A piece for 0mn! Set 10 years after graduation from Seishou...
Disclaimer: I do not own Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight.
All I Ever Wanted
"All right, good work everyone. That's a wrap for today."
Maya hears the words of her director and dips her head. Together with the rest of her crew-mates and fellow actors, she faces the other staff and bows deeply.
"Thank you for your hard work today."
The movie set bustles with movement now as the cast and crew begin cleaning up for the day. The cameras wind down, the lights shut off, and the people commend one another before heading their separate ways.
Likewise, Maya says her goodbyes to the other actors, her manager, and her director, but only for formality's sake.
Just like every day before this one, she gathers her bag and heads for the parking lot to her car, faintly remembering better days when she'd truly had a connection with each and every person she'd worked with.
It's been nearly ten years since she'd graduated Seishou Music Academy alongside her fellow classmates of the 99th cohort. In those days, every play had been magical, every recital had been dazzling, and every performance had been radiant.
However, the same can't be said for the line of work Maya had found herself in for nearly the past decade now. Of course it's still the acting and performing she adores, but…
Shaking her head, Maya clears away her thoughts as she reaches her car and unlocks it. She puts her things down on the empty passenger seat and turns the key in the ignition. She turns on the radio, allowing the music and chatter to mindlessly distract her from her memories as she begins the drive home.
It's the same sight she's seen for the past ten years. The same gray streets and honking cars, the same angry people trying to rush home from jobs they detest to spouses they're frustrated with. Perhaps the world isn't truly that way, but it's all that Maya can see.
After all, the color had faded from her world long ago. Maybe not literally, but in every other sense.
She meanders through the rush-hour traffic for an hour until her prefecture is in sight, then turns off down a side road. The buildings are quite nice for such an area, but Maya had never received much joy from the scenery. Any beauty she'd once seen in the world has long-since faded.
As she pulls into her space in the parking garage, she turns off the car, picks up her bag, and heads for her building. She makes her way up the steps of her apartment, fishes out her key, and pushes inside. The same empty rooms stare bleakly back at her.
Putting her bag down on the couch, she turns on the television to once again provide some background noise before heading into the kitchen to start preparing her dinner.
She eats alone at her kitchen table, cleans the dishes, and then heads to the bathroom to shower.
It's another one of those nights where she almost sings out of habit, like she used to, and sometimes she'd harmonize with the person in the stall beside her…
But now, the hum dies halfway up her throat, and Maya shuts off the water without a sound.
She dresses herself, drying her hair for a while, thankful for the noise to prevent her brain from thinking.
It's been so long. She really isn't sure why she still keeps thinking about them. About her…
Well, truth be told, she knows exactly why, but she'd never gotten the chance to admit it to anyone other than herself.
Rather, she'd gotten the chance… she just hadn't taken it.
Every day, Maya does her best to focus on the present. But every night the past inevitably comes back to haunt her.
By the time she's finally willing to turn off the dryer, her hair is bone-dry. She leaves it down, and clips only the usual pins to the front left of her bangs. Her indigo ribbon is long gone with the memories.
As she exits the bathroom, she heads into the bedroom just to gather up laundry. And, as always, she can't help but let her eyes wander to the desk, to the old photos that give the only bit of color she has left. She wishes she'd ask Nana to let her have more of them.
Maya's collection consists of only four photographs from her time back in high school.
The first being the photo they'd taken together as first-years after their 99th performance of Starlight - the time when Maya had played the lead with a certain other person.
The second being the photo of their 100th performance as second-years, when Hikari had join their ranks and played the lead alongside Karen.
The third, of course, being of their 101st performance as third-years, where Maya and her partner had once again reclaimed the lead roles, only reversed.
And the fourth being all nine of them smiling and holding their diplomas after graduation.
As she looks over each and every one of them now, Maya's eyes naturally linger on one person in particular.
The name slips out without her intention, like a prayer in a faithless house.
For all the times Maya had teased her partner about not being honest, in the end, it had been Maya who had withheld her honest feelings from her.
Where Maya had remained in Japan after graduation, Claudine had returned to France to pursue her career and develop herself as an actress according to her own desires. They'd kept each other's numbers at first, but over time contact information had changed as they'd switched agencies, and as such they'd eventually lost touch.
The only way Maya remains updated on information about her old partner is through the international news stations. She always has to wonder if Claudine is ever watching, or hoping to hear news about Maya, too.
The regrets that have piled up over the years reach their peak every evening, and come crashing down over her at night.
Maya leaves the photos behind with a sigh, and gathers the rest of her clothes from the hamper. Once she's finished with the laundry, she gets ready to settle in for her nightly routine before bed. Typically, she'll sit on the sofa and read the current bestseller until her eyes get drowsy.
But tonight, she finds herself being pulled to a different spot on her bookshelf. Her hand reaches up to just the right spot, her fingers pinching the thin spine of the booklet with the perfect grip, as though she'd never put it down all those years ago.
Carefully, she withdraws her old script of Starlight, worn and thin after being loved so thoroughly. She cradles it close to her heart and brings it into the living room with her.
Maya sits quietly on the sofa, folding her legs beneath herself as she leans back against the cushions. Picking up the remote, she lowers the volume of the television, but lets it continue playing faintly in the background. Then, cradling the beloved script in her lap, she slowly opens up to the first page.
Her eyes scan the familiar red font, the Index dividing the scenes into Acts. The nostalgic scent of the crinkled parchment brings her ten years back in time, to a busy rehearsal room alive with chattering voices.
She stays for as long as she can, until she can't hear those voices any longer.
She then turns directly to the end of the booklet, to the back cover page that would normally be blank.
But hers is adorned with precious colors. Signatures and messages from each of her dearest friends wave back at her. She still vividly remembers how they'd signed each other's scripts instead of their year books, each using a different colored ink.
Maya looks them all over fondly.
Karen's excited red, Hikari's honest blue, Mahiru's calming green…
Then Futaba's passionate purple, Kaoruko's cursive pink, Junna's professional teal, Nana's vibrant gold…
Maya turns her face away as a surge of emotion rushes up suddenly. She just barely manages to wipe the tears away in time before they can fall onto the delicate paper or smear the ink.
Not that she even needs to read the orange message directly. She'd already memorized every curve of her handwriting, every line of the little doodle of the Eiffel Tower she'd drawn beside the declaration written in a mix of kanji and French:
I'll (defeet?) defeat you, Tendo Maya! C'est moi - la star!
Even though it's only written in words, and even though she hadn't even read it aloud just now, Maya can hear it said clearly in her voice. She lets out a single laugh that ends up as a sob.
A long moment passes as she recovers, clearing her face off on her sleeve. Drawing in a deep breath, she turns back to the beginning of the script and starts to read to herself;
"This is the story of a nearby and distant planet. It is an epic of ancient times, a drama of the far future..."
As she reads through the story, the performance she'd put on in her third and final year at Seishou replays vividly in her mind.
Much like the first year, she had landed the main role alongside her co-star and rival. Only this time, Maya had earned the part of Flora, whom Claire had forgotten about.
A certain name almost comes from her lips again, but she corrects it to the name of the character instead.
She wonders if her Claire had really and truly forgotten all about her by now…
As Maya re-reads the script, she recalls when she, as Flora, had gotten her eyes scorched by the brightness of the star and fallen from the tower, eternally separated from Claire…
And even though they had rewritten the ending of the play to be much kinder the year before, and had kept that same happy ending in their third year… Maya had lost sight of her own happy ending the day of graduation.
Even now nearly ten years later, her heart still aches as poignantly as it did then.
Again, she feels the tears overflowing, and swiftly wipes her eyes before they can fall onto the precious booklet.
At the same moment, the quieted droning of the television suddenly formulates words that Maya's ears hone onto immediately.
"And tonight," says a female reporter. "We come to you with breaking news on the topic of international entertainment regarding world-famous French actress Saijou Claudine-"
Maya nearly sways off her sofa, making a strangled sound. The only way she'd ever heard that name said within the past decade had been the few times when she'd managed to utter it herself, or when she'd hear it on the news. All of the words spoken surrounding that name suddenly register in her mind and make perfect sense, grabbing her attention and drawing her eyes to the screen.
It almost feels like a dream.
On the television, they are playing various brief clips of her - of Maya's old classmate. Even to see her through a screen, she still shines more beautifully than anything Maya has ever seen since the day of her departure. The news plays clips of everything from the commercials she'd starred in as a child, to a few recordings of plays Maya herself was included in back in high school, and finally some of Claudine's more-recent works in certain movies, dance competitions, and live theatre.
Maya had tried to watch the recordings of all Claudine's newer works that she could all the way from Japan, and it never ceased to tear her heart between joy and regret. Now, as they play more of her clips, Maya forces herself to focus on the words being said.
"It's just been announced that Saijou has recently been engaged to her fellow French actor, a man whom she has co-starred with in her upcoming film-"
And suddenly, all at once, Maya can't hear anything anymore. Just a terrible, dull ringing flatlining through her skull.
The booklet falls from her lap onto the floor as the television begins showing scenes of Claudine standing beside a man. They smile and wave at the cameras together, as the text across the bottom of the screen blasts red characters to spell out the reality of it all.
Breaking: Famous French actress Saijou Claudine engaged to co-star. Saijou attended school and trained in Japan for many years before moving back to France to pursue her career in theater. Recently, she met her fellow lead in her upcoming film. He proposed to Saijou last night, after their last day of filming.
Maya can't move. It feels like a nightmare, like something she has no control over, but is inevitably forced to be a part of.
She isn't Maya's any longer.
