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Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Kotori felt some measure of relief when she sat down on the bench - a brief respite was quite welcome after the unexpected excitement that the whole festival visit had turned out to be. As such, she didn't really mind the silence that came between Rui and her as they enjoyed their festival meals - it was almost comfortable, in a way. Of course, with all the sounds and voices that came with such a festival, it wasn't really like there was such a thing as silence anyway. But either way, she enjoyed the opportunity to just relax and catch her breath before they would head back into the crowd once more.

Not long after, they would find themselves visiting a number of amusement stands as they made their way through the festival grounds - Kotori even participated in a few; if mostly after a quick encouragement from Rui who, in turn, seemed quite at ease with the variety of tasks the games presented. As they did, time just seemed to fly - for before long, a reminder was announced about the firework displayed beginning soon. This being the highlight of the festival, there was no way they were going to miss it - and as such, they found another bench which offered a good view of the night sky; neither too close for comfort nor too far to miss even a single sight of the fireworks.

Throughout the display, Kotori had to keep herself from jumping several times when some of the more quietly rising fireworks suddenly exploded with a thunderous boom; their sparkling light spreading illuminating the festival ground for brief flashes at a time. Still, she did enjoy the whole event and all throughout the display even had a small smile upon her lips as she kept her eyes fixed on the various glowing trails that streaked heavenwards before bursting into brilliant displays of colour.

As the firework display came to an end, so too did the festival itself start to wind down. With the main highlight of the evening now in the past, the crowds were starting to visibly thin; even though the day's warmth still lingered as the evening slowly began to give way to night. Upon closer inspection, Rui and Kotori realised that they had, in fact, pretty much completed a whole round through the festival - and with how things were slowly coming to a close, decided to call it a night as well. Needless to say, Kotori's attempts at protesting whether Rui really needed to walk with her when it might not be along his way were summarily rejected. The fact that she didn't make all to many attempts was probably just down to how late it was getting.

A little while - Kotori was a bit surprised that the way back somehow seemed almost shorter even though she'd been in quite a hurry the first time around - the two arrived in front of the Shirohane Flowershop. As the time for parting came, Kotori thanked Rui - both for spending the evening with her and subsequently walking her home. She was about to also mumble and apology for probably not having been the most interesting company that he could have visited the festival with - but before she could, Rui instead wished her a good night. "Ah, uhm, yes, good night to you too, Shinichi-san," she said, giving a small bow as she did. A brief rummage through her handbag later, she unlocked the door; taking a moment to glance back - and give a small wave when she saw Rui still waiting for her to actually get home before he too would be on his way.

"I'm home," Kotori announced when she stepped into the living room - only to find her smiling mother already sitting there with two cups of tea before her; the steam still rising up from them. Unsurprisingly, it would only be after Kotori had told the whole tale of her evening before she would actually be able to head to bed for the night. Of course, Kotori had skipped the occasional detail in her retelling - chief among them being the conversation that she'd had with Rui about her fears for her own future.

It would be a long time before Kotori finally managed to get to sleep. In the quiet dark, she tried to make sense of her own thoughts on the matter - which proved oddly difficult whenever her mind seemed to insist on reminding her of some particularly embarrassing moment of the evening in excrutiating detail.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

When Rui answered her question with a simple positive, a small smile managed to sneak its way onto her face - she had held the slight worry that, given her lack of dancing experience, it hadn't really been all that enjoyable for him. However, his words did put her at ease - at least for the brief moment it took before she realised that he had slowed his steps and let go of her hand. Whilst she most definitely hadn't gotten used to the feeling of her hand being held by his, she did wonder what had moved him to do so - only to feel his hand instead coming to rest at her side.

For a brief moment, Kotori's expression turned to slight confusion - but this lasted only for a heartbeat before her face quite suddenly and most undeniably flushed with a bright shade of red once she realised just how they must look right now. Whilst Rui seemed quite nonplussed by the whole situation, Kotori's experience was quite the opposite - even more than before, she held her eyes behind her glasses fixed very intently on the ground in front of her; barely daring to lift her gaze unless absolutely needed to avoid walking into any fellow festival-goer. She held her hands close to herself, fingers clenched and only the constant motion of walking abating her sudden need to find some release for her nerves that would otherwise undoubtedly have led to her picking at her skirt.

