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Hanako-Act5-Part8:Walking

Feb 16th, 2013
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  1. (A continuance from Hanako's good ending, in Katawa Shoujo. The previous chapters are in my profile. Obviously spoilers if you haven't done her route. Also I know this chapter took too long for release and maybe is too long for a single chapter, but real life has been a pain. Please leave comments in the thread if I've posted this there or email them to KSFFWriter@gmail.com . Enjoy)
  2.  
  3. Act 5: Cues - Part 8: Walking
  4.  
  5. Hanako wakes me in the early morning, and ushers me nearly silently from her room as quickly as I can wake up enough to stumble my way back to my own dorm. I don't know why she's so nervous about Lilly, but the morning fog in my mind doesn't let me focus too much on it as I stagger home.
  6.  
  7. After taking my pills, taking a shower, and taking a quick instant breakfast in my room, everything seems much clearer. I can't blame Hanako for her caution about flaunting our relationship around Lilly. Lilly treats Hanako, in many ways, like she's her child. A daughter, or at least a little sister she constantly frets and worries over. Lilly even implied as much on the phone, when I called her in Scotland. She's been less overbearing since she returned, but the roles in their relationship are set at this point. I wonder if Hanako feels the same kind of trepidation regarding kissing or cuddling with me in front of Lilly as she would in front of a parent.
  8.  
  9. Well, things will work out. Worrying about everything won't fix it.
  10.  
  11. I leave my room on time and walk easily through the sunlit gardens of Yamaku. A bright, clear morning like this really makes me realize what a nice area this is. With all the worry over personal concerns and exams and everything else lately, I haven't taken time to just look around and appreciate the world around me.
  12.  
  13. Lost in this sort of mood, I'm already up the stairs to class before I know it. I note with a little satisfaction that I'm not even winded. Even a couple weeks ago, climbing the staircase would leave me breathing just a bit heavier. I should really thank Miki for her help.
  14.  
  15. Hanako is already at her desk, chatting with Naomi, when I arrive in the classroom. She gives me a small smile and a wave, as though it's our first time meeting today. I return her greeting and sit down next to a giggling Misha. Enduring her playful teasing is almost pleasant, the routine morning doing a great deal to ease my vague discomfort about the coming weekend.
  16.  
  17. It's not until after class starts that I realize Miki is absent from school today. It's not exactly unheard of, and I'm not too worried. She's probably just skipping class to have an early weekend anyway. I don't even think about it until the second class of the day requires everyone to get into groups for conversational English practice. As difficult as that is with a deaf girl speaking Japanese sign language and a girl who laughs more than she speaks, I can't help looking over to see what Hanako is doing in Miki's absence.
  18.  
  19. I find her paired with Naomi and the girl who sits next to her, with the different-colored eyes. It takes a moment for me to place a name to her, Natsume... something. Hanako is smiling a little as she timidly speaks with them, so I turn back to my own group.
  20.  
  21. Misha and I converse in broken, stilted English, while Shizune signs to Misha. Misha always translates sign into Japanese, which lends an excessively weird feeling to the three-language conversation. We don't have anything interesting to talk about, which just makes the conversation drift through what little English I know. Misha seems to have picked up on the language much more than I have, maybe she just has an aptitude for languages in general.
  22.  
  23. We're discussing tests and how to study for them, in a very limited way, when a sudden sound of a chair moving over the floor tiles breaks the relative calm of the room. I look back just in time to see Hanako walking quickly out of the class. Instinctively I look to Naomi, and find her already looking at me, with apology and regret in her eyes.
  24.  
  25. Great.
  26.  
  27. I feel, rather than see, everyone's eyes on me. I guess it's pretty well known that Hanako and I are dating by now, so if she runs out of the classroom, everyone expects me to go fix it. I don't think Hanako really wants someone rushing off to help her though. She left because she was avoiding someone, or some topic. Chasing after her isn't going to solve anything.
  28.  
  29. I know all that, but if I honestly ask myself what I want to do... I can only answer that I want to follow her.
  30.  
  31. I turn back to Misha and Shizune, Shizune looks at me with almost an accusing stare, silently asking why I haven't left yet. With only this class left before lunch break, I opt to leave my bag and books here, just standing and walking just a little faster than normal out of the classroom. The teacher doesn't object to my leaving in any way that I notice. As I close the door behind me, I let out a sigh that sounds more wearied in my ears than I feel like it should.
  32.  
  33. Hanako is nowhere to be seen, but there are only a few places she goes at times like these anyway. The library, her dorm room... since it's so close to lunch time, she's probably in the tea room. My footsteps echo unnervingly in the relative silence of the empty hallway. Hanako hasn't done this in a while. She hasn't left class early since the day after we first slept together... but that was my fault, so I'm not sure it counts. It makes me wonder what Naomi said to evoke this kind of reaction.
  34.  
