The sight of that rose was bothering Hanana all that night.
When the petal had fallen, she'd swiftly pulled her hand back, looking behind her as if expecting Yukiki to be right behind her. Ready to say that she hadn't touched it, she didn't make the petal fall. A moment later she'd realized how irrational that was. Why would the sight of a petal falling unnerve her so much?
It was a simple thing, she'd seen it happen to her own flowers enough times back home, but somehow, seeing this rose lose a petal sent a wave of dread through her.
Unable to sleep, she rolled onto her side, hugging the pillow to her chest. What am I supposed to do? Am I just being silly?
After another hour or so of tossing and turning, trying to dispel that accursed rose from her mind, she fell asleep. She wouldn't be able to remember her dreams the next morning, but later she would distinctly remember an image of a wilted, dead rose.
The next few days weren't easy on Yukiki's mind, even if he tried to pretend nothing was wrong.
It was rather strange, he thought, for his chest to ache so much. It wasn't any tangible pain, or one of the sharp ones he'd been having more and more frequently lately. It was just...a weird, faint ache that made his heart feel hollow. And it only got stronger when he looked into the forest to check the snow level, checked to see when it would be safe for Hanana to go home.
Well, he had gotten rather...fond of her, he admitted. Why else would he like to sit with her, talk, read, or why else would he let her in the garden? He certainly wouldn't do any of those things, much less be in the same house as her, if he didn't like her.
That was probably the worst part of this. He liked her. He cared for her. And after he took her back home, she'd never come back, he was sure of that. After all, why should she?
He startled slightly at the sound of the door upstairs opening. Speak of the devil, he thought before he could stop himself.
Hanana came downstairs, already dressed but not fully awake yet, rubbing at her closed eyes, mumbling good mornings.
He couldn't help smiling at that. "Hello, sleepyhead," he teased, briefly wondering where that had come from. He hadn't talked like that in ages. "Did you sleep well?"
"Mm...m-hm..." Hanana nodded, opening her eyes a little bit and smiling back. Then her smile faded slightly, replaced by a look of concern. "It doesn't look like you did, though."
"What?" Yukiki frowned. That was nonsense, he'd slept just fine--
--he tensed up slightly as Hanana moved her hand to his face, fingertips brushing against his cheek.
"You have some shadows under your eyes," she explained. "Did you not sleep very well?"
"Shadows?" He turned away from her just then, striding over to the one other mirror in the house, one that sat above a desk against one of the walls. Still frowning, he leaned forward, getting a good look. She was right, there were some faint shadows underneath his eyes. Not too obvious, but definitely there. That was odd; this hadn't happened since his first year of being under a spell. His pulse sped up a little as he frowned harder, rubbing under one of his eyes as if it would erase the slight darkness there. Something's not right...
"Yukiki?" Hanana came up behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay. It's not a big deal at all; I shouldn't have brought it up."
That's not why I'm... He didn't finish that thought. Instead, he turned away from the mirror, pulling his hood up for the first time in a while. "Never mind," he muttered. He took a deep, shuddering breath before looking at her again, forcing a smile onto his face. "The snow's decreased enough for you to travel safely. If you like, I'll take you home today, before it gets dark."
Hanana bit at her lip, nodding. "Yeah, that sounds good...I'm sure my sisters are worried out of their minds," she forced herself to laugh, trying to ignore the slight sadness she'd felt just then.
Oh...she had family living with her when he'd found her--or rather, she'd found him? Yukiki remembered her mentioning sisters, but he'd just assumed...
"All the more reason to take you home," he said. "I'm sure you're getting bored here, probably suffering some cabin-fever."
Hanana forced herself to smile again, tried to make a joke. "Are you so desperate for me to leave?"
"N-no!" he said, too loudly. Clearing his throat, tugging his hood further over his eyes, he tried again. "No. But if you have family there...You're right; they must be worried. Anyone would be, hearing their sister was sheltering with a demon."
Hanana said nothing to that, merely frowning. You're not a demon, she wanted to say, but he pushed past her before she could, making his way to the shelf. She watched as he picked up their book, opened it to the bookmarked page.
"But before we go...do you think we can have just one more story?"
The one they'd read was "The Small Tooth-Dog." After the story was over, Yukiki had closed the book, held up a finger in the "wait a minute" gesture, and disappeared upstairs. He was only gone a few seconds; when he reappeared, he was shoving something inside his cloak. "Grab one of the coats from the closet. It's still cold outside."
