It might’ve been the ringing of bells in the distance that woke her, But Takiko Pepperharrow opens her eyes to the dark of her room and the smell of orange blossoms. The sounds of crickets and frogs in their joint sonata flood the silence, there might have been the coo of an owl but she doesn’t dwell on it for long. The quiet sound of someone else's breath comes next and her eyebrows furrow, Keita sleeps in his own room, down the hall to the left.
It takes a moment for her eyes to fully adjust to the moonlight pouring in through the window, then Countess Kuroda is asleep next to her, both of them draped over the large futon, their heads sharing a pillow. Takiko breathes in so deep her lungs press against her ribs, and orange blossoms bloom inside her chest.
She eyes the discarded glasses on the floor next to the futon, an empty bottle of some expensive plum wine the countess had brought. It was too sweet on Takiko’s tongue, but she suffered through each glass to watch Midori rave over it. The moon spills over Midori’s face, in a way that’s so stunning it nearly pains Takiko to look at. There’s an overwhelming urge in her chest, a feeling simultaneously so heavy and so light, to reach out and cup Midori’s face, to bring her close to her chest and hold her safe. Away from everything, from Kuroda, from Keita, from boring Empresses and cutthroat courts who didn’t care.
She wonders if she’s still a little drunk, from the way her heart jumps at her own thoughts.
The silk ribbon on Midori’s nightdress shimmers as she shifts in her sleep, It was a western cut, made of soft linen with midnight blue ribbon strung throughout the collar. She curls closer to the pillow, her hand rests between them.
Takiko doesn’t think, she slots their hands together, feeling soft skin against her own work callused hands. She tries not to think about how perfectly they fit together.
The countess shifts again her eyes blinking open, lashes heavy with sleep,
“Pepper,” she starts, Takiko lets her voice wash over her, a sleepy smile tugging at her lips. The countess always said her name with such reverence, Keita said it like an old friend, easily, but Midori held it in her mouth like something precious.
“I’m cold,” she murmurs.
“Come closer then,”
She does, wiggling her way towards Takiko their fingers still intertwined. Takiko pulls the blanket over them with her other hand. They lay inches apart.
Midori trails sleepy eyes down Takiko’s face. From her hairline to her chin, She feels herself redden and only hopes it’s not obvious in the dark.
“Do you think it could always be like this?” she murmurs.
‘I don’t see why not,” Takiko responds, with a bit more hope than she intended to admit.
Midori smiles, her eyes so incredibly sad, Takiko squeezes her hand tight.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, hard decisions coming up. I’m nervous,”
“Don’t worry yourself. It’ll be fine. I know what I got myself into,”
She says it with a resignation that makes Takiko’s stomach sink.
“Midori,” She attempts. The Countess beams at the nickname, her other hand coming up to cup Takiko’s cheek, the way school girls do before they’re old enough for actions to mean things.
“You’re so pretty, you know that?” She’s changing the subject but Takiko can’t bring herself to push, she snorts instead.
“You’re drunk still,”
“Hm, a little maybe,” She teases, stretching slightly against the pillow “Doesn’t make me blind,”
Takiko rolls her eyes. She gently pries Midori’s hand from her cheek, instead holding their hands clasped between them.
“Tell me about the new play,”
“I’ve already told you everything we have so far,”
“Tell me again, maybe you’ll come up with more, then you’ll have to jump out of bed and grab something to write it down.” She finished the statement with a snicker.
Takiko tells her about the play, going over the same details and plot lines. Midori nods all the same, giving little sounds affirmation at the appropriate times until she drifts off into sleep again.
Takiko breaths deep, allowing herself to live in this moment a second longer before sleep can claim her. She presses forward her lips barely brushing against Midori’s forehead.
Maybe it could always be like this.