Finally posting this idea from 0mn! Third-year Stage Girls having some fun (and just a bit of romantic drama).
Disclaimer: I do not own Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight.
Guided By The Moonlight
Ever since they'd become third-years at Seishou, the nine selected girls of Class A had received the privilege of experiencing new challenges and new responsibilities together.
Junna in particular had her hands full with Class President agenda, Nana was constantly writing and consulting about more plays, and the rest of them were pushing themselves ever higher, striving to reach new goals far beyond what they could accomplish as second-years.
Now that they were at the head of the school and had even more underclassmen to be proud role models for, it was nonstop working toward improvement, day in and day out.
So in that regard, not too much has really changed since second year. They're still the same driven, dedicated, passionate girls as they'd always been, only now they have a bit more freedom at their disposal alongside all those responsibilities.
And even though they give their all to the stage and to the school and to each other every single day, they always return to the same lounge together each night, where they relax and talk and play games together. The giraffe's revues and ReLives have been few and far between as of their first semester as third-years, which gives them more time to be students - and most importantly, high school girls.
After a week full of tough exams and exhausting lessons, the nine of them retreat to their lounge on Friday night to begin a well-deserved end-of-semester break. It's there, once everyone has sunk into their respective seats, finished drying their hair from their showers, and enjoyed some of Nana's flavorful muffins and cookies when their week of freedom finally settles in.
"Phew!" Karen is the first to blurt out a sigh after finishing her muffin. "That was a crazy week! But it was fun!"
"I think so too," Mahiru agrees. "It always feels kinda nice to have worked super hard and then enjoy some time off."
"I'm still a bit sore though," Hikari murmurs. "But you're right."
"Feelin' sore feels great!" Futaba grins from across the coffee table. "I love that feeling of your muscles achin' a bit. Proof you worked hard!"
"Speak for yourself," Kaoruko whines. "I feel as though I'll never be able to get out of bed again after I lie down…"
"Don't worry, Kaoruko-chan!" Nana smiles. "I'll keep making lots of yummy, nutritious snacks so you'll feel energetic again right away!"
"Don't spoil us too much, Nana," Junna warns her. "Or else we'll get lazy."
"Never!" Claudine puffs up her chest and turns to Maya. "No matter how sore I may get, it won't stop me from catching up to Tendo Maya and surpassing her. This year for sure."
"Indeed," Maya smiles. "This is our last year at Seishou after all. If you're going to surpass me, please do it soon, Saijou-san."
"Oh, don't you worry. I will."
"All right, knock it off you two," Futaba groans. "Haven't you done enough flirtin' today? Get a room."
Kaoruko giggles from her roommate's side.
"I sometimes forget they actually have one now."
Since starting their third year, Maya and Claudine had in fact decided to become roommates, solely for the purpose of sparing their parents' money on individual suites. But everyone knew the Tendos and Saijous of all people didn't need to worry about money. What neither girl could admit was the real reason why they wanted to become roommates.
The two of them share a look something like a glare, but softer, before Claudine promptly turns away.
"In any case," she projects. "Shouldn't we be planning to do something together over break? From what I remember, no one said they're going home this time around, right?"
"Yeah," Mahiru says. "Kuro-chan is right! We should definitely do something together if we can!"
"If it were a bit warmer I'd suggest the beach," Nana murmurs. "But it's still a bit too cool for that."
"Day trips?" Junna suggests. "Like going to an amusement park or something?"
"Perhaps something a bit more personal," Maya offers. "I would like to spend time with everyone as well, but could do without the crowds."
"Agreed," Kaoruko says.
For a moment, everyone mulls things over, trying to think of a decent idea. And as usual, it's Karen who finally blurts out a suggestion.
"Oh! How about camping?"
Karen enthusiastically nods as she elaborates.
"Yeah! The nine of us! We could go out in the woods and set up tents and sleeping bags and make a hot pot and roast marshmallows! And tell scary stories and go for walks and star-gaze! Doesn't that sound fun?"