  35. It's not long before I arrive at the tea room, or rather the disused classroom that Lilly, Hanako, and I use for that. The door is closed, and I pause a moment with my hand on the doorknob. I knock gently on the door rather than just barging in unannounced. A moment passes before a quiet voice calls from inside. "C-come in."
  36.  
  37. I open the door quietly, and step inside without saying anything, closing the door behind me. Hanako is sitting in her usual seat at the table, looking at me with a strange expression. It's somewhere between apologetic and annoyed. There's a slightly hurt look in her eyes as well. I'm not sure what to say, so I just try to be quiet as I walk across the floor and sit in Lilly's seat, across from Hanako. "Hi, Hanako."
  38.  
  39. The corners of Hanako's mouth turn up just slightly at my greeting, but she shakes her head and the beginnings of the smile vanish. She looks down at the table rather than at me. "Wh-why..."
  40.  
  41. I know what she means without her having to finish the question. Why am I here? I decide to be honest instead of skirting around it. "Everyone was waiting for me to come after you. I couldn't stay there. Besides, I was... well, a little worried. You haven't left class like that in a while."
  42.  
  43. "Y-you don't have to... t-to take c-care of me. O-or come c-comfort me. I'm f-fine." Hanako looks away as she says this, her right hand moving compulsively to hide her scars. A nervous habit I recognize, but am powerless to fix.
  44.  
  45. I sigh, staying quiet for a few moments before speaking again. "I know. But I just... what did she say? Naomi looked like she had messed up."
  46.  
  47. Hanako closes her eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. She looks at the table as she speaks, her hands clasped in her lap. Her voice is quiet, but clear. I wonder if the fact that it's me that is asking is making her force herself to talk about this. "Sh-she didn't m-mean to d-do anything wrong. W-we were talking a-about plans for the w-weekend, and sh-she asked what m-my parents thought a-about me g-going with you and L-lilly."
  48.  
  49. I don't know what to say to that, and I stay quiet longer than I should.
  50.  
  51. When she speaks again, she sounds angry and disappointed. "I-it's stupid. I sh-should be able t-to talk about it b-by now. Or a-at least not just r-run away."
  52.  
  53. Even saying this, she doesn't cry. I still don't know what to say to her. I know she can do this on her own, I know she resents being treated like she's broken. She told that during that day in the park. But what can I do? She can't talk about it. She runs away from the classroom when things like this are even mentioned. So I do the only thing I can think to do.
  54.  
  55. I just reach my hand out to the middle of the table, and look to her.
  56.  
  57. Hanako hesitates a moment, but then places her hand in mine. We sit there in silence, holding hands, while Hanako looks away, staring out the window. This is familiar, in a distant way. We've spent quiet time alone together in this room so many times that I can't place when I remember this. But it's nice, it's calming, and after a few moments, just a little hint of a smile crosses Hanako's lips.
  58.  
  59. I feel all the tension I didn't realize was in my muscles relax at that small, simple smile. I wonder if this girl realizes how much she can affect me with such a small gesture.
  60.  
  61. The lunch bell rings but neither of us move. Despite my growing hunger, I don't feel that I should break whatever mood has settled over the room, and Hanako doesn't seem to want to change anything either. Ten minutes into the hour, Hanako finally releases my hand, and stands up, giving me an obviously faked smile. "D-do you want t-to get lunch?"
  62.  
  63. As much as I want to ask what's bothering her, whether it's what Naomi said, or something I did... I can tell this isn't the right time. Instead I just stand and open the door for her, smiling as sincerely as I can. "Ladies first."
  64.  
  65. -----------------
  66.  
  67. The rest of the day passes without much incident. No one mentions Hanako's leaving, and she talks quietly with Naomi in between classes. Even Misha avoids the topic. Hanako and I walk back to the dorms hand in hand, but part without saying much. Since Miki doesn't bother showing up, I skip out on studying after classes, opting instead to spend the afternoon deliberating on what to pack for the trip and what to leave behind. I know I'm thinking too much into this. Once that's settled, I set to studying English alone.
  68.  
  69. By the time it's time for my run, I've made no progress whatsoever. I change into my running clothes, take my nightly pills, and walk halfway to the track before I realize she's probably not even there. My suspicions are confirmed by the sight of a strangely empty field waiting for me.
  70.  
  71. I made a promise to Hanako to run in the evenings, and I don't think just giving up because Miki isn't there is the way to go. I do my stretches in the silent dark, trying to remember all of them.
  72.  
  73. After a suitable amount of time spent stretching in largely improvised ways, I set to running. It's sort of eerie out on the empty track at night. The trees are black against the dark blue of the night sky, and the ceaseless chirping of the cicadas just makes the sense of loneliness and isolation complete.
  74.  
  75. I can see why Emi was so excited at the prospect of a running partner.
  76.  
  77. The four laps that have become customary with Miki go by fairly quickly regardless, and I run an extra one just to see if I can. I'm still winded by the end, but I manage to step across the line and fall into an exhausted walk without any real difficulty.
  78.  
