fight for.

That's all right, though. Enough is enough.

At last, Haruka turns and leaves the room, the thump-thump-thump of her men's dress shoes against the carpeted floor swallowed into the dense, stale air. Michiru watches her disappear behind the door -- shut with a slam -- and as soon as she's gone, her flawless posture crumples. She sinks against the wall, shoulders sagging towards knees, and heaves out a sharp, ragged breath she didn't realize she's been holding until the tension between her temples suddenly relieves. This is all right, she tells herself, burying her face between her arms. This is all right. She has seen it through to the very end.

She doesn't see Haruka again for the rest of the night. She doesn't go looking, either.

--

The pool calms her, ever since she was a child. There was nothing she loved more than swimming to the very deepest end, where even the adults were few and far between, and letting herself fall in, curled into a ball. Knees hugged to her chest, eyes shut, the whole world melting away around her -- like that, she felt the safest she'd ever be. It hasn't changed, since.

She can hold her breath underwater for six minutes and twenty three seconds. It's a technique she's perfected over the years. There's something about being underwater that unclogs her mind, sends every pent-up thought spilling forth -- and in the absolute silence of the pool's depths, they crash into each other like ocean waves, until they've exhausted themselves to a calm. As a general rule, by the time the inside of her chest begins to burn, most of her concerns will have been soothed away: that French test she got a 89% score on in fifth grade; "I'm sorry, dear, it seems our stay will have to be extended for a couple weeks longer"; the first time she realized that no, other girls don't look at girls this way -- all washed away from her and sucked into the drain.

It's never a permanent solution, of course. But for a few precious hours, it can fix just about anything.

Michiru takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and plunges in.

Start.

She is alone. She has always been alone, outside of the visions within her own head. The end of the world is approaching, and no one but her can rise up against it-- if even she can. One spoiled, ignorant fourteen year old girl, who has had the whole world handed to her on a silver platter since the day she was born, who has never so much as harmed a fly, who has never had to fight to protect herself or what she holds dear. What is she capable of, on her own? Haruka is different. Haruka is strong, independent, fearless. If she only had Haruka by her side--

One minute.

No. Haruka is not going to save her. Haruka is not going to save this world. Haruka would rather focus on her motor racing, on the wind blowing in her hair, on living in the now. The Earth can perish, as far she's concerned, and Michiru can die fighting for it, while she goes on living without a single care until her very last moment. Michiru is desperate, Michiru is scared, Michiru needs her, and Haruka doesn't care. Not one bit.

The bubbles tickle her nostrils.

Two minutes.

But it's not Haruka's fault, either.

Everybody wants to live their own lives. Everybody has wishes, dreams, future aspirations. There's no one who'd want to shoulder that sort of responsibility, even if they were the only ones who could. Haruka has the national motor racing competition to win.

Haruka is fourteen years old, just like her, and has great things in her future, if only she would be given the chance to seize it.

She's not angry at Haruka. It wouldn't be fair to be.

Michiru's head is becoming stuffy, weighed down.

Three minutes.

She thinks back on the certainty with which she grips the steering wheel, like it was made to fit between her hands. She recalls the roar of the engine as she would fly past her competition, blink-and-you-miss-her -- the palpable sense of satisfaction and pride that radiated from her at the end of each race, not at having bested the others, but at having faced and risen to her own demands of herself. And that smile, that light in her eyes, that doesn't show anywhere else.

Haruka isn't wrong. She has a dream, and every means needed to realize it. She shouldn't be made to compromise it.

Destiny is meaningless, after all, if you're not bound to abide by it.

A dull ache begins to form behind her chest.

Four minutes.

Haruka is strong; she believes so with all her heart. She believes so because she's seen her race, because she's seen her in her dreams, and even if Haruka would not tread down that path, to Michiru, they are as real as anything. Haruka is strong, much stronger than she is, but for a moment Michiru stops and thinks--

How does Haruka see her in her visions? Does she look the same, there? Determined, unflinching, glowing with a power sheer enough to illuminate the dark?

Are those visions, to her, as real as anything too?

Is that person someone she is capable of becoming?

Michiru's throat closes up, ears ringing.

Five minutes.

No. That's not a question. She is. She has to be. She was chosen for a reason, after all. If she just stands up and believes in herself-- if she just stops hanging on to the ghost image of what Haruka could have been-- she will be able to become strong. Michiru is sure.

Certainly, she's never had to harm a fly. Her only place had ever been behind the easel, or with the violin in hand. The idea of such a refined young lady fighting back against the end of the world with her bare hands is truly preposterous. Her parents would laugh.

But perhaps it's high time she stopped asking them how to live her life, and chose for herself, instead.