The more things she suggests, the more of her friends perk up at the ideas, save for Maya who shrinks back at the mention of scary stories. But overall, everyone seems to be liking the proposal.
"Camping, huh…?" Nana hums. "Junna-chan, what do you think?"
"Hm…" Junna adjusts her glasses and puts a hand to her chin. "So long as it's approved by the school, at a legitimate campsite, and we do all the necessary paperwork correctly, I don't see why not."
"W-Wait-" Kaoruko whimpers. "We aren't seriously going to do this, are we? Out in the wilderness? With all those bugs and wild animals?"
"You can stay here then," Futaba says. "I'm goin' for sure!"
"Eh? Y-You can't leave me all alone, Futaba-han!"
As the two of them struggle with one another, the trio on the opposite couch are getting excited.
"Great idea, Karen," Hikari says. "I remember we went camping once with our parents when we were little, though we didn't stay the whole night."
"Yeah! I remember!" Karen says. "We saw so many turtles in the lake! And we found all those cool little rocks! And the stars were so bright! It's gonna be so fun to do that together with everyone now!"
"We'll have to start packing and getting things ready right away," Mahiru states. "There's a lot of things you have to make sure you don't forget while camping. I've gone a few times with my family, and I can tell you it's no good the next morning if you don't have your toothbrush."
"Camping, huh…?" Claudine mumbles. "That actually doesn't sound like a bad idea. Just for one night. It should be fun, especially if all of us are going." Without fully realizing it, she looks to Maya, who smiles back pleasantly.
"I agree. Being we have already spent plenty of nights sleeping over together here, doing so outdoors will be the next step to that. I should think it would be a valuable experience."
"Even if we tell scary stories around the campfire at night?" Claudine purrs.
Maya's smile cracks, and her eyes get a bit round.
"Would that be… absolutely necessary criteria…?"
"How am I losing to such a pathetic woman…"
So with this, the nine of them agree to Karen's proposal of a camping trip.
The remainder of their evening is spent discussing which site they should go to and various activities they could try and all the things they should remember to start packing tomorrow.
By the time everyone retreats to their rooms, they are all excited about the prospect of their first-ever camping trip together as a group.
But as Maya rigidly gets into her bed that night, Claudine can tell she's still thinking about scary stories. So with a heavy, helpless sigh, she vacates her own bed and goes to join Maya in hers.
Maya hugs her close for comfort all through the night, and Claudine has no qualms about it.
The following day, everyone is busy packing supplies for their camping trip.
Nana spends most of her time in the kitchen meal prepping for their big day. When she's finished taking inventory of things, she presents a list of supplies they'll still need, which Maya and Claudine take into town with them to shop for.
Karen, Mahiru, and Hikari rotate between packing, cleaning, and helping Nana with the food. Junna is mostly on her laptop researching nearby campsites and their areas. Kaoruko spends her day trying to pack every little thing into her bag, while Futaba scolds her that she won't need the non-essentials like makeup or fancy shoes.
By the time Maya and Claudine have returned with the food, Junna has selected the best campsite in her opinion, one that allows guests to rent tents, since none of them exactly have any on-hand here at school. With everyone pitching in a little and the price divided by nine, it really isn't so terribly, especially just for one day and one night.
"All right." Junna closes her laptop at long last with an accomplished sigh. "Then it's decided. We're camping tomorrow into tomorrow night and we'll leave by noon the next day. It'll be short, but still long enough to enjoy ourselves."
"Everyone," Nana calls for attention like a kindergarten teacher. "Make sure your bags are all packed before we leave. We can't come back once we're there."
"Yeah, Kaoruko. And don't forget your sleeping bag."
"How barbaric… to sleep on the dirty ground like an animal…"
"Sleeping bags!" Karen squeals. "That's gonna be so much fun! I actually have one in our room! It could probably fit all three of us, Hikari-chan, Mahiru-chan!"
