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a fickle heart in five parts

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“Who knows, Akito -- this might be a good test for them.”

Akito seemed lax at the suggestion. Shigure sat beside her on the engawa outside her room, watching as a breeze disrupted the trees. Sunlight flickered before them, spots growing and diminishing on the path that stretched beyond to nowhere. Some of the light just barely hit his feet; Akito stayed tucked under the shadow of the roof.

“A complete outsider…who does she think she is?”

It almost seemed like a genuine question, if not for the tinge of aggravation that clouded her voice. Shigure breathed a chuckle.

“I don’t believe she thinks she’s anyone in particular. Believe me, she’s completely and utterly normal.”

“Believe you,” she muttered. “Is she stupid, then?”

“No, no. Just normal.”

Shigure recalled the night before, thinking of the stranger lying on his floor. A girl his cousin’s age, feverish and spent, stubborn flecks of dirt still clinging to the undersides of her nails as she clutched at the blanket pulled out of storage. As he sat beside her, she talked about her mother. Spared no words about herself, or her troubles, or the only things she owned trapped under a mudslide in a tent she resorted herself to living in. Just the remaining dredges of her grief and guilt, and her final memory of the person in the photo she was desperate to retrieve.

Her strength was admirable, he thought, but he couldn’t help but feel disquieted watching her. To have such a lack of concern for yourself was a feeling unknown to him.

“Yuki,” he continued, shifting his position slightly with a sigh, “seems a bit fond of her. Classmates, I think.”

“Does he love her?”

“You’re funny. They hardly know each other.”

Her face became harsh then, but settled. She seemed tired, which, he supposed, was lucky.

“And the monster?”

“Oh, they’ve already started off on the wrong foot. He looks like he’s going to crawl out of his skin every time they’re in the same room together.”

“So he finds her revolting, then?” Akito huffed a laugh. “That’s quite funny.”

From a tall bough, a goldfinch came down and settled near them. It pecked at the ground, investigating twigs and wayward blades of grass. Shigure watched Akito as she stared at it with some intent.

“And what about you, Shigure? What do you think of her?”

He hummed. Endearing was the word that came to mind. Pure-hearted, selfless. Gentle. Kind. Another slew of things that Akito was not, and had rarely been. It almost made him laugh.

“I think,” he said, “that she’d be a good addition to the house. I’ve already wrecked the place, you know. A total stye.”

Akito turned her head to glare at him. He smiled.

“Answer me,” she said.

“Well… She’s quite different from you, Akito-san . I’d venture to say that she’s your opposite.”

Her shoulders tensed at that. She directed her stare back at the bird, watching it hop around. Picking up and dropping things, discontented with everything it found. Shigure watched the light dance on the path as the branches swayed far overhead.

“It’s not good,” he said, “or bad. Which is why I think you might enjoy seeing how the boys respond to her. I know you’ve been waiting for me to finally scare off Yuki-kun, but I think an outside influence might be a better test.”

Akito went mum. Then, she bent forward slightly and held out her arm, a finger extended. The goldfinch stopped perusing the ground and, after some pause, fluttered and hopped to reach her finger. As it perched itself there, she sat back up slowly, careful not to jostle it.

It was, Shigure thought, one of those rare moments.

“I see,” she said at last. “Very well. I’ll trust this ‘Tohru’ person. This might be a good opportunity, for Yuki, for Kyo...and for me.”

She raised her arm higher, and the bird flew away, back into the cacophony above them. Shigure watched it until it disappeared in the midst of foliage, and he smiled lightly.

You underestimate her, he thought, and those two.

“I’m glad,” he said instead. “We’ll see how everything works out, hm?”

“Yes. We’ll see.”

Akito drew her legs closer to herself and fell into a contemplative silence. The air between them, though tremulous, wasn’t stifling. Shigure felt an urge to reach out and touch her, then, but kept his hands tucked in his sleeves. This wasn’t the time.

I hope things do work out, he thought. As another breeze jostled the trees and underbrush, the sunlight flickered as though sparkling, until an overpassing cloud slowly and discreetly snuffed it out. And as he sat beside her in the sudden grey, he felt that familiar push and pull disrupt his chest. That feeling so inherently ancient, as primitive as a heartbeat, yet elusive as a dream.

For your sake, Akito.