And it was surely of more consequence than the extortion of kisses for services rendered. Notwithstanding it was Hito rendering those today – waiting on Seiran with tea and entertainment – making her the obligated party, thusly to be extorted, and not—
… Not making any Earthed sense, first and foremost. It wouldn’t have been right, in any event. Not to expect affection; even less so, to demand it. It wasn’t a thing to… to transact away like dango. No matter the memory of Ringo’s lips clamouring to be painted over.
Seiran turpentined her expectations. They came out that special tint of ruddy green you got when a Moon rabbit was late to the commissary for her favourite flavour rations because she’d been voluntold to secure everybody else’s first.
Hito, being anyhow too blue-blooded to, not to forget psy-dull, didn’t remark on the change in emotive palette. Seiran didn’t hold that against him. Not least because she’d sooner have held against him other things, which weren’t receiving the privilege either.
Instead, she asked this, no less important thing: “So. This house of yours. Was it a restaurant, originally?”
Hito raised a brow. Just the one. Probably it’d take a kiss a greater revelation than Seiran’s exhibition of intelligence for both of them to upheave at once. “Pieced it together after all, have we?”
Seiran tucked her knees up to her chin. “… I didn’t,” she grumbled. “Ringo did. As near as Earth it instantly. The holes in the patio floor set her off.”
“Forget about those myself most days,” said Hito. “Until I blessed-near lose a toe. Sharp rabbit we have on our hands, anywise.”
“A cutting hazard,” Seiran agreed. “But that’s just one part. The big hall. The racks in the washroom. This canteen-sized kitchen,” she pointed out with a nod. “They add up.”
“So, was it?” Seiran wanted to know.
The ash-camo-clad man looked past the Moon rabbit. At something, somewhere – not here, nor her. There was a brief deepening of the endemic laugh-lines – like a rookie quietly pulsing for permission to hydrate in the middle of manoeuvres.
“… No,” Hito divulged eventually. “It was not quite a restaurant.”
Seiran fixed him with a look of her own. This one more target-precise. “No?”
“Never took off, is why,” Hito explained, flatly. “Never got to go. Was a week or so from opening when things… went bad. Afterwise, everything got put off and off and off and, in the end, I put it all to rest. Sold the furniture, sold the tableware, the imperishables, cutlery, the décor – what wasn’t nailed down, went. Would have sold the ‘big hall’ as ready if this annexe hadn’t been mortared to the backside and I didn’t need a bed away from the relations. It was the clan’s to start with, so they could go and… vacate. Anywise,” he crisply concluded, “that is how I’ve been so ‘well off’ as to afford dango on the daily, Seiran. I sold off a dream. It was a lofty dream, and I’m still me behind the name, so it’s lasted me a while.” He spread the sooty hands. “That’s the restaurastory. Honest.”
And a knurling on his rich man character if so, but Seiran descried one last narrative gap.
“What went bad?”
Hito breathed in. Then, mirroring Seiran too closely for comfort, eyes shut, Hito breathed out. “… Someone,” he said, “wasn’t here to crack my reins anymore.”
“Someone, meaning a woman?” Seiran ventured, surprising herself almost as much thereby.
He opened his eyes again and gave her the smile of a buck caught in the loosely unspecified act. “Suppose you are one, too.”
I’ve been trying to be, thought Seiran. “What does that mean?” she said, even so.
Hito jogged his shoulders. “Means you’re soft and easy on the eyes, but that’s not important. Seiran,” he stressed, sterner of the foolishly smudged face; “it’s history. You needn’t concern yourself with any of it. Get me drunk, and right, I might tell you more – but it was years and years ago and doesn’t… weighs in little and less on you being here. I’m glad of what we’ve got going, too. Whoever was there before, well, she isn’t coming back. Only you here, now.
“I’d have loved to hug you,” he added, standing up, dusting off, “since I’ve found you’re more amenable then, but for reasons present, I shan’t. So, please, take me at my word – for the time being.”