"A-All three of us-?!" Mahiru yelps. "That does sound nice…"
"I would save space," Hikari nods.
"That's right!" Nana agrees. "If we can all share sleeping bags and tents, it'll cut down the amount of things we have to carry and rent by half! I actually have a sleeping bag too."
"Same here," Futaba grins. Kaoruko makes a horrified expression, but eventually it melts away.
"I guess if you'll be sleeping with me, it won't be so. terrible…"
The final pair are Maya and Claudine, both of whom look at one other and shake their heads to indicate neither of them have a sleeping bag.
"Well then," Claudine says. "Let's go back out and buy one."
So the two of them head back into town in search of a large and comfortable sleeping bag that will be able to fit them both and be easy to carry. Once they've made their purchase and gotten back to the dorms, they find Nana has finished cooking and prepared all the food she can prepare in advance, and everyone else has more or less finished packing.
That night, they all eat and chat together as always as the excitement for tomorrow mounts. Junna only reminds them at midnight they'll have a big day ahead of them and ushers everyone off to bed.
And initially, Maya and Claudine lay down in their own respective beds on opposite sides of their room. But eventually, Claudine feels a presence lingering at the edge of her mattress and makes room for Maya to join her.
When their camping day is upon them, the nine girls have breakfast together before gathering their backpacks and sleeping bags and heading off campus to catch a bus.
The campsite Junna had selected and booked for them is about a twenty-minute ride from Seishou, so as they sit everyone chatters excitedly.
Upon arrival, it's a lot of walking and lugging their things around of course, especially since they have to rent tents from the main building on the property as well. Each pair takes one small tent between them, while only Karen's group gets a larger tent.
When all of the indoor business is taken care of and they are finally allowed to get outside and choose their spot, everyone - even Kaoruko - is eager.
The campsite covers acres and acres of land, some of which is level and flat, and some of which consists of forested areas. There are already a lot of tents set up in the open expanse of short-cut grass, with people cooking things over fires and children and dogs running around playing.
Junna recommends they choose a spot somewhere on the edge of the forest so they can hike or explore the lakes while also still being able to enjoy the view of the wide-open sky of the fields. Everyone is in agreement.
After several minutes of walking and searching, they all seem to set their eyes on the same spot. It's a good distance away from all the surrounding people, and is just at the border between the field and the trees. It's half sunlight and half shade, has a great view, and is only about a 5-minute walk from the nearest restroom.
At last, they put all their things down.
"Thank goodness!" Kaoruko wheezes. "My shoulder was about to break…"
"Oh boy!" Karen squeals. "This is it, you guys! We're now officially camping! What should we do first? Hiking? Fishing?"
"Hold on, Karen-chan." Mahiru grabs her wrist before she can go darting off. "I think we should set up our tents and everything first."
"Tsuyuzaki-san is right," Junna agrees. "Let's do all of that first, then we can enjoy nature."
"I'll be enjoying it from inside my tent, thank you very much," Kaoruko mutters. "Futaba-han? Be a dear and set it up, would you?"
"Oh no ya don't. You're helpin' too!"
"All right," Nana claps. "I'll start setting up the cooking area. I brought along a few pots and pans and things, but we'll need stones to make a border for the fire."
"Oh! Oh!" Karen jumps up and down. "Rocks? I can find rocks! Let's go!"
"K-Karen-chan, hold on a minute-!"
And so everyone begins doing whatever they feel most inclined to do in this setting. Karen brings Mahiru and Hikari with her into the woods to gather rocks and hike a little, Kaoruko and Futaba pitch tents and lay out sleeping bags inside them, Nana and Junna set up cooking supplies and pre-packed food, and Maya and Claudine shuffle between jobs, helping whoever needs it at the time.
Their first hour or so is spent just setting up and preparing their spot, but with nine people to divide the labor and help each other, it's rather fun.