  79. After a cooldown lap, I go back to my room. Any feeling of accomplishment from my extra circuit around the track is destroyed by seeing my English textbook still open on my desk. I decide that it's too late to worry about that kind of thing and just pack it away with the rest of my stuff for the weekend. Hanako told me over lunch that we were leaving pretty early tomorrow morning.
  80.  
  81. -----------------
  82.  
  83. The train station platform is bitterly cold the next morning, something I didn't expect for midsummer. I rub my hands together as I stand in the empty station with Hanako and Lilly. Lilly is dressed fairly lightly however, so I guess she's expecting it to be warmer in Hokkaido.
  84.  
  85. "Why are we taking the early train anyway?"
  86.  
  87. I probably sound more irritated than I need to, but it's cold dammit. Lilly's expression doesn't waver, that polite smile still on her lips as always. "Unfortunately, the train schedule is against us. The next train to Hokkaido is at two in the afternoon."
  88.  
  89. I don't reply, suddenly having to stifle a yawn.
  90.  
  91. Lilly allows her smile to widen slightly. "Cheer up, Hisao. Once we get there it will be much warmer."
  92.  
  93. Hanako's worried expression stops me from saying anything back to Lilly. She notices me noticing her, and blushes slightly. "A-are you alright? I-it was my i-idea to take the e-earlier train..."
  94.  
  95. I can't help sighing and shaking my head. "I'm fine, I'm just complaining."
  96.  
  97. Hanako is wearing her pink blouse and dark pants, with denim jacket again. Maybe there will be a few places to shop in Hokkaido, all girls like shopping for clothes, right? In any case, it would be something the three of us could do together. Even if Lilly can't see how Hanako looks, I'm sure she'll have some opinion to voice regardless.
  98.  
  99. We chat meaninglessly on the platform for a few minutes, before the announcement rings out that our train is arriving. My offer to carry Hanako's bag is politely rejected, but Lilly offers hers instead. Something like a smirk takes over her normal polite smile. It's almost cute to see her lower her guard for just a moment like that.
  100.  
  101. ...
  102.  
  103. Twenty minutes into the ride and Hanako is already sleeping on my shoulder. Lilly insisted that Hanako and I take one side of the small seating booth while she took the other, and before long Hanako's nervous fidgeting became tentative leaning against me, and then she fell asleep without so much as a word. She sleeps with a little smile on her lips, and I don't have the heart to wake her just to force her to sit through the hours-long train ride with Lilly and me.
  104.  
  105. "I believe she was nervous about this trip. I could hear her in her room late into the night."
  106.  
  107. Lilly speaks with her normal polite tone while keeping her voice hushed. It's a good thing too, as the train car is nearly empty and any voice is jarring at the moment. I reply in a similar muted whisper. "She was? That makes two of us. I had no idea what to bring or anything."
  108.  
  109. "I am certain you came prepared, Hisao. It will only be two days."
  110.  
  111. I look over to Hanako and smile at her peaceful features. The rhythmic clacking of the train's wheels nearly put me to sleep as well. "Yeah. But it's my first time going on a trip like this with two girls, and... well."
  112.  
  113. Lilly takes her hand away from her braille book and coyly cups it to her cheek. "Oh my, Hisao, are you planning something?"
  114.  
  115. I feel myself blushing, and try to fight the image that suggestion puts in my mind. "No, just... with recent events and everything."
  116.  
  117. "The house is rather small. I'm afraid we don't have a guest bedroom, so you will have to sleep on the couch in the living room."
  118.  
  119. She sounds genuinely apologetic, her teasing smile fading to a slightly concerned expression. I feel the need to quickly allay her concerns. "That's fine, don't worry about it. A few days on the couch will help me appreciate the school beds more."
  120.  
  121. A light giggle is is my reward for my weak attempt at humor. A moment passes before Lilly abruptly changes the topic. "Are you still concerned over your exams? Hanako informed me that Miss Miura missed the study group yesterday."
  122.  
  123. This topic. I give a quiet sigh before answering. "Yeah, I think I'll be fine in most of my subjects. Mutou seems to think I'll have no problem with science, at any rate. I'm only worried about English and maybe History. I should be able to keep my marks high enough to get into one of the universities I want anyway."
  124.  
  125. A look of surprise graces Lilly's features, and I realize that only a week or two ago I was telling her I had no plans. I speak again, making sure to keep a note of apology in my tone. "I spoke with Mutou and gave it a little thought. I'm planning to go into teaching, probably science."
  126.  
  127. Lilly's expression brightens noticeably. I expected she'd be happy to hear I had plans, but... "My my, teaching? What brought this decision about?"
  128.  
  129. I cough quietly into my hand, suddenly a little embarrassed. "Well uh... when I was helping Miki with her studies, I just... I guess I had a talent for it. I enjoyed it, too. It's kind of fun, helping someone out and then seeing them realize that they know more than they did before."
  130.  
  131. Her pretty smile changes just a bit, and looks more genuine than usual. I wonder momentarily if Lilly ever allows herself to react honestly. "I think that teaching suits you well, Hisao."