Seiran, who wasn’t positive what to make of that final statement – else than a vague promissory note – followed him up. Hito scanned about the floor and the grey patches thereon, then performed the usual downturn of ambitions scratched up by passing interest.
“… Tell you what,” he said; “forget this. Sweep up later. I’ll wash the mug, change into something clean and join you. Oughtn’t to keep that friend of yours waiting. Might start prying up the floors for lost menu prints.”
“That’s Ringo,” concurred Seiran, thinking, That should have been me.
Hito sighed. “We have some… interesting friends, don’t we, you and I?”
They commiserated silently over their lot: a pair of pure, unstinting souls, yes sir, in a world of crookery. An addendum to which, Hito hiked up his sleeves to unveil two spans of undirtied forearm. He stooped from his reassuring height – and scissored those around Seiran’s waist. Not a hug. Certainly not close enough to undersign Ringo’s surmise of their relationship in soot and ash. But it was there. A pulse without a pulse. You’re here; I’m here. That’s what counts.
Seiran brushed her fingers on the rough, tanned skin. The warm, un-Lord-like skin she could, sometimes, just occasionally, fool herself she could read the man’s emotions through.
Calm. Consolation. Something else, too – an unfamiliar tingle at the edges of her lexicon.
This at least Ringo hadn’t overreckoned. Seiran was fine. The mission was making headway as well as it could weeks in and with Gunner Seiran at the stick.
Hito let go, straightening out, negotiating his dirty hands around the Moon rabbit’s hips. There was a meaningful tilt of the head exit-wise.
Seiran gave back an ear-bobbing, up-and-down response. “Copy.”
She left the kitchen – maybe not brighter-eyed, maybe not much bushier-tailed, but on top of what little of the world a Moon rabbit was able to straddle.
Armed with newfound intel, she re-appraised the large, dark hall as she stalked through. Yes. There was easily space enough for tables. You might in fact put up to three under each of the roof supports; candelabra or lanterns could be fastened up to the latter, rather than the tables, to minimise the fire hazard. A counter could be set up by the annexe’s door to deposit dirty dishes on, so they may be retrieved conveniently for washing. Here and… yes, there could have been stations for waitpersons, and over there, in the open centre, family tables for groups. It would’ve been out and away the grandest restaurant Seiran had been invited to, thus far.
Earth it. The very first she’d visited, Hito had greeted her at the door and taken her straight to a table. Talk about verisimilitude.
Outside, Ringo wasn’t tearing up the patio planks for evidence. She was hunched over, palms on her bare knees, hubbling and bubbling trouble – Seiran was sure – at a duo of stick-wielding, human striplings. The same homegrown heroes who’d chased the Eagle Ravi case officer like a common rabbit previously. They must have run out of stones to turn over. They screamed and scattered upon spotting Seiran – and fled down the gravel entranceway at courageous speed.
Ringo smiled after them till they swerved around the hedge. Then she faced her subordinate with a grin on that did not a thing for Seiran’s earlier, should-have-been off-the-cuff jibes.
“How’d it go?” she demanded to know.
Seiran slumped onto a chair. Here it comes. “How did what go?”
“Come, girl,” said Ringo, ensconcing herself opposite. “You hopped off to grab a chair, returned chairless, and now you’ve this thoughtful sheen on your doe little eyes. Learned something about this big, blue dirtball, did you? About man?”
“I learned,” admitted Seiran, “that this wasn’t a restaurant.”
“Never dusted off,” she explained. “It was about to. Then, somebody critical went… missing. The mobile equipment was all liquidated. Now it’s just an empty building.”
Ringo whistled. “Here today, Earthed tomorrow,” she supposed. “But I’m really more after findin’ out if you let the damn man a go at those lovely lips, girl.”
Seiran starched her… well, not the butt, not in this instance, but someplace. She’d scented the question coming on even without an active Lattice; now, it was a matter of consigning the precooked reply. Ringo winked at her to come clean, which hadn’t featured in the script. Nevertheless.