However, she wasn't afforded this luxury - but her mind raced nonetheless, trying to come up with some semblance of explanation for this most embarrassing of situations that she now found herself in. Unfortunately, she couldn't really get anywhere without immediately imagining just how they must look right now to an outsider - a boy and a girl, walking this close together? Undoubtedly, there would be some people who would misconstrue this as a couple out on a pleasant walk - a thought that brought a fresh wave of heat to Kotori's cheeks - when no such thing was actually going on.

No, no, no, there was really nothing going on here - after all, this was really just a group outing; even if the group size turned out to be a bit smaller than they'd originally thought. And really, it was probably just a bit easier to navigate the crowd for Rui, rather than having to occasionally look back and make sure she was still following him, even if their touching hands probably let him know all he needed. And really, it wasn't as if anything else could be going on - that was really just silly. The popular boy and the awkward girl going out was really just fantasy, after all - something Kotori would probably quite enjoy reading, but not something that actually happened in reality.

Just as she managed to convince herself of this and bring the shade of red that had taken hold upon her face from 'blindingly obvious' to merely 'possible to miss, albeit only on the briefest of glances', Rui's voice interrupted her thoughts - and unmade what little progress Kotori had just managed, what with the source being quite a bit closer than before. "Eh? Pi-? Oh, ri-right, uhm..." It took her a moment to realise what he'd just said - which forced her to raise her eyes up from the ground and over the nearby stalls; making sure that in doing so, she could avoid directly looking at Rui for fear of her cheeks betraying her once more.

Truth be told, she hadn't paid any attention to the various stalls that they'd passed whatsoever - but put on the spot as she was, it was a little late to admit this. And rather than risk any questions as to why if she actually did, Kotori quickly decided on one of the nearest stall. "S-some, uhm, Ta-takoyaki... maybe?" she said, a little belatedly, after making sure that the stall owner didn't happen to be someone she knew, what with living in the shopping district - that would undoubtedly end up being an embarrassment that she'd never be able to live down.

Unfortunately, preoccupied as she was, Kotori didn't quite catch the fact that Rui wasn't just asking for her preference, but actually extending an invitation - a realisation that came a little too late to protest as he'd already stepped forward, using a lucky lull in the number of customers to place an order. Kotori was almost thankful for the fact that this meant he had to, at least briefly, leave her side - as this gave her a moment to try and calm herself down and maybe cool off the seemingly constant warmth that was emanating from her cheeks. Unfortunately, this endeavour was not met with particularly much success when the stall owner's confirmation of Rui's order ended with a joking "for the young couple" - and loud enough for at least some people to give a curious glance.

As such, Kotori was still feeling no less embarrassed when Rui stepped back to hand her the small plate of takoyaki. "Th-thank you," she more mumbled than said as she hesitantly accepted the food. It was only now that she actually held it in her hands that she realised that it might be a bit difficult to eat whilst simultaneously walking and navigating the crowds. "Uhm..." she started as she looked about - and luckily soon noticed a bench not too far off. Evidently, most of the festival goers seemed to prefer to actually walk about, as it happened to also be unoccupied.

"Uhm, shall w-we, uhm, sit? Ah, o-over there, I mean," Kotori said, making a vague gesture somewhere in the direction of the bench - whilst only now glancing up at Rui and even then just for a brief moment to await his answer. In fact, as she thought on it, a brief break to catch her breath after all this excitement would be quite nice anyway.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Standing still a little way off from where the actual dance was being held, Kotori couldn't help but smile a little at the sight. There were all sorts of people lining up; some taking their first steps and others seemingly moving in step with the drum effortlessly. There she saw an elderly couple who seemed to have made a tradition of the dance for years, over there was a parent that was mostly helping along their rather excited child. But wherever she looked, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves - it was a sight that had her so absorbed that it took her a moment to realise that Rui, still standing beside her, was speaking. And furthermore, that he was speaking to hear.

"Hm?" she went, turning her head slightly to look at Rui rather than the ongoing dance - and most decidedly not down at their hands, the feeling of which she had most definitely come to get used to. At least, that's what she told herself every time until she felt even the gentlest of tugs and her attempted self deception came crumbling down once more. However, it took her another moment before she actually realised just what he had said.