Everything she knows, this entire world, is depending on her and her alone. If her choice is between helplessly perishing along with it and dying protecting it, what meaning even is there in feeling fear? She was meant to be a soldier. She was meant to go down fighting.

It's just as Haruka said: if somebody has to do it, she will.

Colors flash against the backs of her eyelids.

Six minutes.

Haruka is not going to save her. That's all right. Michiru doesn't need saving.

Six minutes and ten seconds.

Haruka is, after all, most beautiful when she races. For the sake of her future, and the sake of this world, Michiru will fight.

Six minutes and twenty seconds.

Her heart feels like it's on fire.

One, two, three.

Michiru surfaces, gasping for air. The inky-black splotches cluttering her field of view are well-familiar to her, and expected -- but there's nothing to prepare her for the white, blinding light that fills her vision, dyeing everything to the very farthest corners of the empty swimming pool. Her eyes narrow, struggling to regain their focus, and through the searing white and the swirling black, she sees it: the wand, ocean-colored and crescent-shaped, hovering above the water right in front of her.

This is her destiny, shall she choose to accept it.

She reaches forth and grabs it with both hands.

-

The magic gives her power. It doesn't give her the knowledge how to use it.

The change in her is immediate -- there's a new energy running through her body, like a chilly-prickling current whirling in an endless cycle up and down her spine. The power roams the pits of her stomach like a caged animal, waiting for a chance to rise up, to be allowed release. Michiru doesn't know how strong it'll be once that chance comes, or what kind of control she'll have over it, if any at all. She dreads it and aches with anticipation for it in equal parts.

Three days pass. It catches her off guard, the sudden sting at the back of her neck, the pull within her chest that hisses there, there. And though she shouldn't rightly know the way, her legs push her there all the same, as she forces her way towards clusters of passersby and moving cars. Are you crazy? Watch where you're going! people scream at her, but she doesn't hear it. Nothing can register over the rapidly-loudening voice, keep running, don't stop, there, almost there, almost--

There--!

As soon as she sets foot in the storage room, she's met with that same, familiar light. It takes her a split-second to process what's happening-- the monster, Haruka on the ground, the wand just within hand's reach-- and then she's yelling at the top of her lungs, don't do it!

Haruka freezes mid-motion. The wand falls to the floor with a clank, drawing a breath of silent relief from her lips.

"You mustn't touch it," she continues, more collected now, arms folded over her chest. "As soon as you grab hold of it, you will never be able to return to your normal life."

Her eyes lock onto Haruka's, unwavering in their resolve. Only a few days ago, she was begging for her to take up that role, but there is nothing of that left, now-- Michiru believes in herself, for there is nobody else for her to believe in, and she will shoulder this burden all on her own, because it is what must be done.

And she will protect Haruka.

Wand clasped tightly in hand, arm thrust into the air, she transforms. The sensation is stronger than anything she's felt in her life -- that new-paint feeling again, but bigger somehow, whole, rushing forth from her very core. It washes over her in waves, peeling back everything she is layer by layer, and building it anew. It feels like being reborn. It feels like being in her own skin for the first time.

Arm dropping to her side, the transformation complete, she looks over at Haruka to find her staring in loose-jawed awe. She would have expected it to fluster her, but it doesn't. It feels right. When Haruka dreamt of her, this must be the girl she saw.

The monster charges, its dozens of teeth all pointed at her, but she's ready for it. In this form, she is lighter, faster, and can dodge the attack without breaking a sweat, sending it hurtling towards the storage unit lined against the wall. It collapses on top of it, trapping the shrieking fiend underneath. At this rate, it won't take long. Power gushes through Michiru's veins in anticipation. But before she can even think to make her move--

"Stop it!" Haruka runs towards her, standing in front of the place the beast lies, as if intending to protect it. "He was human until just a few moments ago!" The words rush hoarse from her throat, heads of sentences breaking into the ends of those before them. "Are you really all right doing this? It's murder!"

It gives Michiru pause, if only for a moment. She hadn't realized she could be so soft. But it would be easy for her, of course. Big words are simple to utter when you don't understand the weight behind them. "The silence is approaching," she replies coolly. "If I don't do this, there will be even more victims."

"So you don't care what it takes to stop it?" Her voice is accusatory, like she can even hope to understand, like she's earned the right to criticize her. Michiru sets her jaw, eyes narrowing. "That's right. I don't care what it takes!"

"Are you really satisfied--"

But Haruka doesn't get to argue back.