The tears bombard her, spilling down her face. She shakes from her very core, shuddering almost violently.
Like nothing she'd ever known before.
And she knows she has no one to blame but herself. Her own cowardice for not telling Claudine of her feelings on their last day together. Even if Claudine had refused her, at least Maya could proudly say she'd told her.
But she can't be proud of anything now. She can only curl forward and weep into her hands.
The taste in her mouth is so bitter she doesn't think she'll ever be able to know anything else ever again for as long as she lives.
She doesn't even have the strength or willpower to reach for the remote and turn off the news that continues shouting those headlines at her.
She can't even get up and stumble to her bed.
All she can do is curl in on herself weakly on the couch, and relive the memories that once made her smile.
She cries for hours until her consciousness fades.
When morning comes, she wishes it hadn't.
The apartment is grey with early-dawn sunlight, pale and misty and somehow painful to look at. The television is still running, and the moment she can understand the words being said, a nauseating sense of dread fills her entire chest.
"An update regarding last night's news about French actress Saijou Claudine's recent engagement-"
Maya won't hear it. She can't bear to. She can't.
With her eyes squeezed shut, she grabs the remove and pushes the Off button so hard her nail aches. She drops it onto the couch, then slowly pushes herself up.
Everything hurts as though she'd been in some kind of physical altercation the night before. She can recall thoughts and feelings that had crossed her mind last night, hopes that the news she'd heard had just been dreams. But now as she wipes her sleeve across her dampened face, the harsh reality is all too apparent.
She doesn't move. She doesn't want to. If she could simply curl back up and lie there forever, she would be fine with that.
But she knows a certain someone wouldn't be. Maya can hear her chiding tone in her mind as though she were standing right there next to her.
Quoi? Just what do you think you're doing moping around? You've got work to do, Tendo Maya!
Maya's projected image and imagination of her voice are so perfect she almost smiles for a second.
But she can't. She can't smile anymore.
Not even at the memories, like she used to for the past ten years.
Now that she's aware of this news that Claudine is getting married to someone else, Maya is certain she'll never be able to smile again.
She just hopes Claudine can. She hopes he'll make her happy.
Maya's body shudders, but when she heaves out the breath it just comes as a dry, rasping sob. She has no tears left to shed.
She sits there unmoving for what feels like hours. The passage of time no longer matters to her. Her whole world had slowed the moment Claudine had left her on that plane.
But now time doesn't even feel real anymore. Because no matter what she does, she can't go back.
For a split second, a distant memory resurfaces: an underground stage, a glowing red tiara, an eternal wish…
She shakes herself off sharply and forces the thoughts away.
She could never. Even if she were able to go back to that school and that stage somehow, the giraffe wouldn't still be there. And if he were, he'd never let her in as she was now - not even a fraction of the Stage Girl she used to be.
Even if she could fight again, she has no radiance left anyway.
Maya sits there, trapped within herself until the sunlight begins pouring in. She turns away from it, offended that it still has the audacity to shine so brightly, without caring at all for the deep, aching sadness that has her seized within its grasp. Again, a familiar voice sounds in her mind, as she imagines it would speak to her now.
Mechante va. You've got work to do. The show must go on.
Maya grits her teeth and breathes out, replying as though she were really there to listen.
"You are absolutely right…"
So with great effort she moves her legs, which feel twice as heavy as she knows they should. When her bare feet touch the carpet, she hears a crinkling of pages. Bending forward, she carefully gathers up the booklet she'd let fall the night before, holding it close to her chest.
She isn't sure if she'll ever be able to read through it again. It would just be too painful. She leaves it on the coffee table, and gets to her feet.
And today, the world is duller than ever before, in spite of the cruelly blinding sun.
Maya moves slowly, rigidly, dressing herself out of habit. She brushes her hair a few times without truly caring, and even though she hasn't had it for ten years, she still instinctually searches for her ribbon again until she remembers.
She limps into the kitchen, but her stomach hurts too much for her to eat anything but some small fruit slices. The tang of citrus stings her mouth, and she soon finds that sting has made its way back up to her eyes and nose again.
Regardless, she takes her bag and heads out the door.
She has work to do. If she lets herself become a slacker now after all this time, what would Claudine think of her?
Maya knows Claudine probably doesn't keep up with news about her anymore, especially now that she has a fiancé. But she pretends there could be a slim hope that she might, and Maya uses that to motivate herself.
She gets into her car, starts it, and begins the drive to her set.
She doesn't dare to touch the radio or glance at any of the news billboards on her way.
All around her, the world seems just as normal as ever.
No one cares that Maya's soul has been shattered. No one at all.
As she drives, a dry, uncomfortable taste settles on the back of her tongue. Her hands grip the wheel tightly so they won't shake, and her vision blurs more than once.
She wants to go back. Someway. Somehow.
She just wishes she could go back and tell her what she'd always longed to say.
She doesn't even realize she's spoken the name until she hears it for herself. A dizzying wave of anguish smashes over her.
She doesn't hear the sudden blaring of a horn until it's already too late.
There's a collision, and then an explosion.
Her car flips several times at the impact, spiraling out of control as the world crashes violently around her. Pain erupts through every part of her body. Everything is so loud she can't even hear her own screams.
Just when she'd thought she'd lost everything, the last thing Maya had left is taken from her.
There's a ringing sound, continuous and dull and monotone.
The longer she listens, the louder it becomes.
Until it's the sudden blare of a buzzer, the kind that signifies the beginning of an event.
Or the end of one.
When Maya wakes, she finds herself onstage.
And not just any stage.
These thick red curtains.
This smooth brown wood.
Those rows and rows of audience seats.
The brightly-colored spotlights shining down overhead, focused on a pink-taped marking.
The words come to her as naturally as breathing.
And then, as though her words had awakened something, the stage begins to churn beneath her. A deep voice echoes out; a voice she's heard in far too many dreams and nightmares to count.
"And so you have returned. I understand."
Maya takes a step back and turns. There, standing before her, is a giraffe.
She can't make sense of it. When she looks down at herself, she finds her body is still twenty-seven years old, and she is wearing the same formal blouse and skirt she had put on this morning. She is not the high schooler she once was when she stood upon this stage, nor is she granted her costume nor her weapon. It can't be real…
And yet, it certainly feels as though it is.
The giraffe blinks back at her, waiting. Maya swallows, then draws in a thin breath.
"Where… Why am I here? How did…?"
The giraffe lets out a long, long sigh that takes quite a while to work its way all the way up his neck. Slowly, he folds his legs beneath himself and settles onto his belly.
"It has been quite some time, Tendo Maya-san. I must admit, I would have preferred it if our next meeting after all this time could have been under better circumstances. However, given the situation, I understand."
Maya stays put, trying to remain calm.
"What situation? What do you mean? Why have I been called back here, now of all times…?"
The giraffe doesn't respond right away. He just closes his eyes and dips his head slightly.
"I think it would be easier for you to understand if you could see for yourself."
But before she can finish the question, Maya staggers as a slight pain twinges in the back of her skull. She squeezes her eyes shut, grabbing her head in both hands as images suddenly flash across the backs of her eyelids.
There was an accident, a horrible crash, with debris and pieces strewn across the road.
There were people shouting and ambulances rushing in.
There were news reporters and familiar people from her movie set.
And then, there was Maya.
She watches her own body being recovered from the wreckage, watches the blood dripping off the gurney as they rush her to the hospital. There's a cluster of people, a barrage of voices and words she can't understand as they try to save her.
But in the end, she is left to lie still in her bed all alone. And judging by the grim looks on the doctors' faces and the murmurs of regret, it's all too clear how her story had ended.
She watches it all unfold as though it were a film, as though it didn't truly involve her. But as the images fade and she slowly reopens her eyes to find herself back on this stage, she knows. She knows it was real.
This was her tragic ending. This was her fate.
Slowly, she lifts her eyelids once again, feeling a fresh pang of misery stab her chest as warm wetness blurs her vision. The tears drip down onto the stage she'd stood upon so many times, so long ago, seeping into the pink tape that marks Position Zero. The sounds of her sobs echo softly across the theater.
All the while, the giraffe remains silent as he watches.
Maya clutches at her chest, knowing it hurts, but unable to feel much of anything anymore. Perhaps it hurt so terribly that it had gone numb.
"So this is it…" she whispers. "So this… is how 'Tendo Maya' ends…"
Now, when he speaks, the giraffe almost sounds gentle, regretful - things he'd never sounded like before.
"Truly, it is a shame. At the present moment, your body is lying in a vegetative state. But there is no brain function detected, and your organs are beginning to fail. By the end of the day, your life will be gone forever, and you will welcome your death."
The word sends a shiver up her spine. Her jaw aches from crying, and everything feels messy and wrong.
She knows that once her real body dies, she will no longer have this consciousness, either. She will no longer be able to remember anything or anyone.
So she tries now; tries to recall all of their faces, all of their voices, all of their smiles.
But somehow, the person she wants to remember the most won't come to her.
She is there, in some corner of Maya's memory, but she is faded, to the point where Maya can hardly see her at all.
This isn't how she wants her life to end. Not like this…
The tears drip down faster, burning her eyes and her face as they go.
The deep voice comes again.
"Lift your head, Tendo Maya-san. For there is a reason I have summoned you here one last time."
Maya gasps, choking back the hiccups jumping up her throat. She does as she's told and raises her head, looking at him past the blur of tears.
He blinks his long eye lashes, and swishes his tail; unlike her, he still has his ribbon.
"Indeed," he says. "I have brought you here to make one final offer to you."