Kotori's immediate response was simply to blink at him, so odd seemed Rui's question. Of course she wasn't against dancing - but surely he didn't mean it like that. She'd never actually participated in any dances herself, so there was no way she could do so now - and in front of a whole plethora of strangers no less! And besides, that would look almost like - wait, why were the dancers suddenly getting closer? And why did her hand - and, by proxy, her cheeks - suddenly feel a slight bit warmer?

"Sh-Shinichi-san!" Kotori's voice was a mix between a whisper, trying not to draw too much attention, and a surprised, albeit muted, cry, when she realised that he had nonchalantly grasped her hand and was now moving toward where the dance itself was being held. Kotori desperately racked her brain for something to say before it all undoubtedly ended up in a huge embarrassement - not only for herself but, even worse, for him too. But before she could come up with anything, they had already reached the other dancers and within moments, they had somehow slipped in with them.

Kotori's mind was racing between a way to make Rui realise that there was no way she'd be able to be a fitting dance partner - there wasn't a moment's doubt that he either knew all the moves or would just effortlessly pick them up as he always did - and trying not to make a mess of the dance that had begun then and then. In her best attempt at not making things even more embarrassing than they already were, Kotori quickly glanced over at the lady before her and tried to copy what she was doing - albeit with movements that were a lot more stiff and belated, what with all that was on her mind at that moment.

Kotori barely dared move her gaze elsewhere - for one, she didn't want to confirm her fears that the entirety of the crowd that surrounded the dancers were staring at her stumbling her way through this dance when everyone else was making a grand performance of it. For another, she dared even less to glance up at Rui - who, Kotori was convinced, was probably regretting his choice in dance partners already.

At least, that's what she thought until she heard his voice as he discretely warned her of an upcoming twist and that she should just follow his lead. Kotori had little time to process this before the drum beat briefly changed rhythms and she found herself suddenly standing face to face with Rui - which, in turn, meant that she had little in the way of dancers to try and copy the moves from. Furthermore, she had little choice but to look up at him at that point - but as she hesitantly did so, surprise came over her face.

Rather than any sign of annoyance or disappointment, Rui was instead smiling - a sight which briefly put a halt to Kotori's otherwise incessant worries. And with her self-inflicted awkwardness momentarily lifted, the admittedly simple steps of the dance came with little hesitation and only the slightest hint from Rui via gentle tugs of her hand that were resting in his all throughout. Though she clearly wasn't at ease with herself, Kotori nonetheless found herself actually enjoying the simple act of following the beat of the drum with each step that she took - even if her gaze couldn't rest on Rui for too long at a time before she felt the need to avert her bespectacled eyes.

And as they moved, Rui would occasionally call out the next move ahead of time before gently leading her through the motions - still a little stiff for fear of messing things up, Kotori still did her best to follow his lead. Toward the end, they actually seemed to find a semblance of a rhythm that she could follow along even in her state - a feeling which slowly managed to bring a hint of a smile to her face.

But alas, they could hardly spend the whole evening dancing and so they eventually stepped out from the dancing folk - though with how focused she'd been on both the movement and trying to calm her racing mind, Kotori couldn't have hazarded even the faintest guess as to how much time they'd just spent. Somewhere in the meantime, she'd managed to push back her fear that all the onlookers were fixed on her and every little mistake she'd made - a fear which turned out to be unsubstantiated when they rejoined the crowd with not a single word or gaze their way.

From all the excitement, Kotori's breathing was still a bit elevated and her face still felt rather warm - and probably wouldn't quite return to her usual shade until the similar warmth surrounding her hand was lifted. At the same time though, she felt no small measure of relief at no longer being the center of attention - even if only in her own mind. But at the same time, a small part of her also felt almost disappointed - but before could dwell on that, Rui's voice once more broke through her reverie to ask if she'd had fun.

"Eh? O-oh, y-, uhm, I, I think so, y-yes, yes," Kotori said whilst nodding - truthfully and, rarely enough, with a small smile. Because even through all her fears and doubts and embarrassement, she couldn't deny that she did indeed have fun. As they headed back toward the food stands - leaving Kotori to realise yet again that no, she had not even slightly gotten used to the feeling of their hands touching in order to not get lost in the crowd.

