A young boy sat underneath a tree, his eyes watching birds pecking at it. He appeared weak and sleepy, his eyes void of joy and innocence someone his age should proudly display. Lino hadn’t seen Alison for two weeks; rather, he tried his best to avoid her. He felt bad about it, but he couldn’t figure out how to behave in front of her. Rather, he was ashamed to behave any way.
The reason she was suffering was because he was weak. She was suffering because he wasn’t strong enough to endure, smart enough to avoid. He saw her yesterday. She appeared much weaker, her body thinner, eyes void of that simple joy. It was heart-breaking for him, yet, all the same, he couldn’t see her. Not until he figured out how to help her. Go and tell someone? Who would believe him? Rather, who would even help him?
He was just a poor boy without a copper in his pocket, while Sister Roa and the fat pig had coins lining up theirs. It snowed yesterday, yet he couldn’t feel the cold. Even while his fists rested on the frozen soil, he couldn’t feel its chill and frost. It wasn’t supposed to go this way, he thought. She needn’t have sacrificed herself for him. Sooner or later, she would have left this damned place and found a proper home. She would have been taken care of. And she was denied that because of him.
He hit the ground lightly once, ignoring the pain and blood coming from his knuckles and getting up. He was weak, timid, insignificant. But he had to help her, whatever way he could. As he turned toward the courtyard’s exit, a familiar face entered his view, standing no more than a few meters in front of him. She wore a sleeved dress, thinner than cicada wing, and was shivering. Her eyes were moist as she stared at him.
“Hey, Lino.” her voice was coarse and her nose was red, as were here cheeks. He realized she has a cold.
“W-why are you apologizing?” he bit his lip, lowering his head, too ashamed to look her in the eye. “I... I should be apologizing.”
“You should have just let me die.” he said. “Then, you wouldn’t have to sneak around and you would soon find family that would take you in.”
“Let you die? I... I could never do that,” Alison chuckled bitterly. “Don’t be stupid.”
“But I am stupid!!” he exclaimed. “No, you are stupid!! How--how could you even... even think about it?! Am I worth it?! No!!”
“Yes you are!!”
“No I’m not!”
“You don’t like me anymore?”
“Of course I like you!” he said as tears streaked down. “I’ll never stop liking you!”
“T-then we’ll figure it out! Together!”
“No... no. You... I’ll fix it. I swear to god, okay? Just... don’t do it anymore. I promise I’ll fix it.”
“Lino--hey, wait, don’t run!! Lino!!!”
He ran past her and out of the courtyard onto the snowed streets of the little village. He ignored her fading pleas and pressed onwards, determined to find one way or another to help her. He didn’t care what would it take, he had to help her. It’s only been a week, yet how different she was? If it went on for longer, what would happen to her? He couldn’t imagine.
He ran frantically through the streets, looking for a sign, for anything that would give him answers. Yet, he was just a little boy. He wished he was the sun so he could burn the cold away and wake her up every morning with perfect shine; yet again, he wished he was the moon so he could watch over her when lights dim out, and could strip the stars from the sky to give her. But, he wasn’t. He was just a little boy who liked a little girl whom he couldn’t protect and be there for when she needed him the most.
He sought left and right, yet there was nothing. Everyone ignored him, shunned him away as though he was just pure filth. He ran for hours till all strength left him and he collapsed onto the floor. It was cold, but he didn’t care. He still stubbornly looked around, yet all feet were ignorant of his pain. They pressed on, stamping their mark onto the wet snow and moving onward with their lives. They were all ignorant of his circumstances. But he couldn’t blame them. Not at all.
“Aren’t you cold, sitting there?” suddenly a fresh voice jolted him and forced him to look slightly up. A girl slightly older than him stood there, coated in thick clothes with red scarf heaving around her neck and a hood covering her startlingly crimson hair. Her eyes were green like grass and shone like pearls as she stared at him with curiosity. “Are you hungry?”
“A... a fairy...” Lino uttered as he watched her. In his vision, there was a pair of wings fluttering behind girl’s back, pulverizing the cold away with a simple flap. “Y-you’re a fairy...?”
“Eh? I’m not a fairy, silly, he he.” she chuckled lightly, covering her mouth with her hand. “I’m a cultivator.”
“C-cultivator?” Lino mumbled, appearing confused for a moment before shaking his head as though to expel the complex thought. “I... can you help me?” he asked with pleading eyes.
“Y-yes, yes! T-there’s a girl... a girl just like you, fairy!”
“Just like me?” the little girl arched her brow as she looked at Lino with curiosity.
“Yes, just like you! She... she also shines and glows,” he explained with enthusiasm. “A-and, and she’s really magical!”
“Oh? Can you take me to see her?” the girl asked with faint smile.
“Y-yes, yes! Of course! Come with me!” Lino’s tiredness was immediately washed away as he saw a sliver of hope in the time of despair.
He got onto his feet and grabbed the girl’s hand, ignoring her slightly flustered expression as he ran back through the streets, ignorant of whether she could follow him. His heart was racing and he was short of breath, yet he ignored it all completely. It was only joy he felt at the moment, joy over finding someone to help him.