Maya sniffs and wipes her arm across her face, listening seriously to him.
The giraffe dips his head.
"Yes. You see, a decade ago, you and your fellow Stage Girls provided more than ample entertainment for me upon this very stage. Together you sang, danced, and battled for radiance. You defeated the Korosu and saved countless plays. Truly, it was a sight to behold."
He sighs wistfully, and his tone takes on a bit of yearning for a brief moment. Maya can only assume the revues had since concluded after she and her class had graduated Seishou. When the giraffe next opens his eyes, he gazes directly at her.
"And you, Tendo Maya-san. You were the Top Star in some regard, were you not? Perhaps not in terms of the revues, perhaps not officially as far as this stage was concerned… But overall, during your time at Seishou Music Academy, the top student who led the pack and stood apart from all the rest… Tendo Maya-san, that was you. I understand."
Maya used to be wary of him more than anything. But now, in the moments of what will be her final day, she is drawn to the promise she knows his words will soon hold. Cautiously, she takes a step closer.
"Then why? Why have you brought me here now?"
He dips his head.
"You see, it is my belief that a phenomenal Stage Girl such as yourself - who provided such entertainment and whose feelings reached the hearts of many in her prime - deserves a little something in return during her hour of need."
He glances upward, and she follows his gaze to the nine spotlights overhead. All of the colors are still lit up; red, blue, green, purple, pink, teal, yellow, orange…
Only the white has gone dim and lifeless.
But judging by how vibrant the others still are, the white seems hardly missed.
When he returns his gaze to her, his green eyes pierce into hers.
"Tendo Maya-san. For your contribution to this stage, and for your accomplishments as a Stage Girl in life, I shall once again provide a bit of special treatment."
Her heart lodges in the base of her throat. She clutches at her chest, nails curling desperately through her clothes.
"Unfortunately," he says. "Being that there was no revue nor battle for radiance in order to make payment, I cannot offer you a wish quite the same way as I might have been able to in the past. You understand."
Maya's hopes that had just been beginning to rise only to fall once more. But she shakes herself off; even if he had been able to grant her a wish, what would she have used it for? To return to the life she'd just left and avoid the accident? So she could continue living a miserable existence where she'd lost her reason to smile?
Or would she have been so cruel as to somehow interfere with Claudine's engagement? Take her away from the fiancé she loved?
Maya is sickened with herself just to consider such a thing. She pushes the wretched thoughts far away, to someplace where she hopes they'll never surface again. When she's able, she meets the giraffe's gaze once more.
"So then, what exactly is it that you are offering me?"
He flicks an ear, tilting his head a little.
"Just a small gift, and nothing more."
Maya exhales a long breath, as steadily as she can manage.
The giraffe nods.
"I understand. You see, this stage does recognize the radiance you once shone upon it. As such, it will allow me to offer you this small gift; Tendo Maya-san, since your death is now upon you, you may relive one single day of your life."
Maya's heart begins to pound, so hard and so quickly that she can't believe her real body is withering away right this very moment.
"Please do not misunderstand," he says. "This will not be a real, genuine rewinding of time, as I was once permitted to do. Should you choose to accept this gift, everything you experience will be only in your memory. Nothing of what you say or do will occur in reality - or in the equivalent reality of the time you have chosen to relive.
"You will adhere to the same script of the true day itself. You will do the very same things and say the very same words. No changes may be made. Nothing will be altered. This is only an opportunity to relive a time you cherish, and nothing more. Your memories will replay in immersive detail, and you will be allowed to interact with them, so long as you do not stray from the original 'script' of that day. You may enjoy it, or regret it, as you please. But no changes may or will be made, regardless of what you desire."
Here, he cranes his head forward over her, holding her gaze.
"Is this understood?"
Maya's lips part, but no sound comes just yet.
Reliving memories. Reliving one single day of her life. Any day she chooses.
She could choose any of them.
The day she had met her friends.
The day of their first sleepover together.
The day of their 99th Starlight…
Only thoughts of the time she'd spent at Seishou cross her mind. The days before and after were ones where she hadn't felt even half the emotion she'd experienced during high school.
She considers each and every day she'd spent there, every morning spent chatting with her friends, every afternoon spent practicing with them, every evening spent laughing with them…
And much like before, one person in particular is constantly coming to the forefront of her mind. Even though her image is still blurrier than all the rest of them.
Maya… could be with her again.
Just for a day. One last time…
She shakes her head sharply, refusing to do anything that might somehow interfere with Claudine's current happiness. But then she recalls the giraffe's words.
This... will not alter anything in reality. Whatever I choose to relive will occur just as it did on that day originally. Nothing will change. I won't be taking anything from her…
And… this is Maya's final day in this world. The final day she will ever be able to relive or remember. The final thing she will ever, ever know...
So why not enjoy it? Even if it was merely a fabrication in the end, perhaps that could allow her to be just a little bit happy when her body takes its final breath.
She inhales, and it trembles.
As if to reassure her, the giraffe reiterates his statement.
"Remember, nothing will be changed. You will simply be viewing the memories - not going back to them with your real body. You will follow the script, and nothing will change. Nothing at all. At sunset, you will be brought back to your true body and you shall meet your death. That is simply how it must be. I understand. Now then, do you, Tendo Maya-san?"
Nothing will change. No matter how badly she might want it to - in spite of what she tells herself she truly wants - nothing will be altered from this.
She will still die tonight. And Claudine will still marry her new fiancé without ever seeing or hearing from Maya again.
If that is the case…
If Claudine will continue to live her life happily, even if it means Maya will no longer be living on this same Earth…
Then she would be fine with reliving just one day with the memory of her.
Maya draws in another breath, and this time it doesn't waver. She holds the giraffe's gaze without blinking.
He dips his head.
"Very well. Then what day is it you wish to relive, Tendo Maya-san?"
Maya has already decided on her answer. She closes her eyes and projects her answer to him. The giraffe replies.
"Hey, Tendo Maya!"
Maya's eyes fly open.
She is standing just outside of Starlight Hall, which is strewn with decorations and flowers and balloons. A large banner that reads "Congratulations 99th Cohort!" flutters across the entrance to the building behind her.
All around her, girls dressed in the same uniform as her are walking together and chatting in excited voices. She recognizes all of them, some better than others. Nana and Junna, Futaba and Kaoruko, Karen and Mahiru and Hikari and-
"Hey! Tendo Maya? Have you finally gone daft? Quit spacing out, already!"
Maya shakes herself off a little as her eyes are ultimately drawn to that person. Hands on her hips, eyes narrowed in frustration, Claudine glares at her like an adult scolding a child.
"Honnêtement! Do you need to go to the nurse or something? You look like you just got here from another planet!"
It's been ten years since Maya has been with her. Ten years since she has heard her voice and felt her presence directly. Her heart and soul yearn for Claudine as they have for all those years.
And yet, right now, she has to remember she is once again a third-year in high school, with a different kind of relationship with her. So she has to act accordingly.
"My apologies," she says with a smile and a dip of her head. "Today is a day for reliving old memories, is it not?" Perhaps a bit more literally in her case.
Claudine rolls her eyes.
"Just don't space out like this during the ceremony, Miss Top Star."
"Of course not."
Claudine seems satisfied enough with her answer and turns to start chatting with a few other girls who have scurried up.
Maya utilizes the moment to finish taking in the scene of her last day, even if the reality is falsified. Her projected body and thoughts and words are her own, but she finds she is automatically behaving as she did on this day ten years earlier. She walks as she was meant to walk, speaks as she was meant to speak. She has to wonder if she ever did try to go off-script if the words would even come out as she wanted them to, or simply as they were meant to be.
Either way, she has to remind herself it isn't real.
Only a gift. For all of my efforts in the revues, and my hard work to become Top Star.
Now that she's on her deathbed, she's glad for all the blood, sweat, and tears she had poured into the stage in life if it meant she could get to relive this day with her friends one last time.
As Maya mingles with everyone, it's eventually announced that the students should begin making their way to the school. So Maya falls into step beside Claudine and all the others as they begin making the walk together.
It's nonstop chatter and excitement, with Nana showing off every single photo she has on her phone, and everyone recounting memories of the past few years. Mahiru tears up before long, which causes Karen to start to blubber, and then Hikari mumbles "Bakaren" and starts to cry softly, too. Right away, their friends move in to help.
"H-Hey, you three!" Junna says. "Don't start with that now! We haven't even gotten to school yet!"
"Aw, come here, come here!" Nana positions herself to hug Mahiru and Karen, then Karen and Hikari as they continue walking. Behind them, Kaoruko has pulled out her handheld fan and covered her nose.
"Honestly, such crybabies this early in the day."
"What's that?" Futaba leers. "As if you're not hiding sniffles behind that fan."
"I-I am not!"
"Kaoruko," Claudine smiles. "It's all right to be honest for once."
"I don't want to hear that coming from you!"
They laugh lightly as the group continues forward.
Maya smiles but remains mostly quiet, as she had on the actual day. She must stick to her script. Though… she has to wonder just how strict that script might be.
Maya dares to challenge this reality, just a little. She tries initiating something that never happened on this day.
Maya reaches out to touch her hair, pulling her hand away as if to pluck a stray leaf that wasn't actually there.
"You had a petal in your hair."
She wonders if Claudine will ignore this unofficial scene in the memory. But somehow, she responds.
"Ah, merci. Now that you mention it, your ribbon is off." Claudine moves behind her a little, and Maya feels her hands pawing gently through her hair to adjust the blue ribbon.