Distraced as such, it took her a moment to realise that for all the things he seemed to be doing to put her at ease, she hadn't even stopped to ask if any of this was actually enjoyable for him, too. An attempt or two later, Kotori finally spoke up again. "Uhm... was... was it fun for y-you, too?" she asked as they were already headed for the food stalls; her eyes once again finding all sorts of most fascinating things to focus on - and thereby avoiding all but the most occasional of glances at Rui.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

As it turned out, Kotori's suggestion was met with acceptance - though Rui proffered no particular preference, he wasn't opposed to the idea in principle. As such, they would continue along the various stalls and stands and occasionally stopping for a closer look. On occasion, Kotori would also try her best - which, by the looks of it, wasn't particularly convincing - to appear somewhat non-chalant as they passed by some stands. Specifically, these stands were those where she happened to recognise the owner as someone she knew, such as her neighbour two doors down - mostly because it would most definitely be far better to avoid any embarrassing misunderstandings about why, exactly, she was visiting the festival with just one instead of many friends rather than having to explain it at a later point in time.

Aside from that, the two could take a little more time to look at all the festival had to offer, whereas before they'd only really been trying to pass a little bit of time with a brief walk through. In the warm glow of the various lamps, they could not actually take their time and appreciate the many offerings and, in the case of a particular food stand, even try their wares. But even though there were a great many things to see and the overall atmosphere was very much a pleasant one to enjoy, Kotori did find herself occasionally slightly distracted - for once though, it wasn't due to her mind wandering to the mysteries of the mirror realm, but rather the person who stood beside her. Or in front, depending on what walking arrangements the crowds around them actually allowed. Yet at the same time, she didn't speak up all that much - but thankfully, the hustle and bustle of the whole festival ensured that her quietness didn't feel particularly awkward.

Either way though, Kotori did quite enjoy the second and slower walk through the festival grounds; even though she occasionally thought it a a bit of a shame that the others had not been able to come whenever she saw something about the festival that she thought they too might have enjoyed - a list of things which, as they approached the largest square that of the premise upon which a bonfire had been constructed, would quickly come to include the traditional dance that was about to be held thereupon. Though this was mostly due to herself - Kotori always had enjoyed watching a dance, after all.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Following Kotori's words, Rui's own sounded somewhat disappointed - it seemed like he'd been looking forward to going around the festival with the others too. At that, Kotori's gaze drifted back down to the ground. Considering that they'd already taken a brief tour of the grounds, he probably wasn't going to be too interested in doing the same again, she figured, considering that they'd mostly done so to tide over the waiting for the others who, as he said, had their own plans - and they, in turn, should make their own.

"Uhm... right..." she said, even as she began wondering just what to do with the rest of the evening now that they were going their separate ways. She took a breath before shifting her eyes back up at Rui, who turned to face her - but just as she opened her mouth to say the inevitable goodbye, he held out his hand toward her. "Eh?" she said instead, her brow furrowed in confusion - at least for the few moments before she realised, in time with his own words, that she had actually just misunderstood him. Apparently, the plans he was talking about didn't mean going their separate ways - in fact, quite the opposite.

"E-eh?!" she most eloquently put her surprise before realising that he was waiting for her response - or at least, an intelligble one. "A-ah, uhm, I..." she fumbled for a moment before settling for a quick nod. "Ye-yes, uhm, let's," she finally managed, as she quickly perched her glasses back upon her nose following the hasty head movement - which led to her sight coming to rest of Rui's still outstretched hand. She blinked once, twice, before looking back up at Rui, then down again - for some reason, it almost looked like he was holding it out for her.

That, of course, had most assuredly be her misconception - no, there was probably some other explanation for the gesture. But unfortunately, Kotori couldn't seem to come up with any on the quick. Should she just ignore it? No, that would probably seem rather rude. Maybe ask? No, she'd already wasted so much time just thinking on it - she really shouldn't keep him waiting even longer. And so, before she'd quite made heads of the situation, she found herself laying her hand in Rui's - and almost immediately felt her face heat up as she realised how this might appear to any onlookers.

Kotori hastily glanced to either side, hoping not to catch anyone looking in their direction - and was rather relieved when she didn't do so. However, she did notice that by now, the lanterns all around were making up the majority of the illumination. The scenery was cast in a warm orange light, setting the festive mood for a warm summer evening. The amount of people, she noticed, had also increased quite a bit - it seemed that only with the dying of the light did the festival truly come to life.