  132.  
  133. "Thank you, Lilly. It feels good to have a plan, even if I'm not sure how to go about it."
  134.  
  135. A moment of silence passes, aside from the clacking of the train's wheels. I'm curious, and she seems to be in a good mood. "You seemed pretty happy about me going into teaching. Is it just because you think I'd be good at it?"
  136.  
  137. That teasing smirk spreads across her lips, and I immediately know I won't be getting a real answer. "My, aren't you inquisitive today?"
  138.  
  139. "Yes, and you're avoiding the question."
  140.  
  141. Her cheeks redden with a pretty blush at my direct statement, and I can't help smiling at the small victory. "Have you told Hanako of your plans?"
  142.  
  143. I shake my head, before realizing that I should probably actually vocalize that. "No, it hasn't come up. I'm still not sure if she has anything in mind."
  144.  
  145. I yawn involuntarily, and Lilly allows herself another quiet giggle. Seemingly satisfied that she dodged my previous question, Lilly lifts her book, running her fingertip along a line of brail, looking to be finding her lost place on the page. "You must be tired, Hisao. Get some sleep, I will be sure to wake you both before we reach Hokkaido."
  146.  
  147. As much as I'd like to argue the point for no reason, Hanako's warmth against me and the comforting rhythmic clacking of the train combine to make Lilly's suggestion seem extremely reasonable. I slide my arm around Hanako's waist, and she makes a quiet, contented noise as she cuddles up to me on instinct. I rest my head against the seat cushion, and close my eyes.
  148.  
  149. What seems like only a moment later, I open my eyes to see Hanako blushing slightly and shaking my shoulder. I wake up as quickly as I can, and the three of us stand and collect our belongings before exiting the train car. The mid afternoon sunlight hurts my eyes, but it's pleasantly warm, and the air smells more crisp and clean than even at Yamaku. The train station can barely even be called such a thing, more just a small wooden shack next to the tracks. Hanako called this a 'quiet area', and it's pretty plain that she wasn't exaggerating.
  150.  
  151. -----------------
  152.  
  153. Even after the long train ride, the walk up to the Satou summer home feels endless. The road we walk along is deserted and lonely, but it's a nice, sunny day and none of us seem to want to voice any complaint. Lilly walks with her back straight and her posture as impeccable as always. Hanako seems to be in good spirits as well, with no one around to make her uncomfortable. Even with the long walk and the sweat on my forehead, I can't help but feel like this was a great idea. This trip is exactly what we all needed, to clear the air and get our friendship back to normal.
  154.  
  155. We walk very slowly, Lilly seemingly fairly uncertain of where she is. I get the impression that it has been a while since she took this route. At the end of our journey, we come to a surprisingly western farmhouse. Thinking about it, I can imagine someone like Lilly going for this sort of style. It's obvious even from outside that it can't have more than just a few small rooms, but it looks homey and pleasant in every way. Around us is farmland nearly as far as the eye can see, dotted by small copses of trees and a few distant houses.
  156.  
  157. This place really is as far removed from the city I grew up in as it is possible to be and still be in Japan. I'm a little surprised to find that it doesn't make me uncomfortable at all. My time in the peace and quiet of Yamaku has changed me more than I thought.
  158.  
  159. "Wow, it's amazing out here..."
  160.  
  161. My voice surprises even me, but Lilly only gives her normal polite smile. Hanako nods quickly. "I-it's wonderful."
  162.  
  163. "That is good to hear. Akira told me that she's kept the house in reasonable condition, but I was worried that we may have different standards of 'reasonable'." Lilly's voice is calm and even, but there's a hint of her teasing tone underneath it, even if the target isn't here to hear it.
  164.  
  165. A momentary pause in the conversation stretches out for a few seconds, before Hanako speaks up. "Should we go inside? It was a l-long walk."
  166.  
  167. She glances at me as she speaks. I probably look more worn out than I am, and certainly more than either of them. I'm a little embarrassed about how out of shape I am, and I guess a week or two of running isn't going to change that. Lilly agrees without being able to see my state however. Maybe we're all a little tired.
  168.  
  169. Hanako and I both start looking around the new place as soon as we enter. It's a little strange, stepping into someone else's house, particularly someone I don't know all that well. There isn't anything as obvious as clothing or lingerie strewn about, but there are open magazines on the coffee table, and (thankfully cleaned) pots and pans on the stove. A vacation life left running between visits.
  170.  
  171. The couch that I'm to be staying on is really more of a convertible futon. Not a lot of space to stretch out, but I'll be fine. I set my bag down next to the cushion, and look to Lilly, since I'm still carrying one of hers. "So, where should I take your things?"
  172.  
  173. I follow Lilly and Hanako to their small room, noting for a moment that they only have a single full-sized bed between them. I guess it's good that they are such close friends that they are comfortable like that. After we set aside our bags, Lilly suggests we all take some time to walk the grounds. She doesn't say it, but I get the impression that it has been quite some time since she visited this place.