“I—” Seiran began. “I want it… to happen… naturally,” she eked out. “Spontaneously. It should be his idea. Um. As much as mine. I don’t want to press-gang it. If it happens – when it happens – it happens. I’ll give him my lips – happily. No worries. No worries.”
She hadn’t meant to burst-fire that ultimate bit, but there it was – as well convincing as Gunner Seiran could make it. Convincing enough, anyhow, to give her ex-XO pause.
Indeed, Ringo opened her mouth to speak. Then Ringo failed to speak and smacked it shut it again, which wasn’t an eventuality you would’ve imagined from Ringo till the two of you had done several tours. Ringo was a prodigy at keeping mum; she was just sparing with the talent on vocal frequencies.
“Wow,” she promptly recuperated. And if that wasn’t a splash of peach-pink on her cheeks, then Seiran’s weren’t beet-red. “I— wow. Can’t fault that. Can’t fault that at all. Huh. So, Gunner Seiran was a romantic all along. Who would’ve thoughted…?”
“That is how she is,” Gunner Seiran lied. “The light and the dark side. So… yes.”
“And he,” Ringo presumed, “is that patient of a man, is he.”
“… That is how he is.”
“A match made on Earth. I’ll be.”
Yielding which insight, the ever-bereted Eagle Ravi slipped it off to winnow the colour from her face. The remaining hand was briskly employed by the teapot, wherefrom Ringo poured herself a polite half-cup of expensive brew. Thinking again, she brimmed up Seiran’s as well.
“… Sorry,” said Seiran, as thanks, “for being such a disaster.”
Ringo shook her exposed head. “If you’re a disaster, then what am I? No stress, girl. You’re you; that’s how you got where you are. If you’d been any other rabbit, we wouldn’t be havin’ us this conversation. Albeit, I’m going to have to ask, specifics presenting,” she added, re-nesting the beret, “how you hit it off from sir-slash-miss to you strutting about like you’re the maître d’hôtel. Seems like more ‘n a hop and a skip. No offence.”
“Time and persistence,” said Seiran, omitting the flukes, slips and accidents. “Um. It’d be best if you asked Hito. He said he’d be with us in a tic. I was mostly a passenger in this story, anyway.”
“Ah, but we are.” Ringo flashed her teeth over the lip of her cup. “We are going to ask him all right. And then, girl, we’re going to compare the two versions for discrepancies. Interrogation one-oh-one, right there. Well? Get to talkin’.”
Seiran heaved an infantryrabbit’s sigh. She eyed her chintzy, loudly slurping friend, conscientiously remembering she was looking at the Earth Recon’s acting commander, communications officer and a member of the Moon’s intelligence. At least, that was what it said on Ringo’s tags, and Seiran wasn’t going to argue with somebody else’s inanimate objects.
It was now late evening. Not too dissimilar from a number of lately late evenings, but nonetheless it was this one. Unmistakeably.
Seiran flopped. She hadn’t even spent a fraction of the preceding however many hours actively dialoguing; Ringo had, once again amazing Seiran that a rabbit who’d spent her days de-socialising and riffling through reports in her solitary tent could have such a frightening lung capacity. Ringo filled a room, and not just vertically. They had moved back indoors, from the patio to the dinette, no sooner than the schizophrenically rheumatic air outside had threatened the senior Eagle Ravi’s knees, and Ringo had filled it up in moments. She and Hito had turned long co-connoisseurs of the town’s breakfast nooks and dinner crannies ahead the first hour had even been out, while Seiran… for the major part, had been Seiran.
That was not, per se, a bad thing. No. Not per se. Talking had never been Seiran’s forte nor a Gunner’s job when you kicked the nitty-gritty. She wasn’t jealous because her two – hitherto exclusive – friends had stuck together like flour and water. She was jealous because they’d stuck together like flour and water without her especially stirring.
Not that she would have. She’d barely wedged a dozen sentences in, and already she was feeling as though someone had very precisely knocked every one of her nerve endings with a microscopic chiropractor’s hammer. She was sick with tension and sick of being tense.
