It is summer when she falls in love with Hinata-kun. Among the heat waves, staying nice and cool inside air-conditioned arcades as they play, then jostling to the nearby ice cream parlor after. Vanilla for him, mint with chocolate chip for her. She laughs when he gets a brain freeze because he ate his too quickly, and then he laughs when hers melts because she ate it too slow.
On days when the sky is cloudy and the sun isn't quite as hot, they sit outdoors and play together. They cycle through many games, but Gala Omega is their favorite, its jingle the soundtrack of their budding romance. Heady on these new feelings of love for her best friend, Chiaki feels very much like a starship captain, pioneering into space and able to take on anyone in her way.
It is among the red and gold of falling leaves when she unknowingly sees him for the last time. They crunch under her feet like dry, dead spiders as she bounces up to him, heart skipping as it always does, and invites him to play the newest game she's bought. They've taken to wandering the campus too, admiring the pretty colors, and she thinks that maybe when they're done they can go on a walk.
Disappointment fills her when he politely refuses, saying he needs to go somewhere else. She hesitates, suddenly wanting to tell him of her newfound feelings for him. But trepidation and fear bloat her tongue, and she hesitates too long. The opportunity is lost. Chiaki watches his back, growing smaller and smaller as it recedes into the distance, and tries not to feel like she's Zelda seeing Link off at the end of Ocarina of Time.
It is the chill of winter that bites her as she waits at the fountain, pink irises dulled by sadness and worry. Scarf wound tightly around her neck and beanie on her head as her glove-covered fingers jab at the buttons of her Game Girl Advance, lacking their usual energy. She'd brought hot chocolate today, like she had the day before and she would tomorrow, the steam wafting from his cup slightly warming the air near her. Hers is already empty, a few forlorn, soggy marshmallows left at the bottom.
Chiaki feels sick from the cold she caught sitting out here; hurt that Hinata-kun has seemingly abandoned her; worried about his disappearance; and above all longing. Longing to see him again, to say the things she never got to say, the things that now feel like an anvil on her chest. Her choice of game today is Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters, and like Pit she is falling from the sky, robbed of her wings.
It is a lightly raining spring day when she is hunched over on the bench, hoodie pulled up and body curled protectively around her Game Girl Advance. She's managed to keep it dry so far, but if the rain doesn't let up she'll have to leave early. She doesn't want it to be damaged.
Chiaki is standing and packing it away, resigned after another day of no Hinata-kun, when she hears footsteps. As always, she turns, mentally bracing herself for the bitter tang of disappointment that follows her crushed hope when it is, inevitably, not Hinata-kun.
But this time it is.
She gasps, a swell of emotions surging in her so great, she hardly knows which to focus on first. Chiaki runs forward and leaps at him, colliding solidly with his chest as tears fill her eyes. "Hinata-kun! You came back!"
"Sorry," he rasps, arms coming up around her. "I got in a lot of trouble."
From the look on his face and the jumpiness in his eyes, 'trouble' seems to be an understatement. Chiaki grabs his hand, feeling her skin tingle at the contact, and pulls him down onto the bench with her. "Tell me everything."
"To make a long story short? My parents couldn't afford the tuition for Hope's Peak, but there was something they wanted me to do...a, a special project, that would have let me stay on." He pauses. "I…almost did. I came so close. I was standing right there before them, ready to say yes."
"But?" she prompts, when he quiets too long.
He swallows tightly. "But I realized…I wasn't sure if I'd really be happy if I got talent. For a long time I thought I would, but…but I'd been happy with you, without it. And there were risks involved, and they just didn't seem so acceptable anymore, when I wondered if this would really solve my problems. Because if they didn't, and I lost myself…what would be the point?"
Chiaki blushes at that quiet confession, that he'd been happy with her. She doesn't really understand what he's saying, all this talk of different people and projects and gaining a talent. But she feels, deep in her gut, that Hinata-kun dodged a very large bullet by turning the project down. She squeezes his hand, watches his Adam's apple bob. "What happened then?"
"They tried to force me through with it anyway," he says wryly. "I managed to get away, though. I couldn't go home and I hadn't brought anything more than my wallet, so I ran. That's all I've been doing these past six months, that and trying to find some way to get them off my back. I couldn't even find a way to let you know I was fine. I'm sorry."
"Have you gone to the police?"
"I have," he assures her. "And I managed to get in contact with someone called Munakata-san. They're collaborating to bring the Steering Committee to justice. It'll probably be any day now."
"Good," she says, a thrill of vindictiveness coursing through her. She doesn't know what the board was planning and she doesn't care; all she cares about is that they had tried to hurt Hinata-kun, tried to kidnap him and force him into something dark and dangerous, and need to be arrested so they never touch him again. She leans over and rests her head on his shoulder, eyes closing in bliss. She's still hurt, and part of her is still angry, but she can ignore those parts for now. He's warm and solid and real and here. He's here, and she relishes it.
"I'm sorry," he whispers again, and she looks up. Her breath hitches; he's so close, and the angle she's at is giving her an excellent close-up of his lips. She drags her gaze away from them and meets his eyes. She can see herself reflected in them. "You're still at the fountain…you've been waiting all this time, haven't you? I'm so sorry, Nanami. I didn't mean to leave you hanging this long."
Chiaki's glad it's raining. It hides the wetness starting to pool in her own eyes. "Just don't leave me again."
His breath hitches. "Nanami—"
She feels like she's struggling with dating sims again, stumbling through the options and hoping to click the one that will advance the route. "I—look, it's—you're so important to me, okay? You were my first friend ever, did you know that? You were the one who first brought me hope. You're wonderful and funny and I…I love you."
He looks like she's just told him he won the lottery; first disbelief, then awe, then a wide smile spreading broadly across his entire face. "I love you too, Nanami." And before she can say anything else, he closes the remaining distance and kisses her, and oh, this is good. This is better than good. Her hands go up, winding through his hair as languid warmth floods her veins and her toes curl.
There are still hurts to heal and plot lines to finish, but Chiaki thinks it's time they tried again, embarking on a New Game+ together. Spring is the season for beginnings anyway, isn't it?
A/N: And so Hinanami week comes to an end; it's been a lot of fun, writing all these. Hope y'all enjoyed this last entry, I couldn't NOT end this on a positive note. Thank y'all for sticking with me through it!