  174.  
  175. An hour later we return to the house, none the worse for the wear after walking around the edges of the field behind this small farmhouse. It seems that someone still works the land, though I didn't think to inquire who. The peaceful mood of the afternoon continues through dinner, with Lilly and Hanako working together to produce a fairly simple but delicious meal. All offers of my help are completely refused, which allows me to watch Lilly working. Each stroke of the knife, each movement of her hand is practiced and controlled. She's a bit slower than she could be if she could see but definitely confident and more than capable of doing the work. I can't help but feel impressed, and then feel a little guilty that I'd assumed she would have trouble.
  176.  
  177. When I comment on the taste of the food, Hanako immediately seems both relieved and embarrassed. Even though I know Lilly can tell Hanako is embarrassed, she still makes a teasing comment about every man needing a woman to cook for him. I want to protest, but Hanako timidly agrees anyway, which leaves me somewhat flustered as well. Even behind her polite front, it's obvious Lilly enjoys having the power to get Hanako and I blushing like fools.
  178.  
  179. The three of us spend the waning hours of the evening in front of the television. Hanako flips through the channels as though even having a TV is an amusing novelty. Lilly mostly ignores it in favor of reading through the same book she was reading on the train. As the evening wears onward, I catch Hanako eyeing my luggage repeatedly. At first I'm afraid that something inappropriate is visible, but her nervousness and fidgeting make me realize that's not it. She's worried I'll forget my medication.
  180.  
  181. I wait until a commercial break, and then quickly set to it, avoiding looking at Lilly's uncomfortable expression and Hanako's attempts to watch me without looking like she is. It's more than a little awkward. Still, after I'm done, Hanako relaxes visibly, and we watch the mindless television programming for another hour in a much more comfortable stillness.
  182.  
  183. Around ten, a yawn from Hanako prompts Lilly to invite her to go to sleep, and the two of them leave me alone in the dark living room. I shut off the television and lay on my back, still fully dressed. I can't bring myself to change into something weird like pajamas when the girls are only a room away and likely to wake before I do. I feel restless, and realize that this is the first night in a while that I haven't gone running. I wonder if Miki's alright. She doesn't seem to be the type of person that would want anyone worrying over her.
  184.  
  185. After having slept on the train for the better part of the day, I find myself having trouble falling asleep now. I listen to Hanako and Lilly talking quietly to one another in the other room, but their voices are low enough and distant enough that I can't make out more than the occasional word. They go silent shortly anyway.
  186.  
  187. Laying on my back in a dark, unfamiliar house is somewhat uncomfortable. A creaking noise, most likely only the house settling, catches my ear. Suddenly, the silence of the house becomes tangible, thickly blanketing everything else. It takes me a few moments to realize that I'm missing all the noises I've become accustomed to. The air conditioning of the dormitories, running at all hours. The shuffling and shouts of other students at Yamaku. The pacing night watchmen and the cicadas common to heavily wooded areas like the school. With all these sounds missing, this house out in the country is suddenly strangely alien.
  188.  
  189. The silence builds until I can't stand it anymore, and I fumble for the remote, turning on the television and turning the volume down low, until it's little more than a background murmur. The newscaster whispers into the room while I stare up at the dimly lit ceiling.
  190.  
  191. Not even a couple minutes later, I hear a quiet sound from the short hallway, and then what sounds like bare footsteps on the wooden floor. I'm unsurprised to see Hanako enter the living room a moment later. She looks a little worried at first, but then returns the smile I can't help but give her. She crosses the living room floor nearly silently, her pink nightgown fluttering a little. She speaks a little too quietly, but I can still understand. "You can't s-sleep?"
  192.  
  193. I nod, and shrug. "I just slept too much earlier. And it's a little too quiet."
  194.  
  195. She moves to lay down next to me, and I'm in no mood to object. She immediately cuddles up to me as though we were in our locked rooms back at Yamaku, and I feel myself relax from tension I didn't know I felt. The futon is small and cramped, it's uncomfortable and instead of bedsheets I just have a couple thin blankets.
  196.  
  197. But right now, there is nowhere else I would want to be.
  198.  
  199. Hanako doesn't say anything else, and inside of a minute or two her breathing slows. She's asleep against me once more. I wonder if she was laying awake next to Lilly in the other room, just listening for any sign that I was still awake as well. She certainly seems to be entirely comfortable sleeping with me even without asking. Even a month ago I would have never pictured her as capable of this kind of confidence. She's changed a lot even since I've known her. Having her here with me makes sleeping much more attractive, and I don't have more time to spend thinking about how she's changed before I fall asleep as well.
  200.  
  201. -----------------
  202.  
  203. I awake to a gentle shaking of my shoulder. Consciousness slowly creeps under my lazy blanket of sleep, and I shake my head. "Nn. Five minutes, Han'ko."
  204.  