The walk back was a little awkward. Neither of them quite knew what to say, what was appropriate to say, so they settled for talking about the story, as if nothing was different today, as if they'd be reading together tomorrow too. They both had a problem with the protagonist of the story, who had insisted on referring to someone who only treated her kindly and had let her be when she wanted to be alone as "smelly, horrible, ugly." It didn't seem like she had good manners, Hanana had said. Yukiki had agreed, wondering if maybe someone like that had even deserved to have the happy ending.
Far too soon, they reached the edge of the forest, Hanana's house visible just a little ways away. Yukiki stopped right there. "I shouldn't go further," he explained, letting go of her arm and reaching into his cloak. "Your sisters would panic and they might not let you inside."
"I'm sure I can explain--" Hanana began.
"No, it's alright. I'm used to it, I understand how it is," he cut her off. "Before you go, though..." He withdrew his hands, bringing forth two objects: the fairy tale book, and a small hand-mirror. With a rueful smile, he passed them to her. "It's not fair of me to keep the b ook," he explained. "Since you like the stories so much...I have more, I'll be fine."
"And the mirror?" Hanana frowned, looking down at its inky-black surface. She'd never seen a mirror like that before...
AAnother smile. Yukiki reached out, tugging and tightening the scarf she wore in a manner that she dared to call affectionate. "It's special," he said with a shrug. "I don't use it anymore--haven't for a long time--but it shows you anything you ask. Try it now if you don't believe me," he added when she shot him another incredulous look.
The look on her face clearly saying she didn't believe him, Hanana looked down at the mirror again. "I can't believe I'm about to...Mirror, can you show me the inside of my house right now?" To her surprise, the mirror's surface suddenly fogged up, and then cleared, and she could see the main room of the house. Eruru was nowhere in sight, but Aruru was walking all over the place, biting at her knuckles, a mixture of worry and frustration on her face, running to the window every now and then to peer out. Hanana just stared, mouth open slightly in surprise, and the image slowly faded half a minute or so later.
"I told you, so," Yukiki said, but not smugly. Pulling on his hood again, he used his free hand to push the mirror closer to Hanana. "You can have it--I'm sure you can think of some good uses for it.
"Now hurry back...don't keep them waiting."
"Are you su--" Hanana began to say before she stopped herself, shaking her head. No, that was a stupid question. She lived with her sisters, in that house, not with him, no matter how good a friend he was to her, no matter how she enjoyed the time spent with him. "I'll see you again," she promised.
Yukiki suppressed a laugh. "If you say so," he said dryly, not voicing what he thought: You won't even know the way. "Take care of yourself."
"You too." Hanana nodded, moving forward to hug him for a moment, then turning and jogging down towards the house. She'd gotten halfway there when she turned around, intending to...she didn't know what. Call out to Yukiki, ask him about the blue rose? Tell him he shouldn't sound so sad, she'd definitely be back?
But there was nothing there. He'd simply disappeared.
"Sister!" Eruru cried, nearly knocking Hanana over the second the rose-haired girl opened the door.
Alerted by the sound, Aruru ran into the room immediately after, wearing several layers of clothing and trailing a thin scarf behind her. "Hanana!" she cried, running over to join the hugging. "Oh my gosh--where were you?! I--We thought--oh, I don't even know what we thought anymore--are you dead?" she suddenly gasped, pulling away and staring with wide eyes.
Hanana laughed, wiping tears from her eyes. "N-No, I'm not dead," she managed to say between laughter. "Here, go ahead and feel my hand--I'm solid! Now let me in, please, it's cold outside, even with these clothes!"
"But...where did you get those?" Eruru asked, frowning a bit herself. "You weren't wearing that coat when you went out, or that scarf...where have you been?"
"I was with--" Hanana stopped. "I was...I was with one of the villagers. A friend," she said quickly.
No, she couldn't say who she'd really been with...True, Yukiki wasn't a demon or a monster, but it wouldn't be a good idea to tell her sisters about it so soon. Especially after one of them had wondered if it was really a ghost standing before them now. No, proper explanations would come later. Right now, she should tell half-truths...technically, he was a villager, right? And he was certainly her friend.