The two quickly raced into the courtyard of the orphanage and immediately saw Alison who was sitting beneath the tree, pressed into the snow, crying. The girl behind Lino glanced once at the girl and her eyes immediately sparkled like gems. Then she looked sideways at the boy and her curiosity deepened.
“It’s-it’s her, can you see her fairy?” Lino asked, smiling broadly. “C-can you help her? T-take here away from this place, please!” he suddenly knelt into the snow and buried his head in it.
“... you really want me to take her away?”
“Yes! I’ll... I’ll do anything! Anything you want!”
“What can you do?”
“He he, it’s alright,” she said as she caressed his hair gently for a moment. “I’ll take her away.”
“Really?!” Lino exclaimed with glistening eyes.
“G-great! Thank you, thank you so much!” although he wasn’t this trusting usually, Lino didn’t think much; he was grasping at any straw he could see. He couldn’t stop himself from crying the tears of joy as he imagined Alison finally leaving this hellhole for a better place.
It didn’t even take a few hours till he saw Sister Roa respectfully walking behind an elderly woman and the fairy Lino met, as well as Ally right behind them, her head bowed down. Lino had never seen Sister Roa so flustered and couldn’t help but feel slightly gleeful over it. The elderly woman seemed to be ignoring her while the young fairy would only say a word or two.
They all spotted Lino standing in the off corner when they reached the courtyard’s exit; Sister Roa’s eyes were like fiery blaze, little fairy’s were of playfulness, elderly woman’s were of slight curiosity, while Ally’s were of pain. Her gaze made his heart throb, but he endured it. Just as he was about to turn around and walk away, she saw her whispering something to the elderly woman upon which the latter nodded, followed by Ally walking over toward him in short strides. She was in front of him in no time, wearing new, spectacular cyan one-piece dress, already seeming slightly healthier than yesterday.
“... h-hey...” Lino said, smiling nervously.
“... you know Sisters will make your life a living hell now, don’t you?” Ally said, her voice oddly cold.
“... yeah, I know.” Lino said, still smiling.
“I didn’t ask you to save me.”
“I didn’t ask you either.”
“You’re younger than me.”
“You’re a girl.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Aren’t guys supposed to protect girls they like? At least that’s what grandpa Felix says.”
“... I--I’ll come back, I promise,” she bit her lip, lowering her head and kneading against her thighs with her fists. “I’ll save you.”
“... you don’t have to,” Lino added, smiling broadly. “I’ll be fine.”
“Like hell you will!!!” she suddenly screamed at him, her tears like glistening gems trickling down her cheeks. “You’re an idiot!”
“...” Lino looked at her in silence, unable to process it.
“I hate you!!” after a moment’s stillness, she screamed yet again and ran off, not even pausing before bolting through the courtyard’s exit, leaving behind only silence.
The elderly woman and the young fairy glanced at Lino once, the latter smiling and waving, before also departing, leaving Sister Roa and Lino alone in the ever-cooling courtyard. He thought back for a moment and realized this was the place he met her at, when she just came and after he spent his two-months’ savings to buy an apple which he gifted her because she looked really sad. However, he didn’t cry. He held it in. Being strong for her, at the very least for now, was the least he could do, he figured.
He looked up slowly and saw Sister Roa walking toward him, her stride quick and broad, arms hung at the sides, expression that of fury. Before she even said anything she sent her palm flying, hitting Lino’s cheek squarely so hard he fell into the snow within a second, crying out in pain. He instinctively reached out and held his cheek while trying to roll backward, but before he could, he felt a foot splatter against his spleen, then his ribs, his back, legs, stomach, even had. Over and over, for nearly five minutes, she stomped on him like he was overgrowing weed. However, after the first time, he never cried out again, holding it in despite the pain.
“Hah, ha, ha,” Sister Roa puffed and panted after kicking and wailing for five minutes, clearly out of breath, still staring daggers at the young, bloodied boy beneath her feet. “You little runt, you think you’re clever, huh? I’ll show you clever, mark my words!!”
“Shut up, you bitch.” slightly coarse and childish voice beckoned her, surprising her for a moment.
“What did you call me?!!”
“If it weren’t for other kids,” Lino’s head snuggled out of the snow as he looked at her; when her eyes met his, she suddenly felt chill far colder than winter blast against her soul. Those eyes... were void of emotion. They were cold, empty, as though he was looking at a bug rather than a person. “I would rip your heart out and feed it to dogs, you selfish whore.”
“Y-you!! How fucking dare you, you lowlife?!!” kicking resumed, far harsher than before; she increased the strength partly because of anger, and partly because of fear. She didn’t want him looking at her with those eyes; she’d occasionally see those eyes, after all. Those were the eyes of soldiers who killed and mowed life as though it was crop; she could hardly understand how a kid barely eight years old could look at someone like that... for the first time in her life, she felt true terror, one bounding any rationality a person had.