She'd been there for three days total before he suddenly realized something: not once had she complained of hunger. He hadn't needed to eat since the enchantment (something he'd only discovered after the shock had mostly wore off a few days later, and he realized that not once did he feel hungry. When he tried to make himself eat something, he'd found that he had no appetite. He supposed it did make a sort of sense...), so it had almost completely slipped his mind that his...guest would need to.
But she hasn't complained once, he thought. And he hadn't heard her stomach growling, so it couldn't be that she was too nice to speak up...though he didn't think he'd put it past her. Maybe this piece of the land had another enchantment on it, one that completely got rid of one's need for food.
He learned that it wasn't the case after all when he returned one night and saw Hanana at the small table, looking up from a biscuit.
"I was a bit hungry," she explained, mistaking his silence for something negative.
He just stared at the biscuit in her hand. "Where did you get that?"
"It was in the cupboard," she said, frowning a bit as she stood up. "I'll show you."
Feeling rather silly, being shown something in his own kitchen, Yukiki followed her, still a bit stunned. He remembered...he vaguely remembered having biscuits once, but that was before the enchantment, wasn't it? They'd have gone bad by now, they had to have. But no, Hanana stopped in front of one particular cupboard and opened it up, and there they were. They didn't look any different from when he brought them home, either. "I wasn't sure if...Well, I know I should have asked first but it's a little difficult to catch you sometimes," the rose-haired girl admitted, glancing guiltily at the half-eaten food in her hand.
"....no. It's fine," he muttered. Hm. Interesting. When that young (and admittedly foolish) apprentice-enchantress tried to help him by freezing him in time, that spell must have affected everything in his home. The flowers, he understood, the trees just by the house, of course, but even the food? "Odd thing to consider," he muttered again, a bit darkly.
"Nothing." He turned away, one hand automatically reaching for the hood before he forced it back. "Never mind; you don't have to ask for food. I only regret not thinking of it sooner."
Hanana swallowed the bite she had in her mouth, looking down at her food. Wait...what did he mean by that? Surely he himself ate, so--
"Wait. You can't eat?" she called out softly. Yukiki noted the sympathetic undertone to it.
He shrugged, noncommittal.
"Then...Then why do you have food, if you don't mind me asking?" Hanana went on. She hated herself for thinking it, but it was unlikely that he got guests. And if he himself couldn't eat, then why was all that food in there? Most of it looked brand-new too, or if not that then still well within its shelf-life. And for some reason, her cold acquaintance--friend--didn't strike her as one who would just buy food and let it go to waste. So, why...?
"It's just there," he answered sharply, before biting his tongue. "No, that...that came out wrong," he added by way of apology. "It just..."
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," Hanana cut him off.
"...I'd rather not say, no."
There was yet another awkward silence as they both just stood there, Yukiki with his back to her. Finally, he cleared his throat and started to move forward again. "I'll be going now."
"Wha--you're leaving already?" Hanana asked, eyes widening as she hastily finished her snack. "But you just got here!"
"Yes?" He turned to look back at her, frowning.
Hanana merely frowned back in confusion, shaking her head. "You just got back, and you're leaving again?...You don't have to go away just because I'm here; I don't mind your company at all, really."
How had she figured it out?
"And truthfully," she was saying, snapping Yukiki out of his thoughts again. "It's...it's rather lonely, isn't it? When you're not around." She smiled, not patronizing or condescending, but in a friendly manner. "Don't you think so?"
...well, yes, actually. But he'd gotten so used to it. A century of being alone, only occasional visits from some foolish enchantress who couldn't even do anything to help you and had to leave again shortly afterwards to train more was lonely. And it had been miserable at first but he'd just grown used to it. He hadn't realized he'd said the last par tout loud until he saw her horrified expression. "It's alright, really," he hastily told her.
"But it's still....you shouldn't have to get used to it!" she answered. "It's one thing if you like being alone, but even those people need huma--...interaction once in a while. It's something completely different if you..." She shook her head. Yukiki thought he could see tears springing in her eyes. Did it bother her that much? But she didn't have to worry...
"I've been fine, really--but you don't like it, do you?" he asked, the sudden revelation hitting him. Stupid.
She shook her head again, a little bit. "Even back in the village, I had at least had some company, some friends." She didn't mention that those friends had been her own sisters. "I'm not really used to being alone for such a long time; and I don't know if...You must not like it yourself, since you said you were used to it, not that you preferred it." She had a point there, he had to admit. "And it's a bit more than that," she admitted. "I'm supposed to stay here til the storm fades away and it's safe for me to walk back, but it's your home. And it feels strange, being someone's guest and not having the host around. I feel like I'm kicking you out of your own house when you go away all the time."
His chest hurt again, briefly, as he considered that. he'd never thought it that way. Even after he'd taken to wearing the hood down, he had just assumed that it would be best if they limited their interactions. Who would even want to associate with him?
Well, clearly she did, but why he still had little idea. Oh sure, she'd just said so, but him? Of all people? Couldn't she have just, he didn't know, asked him to get a bird or something?
But while it did feel strange, having someone to talk to after such a long time...it felt kind of nice, actually. So maybe--
"If it means so much to you..."
"Yes?" Hanana tried to hide the hope in her eyes.
Yukiki sighed, scratching at his face. "If it means that much...I suppose I could try to stay around a bit more often. It'd be rude, otherwise..."