Karen is dying to go hike some more, and Claudine, Maya, and just about everyone else agrees that would be nice. Only Kaoruko offers to stay behind and watch over their things, and though Futaba heaves a sigh, she doesn't argue.
As per Junna's recommendation, they all stop by the restrooms first before heading out into the forest; and before they are all completely out of sight, Kaoruko ends up rushing over to join them anyway.
The forest is very level, easy to see through, and has several marked trails along the ground that are clearly well-maintenanced for the convenience of the guests. The girls get along just fine in sneakers and casual shoes without feeling like they need hiking boots to traverse the terrain.
Karen leads the way as if she owns the place, but can hardly stay on the path for longer than a minute before veering off to look at a leaf or a rock or a bug. Mahiru has her hands full trying to keep her from running off and to keep Hikari from falling behind.
Futaba is grinning and clearly enjoying the outdoors, while Kaoruko is much less enthusiastic, particularly about the bugs, but she does appreciate the scenery and the company if nothing else.
Nana and Junna get caught up discussing the landscape, and at one point Junna directs the group down a path that leads to a wide blue lake. Nana thinks to pull out her phone and start snapping pictures, and after that everyone else follows suit.
Maya and Claudine walk beside one another all the while, quiet for the most part, only making passing comments about the forest or the sky or the water.
The nine of them follow the path along the riverbank for a while and eventually come to two small stream crossings; one in the form of a footbridge and the other in the form of a rock path.
The water is only ankle-deep here, so Karen is more than willing to jump the rocks, and though Mahiru frets, she can't stop her, but is sure to bring Hikari to the bridge. Karen clears the rocks with ease and meets them with a grin on the other side.
Kaoruko of course takes the bridge, and Futaba hops the rocks alongside her at the same time.
And to Junna's surprise, Nana opts to try the rocks, so she slowly follows after her. Junna ends up stepping in the water at the end and everyone giggles.
Finally, only Maya and Claudine are left on their side of the stream. They share a glance.
"Well?" Claudine prompts. "Are you up for a bit of a challenge?"
Maya smiles back.
"After you." Claudine dips into a half-bow as she makes the offer.
Maya confidently turns to the water and steps out onto the first rock. Even on such rugged footing, Maya moves as gracefully as a deer, which both impresses and irks Claudine.
As soon as Maya has moved to the next rock, Claudine follows after her. She regrets letting Maya go ahead of her now, because it means Claudine is once again staring at her back and following in her footsteps.
Maya reaches solid ground on the other side and turns back with an inviting smile. Claudine scowls in return.
As she reaches the last rock, a small surge of water has the river splashing onto her shoe, causing her to slip right as she makes the last hop toward land. She yelps, but Maya is quick as ever to react, and being that she is always watching Claudine too, she is instantly there to catch her before she can fall.
Claudine finds herself slumped against Maya in an awkward sort of hug only half-standing on her own two feet. Maya frowns softly and helps her straighten up.
Claudine huffs, blushing as the others clap and cheer.
"Good catch, Maya-chan!"
But Maya pays them no mind and is solely focused on her.
"Are you all right, Saijou-san?"
"I'm fine." Claudine huffs, but though embarrassed doesn't want to appear ungrateful. "Merci…"
Maya smiles and kisses her cheek.
"I'm glad." Now, a mischievous spark crosses her eyes. "Then I suppose this means you owe me one, yes?"
"Why you- Mechante va!" Claudine stalks off toward the others in a huff. Maya follows with a chuckle.
The group continues their casual hike for a while until stomachs start to growl. They head back to their site for lunch, which consists of chopped meats, vegetables, and spices that Nana and Mahiru turn into a flavorful soup.
Everyone lounges on little folding chairs or on their sleeping bags or on blankets in the grass and enjoys the warm food and fresh air.
After that, they spend their afternoon walking around the campsite, doing a bit more hiking, and even a bit of fishing with some rented poles. Though they have to release what they catch, everyone enjoys themselves; they all catch at least one or two fish, while Maya and Claudine both tie with five, and the dark horse champion is Mahiru with seven.