Of course, the people! That must be it, Kotori thought - the reason that Rui had offered his hand in the first place. It wouldn't do to get separated in the crowd and having to spend more time trying to find one another, after all. Yes, that made sense, Kotori thought with a nod - even as her eyes wandered to the sight of Rui's hand grasping hers. Only now did she notice how her whole hand fit inside his. Were all boys' hands this large? Or were hers perhaps just small? She could feel a slight roughness, too, probably stemming from his time spent at the kendo club - and in the mirror world, where he regularly put his sword skills to the test on the frontlines and protecting those further back.

And it was warm, too - much like they had been when he'd placed his hands on her shoulders before. Of course, all of this did not help in the slightest at abating the particular shade of red that her cheeks had chosen for the occasion of her over-thinking - even as, in turn, she began to worry if her hand might be too cold or sweaty. In fact, her mind was so preoccupied with this strangest of arrangements that she hardly even noticed where Rui was leading her until they slowed as they reached the first food stalls.

In all the hubbub, Kotori hadn't even noticed how long they'd put off eating, seeing as the original plan had probably been to do so with the others - and she was feeling a bit peckish. Besides, a festival foods were to be enjoyed at a festival, she figured - they weren't an everyday occurence after all. As such, Kotori spoke up - or at least she did on the second or third try: "Uhm... Sh-Shinichi-san? A-are you, ah, uhm... I mean, is, uh, is there anything y-you would like to eat?" As she spoke, she tried - and failed - to not think too much of the warmth surrounding her hand; all the while glancing in any direction but down - and only occasionally up at Rui for the briefest of moments as she awaited his response.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Rui was quick to agree with Kotori's suggestion of heading back - something she glad for simply because, as he turned to lead the way through the slowly growing crowd, she would have some time to calm down the heat that she could practically feel radiating from her face. As they walked with only the many sounds of the ongoing festival about them to accompany them, Kotori's thoughts drifted to what she'd just said to Rui - but as she caught herself thinking upon such things, she quickly shook her head and instead decided that there would be a time for that later, when she was alone. For now, she was at a festival, and so she ought to enjoy it - as Rui had suggested just a little while earlier yet. As such, she looked forward to meeting the others and to go around the festival together.

Unfortunately, this plan had one minor hitch. Namely, the fact that when they arrived at the meeting point, they found themselves in much the same situation as they'd been in when they had originally gone for their walk through the festival: they seemed to be all alone. Looking around, Kotori couldn't find any traces of the fellow investigation team members that she'd hoped to see - and for whom she'd already been trying to craft some excuse as for why they'd already gone on ahead rather than waiting for their arrival. Slight confusion and slighter yet worry crept into Kotori's mind as she glanced over to Rui - but even he didn't seem to know where the others were.

Not having thought of this possibility, Kotori was a little lost for what to do - at least until she remembered that she still had her phone with her. Quickly digging it out of her handbag, she checked it for any messages to indicate that the others had similarly decided to head out without them or that they'd been delayed - but to no avail. She was just about to start mustering the courage to ask Rui for his thoughts on the matter when her phone suddenly played a tone and buzzed in her hand. Kotori almost jumped at the unexpected notification of a received message and only barely managed to suppress a surprised cry - evidently, she wasn't exactly the most avid user of her phone nor particularly used to actually receiving messages or calls.

With a barely audible muttering to herself, Kotori quickly inspected the source of her surprise - and found only yet more surprise when she saw that it was from Shizuka. Apparently, she couldn't make it after all, but still wished her all the best at the festival. Kotori might have wondered at the odd phrasing were it not for the fact that another message arrived just then - followed in very short order by several more. Were she not more preoccupied with her surprise, Kotori may have wondered about the exact timing when, one by one, everyone else turned out to have some unforeseen commitment that unfortunately precluded their participation in the festival.

"Oh..." Kotori couldn't help but feel a little dejected - this did put quite a damper on the whole plan of going around the festival with everyone when just two turned out to have turned up. Glancing over to the other half of said two, Kotori saw that Rui no doubt too had found out that no one else was going to be showing up - and probably was a little disappointed with his situation, too. Not only had he already taken the time to go around the festival once with her, but now he wouldn't even get to see the girls in their yukatas - which Kotori had little doubt at least some of them would have worn.

Kotori only felt a little more guilty when she realised that, rather than anything he'd probably been hoping to for, Rui had instead just been laden with the sudden revelation of her own personal problems with no forewarning - in fact, she wouldn't have been surprised at this point if he was just annoyed with the whole situation and wanted to just go home; even if she could find no traces of frustration in the furtive glances she stole at his face.