Maya has to conjure up much of her self-control in order to keep walking. It's the first time in over a decade since she has felt Claudine's touch. Even if it isn't real in reality, it's real to her. She feels a sudden rush of prickling behind her nose and eyes, but draws in a sharp breath to hold the tears back.
Once Claudine is finished, she moves back to walk at her side again.
"Thank you, Saijou-san."
And Maya dares to try one more thing. She reaches over to take her hand very casually as they walk, which is another thing she never did on this day at this time.
And rather than something suddenly happening that puts Claudine out of her range to prevent it… she is able to touch her. Claudine reacts with clear shock at the unexpected contact.
"Hey, Tendo Maya-"
"Humor me," Maya murmurs. "After all, it is our last day walking this path together." She tries to use words that not only express how she feels as she is in real life now, but that would also fit expressing how she would have felt on the day of graduation.
Claudine considers it for a few seconds, and since they are at the back of the group, she relents.
"Whatever." With a small blush, she looks away as she squeezes Maya's hand in return.
Maya holds onto her hand firmly for as long as she can, expecting that any second now this will all be put to a stop and stolen away from her for going off-script.
But as she continues walking, she's permitted to keep her hold on Claudine.
Perhaps it is only major changes that cannot occur, but small things like this are permissible.
She isn't certain, but she isn't about to start questioning it.
After several more minutes, the nine of them reach the school building, which is decorated very similarly to the dormitory, strewn with banners and lights and flowers with students and teachers all around, taking photos or talking or enjoying some snacks before the ceremony.
As they arrive at the festivities, Maya ultimately releases Claudine's hand, since there are more people around who might see them. But with this, she has confirmed that she's able to push the limits of this gift to a certain degree.
She knows how the rest of this day will go; they will have their graduation ceremony and receive their diplomas, then have the rest of the day to themselves as they are officially sent off to enter the world.
They will spend most of the day together as a group, but at the end, Claudine and Maya will separate from the others to spend some time alone. They will go here and there together before returning to Seishou where Claudine will say a final farewell to everyone before heading for the airport to meet her parents and fly back to France.
That is where Maya will stay quiet, and let her go.
It's going to hurt.
Perhaps even more than it did the first time.
But at the very least, she'll get to spend the day with her.
And once this is all over-
I… will die.
A shudder runs through her.
She can't get so caught up in this reliving of the past that she neglects to remember her current situation. Her real future ends tonight, in a hospital room, alone.
So that's why she's going to do everything she can in this false memory to enjoy herself to the fullest.
She talks with her friends, reminisces on memories, sings old songs with them and recites old lines from plays. Her underclassmen come up to ask her advice for their future years, and Maya tells them everything in earnest.
Before she knows it, it's time for the ceremony. Maya joins everyone inside the building, where the rows and rows of chairs have been set up in the gymnasium before a podium and stage, surrounded by more banners and flowers and strings of lights. Maya gets in line to stand in her place, but her eyes always wander to Claudine.
Their principal speaks, and various teachers give speeches before Junna herself goes up to speak as Student Council President. All around Maya, her friends and classmates get teary-eyed. Maya allows herself to re-experience that raw emotion, as well, though no tears come.
When Junna finishes speaking and steps down, there is a lasting applause before the principal returns to the podium to begin calling out names to hand the graduating class their diplomas.
Maya stands firmly in line and watches her friends in particular.
Karen tries to strut up proudly, but her smile keeps wobbling as she fights valiantly against the tears.
Hikari shows more emotion today in front of others than she ever has before when it wasn't for a play.
Mahiru actually manages to remain composed and gives a big smile as she accepts her diploma, but the moment she returns to her line she throws her arms around her roommates and sobs.
Futaba tries her best to grin all the while too, but once she's accepted her diploma and shaken the principal's hand, she has to bite her lip and wipe her eyes.
Kaoruko is about the same, giving off a sophisticated air of accomplishment until the moment she's handed the diploma, at which point she begins to sniffle.
Junna doesn't cry onstage, but remains professional as the Student Council President should, though a tear drips down her cheek as she's taking her leave.
Nana cries as much as Karen, if not more so, hiccuping all the way up to her diploma and all the way back, but she smiles brightly through it all.
Next, Maya watches Claudine stride confidently forward. Maya applauds with the rest of the crowd without taking her eyes off of her for a second. Even blinking seems like a crime when she knows these are some of the final hours when she will ever get to look at her again.
Even if it isn't really Claudine, her voice sounds real enough and her touch feels real enough to Maya. She's more than happy to let herself be fooled and to accept this as reality.
As Claudine stands at the center of the stage to accept her diploma, she turns back to the audience to bow deeply to them. When she lifts her face again, tears have sprung up in her eyes, and Maya only knows this because Claudine is looking directly at her.
At last, Maya is called, and a loud applause rises up to meet her. She lets her body move as it did on that day ten years earlier, lets the emotions rush through her as she bows to the women who saw her through her high school years, and then to the girls who had sat alongside her in those classes.
When she steps off the stage, her friends are waiting for her with open arms. They all hug her and cry, and Maya feels all of their warmth and love as if it were real again.
Before long, the ceremony concludes, and the 99th Cohort of Seishou Music Academy is officially sent off into the world.
And yet, their first order of business is to stay right here, reliving more memories, taking more pictures, talking with more people. All the while, Maya stays by Claudine's side more than anyone else's, and for once, Claudine doesn't protest about it.
For another hour or so, Maya relives this day as she should, occasionally pushing the limits of this gifted world as she'd done earlier. She goes off her script just slightly, only every now and then.
Like by changing her words in conversation so they still have the same meaning, but are - in fact - different. Or by partaking in actions that hardly change anything, but are still not exactly the same as she'd done originally. She takes Claudine's hand a few more times when she isn't supposed to, she laughs when she should have been crying, she cries when she should have been smiling. All things that can still fit into this memory, though they are the feelings of her current, twenty-seven-year-old self at heart.
Before much longer, it's time to meet with everyone and start spending their last day together. When everyone has cleared away their tears for now, Karen energetically poses the question.
"So! Where should we go first, everyone? The first place we go together as graduators of Seishou Music Academy!"
"Karen-chan," Mahiru says gently. "The word is 'graduates'."
As everyone shares a good laugh, Maya once again wants to test the waters. She knows they're all going to a cafe in town for lunch together, but she wants to try something else.
-the park, she'd been trying to say. A place where they had spent many weekends out in the open practicing for various plays in front of random audiences. That park held memories for all of them.
But Maya never gets the chance to say it.
This time, when she tries to challenge this world that was gifted to her, everything suddenly stops, frozen and silent. Her heart seizes, and she tightens her grip on Claudine's hand, even though Claudine is stiff and unmoving beside her now.
Maya whirls around without letting go of her, gasping as the giraffe suddenly appears. He looks back at her with unblinking eyes. When he speaks, it's with a warning in his tone.
Maya's heart squeezes as dismay crashes down on her. She'd gotten ahead of herself. She'd been warned, and she'd tried to sneak around the rules, anyway. Now, the world she'd been reliving has come to a dead halt all around her, save for him. She lowers her head, shaking all over.
He's quiet for a moment, remaining where he stands, his neck as tall as the banner that reads of congratulations for their class. Maya braces herself for when he finally does speak again.
"You were warned, yes? You were warned that if you go off-script, this gift shall be taken from you. I managed to interfere this time, before you could say something that may make you regret your choice. But should it happen again, I will not be so lenient. Am I understood?"
"Yes-" She all but chokes out the word, desperate to be given one more chance at this. "I understand. I will not go off my script or do anything that would have altered the events that resulted in the current reality."
The giraffe dips his head.
"Very well. Then I shall allow you to continue here. But this is your final warning, Tendo Maya-san."
There's a brief blurring of motion, and the next thing Maya knows, he is gone, and time has resumed.
"What?" Claudine is prompting her now, giving her hand a slight tug to bring her back to the conversation. "You started saying something and then spaced out again, Tendo Maya. Where did you want to go?"
Maya inhales a deep breath, thankful she'd been given another chance here. She can't afford to mess it up and risk losing it all now. So she changes what she'd wanted to say, and says what she's supposed to.
"Perhaps the cafe."
"That's a great idea, Maya-chan!"
"I was thinking the same thing!"
"All right, then it's decided!"
And so Maya begins walking with them toward town.
She'd almost forgotten the circumstances of her current situation. She'd almost allowed herself to believe this was a reality where she could do as she pleased of her own free will.
But that isn't the case. In reality, she is dying, and no one will be there with her in her final moments.
This is just as the giraffe had said—a gift, and nothing more.
It is not reality. It will not change anything. It will not prevent her from dying at sunset.
Her death is inevitable. She must simply consider herself lucky that she is being granted such special privilege as to relive such a meaningful day of her life.
And so, Maya obeys her script, so as not to lose what she's been given.
They go to the cafe together, sit and eat and talk together. After that, they proceed to the arcade and play all sorts of games. Karen wins Hikari the same Mr. White plushie, and Mahiru the same Suzudaru Cat plushie. Futaba buys Kaoruko the same candies, and Kaoruko reveals with a pout that she'd brought identical ones for her. Junna and Nana sing the same songs at the mini karaoke machine, and dance the same dance on the rhythm game simulation.
And Maya does all she is meant to, and nothing more. At least, not anything drastically different.
She still accepts Claudine's challenge to a dance-off, and still gets a higher score by 2 points.
She still loses to her at a racing game, and still ties with her at a scavenger hunt game.
She still insists on winning her a prize that Claudine can take with her back to France, still spends far too much money on the crane game for it, but still manages to win a small stuffed white bird plushie for her in the end.