As they explore the lake, Hikari finds several little newts to show everyone, and Nana's eyes light up when she finds a bunch of frogs at the water's edge. There's even a water snake across the way, and though Kaoruko nearly faints on the spot, everyone else appreciates its slender elegance from a safe distance.
They all take tons of pictures of whatever and whoever they can capture at the moment, and spend their afternoon enjoying themselves to the fullest.
When evening comes, they make the walk back to their site and begin preparations for supper. Mahiru has Karen and Hikari help her with the potatoes and rice she'd brought, while Nana and Junna get the meats and spices to make fresh curry. Maya and Claudine set up everyone's chairs and set out the plates, bowls, and utensils. Kaoruko is complaining of soreness and bug bites, so Futaba has been pulled aside to massage her shoulders.
As the sun begins to go down, the sky turns from pale blue to a creamy sort of yellow, and then gradually to orange and pink. The trees, leaves, grass, and mountains all around them are dyed gold, and everyone pauses for a moment in what they're doing to admire the sight.
A crescent moon is already visible as the birdsong eventually fades into chirping crickets. Everyone relishes the moment, leaning against their roommates and partners wherever they're standing or sitting.
"Wow…" Mahiru sighs. "It's so pretty."
"The clouds look like marshmallows!" Karen blurts out. "Oh! Which reminds me, we definitely gotta roast some of those later and make s'mores! And when the sun goes down… scary stories!"
Claudine feels Maya flinch from where she's sitting on a blanket beside her. Claudine chuckles softly, patting her back comfortingly.
"Don't worry," she murmurs. "I'll protect you, Tendo Maya."
Maya gives her a helpless, hopeful glance, but just nods.
By now, Nana and Mahiru are combining their ingredients over the fire, and the smells of sizzling meats and veggies and boiling broth are making everyone eager.
"Hmm…" Nana inspects the fire beneath the pot. "I think we need a few more sticks to keep it going. Can anyone go out and bring me some more?"
"I'll go." Claudine gets to her feet and dusts herself off a bit. Maya instantly stands up beside her.
"I will go as well."
Claudine gives her a look.
"I can handle myself, you know. Unless… it's you who doesn't want to be left without me, Tendo Maya…?" She gives her a knowing smirk, to which Maya blushes, but quickly shakes it off.
"I simply think it would be best to go together since the sun has set now."
"Right. Of course. We'll be back in a few minutes, Nana."
Claudine retreats to their tent and brings out a flashlight from her bag, turns it on, and then begins leading the way toward the woods. Maya follows closely behind her.
The daylight continues fading, and the shadows only grow longer and deeper as they enter the trees. Claudine casts her flashlight around as she scours the forest floor for sizable sticks to collect, and Maya searches a little ways away from her.
Claudine picks up a few to see if they're wet or dry, and only takes the latter kind with her. She gathers up some thick pine grass as well, following her flashlight to a good scattering of sticks. She breaks them into manageable pieces before tucking the bundle under her arm.
"All right, this should be enough. We should-"
But as she turns around, she doesn't find Maya right behind her anymore. Claudine tilts her head and scours the area. The twilight has turned to a darker dusk by now, and even with the aid of her flashlight the trees are barely discernible from the shadows.
Claudine is quiet and listens for a moment, but can't hear anything other than crickets.
"Tendo Maya?" She calls for her several times but receives no response. "That woman… she probably chickened out already and ran back to camp…" With a sigh, Claudine follows the path back to the tree-line and out into the open field once more.
The sky above her is wide and dark and littered with winking stars now, and she stands alone for a moment to admire it. But the desire to look at it together with Maya and her friends overtakes her, so she quickly hurries back to them.
Karen spots her from afar and waves her over.
"Ah, there's Kuro-chan!"
"Finally!" Kaoruko whimpers. "I'm starving!"