  205. A girlish giggle penetrates the fog of my sleep-addled mind. Firstly because I am hugging a girl who is laying next to me and in no position to shake my shoulder. Secondly, because that giggle is absolutely not Hanako's.
  206.  
  207. My eyes shoot open, and I look up to see Lilly sitting on the coffee table next to the futon, her hand on my shoulder. Something about my positioning must give me away, because her amused smile shifts quickly to something approaching a disapproving frown as she looks down at me, or rather slightly to the left of my face. "My my, your first night here and already sneaking around?"
  208.  
  209. Lilly's frown is barely concealing the happiness in her features and voice, which goes a long way to alleviating the sudden onset of near panic that shot through me on having seen her here. If she was angry, I don't think she would be quite this civil. Hanako shifts a little in my arms, before settling down again. Lilly's expression softens, and she softly runs her hand along Hanako's gown, from shoulder to hip. I can't tell if she's doing this as a close, concerned friend, or as a stand-in mother. I speak quietly. "I couldn't sleep, and I guess she heard me turn on the television."
  210.  
  211. Hanako stirs a little, and then opens her eyes slowly. She usually takes a minute or two to wake up, but I see her have a similar reaction to mine when she notices Lilly, a start moving through her body and her eyes shooting open. "Lilly! I-it's n-not, I d-didn't, w-w-we-"
  212.  
  213. Lilly moves her hand to hold Hanako's, and Hanako calms almost immediately, though I can still feel her shaking nervously. "Don't worry, Hanako. I don't mind the two of you being close. It is to be expected, after all."
  214.  
  215. Hanako sits up uncomfortably, and I do so as well, stretching my arms as I do. Hanako's hand moves to the right side of her face, and she takes a deep breath before speaking. "S-sorry, I... it was late, and I c-couldn't sleep, and... S-sometimes we s-sleep together."
  216.  
  217. I can't help chuckling at her nervous, scattered explaination. She almost sounds like Yuuko. Lilly only hugs Hanako closely, and then releases her before standing. "Let's give Hisao time to wake up. We should start on breakfast."
  218.  
  219. Lilly's smile is strange as she turns and walks into the kitchen. Hanako is blushing brightly but kisses my cheek before she stands up to follow her friend. Lilly seems inordinately happy with this turn of events. I can't think of why, other than maybe relief that Hanako and I were at least clothed.
  220.  
  221. Hanako was so flustered that she didn't even remind me about my medications. Though, thinking of that, I rummage through my bag and take the required pills again. Even in absence of reminding me, Hanako managed to remind me. I get the feeling we're turning into one of those annoyingly clingy couples that used to bother me when I saw them doting on one other in public. I wouldn't say it's a bad thing.
  222.  
  223. After taking my morning dosages, I sit back on the couch and close my eyes. The sound of frying food comes from the kitchen, and the smell of eggs and cooking vegetables as well. I can't help but give a wry smile at the weirdly domestic scenario playing out here. Having the house alone to the three of us almost feels like we're living together in some strange arrangement that would worry the neighbors. I force myself not to think too deeply into the idea of living in a romantic way with both of them, but Hanako and I having Lilly as a roommate could be fun. Embarrassing and maybe occasionally difficult, but fun.
  224.  
  225. Graduation is still more than six months away, of course. No reason to get ahead of myself.
  226.  
  227. I listen to Hanako and Lilly speaking quietly as they cook together for a moment, before deciding to shower while they prepare breakfast. I shower quickly and thankfully without interruption, though it takes a moment to adjust to the weirdly western styling of all the bathroom fixtures. By the time I dry and dress myself, breakfast is already ready.
  228.  
  229. Hanako and Lilly have prepared what seems to be fairly well made rice omelets. The eggs are a little burnt and the rice is maybe a little undercooked, but it's not really anything worth mentioning. "This is really good, Hanako. Thanks for making breakfast. To the both of you."
  230.  
  231. Lilly nods demurely while Hanako fights her blush and stammers out a "Th... th-thank you."
  232.  
  233. The meal passes in relative silence. I think Lilly probably considers too much conversation during a meal to be a bit impolite. Most of our tea room lunches have been quiet as well, and it's not awkward even if it's a little strange.
  234.  
  235. After she sets down her utensils, Lilly dabs her lips twice on each side with the napkin. A very high-class but ultimately robotic looking motion that puts me off slightly. Hanako seems to take this as an indication that breakfast is over. "H-hisao, we were... we were talking about g-going to visit the town nearby today. W-would you like to come with us?"
  236.  
  237. Not that I have anything else to do, aside from maybe lounge around the house alone. "Sure, Hanako. I don't really have a lot of money for shopping..."
  238.  
  239. Lilly cups her hand to her cheek. "My my, so unprepared to entertain the ladies you have with you."
  240.  
  241. "I-it's alright. I have some m-money too, it should be fine."
  242.  
  243. -----------------
  244.  