Claudine accepts it with a blush and tucks it carefully into her bag alongside her diploma.
After the arcade, the nine of them visit the mall and go to a few of their favorite stores together, recounting their high school memories all the while.
Maya can only settle for her minor alterations of holding Claudine's hand when she originally shouldn't have. But Claudine never pushes her away.
And as things are, that is more than enough for Maya. She just tries to enjoy this for all that it is, even if it's only a projection of her memories.
Her friends still speak and act and look as they always had to Maya. She keeps every little piece of them close to her heart, which still feels as if it's growing warmer and warmer, as though she were truly here with all of them now, ten years in the past.
The fabricated time moves along with the real current time. As the hours pass in her memory, Maya is able to determine just how much time she has left to live in the current day, as well.
She enjoys it all as best she can, oftentimes wishing she could go back to relive a certain moment again just once more, but she can't.
Before long, the girls break up into their respective pairs, with the promise to meet back at school in a few hours, where they'll say their final goodbyes before seeing Claudine off to the airport for France. She's the only one of them who is leaving today, and everyone wants to be sure to say their farewells properly.
But for now, Maya is granted her time alone with Claudine.
And as desperately as she wants to do things differently, she refrains. She's too scared of having this gift ripped away from her. She's too scared of losing her last day with Claudine, which - even though it isn't real - is real enough to Maya.
So she keeps hold of Claudine's hand, and obeys her original script.
They do a little shopping together, get a few sweets and drinks to share, then wander the mall for a while. They sit and talk about their old performances, their classes, their rehearsals, their many evenings in the studio practicing together.
In getting to relive this one single day of her memories, Maya is able to relive many of the days before it as well, since it is a day of reminiscing. It truly was the best choice of what to experience again before she dies.
And to be able to do it while at Claudine's side, while seeing her smile, listening to her laughter, and feeling her warmth…
Given her current life and situation, it's the best Maya could ever have asked for as her final day on earth.
Of course she would rather things had gone differently.
Of course she would rather have confessed her feelings properly and gotten to fall in love with Claudine and pursued a future together with her.
Of course she would rather not have to die so suddenly at all if that were the case.
But as it is - as her life had been so miserable and gray - she's willing to accept it.
And so her final hours dwindle away, but they don't feel wasted at all. Even though her body is cold and alone in some hospital bed, Maya only feels warm and happy here.
Until the inevitable hour of Claudine's departure is finally upon them.
All throughout the day, Maya had been doing her best to enjoy living in the moment.
But now, it's all suddenly happening far too quickly.
Before she knows it, she is back at Seishou with all of her friends, and everyone is crying as they hug Claudine goodbye.
"We'll miss you so much!"
"Make sure you keep in touch."
"Don't go changin' your number or anythin', ya hear?"
"Come back to visit and bring us souvenirs, yes?"
"Be safe! Let us know when you land, okay?"
"Kuro-chan, thank you for everything!"
At this point, they all begin to sob out words of gratitude for her.
"Kuro-chan, you're really an inspiration!"
"Not just to all of us, but there are so many kouhai who admire you, too."
"You've always worked so hard… You're really incredible!"
"One of the best actresses I've ever known, hands down."
"You're amazing, Kuro!"
"Please don't forget about us when you're famous, all right?"
Claudine laughs at that.
"What are you saying? Of course I won't."
"Oh? So then you don't deny you're gonna be famous one day?"
"Bien sûr! Of course I will! Just who do you think I am?"
Everyone giggles past their tears as they continue taking turns hugging her. Maya stands back, keeping her distance for the time being, savoring these final memories.
This will be the last time she sees any of the others, because from here on out, she will be with Claudine alone.
Maya watches her partner, all too aware that her own time is running short.
She watches Karen throw her arms around Claudine in a big, tight hug and sob.
Then Hikari, who cries more quietly, but holds onto Claudine - the first person at Seishou who had welcomed her with a hug - for a long moment.
Then Mahiru, who whimpers all the while, promising to send her some snacks overseas now and then.
Then Futaba, who pulls her into a firm embrace, bitter yet happy to see her best friend start off on her next journey.
Then Kaoruko who breaks down softly into Claudine's shoulder, letting her true emotions show.
Then Junna, who has to remove her glasses altogether with how much she's crying.
Then Nana, who hugs Claudine as hard as she can and promises to send all her pictures to her, and asks for some in return.
And at last, the other girls move back and look expectantly to Maya. Maya takes her cue as intended and steps forward with a dip of her head.
"I will be accompanying Saijou-san to the airport this evening," she announces.
"Uwaaah, I wanna come, too!"
"Karen-chan, you can't! Your parents are here."
"Futaba-han and I are having dinner with ours soon, as well…"
"Junna-chan and I have plans now, too…"
It's understood now that they'll all be breaking apart for the evening, and that Maya will be the last one to send Claudine off. She knows what she has to do - and what she isn't allowed to do, as well.
The girls come together in one more group hug with Claudine at the center, sniffling and crying as they wish her goodbye. Claudine cries, too, making sure to hug each of them one last time, save for Maya.
When the others step back, Maya goes to her partner's side and takes her hand once more.
From there, the two of them ease apart from the group and make their way to the waiting taxi that had just arrived. Claudine's parents are already waiting for her with all of her luggage at the terminal, so the only thing Claudine has to carry with her now is her school bag.
Maya sits beside her in the taxi as it takes off toward the airport.
Both of them are quiet as they drive through the town, which is turning orange as the sun begins to sink. Maya doesn't speak a word the whole ride there, and neither does Claudine.
And Maya understands that it isn't because they don't want to, but simply because they just don't know what to say.
Although Maya knows it isn't real, she is still caught up experiencing the same warring emotions that twist and tear at her heart. Now, not only must she refrain from telling Claudine the feelings she'd felt at the time, but she must also refrain from telling her her current feelings ten years later, as well.
And then there's the reminder of reality; the fact that she only has perhaps an hour left to live. She hopes her body can last at least long enough for her memory to be able to say goodbye to Claudine one more time.
The taxi rolls to a stop at the airport, and both Maya and Claudine exit before heading in together. Maya waits in heavy silence in such a loud and bustling place as Claudine meets with her parents and sorts out her ticket. Maya follows behind them a little, unable to take Claudine's hand now, as it's occupied by her luggage.
The time seems to blur, rush, and stop all at once.
When she next realizes it, Claudine is all set and ready to board her flight. She turns to Maya with a brief glance, then turns back to her parents.
"Maman, Papa. I'll be there in a moment. Go ahead without me."
They nod and move away to board their flight.
When Claudine turns back to look at her now, Maya's heart stops.
She doesn't want to do this again.
She doesn't want to watch her go again.
She doesn't want Claudine's back to be the last thing she ever sees before she dies.
She doesn't want the last thing she ever feels to be regret.
All at once, Maya's tears begin spilling over in rivulets.
Claudine's eyes go wide in shock.
"H-Hey, Tendo Maya!"
Maya doesn't want this.
She doesn't want to simply see her off with a friendly rivals' handshake like she'd done.
She doesn't want to watch her leave, only to know she'll never see her again.
Only to know she'll just hear about her on the news, but never from her directly.
Only to know Claudine will, in time, fall in love with someone else.
Even if it isn't real…
Or rather, because it isn't real…
Maya wants her final moments to be the moments she'd always wanted to live.
Even if the gift will be taken from her.
Even if it will all be over the moment she goes off-script, it won't matter.
Because she's going to die any moment now, anyway.
So she doesn't care anymore.
She doesn't care if it isn't real.
She doesn't care if it won't change anything.
She doesn't care if it's just a ghost of the memory of Claudine she'll tell them to.
Because her feelings are real.
Claudine had hesitantly reached out her hand to try and comfort her with that farewell handshake. But now Maya rushes right past her hand and instead throws both of her arms fully and tightly around Claudine. She hugs her hard, for dear life, and professes what she'd never been able to confess before.
"I love you! Please don't go!"
She holds Claudine close for one last second, feels her warmth and the beat of her heart just a bit longer, knowing it will all end now-
…But not yet.
Maya sobs against her, and Claudine remains - for now. Maya hasn't died yet, and the giraffe hasn't intercepted them yet. So she continues without restraint.
"I truly mean it!" she cries. "Saijou-san, I have always… for quite some time, I have felt this way about you. Please believe me…"
"H-Hold on a second!" Even though Maya has gone irrevocably off-script, Claudine still responds to her. Her arms fold shakily over Maya's back and don't let go. "You… You better not be messing with me right now, Tendo Maya-"
"Never-" Maya chokes. "Saijou-san… Claudine- I truly do love you. I always have - perhaps from the moment I first laid eyes on you. I love you so much I cannot possibly begin to express it now-"
Not yet. The memory hasn't ended yet. The gift hasn't been revoked yet. So Maya continues and spills her heart out.
"If you go, please take me with you. Or don't go at all. Stay here, with me. Let us start down a new path together, Claudine."
She feels Claudine stiffen, then gradually start to relax. She hears her sniffle once, then twice, then hears her voice breaking.
"You… infuriating woman…" Claudine hugs her back harder. "How dare you wait until the last minute to say all of this to me…? But… I'm happy."
"Eh…?" Maya eases back, only enough to see her eyes. Tears are dripping down her cheeks, but Claudine is smiling.
"It took you long enough," she rasps. "I thought you'd never say it. I thought… you really might just let me go today."
Maya doesn't understand what's happening, or why she's been allowed to continue like this for so long.
But she doesn't question it. She just engraves the love in Claudine's eyes into her very soul, and hopes to take it with her when her time has finally run out.
