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Kyoko looked up when she heard foot steps closing in. Kuri-chan; she still recognised the distinctive sound of shoes touching ground. The sound of a professional, and the sound of a profession that eventually bled into the very essence of Kuri-chan.

Got something you want to say?” Kyoko said.

Kuri-chan sat down beside her. “It’s about the third summer,” she began.

Kyoko nodded. “Noriko’s on the way here with some tea. Let’s wait for her.”

Kuri-chan shook her head. “I owe her a separate apology. This one is for you.”

Kyoko hugged her knees and waited. Third summer, the second one in Himekaizen, hadn’t been the best of summer vacations for any of them.

I’m sorry I led Ulf on the way I did despite being together with Ryu.”

But from a friend that made no sense at all. But from a friend.

Yukio and I didn’t really care,” Kyoko said. “We took Urufu’s and Noriko’s side, and I’m not going to apologise for that.”

A thin shimmer behind her spoke of yet another absurdly early Swedish morning coming to life. It would continue to do so for hours in the same, lazy way evenings took forever to become night. This was nothing like Japan at all. Even nature was different.

Kuri-chan draped a blanket across her back. “It’ll get colder still,” she said after tugging it in across Kyoko’s shoulders. “I know,” she said and sat back. “Ulf told me. Still owe you an apology though.”

Why?”

Because I didn’t give you one back then. An apology for the lack of one.”

Her face, still beautiful like an angel’s despite her reaching 40, turned, and Kyoko silently sat facing Kuri-chan like she had so often during the years their friendship remained unbroken. It wasn’t any longer, had been both broken and mended somehow; yet Kuri-chan remained her most important friend.

I’ll accept that apology,” Kyoko said. “Thank you.”

Kuri-chan rose. “I’ll go find Noriko now.”

Because that apology has to be the real thing. Kuri-chan, you’re a much better friend than you think. Kyoko turned and stared after the receding back of what was, despite everything, the best friend she had ever had.

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