It all happens in an instant: the storage unit is knocked back, the monster rises to its full stature. With a deafening roar, it lunges forward. Haruka is the first thing in its path. No--

Michiru's body moves without awaiting her mind's command, throwing itself between Haruka and the monster. A scream tears its way out of her throat as the massive, jagged fangs sink into her back -- for a split-second every one of her senses cuts out from the intensity of the pain, but through the blackness blanketing her vision she shoots a hand out, and finally lets the power burst free. It explodes from her palm in an ice-cold rush, and doesn't stop: there's no holding it back, not until the container of her body is completely hollow. Her vision blinks back just in time for her to see the monster encased by the watery blast, until it melts away with one last inhuman scream.

She doesn't see what happens afterwards. Every last drop of strength drained from her body, she can no longer keep herself together. Michiru collapses, but it's strange-- her body doesn't hit the ground. She frowns in dim surprise. Everything is blurring together. It's hard to keep her eyes open.

She allows them to flutter to a close, just for a moment. Maybe two. The skin of her back is coated with sticky, coppery warmth, and the open gashes burn. There is softness around her shoulders. Slowly, she forces her eyes to blink open. Haruka is holding her.

Haruka is holding her. Haruka is okay.

"The monster...?" she murmurs, trying in vain to will her sight into focus.

"He turned back into a human. He's all right." Haruka's lips tug into a small, soft smile -- purely to reassure her, Michiru can tell, and the fluttering in her chest is quickly extinguished beneath the laden air in the room. Her fingertips still twitch with the attack's aftershock. "I could have killed him," she says, as much to herself as to the girl hovering over her. Voicing the thought makes it all just that much more tangible, and realization sets in, heavy and slow. "No... next time, I'm sure I will."

Her stomach sinks with the weight of it. Bile climbs up her throat. She's not looking at Haruka, now. "It's not that I'm all right with it. But I'm a soldier... I chose to do this." This is the path that she took. This is the power that belongs to her and her alone. She might never be able to understand it, she might never be able to control it, she might never stop fearing the sheer depth of it -- but it is hers, the only thing separating her from absolute helplessness. Haruka might hate her for wielding it, but it's all that she's got.

But there is no hatred to the way she speaks. Not even resentment. Only impossible gentleness, as Haruka's fingers wrap around her wrist. "Then why did you cover for me just now? If you hurt your hand, you won't be able to become a violinist."

Maybe it's the unfiltered rawness of emotion in her voice. Maybe it's the fact that, even though she could have been killed, Haruka still places a near-stranger's dream above her own safety. Maybe it's the dizzy lightheadedness setting in from the blood loss. But whatever the reason, Michiru wants, just once, to speak with complete honesty. She parts her lips, words barely formed in her mind. "I..."

It overflows and spills from her, everything she'd kept bottled up this whole time. She wanted to let out just a bit, but like her unrestrainable power, it will not stop once it's begun. She tells her she's always been watching. She tells her of her laughable schoolgirl fantasy, even farther away now than it's ever been. She tells her she admires her, her honesty, her strength, and though the last thing she wants is to see Haruka walk down the same path, when she first realized she was the one, she was happy. Haruka looks down at her with wide eyes, the hold around her shoulders tightening, and Michiru finally feels wholly, thoroughly empty, with the weight of her feelings released into the air. She trembles. Her body feels too light, now, like it's going to crumble away.

"I'm sorry." She can barely manage out anything above a whisper. Guilt and shame twist her lips into an uneven smile, and push against the backs of her eyes. "I didn't mean to tell you all this. I'm sorry..."

The pressure pushes harder and harder, until wetness spills forth at last, streaming down her cheeks. The last thing she sees before her vision fades away is Haruka's face, her mouth contorting and eyes narrowed. It comes as no surprise-- it really was cruel of her, burdening her with all this when she had no choice but to listen.

She really is so selfish, Michiru thinks, and then thinks nothing more, consciousness slipping away into the dark.

--

When Michiru comes to, everything is... okay. Her cheek is pressed to a soft, comfortable surface; the pain in her back is gone; she is warm and still drowsy from sleep, and there's a pleasant sensation brushing her cheek, gentle and featherlight, though it's gone before she can fully open her eyes. Her lashes flutter up, allowing the room into view, with its clean white walls and cool fluorescent lights. And in its center -- Haruka, settled into a chair right in front of her, hands clasped together over her knee.

"Hey." The words are casual, but the voice given to them is softer than Michiru has ever heard it. "So you've woken up."

Michiru opens her mouth, but no sound leaves it beyond the clicking of her tongue against teeth. She closes it, swallows, then tries again. "You... brought me here?"

"Yeah." Haruka shrugs, like it's the most natural thing in the world. Michiru is staring. "The doctor said it'll take a few weeks to heal, and it might leave some scars, but you'll be okay. Should be discharging you in three or four days."

Surely anyone would assume that her mind is still slowed from the drugs when she takes a whole moment to work up a "thank you".