It will be any moment now. Maya can feel it.
So she uses her last dismal amount of time to say it to her again, over and over.
"I love you, Claudine. I love you. I love you…"
Even if it isn't real.
Even if the real Saijou Claudine can't hear her.
Even if Maya's feelings will never truly reach her.
At the very least, she could finally say it.
And that's enough.
She hears her name being whispered back to her.
Maya blinks away her tears as Claudine cups her cheek. She leans in close, and Maya does, too. She feels Claudine's breath on her lips, and takes it in as one of her final breaths-
And then the world goes black.
A crashing, dizzying sensation overtakes her, and when Maya next opens her eyes, Claudine is gone.
It's all gone. Everything.
Only the giraffe appears before her now, beneath a spotlight, and Maya beneath her own.
"I warned you," he sighs. "Tendo Maya-san, you went too far off your script. As such, I had no choice but to redact my gift to you."
Maya sobs, clutching her chest. Her body suddenly feels weak, and she can't support herself. Her legs give out beneath her and she collapses to her knees in tears.
"It was enough…" she tells herself. "Just that gift… was enough…"
Her sobs echo out across the dark, empty stage. The giraffe sighs again.
"I suppose it makes no difference. Your life is about to end, and as such, the Gift for the Dead and your experience of reliving your memories of that day would have been cut short in a moment, regardless. Your life is over. Now it is time for you to peacefully pass on from this world."
Now, he steps forward, walking slowly to her, leaving his spotlight behind. He cranes his head down until he touches the top of her head.
"Tendo Maya-san," he says. "I offer you my genuine gratitude for providing myself and this stage with such immense entertainment. Truly, you were a Stage Girl to be remembered. I can only hope your brilliance will live on, even after you have departed from this world."
Maya sobs harder as so many memories flash before her.
Each and every one of the people most precious to her.
How they had transformed Maya's life of mundane classes and lessons into bright, vibrant plays, songs, and battles.
Their major Starlight Festivals, and the countless performances in between.
Their repeated time, and their progression through it.
The tears and the laughter, the crushing failures and the powerful successes.
All of it.
All of them.
She cradles them close to her heart and doesn't let go.
But in the end, her final thoughts are of just one person.
All of their dances together.
All of their recitals.
All of their accompanying roles.
Each of them as Claire, and each of them as Flora.
Each eternally separated from one another.
Maya wants the final thought in her heart to be of her confession just now.
Even if it was fake. Even if those feelings never really reached her. She just wants to hold Claudine in her arms one last time - even if it's only a memory of a time that never happened at all.
A dream, and nothing more.
She hears it now. The light fluttering of velvet.
The curtain of her life is being drawn to a close.
She will be the last thought on Maya's mind, and the last memory in her heart.
Maya can't honestly say she's happy with this ending. But she will accept it for all that it's worth.
She feels the rush of air as the red curtains sweep in from either side of her, ready to block out her light and swallow her life...
And then there's a sudden rumbling all around her.
She hears the click of a hoof, and then the giraffe's voice, raised in confusion.
"I… I do not understand-"
Unlike any she's ever known before.
It isn't the darkness of a stage without lights, but darkness as though no light had ever existed in the first place.
Maya is aware of it. It's all around her, filling her senses.
So this is death…
She doesn't know for how much longer she will be able to think or remember. She holds that image in her mind, and cradles the warmth in her heart. The image of someone else. The warmth of someone else.
Someone… is crying.
She isn't sure what's going on anymore. She isn't sure where she is, what is a dream or what is death, what is real or what is a memory. All Maya knows is that she is herself, and that someone is crying.
She can't even make sense of her own senses. But she tries to, someway, somehow.
She tries to recall what they are, and how she should use them, what she should expect from them in return. She tries to follow the sound, but she can't see in this blackness. Her voice doesn't work, she can't feel anything…
But someone is crying.
She struggles. She searches.
And she isn't quite sure what time is anymore, but somehow it feels like a lot of it has gone by.
Someone is crying.
Maya is lost in the darkness.
But she tries to find herself. She tries to remember. She tries to feel again.
And then she hears it.
At first, it's only a muffled sound, as though someone had spoken from the other side of the universe, and only a faint vibration had reached her.
But then it calls out again, and she can hear it more clearly.
Someone is crying.
But why? What did she do to make them cry? She wants to apologize.
So she continues to fight. Continues to try and remember. Continues to try and find her way out.
She continues, on and on, through the darkness.
Until at last, there is a star.
Small, faint, barely anything.
But its light is there, and it's alive.
Maya goes toward it, and hears her name again.
Someone is crying…
. . .
. . .
. . .
Maya opens her eyes, just a fraction, and the light is blinding.
After so long in darkness, even letting in the tiniest amount of brightness hurts, causing her to flinch.
At the same time, all of her other senses come flooding back to her. She's lying somewhere soft, and there is a horrible ache all throughout her body. Her mouth is dry, and her chest is throbbing. She's cold all over, except for one place. Through it all, she can feel a gentle warmth encompassing her hand.
And then the sounds.
Someone is crying.
And they're crying with everything they've got.
They're sobbing their heart out, to the point where Maya hurts for them.
Their voice tapers off into a distraught whimper, dragging her name out as if speaking it a second longer might let her hear it being said through the sobs.
Maya blinks in the blinding brightness, flinches, then tries again.
It still hurts, but she pushes through. The warmth in her hand has begun to spread through her arm, touching her heart gently, giving her strength.
The sound of her own name motivates her to try even harder. So with one great effort, she opens her eyes as far as they can go, waiting as the blur and haze begin to focus on the grey ceiling above her.
Suddenly, the sounds of crying cut off into a shriek, something between a gasp and a scream.
Maya finds she can't turn her head, so she just moves her eyes to the side where the warmth is coming from.
Their eyes meet, for the first time in over ten years.
Hers are the color of deep rose quartz, and suddenly the grey, lifeless world Maya had always remembered shatters as the colors begin coming back, little by little. And they all lead to those stunning, familiar eyes.
The last person she'd ever thought of. The last face she'd ever kept in her heart.
That is the first person she sees now.
And the first name she speaks.
Her voice is crippled after so long of not being used, nothing more than a scratching whisper up the back of her arid throat.
But even though it is so pitiful and feeble, Claudine still hears her loud and clear. Her eyes, which are so swollen and red from crying, flood with even more tears now. Her face contorts in an expression of immense agony, and even greater relief.
She can't speak. She can't breathe. She just clutches Maya's hand to her chest tenderly, and blinks back at her with all the emotion in the world.
Maya wants to smile. She hopes she's smiling.
Whether this is a dream, or a memory she doesn't remember, or heaven itself—Claudine is here.
And though she's drenched with tears from her face to her shirt to her lap, she is still more beautiful than Maya remembers. More beautiful than anything or anyone ever was, or could ever hope to be. The most beautiful person in this world, or the next, or any other, in Maya's eyes.
A moment passes between them, and their gazes lock without wavering, even through the tears. And then, Claudine's eyes overflow, and she heaves a breath as though she hasn't truly breathed in ten years.
Her voice fills the room, alerting people outside, as well. There's a bit of a commotion as other people suddenly start talking excitedly and hurrying about.
But Maya doesn't see or hear any of them.
Only her. It's only ever been her.
Claudine keeps hold of her hand and sinks her upper body down onto the side of the bed, sobbing with her whole being. She cries and cries, letting her voice out, only to choke Maya's name in between.
As Maya lies there, she tries to make sense of it all.
She remembers the ReLive, and the gift the giraffe had given her.
She remembers which day she had chosen to relive on the ReLive stage.
She remembers what she had done, and that nothing would have changed because of it.
She remembers she was dying.
So why…? How…?
How is it that Claudine is here now?
How is it that she has aged as Maya has - by ten years - though she still has the same prominent beauty as she did in high school? She is even more beautiful now, if that's possible.
There is only one difference Maya can spot.
Claudine's long, wavy hair is still held back by her headband, though now it's become quite frazzled. But there, in the back, amongst the curls of pale gold, is a ribbon.
A long, blue ribbon. The one Maya had given to her at the airport ten years earlier.
Its color has faded a little by now, and the ends are a bit tattered. But Maya can tell she's worn it every day since then, that she's kept it close and cared for it earnestly.
In addition to that, her eyes catch sight of something small and soft in Claudine's lap. A little white bird that has turned grey over time, its fabrics also slightly ruffled as though she'd hugged it close to her heart every single night…
It can't be real. Maya knows she must be imagining it all. That it must all be some wild fantasy she's projecting, or that is being played out by the giraffe's stage somehow. After all, she was dying. By now, she's already-
Claudine rasps the words out as she lifts her face from the bed, still clinging to Maya's hand with both of hers. Her eyes are still warring between terror and relief, agony and joy. And there's something else there that Maya can't quite understand just yet.
Claudine sobs again, and Maya wants nothing more than to comfort her, but she can't move just yet. So she just does her best to curl her fingers with hers.
Claudine is beside herself with tears once more, but she ducks her face into her shoulder and tries to speak again.
"You're alive… Dieu merci… Oh, Maya… Ma… Ma Maya…"
Now, Maya is even more confused. She'd almost believed this was real for a moment, but it can't be. Saijou Claudine wasn't in love with her. The last Maya recalls, she was engaged to someone else… Maya hadn't changed anything with her reliving of their graduation day. So how…?
"Idiot!" Claudine yelps when she feels Maya trying to move. "What are you doing?! Don't move! You're still-!" She cuts off once more, unable to speak as more and more tears overwhelm her.