By now the others have set up little portable lanterns around the area for extra light. Claudine uses those and the light of the fire to step around everyone and hand off her bundle of stick to Nana.
"There. With what Tendo Maya brought you, I hope this is enough."
"Thanks, Kuro-chan!" Nana accepts the sticks with a smile, but that quickly fades. "Wait, what do you mean? Maya-chan hasn't brought me anything yet. She hasn't even come back yet. She's with you, isn't she?"
"Eh…?" Claudine feels a jolt in her chest as she quickly surveys their campsite and finds only seven other people present. Her heart starts to thud. "Oh no… don't tell me…"
"You left her in the woods?!" Kaoruko shrieks. "Kuro-han, I never took you for one so cruel."
"I thought she came back before me!" Claudine defends. "I looked for her and called for her, but she never replied. She must have wandered off."
"Do you think she's lost?" Mahiru frets. "Should we call security to help look for her?"
"This is Tendo we're talkin' about," Futaba says. "I'm sure she's fine. Give her a sec and she'll make her way back in no time."
"I'm not sure…" Mahiru whimpers. "She didn't even bring a flashlight with her…"
"Surely she'd be able to see all the lights at the campsite?" Junna suggests. "The trails aren't that difficult to navigate, even in the dark. Even if she goes the wrong way she'll meet the river, so all she has to do is turn around."
"That doesn't matter!" Nana cries. "We should go look for her!"
"You're right. Dinner will have to wait."
As everyone gets up and starts rummaging for flashlights and lanterns to take with them, Claudine quickly pulls out her phone to call Maya. But the cell phone buzzes from inside their tent and she curses under her breath.
"I can't believe this… She was right behind me!"
"It's okay, Kuro-chan!" Karen says. "We'll find her!"
"But who knows what's in these woods at night-"
"Kuro-chan." Now it's Nana's calmer voice that cuts Claudine off. With a gasp, Claudine realizes her eyes have started to water up. Nana rests a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Don't blame yourself, Kuro-chan. It would've been easy to get separated in the dark."
"And don't worry," Junna adds. "This place is so popular with people the only animals that stick around in the woods are squirrels and birds."
Claudine feels a tiny bit better from their reassurances, but she still feels sick about having lost Maya in the first place. Especially when she knew from the beginning that Maya was nervous about being in the woods at night; the picture-perfect horror movie scene. Only now it's even worse because she's lost by herself.
"I have to find her." Claudine hurries away from the others, grabbing a small blanket from her tent and slinging it over her shoulder. With her flashlight and her phone to guide her path, she rushes back toward the woods. "I'm going! If you find her, text everyone!"
And with this they're all off, splitting up into their respective groups, save for Claudine who has already run off on her own.
Kaoruko and Futaba patrol the stretch of field from their campsite to the restrooms in case Maya finds her way back, while Karen, Mahiru, Hikari, and Junna and Nana spread out in the woods. Claudine races back to the spot she'd gone searching for firewood with Maya and calls out for her again.
"Hey! Tendo Maya!" But just like last time, there is no response. She can hear the others distantly calling out for Maya as well, and even after several minutes, it seems no one has found her. Claudine bites her lip and swallows around a thickness lodged in her throat.
"That woman, I swear…"
She casts her light in front of her, sticking to the path as best she can in the darkness as she calls out over and over. But each time, only crickets call back.
"Damn it… damn it-!"
Claudine's heart pounds harder by the second. She's decided that if no one reports finding Maya within the next five minutes she's going to have Junna call security after all.
That idiot! Where could she have gone? She can't have wandered off that far in such a short amount of time… Why isn't she responding…?
She stops for a moment, bringing a hand to her forehead to think.
I have to be rational about this. If Tendo Maya found herself alone in the woods at night, what's the first thing she'd do? If she didn't know the way back to camp, where would she go…?
Someone as scared as Maya would logically head toward the nearest source of light. No doubt about it. Maya hadn't had her phone or a flashlight with her, and they'd been too far into the woods to be able to see the lights of the restroom building or the campfires.