"If it's not a bother?"
"It isn't. Won't be...I suppose," he said, one corner of his mouth twitching up into a smile without his noticing. He had no idea what they were supposed to do, or even talk about, but he felt he could at least do that much.
Without thinking, Hanana ran over and hugged him briefly, not noticing how he tensed up against her. "Thank you so much! I-It's a tiny thing, I know, but...but thank you. This means a lot!" She pulled away, rubbing at her eyes again and smiling.
"You're welcome?" Yukiki replied, trying to ignore the odd hammering sensation in his chest.
Unfortunately, their first real conversation five minutes later wasn't as good as either could hope. Neither knew much about the other, so didn't know what topic to even bring up, and one didn't simply just say "Let's sit and talk about something." of course it would feel awkward!
Hanana had tried to ask about why there was grass around the house, and why it felt warm and was practically spring in this one little pocket in the forest. Yukiki had simply said he didn't want to talk about it, not in detail. "It's just...magic," he said, avoiding eye-contact.
That made sense, she guessed. After all, her friend here was made of snow and ice. How else would it be possible?
"Has it always been like this then?" she finally asked, waving her hand around in a vague direction.
He paused for a moment, trying to figure out the "safe" answer. "...no, not always. It wasn't like this until....I showed up."
"Really?" she asked before she could stop herself. "But that doesn't--" Now she did stop herself.
"Doesn't make sense, does it?" he asked, voice odd as he finally looked at her again. "For this place to be warm and living when I'm...not." He looked away again, not seeing how her face flushed as she looked down at her clasped hands. The apprentice hadn't meant to hurt him, he reasoned to himself, making the environment "freeze" like that. How could she know what he'd feel about it, that being this cold and monstrous in a place so warm only made him feel worse? Even more of an outsider. It was part of why he retreated to the forest in winter--to even stand in his own front yard was like a smack in the face.
Not that he was entirely bitter about it...This form had its advantages. He couldn't hurt anymore, as he'd found out early on after a nasty mishap with the stairs. The cold was actually comforting now rather than bitter, and...well, a tiny part of him liked what he could do. "It's not all bad," he muttered to himself, catching Hanana's attention. Louder, he added, "Don't worry, it's fine."
There was that awkward air again. There had to be a better thing to say..."Last time I saw you, you were reading. What was it?" he asked.
That was better; he saw her face brighten as she straightened up. Then the smile turned slightly mischievous. "Well...I didn't know someone like you would have a book of fairy tales lying around, Mister Yukiki."
He blinked, both at the fact he actually had that thing and the honorific. "I do?" He didn't remember having such a book.
"Yes. You must have forgotten," Hanana said, rising and going to the shelf. She pulled the book out, and he could see that it looked relatively new. Odd, considering all the others were well-worn...And no, he certainly did not have that before. When had that book shown up? "See?" she held it out to him.
Yukiki turned away and pushed it back, scoffing a little. "Keep it to yourself; I don't read such childish things."
"Childish?" Hanana cried, whether in mock horror or genuine, he couldn't tell. "These aren't childish at all! They're...some of these are rather dark, but they all have great endings! And look--" She started flipping through the pages, backwards a few times, until she found what she was looking for. She lowered the book again, pointing to the title, The Juniper Tree. "Like this one...it's really scary, and the heroes go through some awful things, but in the end everything turns out alright--even death has to bey the happy ending."
"And this one, here...see, the heroine loses the person she cares about most in the entire world, and she could have given up. But she doesn't; she puts on iron shoes that hurt her feet and travels all the way to the other side of the world and to the realm of ogres to save him. So no matter what horrible things happen to them, it's good in the end!" She apparently realized how excited she was getting talking about this, for her face suddenly turned pink and she pulled the book back, looking away sheepishly. "Er--sorry...I like those kinds of stories..."
"You like that they all end happily." It wasn't a question, but an observation.
Hanana nodded. "No matter how terrible things are, or what happens to anyone; good prevails and the heroes are happy in the end." She felt the book being gently tugged out of her grasp, and looked up to see Yukiki taking the book back. He frowned slightly, flipping through the pages. Apparently he read a sentence here and there, because sometimes he'd look a bit horrified and other times there'd be a flicker of a smile, anger, or curiosity.
"Which story is your favorite?"
"Well, I haven't gotten all the way through yet," she confessed, watching him. She couldn't help smile a little; some of those expressions he made were pretty funny. "Do you want to borrow it?" she laughed, noticing how he slowed down in some paces to read a whole paragraph.
Yukiki suddenly stiffened, slamming the book closed and holding it back to her. "No," he said, as if she'd suggested something awful and humiliating. "You were reading it, you can keep reading it."
Hanana smiled, taking it back, looking at the spine for a moment. "You know..." she began, a sly edge to her voice. I saw you pausing, she wanted to say, but instead she said, "It's not quite as fun, reading alone...and you did say we could spend more time together." She paused, sneaking a peek at Yukiki from beneath her lashes. "We could look together, if it's okay?"
There was such a long pause that she was half-worried he was going to say no. But instead--"...Alright. Fine," he said, trying to sound nonchalant about it.
Maybe that was the reason, the little show of I don't particularly care, that Hanana laughed when he followed up with "Could we start with the one about the shirt, and the ogres?"