Maya tries to talk again, but the sound fades in her throat before she can make it. So she just does her best to squeeze her fingers again.
After a moment, Claudine finally sits herself up again, though she stays as close to Maya's bedside as possible.
"Maya, you…" She pauses, inhaling slowly as she tries to get ahold of herself. "There… There was an accident… You've been in a coma… for two weeks now…" She shakes her head, and more tears fall, several onto Maya's arm. After a moment, Claudine goes on.
"I heard about it on the news… They said... you weren't going to live… that you'd be on your deathbed… So I… I canceled everything and I came back to Japan to find you… before it was too late…"
She bows her head again, and has to take another moment to catch her breath.
During that time, Maya tries to comprehend it all.
This… is real…? This is her reality, her present time in her twenty-seventh year?
Her body certainly aches and feels as weak as though she'd been in a coma for half a month. But she just can't understand why or how Claudine had come. Rather, perhaps she could understand why she had come back, to visit an old friend who was on the verge of death…
But what Maya can't understand is why her hand feels as though it hasn't been let go of for the past two weeks.
Why Claudine has that plushie in her lap, and that ribbon in her hair.
Why she's looking at Maya with all of the emotions Maya was never properly able to convey to her…
Through her tears, Claudine goes on, though her voice has been reduced to a whisper.
"They said… you were going to die… That the coma was only delaying the inevitable… That your body would wither away in time and you'd never wake up again… But I refused to believe it. I stayed every day, and every night, trying to talk to you… The others came, too, and we made sure you were never alone… For two weeks, we made sure…"
Maya's heart throbs again to know all of her friends had come to see her again. Though she does have an inkling that, while the others may have switched and taken turn on their vigils, Claudine had never left her side for one minute all the while.
Still, Maya wants to touch her so badly, but she isn't able to move yet. So she just listens as Claudine continues.
"Only this morning… your parents decided to turn off life support-" Claudine chokes again, shaking her head vigorously. "I wouldn't let them-! I tried to convince them to wait, but the doctors… they did it anyway… They turned it off and took everything away. A-And you were supposed to just… fade away…"
Maya feels her arm being moved gently as Claudine pulls her hand to her chest once more. She can feel Claudine's pulse for herself, beating so hard and so fervently, as if to make up for Maya's nearly stopping. Claudine whimpers, her voice breaking.
"I… I didn't want you to be alone… so I insisted they let me come in… so I could hold your hand… and then… and then-"
Again, Claudine all but collapses forward onto the bed, every inch of her trembling as the emotions course through every inch of her.
"And then… you opened your eyes… When you were never supposed to open them again… somehow, you… Tendo Maya, you better not be messing with me… this better not be a dream-"
Now, with her hand being grasped so tightly by Claudine's, and held so closely up against her chest, Maya can feel the fear pulsing through Claudine's heart. She can't believe this. She can't believe something so miraculous would happen. She fears it's just a dream. She fears it's just a trick.
So now, it's Maya's turn to put her at ease, as Claudine has done for her so many, many times. She moves her fingers, turning them until she can slip them between Claudine's, interlocking their hands. Maya gives a squeeze, and musters up her voice.
Claudine gasps again and looks back up to her, her eyes pleading.
Maya offers a tired smile.
"Although… I have seen you in my dreams every night… for the past ten years… somehow, I can assure you, this is not a dream…"
Claudine bursts into tears all over again, louder than before.
"Mechante va! H-How can you… still be saying such idiotic things at a time like this-?"
Maya almost laughs, but it just comes out as a small sob. The tears sting painfully to eyes that haven't been open for so long. When they dribble down her cheeks, it almost burns. But she accepts the pain, because it means she's truly alive.
It's just as she'd told Claudine. This isn't a dream, nor is it any sort of ReLive. This is the proper reality.
A reality where Claudine had canceled everything on her busy schedule and flown back to Japan to see her.
A reality where Maya had said such childish things to her just now.
A reality where Claudine is still engaged to someone else.
At the very least, she isn't going to die any longer. By now, Maya has mustered up enough of her strength to understand that. It may take time, but she's going to live.
Even if it's in a world where Claudine is in love with someone else.
Even if it's in a world where she'll live far away.
Maya is just thankful she got to see her again - for real.
But she does understand now that she doesn't want to have any regrets. She can't. Because she never knows when she might suddenly no longer be a part of this world, and be unable to say the things she truly wants to tell her.
The ReLive and its events never happened in real life. As such, Saijou Claudine never received Maya's confession at the airport, nor does she know her true feelings.
Maya has a duty to tell her - not just for her own selfish sake, but because Claudine has a right to know, as well. Even if it's only going to spoil what they had, Maya knows she has to tell her, or else the regret alone might really kill her.
Therefore, when she can, when both Claudine and herself have stopped crying enough to meet each other's eyes again, Maya draws in a deep, deep breath.
Claudine wipes her forearms over her face repeatedly.
"Ah, d-don't talk anymore! The doctors should come have a look at you. You should at least have something to drink-"
"It is all right," Maya rasps.
Claudine gives her a bit of a glare.
"You sound horrible. At least just wait-"
"No-" Maya swallows. "Please… forgive me… but I have waited far too long for this already, Saijou-san. Please… allow me to say this properly now…"
"Maya-" Distress rises up in Claudine's eyes. "You're hurt. You nearly- …didn't wake up. Don't push yourself."
"I must," Maya insists. "Saijou-san… Claudine… please…"
Claudine purses her wobbling lips, biting softly to hold back more sobs. But at last, she nods.
"Fine. I'm listening, Tendo Maya…"
Maya exhales, keeping a firm hold of her hand.
"Claudine… please forgive me… but I must once again be incredibly selfish right now… Even though… you are betrothed to someone else… even though… I am merely forcing these feelings upon you…"
"Please-" Maya begs her in anguish. She feels more hot tears spilling down into her hair and pillow, but she blinks past them all in order to keep her eyes on Claudine's face. "Please… allow me to be selfish... just one more time with you, Claudine… Please forgive me for forcing these feelings upon you when you are to be married to someone else... when you surely only consider me an afterthought… Please forgive me… for being so horribly selfish… But even if it ruins what we once had… I must tell you that I love you, Saijou Claudine. That I always have… for so, so many years… You are all I ever wanted... I love you…"
That's all she can manage. She'd been able to say it in her ReLive, but now it hurts far too much. Her body, her mind, and her heart ache so terribly, knowing that she will never be able to have what she truly wants.
But she's told Claudine now. So at the very least, even if Maya were to die this very moment, she could do so with almost no regrets.
She closes her eyes, nearly expecting death to happen like that.
But then, the hospital room is split by a shout.
Claudine shrieks the word outright, so loudly that it snaps Maya right out of the peaceful passing she'd resigned herself to. Her eyes fly back open to look up at her. She finds Claudine ruffled, her face red from crying and now from something else, as well. Anger.
"You-! Why you-! Mechante va!"
Startled, Maya's eyes go wide. But at the same time, a fond rush of nostalgia washes through her. Claudine truly hasn't changed a bit.
"You- You're unbelievable, Tendo Maya! What did you just say? Do you honestly think I would drop everything and fly all the way back here on a private jet for an 'afterthought'?! I think we may need to call the doctor because you must have suffered brain damage!"
She shouts all of this rather loudly, to the point where anyone else lingering in the hallway can sense they shouldn't interfere. Maya continues staring up at her in disbelief. A second later, Claudine gasps, letting go of Maya's hand with just one of hers so she can quickly cover her mouth.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to shout! Well, I did, because you're an idiot, but I-" She shakes her head, and Maya watches the blue strands of her own ribbon weaving through Claudine's curls. Her heart beats a little more strongly, hopefully.
Maya sniffles through more tears, keeping her eyes on Claudine as her old partner reaches out to gently brush her fingers against her cheek. Maya sobs softly and leans against her touch. Claudine sniffles, as well, clearing away Maya's tears as gingerly as possible.
Maya finds that the more softly Claudine touches her, the harder she wants to cry.
Claudine loosens the interlaced grip they have on each other's fingers, now holding Maya's hand fully in her palm, rubbing her thumb over the backs of her knuckles. Maya whimpers.
"Be quiet-" Claudine huffs. "You be quiet now, Tendo Maya. Just listen to me for once. I-"
She stops, swallowing hard, and Maya feels her fingers twitch against her cheek. In hopes to provide even a shred of comfort for her, Maya tilts her head toward her hand, nuzzling her hand softly. Claudine draws strength from her encouragement and finds her voice again.
"I… It's the same for me, Tendo Maya. What I mean is… Je t'aime."
Now, Maya blinks up at her, and her jaw drops slightly.
"I said be quiet," Claudine snaps gently. "I… ever since high school… I felt that way, too… And I wanted to tell you, but I just… my damn pride wouldn't let me. So I'd resolved myself to do it at graduation, but… instead, I hoped you might confess to me first. I was scared of getting rejected, so I held my tongue and just waited for you to do it… I thought that you would… But you never did…"
Listening to her now, Maya almost can't believe what she's hearing.
Claudine… had felt the same way.
All that time. All those years.
But because Maya had been too much of a coward to say it…
They'd missed each other, just by seconds.
And so they'd separated, far, far apart.
"You never said it…" Claudine rasps. "So I didn't, either. I was too scared, so I put all of my expectations on you. I wanted you to do all of the work… I never considered how scared you might've been, too…" She bows her head again, and Maya watches as more fresh tears start dripping down. "I didn't say anything-" Claudine hiccups. "Neither of us did… So I left… I left, because you didn't stop me, and I was too prideful to stop myself… It's all my fault… and because of that, you… you almost-"
"It's not your fault-" Maya rasps. "Claudine, none of this is-"
"Yes, it is-" she stutters. "If I'd just swallowed my pride, we could have stayed together all these years, and then you never would have gotten into that accident! You never would've nearly died-!"