Claudine can think of only one more source of light.
She looks up through the black canopy of shadows, past the dark leaves until she can make out the silver shimmer of the moon. She has her answer.
Claudine hurries off the path they'd all walked earlier in the day and heads toward the lake. There would be fewer trees and more open sky there, enough for the moonlight to shine down and reflect off the water to provide ample light.
Claudine runs, blood rushing in her ears and through her chest. She stumbles on several rocks and roots but refuses to go down by sheer willpower alone. After a moment, she can hear the soft lapping of water.
"Hey! Tendo Maya! If you're there, say something, you idiot!" Claudine skids down a small embankment of earth and rock until the water is in-sight. As expected, the surface is silver with moonlight, and the tiny ripples sparkle like stars. She calls out again.
"Tendo Maya! Answer me! I swear if you've gone off and gotten yourself, hurt I'll never forgive you! If something's happened to you I'll- I'll-" She isn't even sure how she might've finished that sentence, but the words die on her tongue as her eyes finally catch sight of a shape huddled up at the edge of the water.
She's sitting there with her knees pulled to her chest, shivering.
Claudine would've dropped to her knees with relief it she wasn't so angry about getting separated from her in the first place. She runs as quickly as her wobbly legs can carry her and races to her side.
Maya turns with a jolt and looks up at her with wide eyes.
"You idiot!" she screams. "I was calling for you! Are you deaf? Are you hurt?" She collapses at Maya's side and tosses the blanket over her shoulders, dropping her flashlight so she can throw both arms around her. She nearly bowls Maya over into the water with the force of it.
"We were so worried! Where did you go? Why didn't you bring your phone with you? Mechante-" She squeezes her hard, then eases back to inspect her in the moonlight. "Are you hurt?" she asks again, stuck between being furious and being concerned.
Maya only seems to register the events of the last thirty seconds now. She blinks, realizing the weight of the warm blanket around her shoulders, the choked voice at the shell of her ear, and the firm, shaking arms around her neck.
"Idiote!" Claudine half-sighs, half-sobs into her hair. "I was worried sick…"
Maya finally finds the strength to lift her arms and return the embrace now.
For a long moment they are both quiet, softly getting ahold of their breathing and doing their best not to cry. Claudine eventually swipes out a message on her phone to the others: I've got her.
By then, she's calmed down enough that her heart isn't about to burst clean out of her chest, but she's still shaking as much as Maya is.
"I can't believe it-" she snaps. "I go into the woods with my roommate and come back out with only sticks. Where did you go-?"
"My apologies." Maya shakes her head, pulling Claudine in closer. "I was merely looking for more firewood… and the next thing I knew, you were out of my sight. I'm terrible with directions even in the middle of the day, so being it was dark out I got lost…" A shudder runs through her. "I was… terrified… Who knows what kind of ghosts and monsters lurk in these woods…? All I could do was follow the moon, and it brought me here…" She sighs, squeezing Claudine harder. "Thankfully, it led you to me as well."
"You idiot-" Claudine growls. "Never mind ghosts and monsters; you could've tripped and broken something! You could've been bit by a snake! You could've been hurt-"
"I know." Maya pulls Claudine so close now she's nearly in her lap, draping half the blanket across her back. "But I wasn't. I am not hurt at all. I'm just sorry to have caused so much trouble. It was so dark, and all the trees looked the same, and even when I heard your voice I was too petrified to call out to you… But even so, you've found me, Claudine. You've saved me. Thank you…"
She sighs again, so weak with relief she sways, and they both nearly fall back into the dirt. Claudine yanks her back up, pulling away to glare into her eyes.
"You're lucky-" she snaps. "You're lucky you're all right, or else I'd kill you myself."
"I'm sure you would."
"I'm serious, you insufferable, idiotic-"
"Please keep going," Maya sighs. "I want to keep hearing your voice."