  245. After cleaning up from our late breakfast and allowing the girls to get ready, we leave on the quiet, hilly road toward town. It's a nice midsummer day, warm with a slight breeze blowing through the heavy foliage of this rural area of Hokkaido. I guess someone more used to this sort of place would call it 'quiet', but it's really almost lonely in a way.
  246.  
  247. It's still pleasant though, and the greenery does a great deal to settle my emotions about taking Hanako into some unfamiliar town so far from Yamaku. The people here won't likely have the same muted reaction as those more used to the peculiarities of the student body. Lilly seems confident here, however, so I find that I can't get too worked up over things.
  248.  
  249. I try to keep the mild exertion I feel out of my voice as I speak. It's only been around half a mile, I shouldn't be winded and sweaty yet. There's no reason to worry them. "Lilly, you seem to know your way around pretty well. Do you come here often?"
  250.  
  251. "I spent quite a few of my vacations here before entering Yamaku. I know it fairly well. We used to drive here once a weekend, then."
  252.  
  253. A car would be nice right about now. I catch Hanako giving me another look, she's been glancing at me for the past several minutes, and it's sort of strange. She's walking ahead of me, next to Lilly, so it isn't like we can hold hands or anything. "It's kind of nice here. Do you like visiting?"
  254.  
  255. Lilly's expression changes to something approaching apology. "I'd say it is nice during winter, but as you can work out, summers get a little too hot to be comfortable. It's nice and quiet, at least."
  256.  
  257. "A-are you alright?"
  258.  
  259. Hanako picks this moment to enter the conversation, or rather interrupt it. She's looking at me with unhidden concern by this point. It bothers me to have her fretting over my condition, but it does make me stop and think about it. There isn't anything like the pins and needles in my fingers and toes that heralded my previous episodes, I'm just sweaty and winded and much more tired than I should be. Manly pride makes me want to ignore this, as well as avoiding staining the day's activities with my infirmity. "I'm fine, Hanako. Quiet certainly describes this place, Lilly."
  260.  
  261. Hanako is visibly put off by my dismissal of her concern, but if she has any thoughts on it, she doesn't voice them. Lilly seems as though she hasn't noticed my condition. "So, Hisao, have you been to Hokkaido before?"
  262.  
  263. I shake my head, and then wipe my brow without thinking about it. My hand comes away overly wet. Gross. "No, my family lives near Tokyo, and we never had any field trips or holidays this far north. What about you, Hanako?"
  264.  
  265. I asked that without thinking. Of course if she had any trips it would have been with her parents, and I doubt she wants to remember that. She doesn't seem to think about it that way though, just smiling and shaking her head, her hair shimmering around as she does so. "N-no, it's my first time."
  266.  
  267. Lilly giggles in her nearly musical way, her smile much more genuine than usual. "My my, I will have to be the tour guide? What will people think?"
  268.  
  269. "How much further is it?" I hear myself ask the question before I really give the implications any thought. My feet feel heavy and I don't want to keep walking. I don't know what it is, the heat or the hills, but this is less distance than I run every night with Miki, yet I'm having some trouble keeping up.
  270.  
  271. Lilly pauses a moment in thought. "Perhaps another twenty minutes. It has been some time since I visited, I'm not certain."
  272.  
  273. Hanako looks at me, and bites her lip nervously. A few seconds later, she speaks just a little too loudly and firmly for her normal tone, even if she stutters to start with. "M-my... my feet hurt. I want... Can we rest for a few minutes? There are some benches ahead."
  274.  
  275. I find myself grimacing, but I know what she's doing. She knows I won't admit that I'm tired, and she's manufacturing a reason to make me stop anyway. By the uncomfortable expression on Lilly's face, I'm guessing Hanako's terrible skill at lying hasn't gone unnoticed. "Oh? Of course, Hanako. Let's wait there."
  276.  
  277. The three of us make our way the hundred feet or so to the benches beside the road, next to a small toiletry facility. I guess even this far away from cities, occasional public restrooms exist. Lilly feels out the edge of a bench and seats herself, with Hanako right beside her. I seat myself rather unceremoniously next to Hanako, feeling much more tired than I had before we decided to rest.
  278.  
  279. Hanako fidgets nervously, before removing her shoes, presumably to keep up appearances about her reason for stopping. "Th-thank you, Lilly. It's a l-long walk... and... I d-don't do this v-very often."
  280.  
  281. She's stuttering a lot. Lilly replies politely, and then two of them talk more and more normally as they continue the front they've constructed to let me rest without admitting weakness.
  282.  
  283. I close my eyes, bent forward with my elbows on my knees. The slow recovery of my body makes me realize something that even my wounded pride isn't enough to cover up. Hanako was right to stop us. This walk is taking a lot out of me, even if I was in no danger of having an actual heart attack or flutter or anything. I could have made it to town, probably, but what then? If I don't rest, I'll just end up collapsing while shopping. I feel like an old man, having to stop every mile to make sure I don't overexert myself.
  284.  
