As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.
Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.
Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).
Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.
Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.
While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”
Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.
As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.
Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.
Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.
Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.