The word slips out without her wanting it to. Speaking it makes it all too real. It causes a deep, scarring pain in Claudine's heart, so badly that she collapses her arms back onto the bed and sobs uncontrollably.
Maya has seen and heard enough. She refuses to just lie here helplessly any longer when Claudine is being torn to pieces.
She heaves her body with all her might, but since she'd lost some weight due to the coma, it doesn't take much for her to turn over onto her side. Her limbs ache, but she disregards the minor pain, because she knows Claudine's pain is so much greater.
Maya reaches out for her, draping her other trembling arm across her old partner's shoulders. She gives a slight tug, one that both brings Claudine closer to her, and brings Maya closer to Claudine as well.
They both move so easily, so effortlessly into one another's arms.
When Claudine feels Maya's arms around her, she gasps, lifting her face as much as she's able to. When their eyes meet again, her name comes to Maya's lips like a prayer.
Likewise, Claudine murmurs back.
They help lift each other up, at which point Claudine carefully moves herself to sit on the edge of the bed beside her, with the little bird plushie rolling in their laps between them. She lets Maya leans against her, holding her up as much as Maya can handle.
And Maya dares to be selfish again. She nestles her face into Claudine's shoulder, hugging her in return as much as her arms allow. Claudine rests her forehead against Maya's, looking honestly into her eyes.
"That news… it's all wrong," she murmurs. "It's true that an actor I was working with proposed to me on-set, in front of everyone… The media just took that scene and ran with it, making up the ending themselves. But in reality, I didn't give him an answer right away. I brought him somewhere private afterward and turned him down.
"But by the time I could try getting things cleared up, the news had already put out the headline that I'd immediately and excitedly accepted. It took an entire day for them to redact the false news and report the facts. But right after that… the next big story was that you'd gotten into an accident…"
She doesn't say anymore.
Maya eases herself closer, hugging Claudine as much as she can, tucking herself against her collar. Claudine hugs her shoulders, resting her chin on top of Maya's head gently, feeling just how thin she'd become.
"Mechante va…" Claudine whispers. "You're going to have to get a lot of rest, eat plenty with that appetite of yours, and then get back into training slowly to regain your strength. But don't worry. I'll help you."
Maya presses close to her chest, listening to the steady thump of Claudine's heartbeat. She's so absorbed in the sound and the emotions that she almost doesn't comprehend the meaning of the words.
"What?" Claudine huffs. "After all this… after what you've just told me, and after what I've just told you… did you seriously think I was going back?"
"Eh…?" Still, Maya can't understand.
"Fine," Claudine sighs. "Then I'll just have to spell it out for you, won't I?"
Here, Claudine eases back just a little, just enough so that Maya can look up into her eyes. Claudine holds her gaze seriously.
"I thought... I was coming back here to attend your funeral. I thought I was going to confess my feelings a decade too late - to a gravestone. But you woke up. You woke up, Tendo Maya. You're alive. And you love me, too, don't you?"
"I do-" Maya sobs. "Saijou Claudine… I love you… with all my heart and soul-"
"And it's the same for me," Claudine smiles. "For so long, Tendo Maya… Even though I'm so late to tell you; almost too late… But somehow, I managed to make it on time. Somehow, you woke up again. Somehow… we didn't miss each other this time… So I'll tell you however many times it takes for you to understand it, in whatever language you need to hear it said in. 愛してる. Je t'aime. I love you, Tendo Maya. Ma Maya."
Maya whimpers outright, clutching her arms around Claudine's waist and pulling her closer into an even tighter embrace. Maya uses all of her strength to hold her. She isn't going to let go ever again.
"Claudine… Ma Claudine… I love you. I love you…"
"See...?" Claudine sniffles. "So there's no need for me to go back to France anymore. Not until you're well enough to come with me."
Maya's heart soars, so high and so joyfully it gives her back even more of her lost vigor. She squeezes Claudine firmly, like she never got to before. She'll hold her like this every day from now on in order to make up for lost time.
Claudine strokes gently down her back.
"What is it, Tendo Maya? Tell me honestly, now."
Maya does the same, letting her fingers brush through Claudine's hair, and across the familiar velvet ribbon.
"Please… don't go. Please stay here. With me. I love you, Saijou Claudine."
And this time, it isn't just a memory, or a ReLive, or a dream.
The feelings that come rushing through her body and swirling around her heart are unmistakably real. As is the warmth encompassing her tired body, and the heart beating in time with hers.
At that moment, a ray of sunlight comes filtering in through the window.
And suddenly, Maya's world is alive with color. The paintings on the walls are vibrant greens and pinks and yellows, the blue of her ribbon in Claudine's hair stands out like a banner of sky amongst plush silver clouds. And just like before, it all comes back to her eyes; to that boundless hue of melted roses, shimmering and bright.
Maya understands then. The color had always been there in her world, dormant. She'd just forgotten how to see it.
Rather, she hadn't had a reason to.
But now it's all come back to her. All at once, the world is beautiful again, because Saijou Claudine is in it.
She has to tell her again - in a different way this time.
Maya eases back, finding her eyes with ease, and asking her wordlessly.
Claudine breathes in slowly and dips her head, then closes her eyes. As she leans close, Maya moves forward as well.
Until their lips brush gently.
They each pause for just a second, and then realize they've already lost enough time.
So they push a little harder, until it becomes a full and proper kiss.
A bit late, perhaps. But better than never at all.
Maya is astounded she'd lived this long without her. In fact, she's entirely certain that the only reason she'd survived her accident had been because of her sheer willpower to one day see Claudine again; as though she'd known Claudine's true feelings all along somewhere deep in her heart, and had known she would be coming to see her.
She knows for certain that she is only alive in this moment because of Saijou Claudine. Because she loves Maya, and because Maya loves her. And they always had. And they always will.
When they part from the kiss, Maya moves in for another, caressing her fingers through Claudine's hair. Claudine sobs softly against her lips. After a moment, she pulls away gently, reminding herself of Maya's condition right now.
"You're so greedy," she murmurs. "Might I remind you you just woke up from a coma? Show some restraint, Tendo Maya."
"Perhaps later," Maya replies. "May I kiss you again?"
"Mechante va." Claudine doesn't refuse.
They kiss once more, until both of them are a little breathless. At that point, Claudine pushes her shoulders back gently, about to insist that she lie back down for now. Maya manages to steal one last small kiss from her.
Claudine blurts out loud again before clamping her mouth shut, then rambling on again in a fluster.
"You-! Just what on earth are you saying right now, Tendo Maya?! When you've only just woken up!"
"But you love me too, don't you, Claudine?"
"Idiot! Of course I do!"
"Then please marry me."
"I'm telling you, don't propose right now!" Claudine shrieks. "At least wait until you're healthy and then do it properly!"
Maya shakes her head.
"Forgive me. But I don't want to wait a moment longer. Not even a second longer. I promise you that I will do it again properly, in a proposal you deserve, once I am well enough. But for now, please allow me to do it like this, Claudine. I need to do it now, before I lose any more time."
Claudine's whole face has become flushed with pink. She lowers her voice and meets Maya's eyes.
"You idiot. You won't lose any more time… If we're going to be together, none of that time will be lost."
"I agree," Maya smiles. "So then, if that is the case, will you marry me, Saijou Claudine?"
Claudine holds either side of her face and pulls Maya into another kiss.
"Mechante va... Oui, of course I'll marry you, Tendo Maya."
Maya just hugs her back and kisses her again.
"Thank you… Claudine… thank you."
"I should be the one saying that… Merci, Ma Maya."
It would take time.
Time for Maya to recover and regain her strength and her health, until she was in peak condition again.
Time for Claudine to make arrangements to move back to Japan, to cancel her old contracts and renew others with different agencies here in this country.
Time for the both of them to get signed and start working on their newest projects.
Time for them to meet all of their friends again and start hanging out together as they'd always said they would.
Time for Maya and Claudine to get their own place together.
Time for Maya to save up enough to afford a ring, and then meticulously plan out the most emotional and beautiful proposal Claudine could ever dream of.
But now, it was all time they would spend together.
And that's all they ever really wanted.
A/N: Ahh this was just my cup of tea! Angst, tragedy, a bit of supernatural forces, and then a happy ending! I can always count on 0mn for roller-coaster ideas!
I really wanted to throw in the idea of Maya giving Claudine her ribbon at the airport to remember her by, and Claudine never letting go of it for 10 years. Same with the plushie.
Having the other girls sign Maya's copy of Starlight also came to me on a whim, though the message Claudine wrote was an easter egg to an actual message Aiai wrote as Claudine where she mis-spelled 'defeat.' And I wanted to have them switch roles of Claire and Flora for their final Starlight to have Maya be the one to get blinded and fall away and never 'see' Claudine again.
Also, I made sure to hint about the timing of the false news of Claudine's proposal; it took them a bit of time to clear things up, and with timezone differences in Japan... Maya found out at night, then kept hearing it the next day. And basically, she turned the news off right as they were about to announce the updated real news that Claudine wasn't engaged. She missed it by seconds and met her tragedy right after. But it's okay, because now the headlines about her REAL fiancee/proposal can go out~
The power of love prevails, and no love is stronger than Mayakuro's love!
All in all, another very enjoyable piece for me to throw together! I hope you enjoyed reading!