"Uhm..." Kotori started, realising only then that she didn't really know what she wanted to say and took a moment to adjust her glasses despite her gaze being fixed on some non-descript patch of ground before her. "I... uhm, it doesn't seem like, well, the others are coming, so..." Kotori's voice trailed off at that point when she failed to find any way to say what she wanted. Of course, she could fully understand if Rui had had enough of the festival and wanted to go home - but at the same time, she found it strangely difficult to actually say that outright and instead, with a nervous glance his way, waited to see what his response would be.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Kotori could not have said how long she was standing there, adrift in her own thoughts as she tried to navigate them - but before she could come to any kind of conclusion, she was brought back from her reverie by a sudden touch upon her shoulders. Blinking in surprise at being brought back to reality so unexpectedly - and even more so in an unexpected manner, Kotori looked momentarily confused before she realised that it was Rui who was now standing right before her. At that point, she noticed a couple of things - for one, they were still standing amidst the crowd, which was slowly moving around them. Second, his hands felt warm to the touch, even though the evening had not grown very chilly yet.

Furthermore, he had fixed his eyes right on hers, which was strangely uncomfortable - yet also not, all at the same time. Still, it did make it hard for her to look away when Rui started speaking - even if she did find herself wanting to, the further he went. Her first instinct would have been to apologise - for causing a scene in public, for putting this on him and without any forewarning no less. But between the relief she felt at having finally spoken up about what had been preoccupying her mind for the longest time and the fact that Rui did not waver for even a moment as he spoke his reassurance that she need not keep going it alone, she couldn't help but feel that it just wouldn't be the right thing to do.

Neither averted their gaze as silence fell at the close of his words - but this lasted only for a brief moment before Kotori remembered where they were and what the warmth on her shoulders was due to. "Uhm," was the first thing that came out of her mouth, unsurprisingly. Returning ever more from the depths of her own mind, her usual mannerisms seemed to be returning - for instance, her fingers were rather restlessly playing over her skirt whilst her eyes were darting about. But then, with a deep breath, at least a small change could perhaps be seen when her eyes found Rui's once again from behind her glasses and, finally, she said: "Thank you."

And for a brief moment, her words were accompanied by a small smile that somehow found its way onto her face - and not the usual half-hearted attempt, but rather one stemming from genuine relief and gratitude as she continued: "I... I think I need... a little time first. But... thank you. It means a lot to me." Having spoken, there was brief moment of silence - which was just enough time for Kotori to slowly realise that they were, in fact, still standing in the middle of an ever-moving crowd. And that she could still feel the warmth of Rui's hands upon her shoulders. And that these realisations were rapidly making her cheeks feel at least as warm if not more so.

"Ah, for the moment, shall w-we, uhm, continue on o-our way?" Kotori finally suggested; the belated embarrassement all to obvious in her voice and upon her face - both in the far redder shade than her usual pale self and her futile attempt at finding anywhere to look which somehow didn't including either Rui or anyone in the crowd.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Kotori glanced over at Rui when he took a thoughtful moment before answering her question; the subtle motion being betrayed by her need to slightly turn her head to actually be able to see his face through her glasses. When he did answer, however, she quickly averted her gaze again with what almost looked like a small smile. The odd twist that he would wish for precisely that which she had too strange for her not to find it weirdly funny - even if he had done so unknowingly.

At least, that's what she thought until he added another two words. These caused Kotori to briefly pause mid-step, blinking in surprise and look at Rui; the surprise written as clearly on her face as it was heard in her voice as she perfectly enunciated her thoughts on the matter: "Eh?" Barely catching herself from staring, Kotori hurriedly returned to the previous walking pace with her eyes most definitely fixed on some non-descript point on the ground before her. But before she could rack her brain over just what he meant with that, Rui spoke up once more.

As he did, Kotori seemed to shrink under his words as she bit her lip. This... had been exactly what she had always wished to avoid. She'd never wanted to burden anyone else with worries about herself - she'd have much preferred to silently let the events come to pass, however that may transpire. Yet here Rui stood, stating that in keeping so silent, she had in fact only managed to achieve the opposite. That he believed her to be well was only a small consolation as she almost reflexively opened her mouth to say: "Uhm, s-sorry..."