"Oh, don't you worry, I have plenty more. You arrogant, infuriating, self-centered, bird-brained-"
Claudine chews her out for several minutes, and all the while Maya sinks into her with relief, hugging her tighter and tighter. She can feel Claudine's heart pounding and her hands still shaking with fear for Maya's wellbeing, but as the moments pass by she, too, eventually calms down.
Claudine chides her until she has nothing left to say other than her honest feelings.
"I'm glad you're all right."
Maya had stopped shivering a few minutes ago, but only now does she feel truly warm.
"Thank you, Claudine."
"Also," Claudine huffs. "I suppose this means I've 'paid you back' for earlier, yes?"
They chuckle together softly, brushing their noses together.
At last, Claudine helps her up, and using her phone and flashlight they slowly make their way back along the path, huddled close together beneath the blanket.
They arrive back at their campsite to find the others weak with relief around the fire. Everyone gets up to hug them both, and Nana serves them the first bowls of food when they're ready.
With the incident behind them, everyone finally gets back to enjoying their camping trip. They eat their fill of dinner around the crackling fire. Maya and Claudine remain beneath their blanket together, and whenever they get a hand free from their bowls and forks, they hold onto one another.
An easygoing chatter rises up with the smoke as the girls talk about anything and everything.
They finish dinner, and only a short while later, Nana is bringing out a container of cookies and muffins for dessert. And after that, Karen finally gets her wish of roasting marshmallows and making s'mores with everyone, though Claudine politely declines her offer for scary stories for Maya's sake. Instead, they just tell terrible jokes and riddles.
The nine girls enjoy the rest of their evening together under the stars. With their stomachs now full, they all lie back in the grass to look up at the sky and admire its beauty.
Claudine and Maya lie together on their blanket, hand-in-hand. Claudine breathes a sigh, blinking up at the stars.
"Stunning," she whispers. "Absolutely beautiful."
"I agree," Maya replies. But she isn't looking at the stars.
Claudine turns onto her side and kisses her.
Well past midnight now, the girls wish each other goodnight and retreat to their tents, leaving a few lanterns on outside after dousing the fire. They all cuddle up in their shared sleeping bags with their roommates and are asleep in seconds.
Only Claudine and Maya are left awake as they hold each other tightly for a long moment. With every tiny sound outside their tent, Claudine feels Maya tense up, so she lies herself on top of her to help her feel safe.
"Here," Claudine murmurs. "I'll protect you. Don't you worry."
She kisses her again to take Maya's mind off the noises of the forest.
And Maya is all too eager to focus on her instead. As soon as Claudine finishes one kiss, Maya pulls her back down for another, and another, and another still.
Claudine meets her for each one, until she's certain Maya doesn't care anything for their surroundings any longer. There is a tired, happy glaze over her eyes now as she gazes up at her.
"Just a moment," Maya sighs. "I'm not finished star-gazing yet."
"That didn't even make any sense."
"I mean the stars in your eyes."
"You're so full of it…"
Nonetheless, Claudine blushes and kisses her again. Maya isn't the slightest bit scared or cold anymore. In fact, she's never felt calmer or warmer.
Claudine lies herself down over her, tucking her head into the side of her neck and kissing her shoulder.
"Go to sleep," she mumbles.
Maya hugs her, kissing the top of her head as she rubs her hands up and down Claudine's back.
"You as well, Ma Claudine."
Claudine huffs again, then closes her eyes.
"Bonne nuit, Ma Maya."
Little by little, they begin to doze off. The crickets provide a strange lullaby from outside their tent, but what never changes is inside. The same warmth, the same heartbeats, the same tenderness.
All of it lulls them to sleep before much longer, and the stars blink from high overhead.
A/N: I loved the concept of them camping together, but especially of Maya being a big baby and being horrible with directions, so she just heads for the lake and hopes she'll be rescued. Romantic and idiotic. And of course them being roommates as third-years. Imagine.