"And what's in your hands?" Eruru asked, glancing at the gifts.
"Well, this is a book--people read these, you see, for--"
"I know what a book is!" Eruru huffed, folding her arms. But there was an undercurrent of humor to her voice, and she smiled immediately after. Her earlier question was forgotten in a moment--it was too good having the family together and safe again.
Three days passed, during which Hanana's sisters didn't leave her side. They completely believed her statement that she was with a villager, didn't question it at all. Probably because it didn't seem important right now, not in comparison to Hanana's safe return. Neither of them seemed to question why she returned alone, too; after all, a good friend and neighbor would have seen her to the door, right? Well, not under these circumstances, Hanana thought to herself one night.
She sat in her bed, holding the fairy tale book gingerly, fingertips tracing the title. Yukiki... They hadn't even read all the stories yet...He hadn't read ahead, she knew that without even asking. And it just felt...wrong to read without him. And I should return these clothes, too... she thought, casting a glance at the coat and scarf, cleaned and folded neatly, in a chair in the corner. Her chest ached a little bit; she fought that feeling down.
There were still so many stories to read together, so many other things to talk about...she wanted to see that garden again, she wanted to see him again...
And you're lonely. Don't try to deny or hide it, I know you are...
Her gaze went to the mirror, sitting on her nightstand. She hadn't used it once since she'd come home. But now...
She blinked, straightening slightly, and then a faint grin appeared on her face. Of course. Why didn't she think of it earlier?
The house felt empty without her. The garden felt empty without her.
He felt empty without her.
That damned ache and hollow feeling doubled since she left, almost overshadowing that occasional stabbing pain he got in his heart every day or so. Some part of his mind cursed at him, told him that he caused the pain himself, he should never have let her return home. The other part, a larger, more rational part, argued that of course he had to let her return home; she had a family and other obligations and a life, and besides, wasn't he only sheltering her until the storms died down enough for travel?
In the past he could count on the rational part of him to win those self-arguments, but nowadays, his emotional side wasn't listening, instead repeating back the same arguments. Yukiki couldn't help but smirk a little bit; he just got the amusing mental image of those two sides having physical manifestations, the emotional side stomping his foot like a child. It was almost enough to make him forget the pain.
I really shouldn't just lie around and mope, he thought, though he made no effort to rise from the small couch. He'd given her that mirror as a last gift, told her what it could do so that maybe, just maybe, she might use it to see him once in a while. She couldn't possibly go to him again, but she could see him. He only wished there were two of those mirrors, so they could still speak to each other. Oh well, it was too late for that now.
With a small groan, he forced himself to get up, rubbing a hand over his eyes. Ugh, he felt so tired lately... "If she did see me with that mirror," he muttered. "She wouldn't like to see me lying about like a slug all day."
Maybe he'd feel better, more energetic, if he got some light in the house. He stood up, pulling the hood over his head again, and shuffled to the window. Parting the curtain to allow the morning light to fill the room, he suddenly stopped, holding his breath. There was a sound...a sound that shouldn't have been. Footsteps. Who could that possibly--?
Holding his breath, he slowly opened the door, a slight glare already on his face--
--and then the door burst the rest of the way open and he fell backwards, hitting the back of his head on the floor. For a moment, he panicked, then realized that the weight on top of him was laughing, and not maliciously either. And that voice...He opened his eyes, stared up in shock. "H-Hanana?"
Hanana sat up, still laughing, face flushed pink. She wore the coat and scarf he'd given her days ago, a basket hanging on her arm (Yukiki could barely make out the fairy tale book inside it), the mirror in her hand. "I told you I'd see you again!" she said triumphantly.
"You said the mirror shows you anything," she explained, still not getting off him, still laughing a little. "I just had to ask it to show me the path to your house." She finally calmed down, though she still smiled. "You see...just because I'm staying somewhere else doesn't mean I can't come visit my dearest friend anymore."
She was right. She was right. How had he not even thought of that? Unable to decide whether he should be embarrassed, ashamed, or happy, he just gave up and let all those emotions swirl though him, letting out a laugh himself as he sat up, allowing her to hug him. Hugged her in return. Forcing himself to laugh a little harder to mask the slight, unwanted and frankly embarrassing, faint sob.
She calls me her "dearest friend."
The very thought made the ache and hollow feeling vanish in an instant, replaced by butterflies in his chest.