But as she did, her steps once more slowed and the inner conflict that was so evident upon her face seemed to come to an equally slow and confused halt. As she'd apologised for being such a burden, Kotori had found herself remembering the aftermath of her kidnapping in May. Then, too, she had apologised for having endangered those that had come to save her of - unbidden and of their own volition. But she also remembered the words that Rui had said after the fight - how sad it was to hide away. And she remembered how she'd resolved to stop doing that; to face the world with courage in her heart - no matter what that may incur.

Yet here she was, back to her old ways of trying to hide herself away. And with that realisation, Kotori took a deep breath before she raised her eyes up from the floor once more. For months she had known that the surgery was soon going to come to pass - and for months, she'd kept her own worries and fears about it to herself. She'd hadn't told anyone else about it- though obviously, it was impossible to hide from the whole Investigation Team after she'd announced it for all to hear back then. She'd tried to keep things under wraps - but even as she tried to be as rational about things as she could, Kotori had still felt a deep-seated fear over what might happen if things went wrong. The fear of causing the very same sadness that her father had three years ago.

But she'd kept all this inside - not even to her mother had she spoken about things, much to her own increasing worries about her daughter. She'd thought that if she just kept up appearances, then things would go smoothly - or if they didn't, then at least she wouldn't have caused any additional worries beforehand. But in doing so, she'd really only achieved the opposite - and, she was starting to realise, keeping her thoughts and feelings on the matter bottled up was only making things worse.

It was with this realisation that Kotori finally spoke up - and, for once, fixed her bespectacled gaze directly on Rui's eyes. "Actually, that... is something I would like to talk about." Equally unusually, the usual quiver or uncertainty was lost in her voice - though still quiet, she spoke steadfastly. "I... truth be told, I don't think I've been doing all that well recently." She realised a moment later how that must sound without any context and thus hastily said: "Ah, not physically or anything, everything's fine. Well, mostly. As can be, really. But... it's just..."

Kotori's voice trailed off - but this time, not because she'd lost her confidence mid-sentence, but rather because she simply didn't know how to put her own thoughts into words. Nonetheless, she tried but a moment later: "I'm... afraid. Scared. Whenever I think about it, I... I can't help but think... what if? If I... if something... I mean, what then? I mean, I know, everything should go fine. I know that, but... what about my mother? And... and all of you, and... but... really, I... at the end, I... I'm just..."

Once she'd started talking, it all just came flooding out - and once it had, Kotori finally managed to arrive at that which lay at the very centre of it all. Because underneath all her worries for others and all her attempts at keeping them safe from any consequences, there was one very simple truth: "Shinichi-san, I... I'm afraid of dying." And having spoken those words aloud, Kotori fell silent. At some point, much like her mind, her eyes had begun to wander; ending up at an all too familiar patch of ground as she contemplated her own realisations in her own little world.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Once they were under way, Kotori soon found herself easily distracted from her thoughts by the various sights and sounds of the festival. Lanterns hung all around, warding off the encroaching night with their warm orange glow. The crowds gave off a persistent, indistinct murmur - always lively, often joyful yet never quite too loud. Once they reached the stands, Kotori occasionally briefly paused to look them over. Even if she had no immediate intention of buying anything just now, it was still interesting to look nonetheless. Occasionally, she was even stopped or waved over when one of the stall owners or fellow visitors happened to recognise her - unsurprisingly, these turned out to mostly be neighbours, given that she lived in the shopping square.

After each of the many regards she was to give to her mother or wishes for her to enjoy the festival, Kotori apologised to Rui for the brief holdup - even though he didn't seem to particularly mind. Without further incident, they managed to reach the shrine itself. It was quite a popular spot - several festival-goers too had taken the opportunity to give their thanks or prayers. However, few stayed for too long and as such they didn't have to wait too long before they too could step forward toward the shrine. As she did so, Kotori paused to think on what she should pray for.

Success with studies? Should she really pester a deity with such simple matters? Perhaps assistance in the mysteries of the Mirror Realm? But with no clear idea in mind, she wouldn't feel particularly comfortable with that either. Maybe she should just try for good fortune in the future - at which point a thought crossed Kotori's mind that caused her to briefly pause in the last last step toward the shrine itself. She managed to stop herself from instinctively raising her hand toward her chest - though the same could not be said for her bespectacled gaze that turned downward, if only for a heartbeat.