  285. I make a mental note to put more effort into my running when I get back to Yamaku. Maybe I should take up morning runs as well. I'm sure Emi would be happy to help if I humbled myself enough to ask her. I don't want to make Hanako have that expression ever again. She looked scared that I was about to work myself to death right in front of her.
  286.  
  287. Taking deep breaths and mentally focusing on calming my body seems to help. After a couple minutes, I feel much better. The warm weather and low humidity whisks away my sweat and before long I'm ready to continue. I open my eyes, and Hanako and Lilly are chatting amicably. There's no worry or concern staining their time out together. They're still talking happily about going shopping and exploring the town.
  288.  
  289. I'm an idiot. I should have just taken the hit to my pride and stopped myself when I was feeling tired.
  290.  
  291. "Are you ready to start going again, Hanako? I think we're all feeling more rested."
  292.  
  293. Hanako looks at me, and then smiles, with her cheeks tinted pink with blush. She slips her shoes back on as she answers. "Yes, th-thank you. I... feel better now."
  294.  
  295. I stand, and offer a hand to help Lilly up, which she accepts gracefully. She starts ahead while I help Hanako to her feet as well. I don't let go when she releases my hand though, and hug her gently instead. Hanako hesitates a moment before returning my hug. I whisper to her. "Thank you. I'm sorry about that, I won't do that again."
  296.  
  297. Hanako blushes deeply as I pull back from the hug, and gives me an almost imperceptible nod. "I just-... I worry about-... I..."
  298.  
  299. I kiss Hanako once, softly. "It's alright. Come on, let's go."
  300.  
  301. Lilly has stopped a few steps away, and has her head turned slightly, with an enigmatic smile on her face. I take Hanako's hand, and the three of us walk together for the rest of the trip.
  302.  
  303. -----------------
  304.  
  305. I sink deeply into the couch cushions directly after we enter the Satou summer home, closing my eyes in the cool indoors air. I feel Hanako seat herself nearby, but she doesn't lean against me or anything. Lilly departs immediately for the hallway, too polite to say that she just needs to use the restroom.
  306.  
  307. Shopping went as well as could be expected, and the prices in this small town are much lower than the city near Yamaku. I even managed to treat Hanako and Lilly to lunch without denting my finances too badly. Lilly seemed to enjoy having Hanako dress herself in various clothes to show off to me, and with the quiet of the small town and the mostly empty stores, Hanako didn't seem as bothered by it as she could have been. She even purchased a few things to supplement her limited wardrobe.
  308.  
  309. Lilly and Hanako even pressed me into buying some more clothing for myself. It's more expensive than I would have liked, but Hanako telling me that I looked good in something was a strong motivation to purchase it. The walk back home was pleasant but a bit longer than normal. The addition of our shopping bags to carry required me to stop more often.
  310.  
  311. After a few minutes, I feel Hanako press herself to my side, cuddling up like she did when sleeping against me on the train. It's a nice feeling, and I move my arm, sliding it around her waist to hold her close. We rest together like that, even after Lilly returns from the bathroom and sits down beside Hanako. The futon is slightly crowded with three people.
  312.  
  313. Lilly's voice is quiet, but there's a smile behind it. "That walk felt much longer than I remember. Are the two of you tired?"
  314.  
  315. I did tell Hanako I was going to be more honest. "Yeah, would it be alright if I took a short nap? I can move to the bedroom..."
  316.  
  317. She nods politely, while Hanako separates herself from me. I stand up and wave to the both of them. "Wake me if I sleep more than an hour or two, alright?"
  318.  
  319. I would ask Hanako if she wants to join me, but given that Lilly is right there, it feels inappropriate. Hanako nods in reply. "I'll w-wake you up if you s-sleep too late. D-don't worry."
  320.  
  321. Our farewells said, I head into the bedroom and hastily make the bed before laying down on top of the bedcovers. Even like this, the bed smells of nothing so much as 'girl'. I can't tell if it helps me relax or does the opposite. In the quiet of the bedroom I can hear muffled conversation from down the hallway, followed by the rustling of the shopping bags.
  322.  
  323. Laying on my back in bed and staring up at an unfamiliar ceiling always reminds me of the hospital. I don't like seeing Hanako so worried about me all the time. It can't be healthy for her either, she's been stressed out about my medication for days now. Moreover, I don't want her to think that I'm incapable of a normal life. I'm not. I just need a few precautions first.
  324.  
  325. But how could I bring that up? How can I discuss that without sounding confrontational? I don't want to start an argument over something like this, but I can't just keep letting her get more and more worked up about me.
  326.  
  327. I close my eyes, and take a deep breath. Hearing the girls in the other room giggling quietly while they talk is nice and calming, and that strangely domestic feeling returns again. It's nice, having friends that I feel this close to. Lilly, Hanako, even Shizune and Misha. ... Strangely, all women. But I find that I can't dwell too much on my heart, or my hospital stay, or any other sort of depressing thing. Once I start thinking about it, my life is going pretty well.
  328.  
  329. With this thought in mind, I drift off to sleep.
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