"It's the least I could do, after you risked your life to save me," comes Haruka's response, the corner of her mouth quirking upwards in the most befuddling manner. Michiru doesn't understand. Was she not looking down at her with a grimace, before? What changed? Why is Haruka regarding her so warmly, when she should rightly want to stay away from her?

"And besides, I can't just leave you alone," she continues, oblivious to the dozens of questions ricocheting between the walls of Michiru's skull. She opens her mouth, goes to ask for an explanation -- but before she can form a single sound, Haruka digs a hand into her jacket pocket, and pulls out an all-too familiar wand. Her heart freezes in her chest.

"I'm not going to keep running away," Haruka says, deep green eyes boring into her own, voice tight and resolute. Michiru doesn't understand. She defeated the monster -- Haruka shouldn't have had a reason to take it. Haruka is going to become Japan's motor-racing champion. Things like memories of a previous life or the end of the world have nothing to do with her. Haruka never wanted to do this. Haruka never needed to do this.

But even so-- even knowing what it would entail, even seeing the way she could get hurt, she still took hold of the wand. Because she can't leave her alone...?

It's like Michiru's own body doesn't know how to process what she's feeling. Her head throbs. Breathing suddenly grows difficult. Her fingers tremble, clutching the bedsheet. Haruka did this, for her. She doesn't even realize the significance of the burning behind her eyes before the other girl leans forward in alarm, anxiously stammering out, "H-hey, don't cry--"

Michiru looks at Haruka's hands, grasping at the edge of the bed as if unable to find a place for them, and gasps out a laugh. For the first time, she can Haruka for who she is: not someone to idolize from afar, not someone to fantasize about, not someone to cling to for the illusion of safety. Haruka, who trips over her words, who doesn't know what to do with her hands, who took up a destiny of fighting because she'd rather give up her dream than watch people suffer. Haruka who, like this, is more beautiful than she's ever seen her. And being with her right here and now-- this is safety. Real safety.

"No, I'm... happy." Her voice shakes a little through her tears, but it is as genuine as it's ever been. "Thank you," she says, swiping at her eyes with a wide, lopsided smile. "Thank you."

It's a few moments longer before her tears cease, but the smile never leaves her lips. Haruka watches her the whole time, fingers fastening and unfastening around the folds in the bedsheet. At last, after the quaking of Michiru's shoulders has subsided, she brings one hand up, and allows it to settle atop the back of Michiru's own. Michiru's gaze flickers downward, and settles there. For a moment, she doesn't move a muscle, only breathing through parted lips, before slowly turning her own hand palmside up.

The insides of their fingers brush together, warm. It is two puzzle pieces sliding into perfect place, the exact spot on the horizon where the sky melts into the sea.

Breaking free of Earth's gravity must feel just like this.

--

"Thank you for doing this today," Michiru speaks to Haruka's back from behind her easel, as she hangs up her schoolbag and takes off her shoes.

"No problem." She shrugs her jacket off next, placing it beside the bag on the coat rack, and then turns to gesture towards the couch. "So I just sit here and don't move, is that it?" Michiru hums a yes, squeezing fresh color from the tubes into the wood of the palette.

"Like this?" Haruka asks, and without lifting her gaze, Michiru politely instructs her to move a little more to the left, and to place her hands at her sides, and to turn her head at a profile, and please not to fold one leg over the other like that. With a halfhearted sigh, Haruka obliges, and Michiru sets about mixing the colors together.

They have a lifetime of battles ahead of them. But just for this moment, while peace still persists, this is allowed.

"Can I talk, then?"

Indian yellow, iridescent white and cadmium red, with a drop of cerulean for skin. Burnt sienna, renaissance gold and the subtlest hint of olive green for hair. Plenty of bright, golden-ochre hues for the light spilling in through the window, encasing the side of her in the afternoon's warm glow. "Of course."

"Well, I know we already know, uh-- a fair amount about each other," Haruka begins with just a bit of a stumble, capturing her gaze after a short moment of searching, "but since we got off to a pretty poor start, I figured it wouldn't hurt to start over fresh." There's a beat, like Haruka's considering her words. Michiru watches her, and mixes a little more red into her palette.

"So, I'm Haruka Tenoh, eighth grade. I do a lot of sports, but racing's my favorite." The worrying of her teeth at lower lip is minor and brief enough to not quite be considered moving, and so Michiru lets it slip by. "It's the speed-- the feeling of passing the world by... I've always loved that. Other than that, let's see-- my favorite food is salad... ah, and I play the piano sometimes, too."

And though that certainly does fall under 'moving', Michiru makes no comment on the way she turns her head towards her when she smiles and says, "Nice to meet you."

The colors are blending together quite nicely. She has high hopes for this piece.

With a small, hidden smile of her own, Michiru touches brush to canvas.

"Nice to meet you."