With all excitement that had been going on recently, she had almost managed to put it out of her mind - but only almost. Perhaps this might be something that she could ask of the gods - and almost as if he'd been waiting for it, Rui chose that particular moment to speak up, asking her what she would be praying for. "Eh?" was Kotori's immediate response, given her surprise at the particular timing before quickly recovering - and then realising that this wasn't exactly something she could or even wanted to just say out loud.

"Oh, uhm... good fortune, uhm, i-in the future... maybe...?" It wasn't hard to see that this wasn't really what she wanted to say. Between the unconvincing tone, the way she averted her eyes and how her fingers were nervously playing with the strap of her handbag before she reached inside to pull out some money as well, it wasn't hard to see that there was something else on her mind - but this time, it didn't seem to be the usual attempt at wrapping her head around the strangeness that was the Mirror Realm. Instead, Kotori's mood seemed heavier than that - but lasted only for a brief moment longer before she took a deep breath.

With a half-hearted attempt at a smile restored, Kotori would make her prayer in silence; her eyes closed all the while she stood there with her hands together. She even gave a small bow toward the shrine before she would vacate the spot together with Rui for the next in line - and though they hadn't taken any longer than those before them, Kotori still felt apologetic for holding them up. Still, they had only gone a few steps when Kotori glanced over at Rui - this happened a few times before she finally managed to speak up: "Uhm... what did y-you pray for, Shinichi-san?" Whilst the question was posed mostly in an attempt to avoid an awkward silence, there was a certain amount of honest curiosity in Kotori's voice.
Kotori Shirohane - Warakuma Central Shrine | Wednesday, July 13 2015

Having spoken, Kotori took the brief pause as Rui thought on his answer to calm herself. If she thought about it rationally, there really was no need to be so nervous. Sure, it had been a bit unexpected that the others hadn't shown up yet, but it was still a normal group outing. They'd gone to the beach before and that had been even more embarrassing to her - but even still, she had enjoyed it. So really, she just needed to take a deep breath and remind herself that this was quite the normal festival and-"Well... I guess you in a yukata for a start."

Despite the orange shading of the festival lamps in the dusk, the rapid flushing of Kotori's cheeks was undeniable as she stared at Rui wide-eyed for a full second or two; an incredulous blinking behind her glasses being the only motion to be seen. It wasn't hard to see that whatever train of thought she may have been on before, it was completely and utterly derailed beyond all hope of rescue. "I-I, ah, m-eh? Tha-, uhm..." Once she managed to recover, her thoughts were going a lot faster than her mouth could keep up with and little more than an unintelligible mess could be made out - which only added to the heat she could feel all across her reddened face, leading her to instead bite her lip rather than dig herself even deeper.

Kotori's mind, meanwhile, was racing with a dozen different thoughts. Had she maybe just misunderstood him? Or was Rui addressing someone else? No, a quick glance around confirmed that he was very much indeed speaking to her. Did that mean he actually would have wanted to have seen how she might look in a yukata? That did seem the most obvious, given that it was exactly what he'd just said - but did that mean... he wanted to actually see her? Oddly quickly, Kotori explored the other options in her mind. Perhaps he simply liked the traditional atmosphere of the festival and felt like a yukata would perfectly fit - or maybe he was quite simply just joking. Without reaching a definitive conclusion, Kotori decided to leave it at that - particularly after her cheeks briefly deepened in their shade for a moment there - before finally glancing back at Rui.

It seemed that he had been waiting for just that - as in the very next moment, he spoke up once more; not missing a beat after his previous and most outrageous statement to instead suggest a visit to the shrine itself before heading back to the meeting spot. At his words, Kotori looked over to the shrine. There was already a crowd lazily moving to and fro with much the same idea in mind; various people stopping at the food stalls or amusements along this main path that the festival took.

"Uhm..." Kotori started, almost hesitantly after the previous mess she'd made when she'd opened her mouth, before redoubling her volume - which is to say, almost reaching a normal speaking voice. "That, uhm, I... I'd li-, ah, I-I mean, that sounds nice," she said, trying her best to put her embarrassment behind her with a smile - though it ended as a slightly awkward half-smile. As such, Kotori was only too eager to quickly turn to face the way they'd decided to head - particularly when she also felt a brief resurgence of warmth across her face as they began their walk.
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