But the worst was over. The danger of kisses – hypothetical or happened – being brought back up was gone. Hito, with whom Ringo had requested “a last powwow, one-on-one, please, ‘preciate it,” was seeing her off to the front door, whereas Seiran had been left behind to chin the table. So, the table she chinned.
They’d had powwowpportunity enough already, the cheats – not in a loyalty sense; just broadly speaking – when Seiran had excused herself to the washroom, too. She’d heard their voices out in the hallway en the return route.
“—have a term for these sorts of things, don’t we?” Ringo’s had been ironising.
“It,” had come Hito’s level reply, “isn’t that—”
“‘Simple?’” There’d been a sound exactly like a Moon rabbit managing without a spray nozzle. “How psychological.”
“… ‘Convenient,’ Miss Ringo, was my intended excuse.”
“Cons, both of you,” Ringo had summed up. “Take a tip from a real caring soul—”
Seiran had refused further eavesdropping. If Ringo had something to pick apart about them, she could start by picking them apart literally.
The fact she hadn’t was a bit of vindication in the gooey soup of scrutiny.
And now there were footfalls.
Seiran perked up, sitting straighter, and smoothed out her ears. Shortly, Hito re-entered the dinette. The man of the hour said blessedly nothing, resorting instead to a specialised look which could be – and was – interpreted by the issuer and the issuee each to their personal reassurance. He crossed the room’s length and disappeared into the kitchen. Whence he emerged, moments afterwards, with what was liable to be their last, hot drinks of the night. He placed these on the table and silently took up position behind Seiran’s chair.
Seiran counted tics. Two… Six… Ten…
And then, as reliable as the old knife you went for when there was nobody around to judge your savoir-kitchenware, his palms slid off the backrest and wrapped around Seiran’s shoulders.
The Moon rabbit mooned.
She should never have found out a man’s hands could feel so comforting. Throughout her military career – nay, her military life – she had taken no solace but for that in duties well done. It would have been impudent, never mind impure, to go wiggling up between some buck’s arms when so much good had yet remained undone for her colleagues, the unit, the Moon. How could she have anticipated the bliss of having somebody else – bigger, stronger, yet so very gentle – knead the fatigue out of her muscles? The wonderful sensation of these dextrous, masculine fingers pressing into her body through the fabric of her slipover? She had never tried to imagine what it might be like.
She needn’t try imagining anymore. Only not to melt too much into the too-intimate touch. Seiran canted her head as Hito’s thumbs dug into spots where they felt best every single time. She surrendered, for a minute, to her lowest of low instincts – and enjoyed the massage.
Only for a minute. No longer. Gunner Seiran knew this was not for her. She hadn’t solicited it; Hito had, of his own volition, now as before – out of his own, ineffable needs. And that was well. It was well. It was the mission. Seiran hadn’t forgotten, not even worn out of her wits. She couldn’t.
… Still, for just that one minute – just the one – she permitted herself to suffer his whimsy. Till she unwound enough to remember who, what and where she was. Till then.
Then hadn’t yet arrived when Hito side-lit her attention further by commenting:
“She is a handful, your friend.”
“… Mm. Maybe yours,” Seiran murmured back. Tic, tic, tic… “… What did she need you alone for, anyway?”
“Mostly?” supposed Hito. “To tell me she would rip my tail off together with the wossnames if I ever get on your wrong side.” He paused. “… Thought I didn’t have a tail,” he admitted, uncertainly. “Or a single wossname. Anywise. Very protective of you, that girl.”
“I… find that difficult to believe.”
Hito rolled her shoulders for her. “Wish I shared your conviction, my wossnames do,” he confessed. “Well, but really… Had actually heard of Miss Ringo, way back, I was going to say. Should have worked this out sooner. Ten parts out of ten sure, now.”
“Really?” said Seiran, noncommittally. “Huh. Small world.”
“Small town. Remember Gin?”
“Almost didn’t,” Seiran sighed. “What about him?”
“Well. When he was down one of his… deeper troughs—” Hito fairly acetified the word, “—he ended up, hmm, involved with a youkai rabbit. Lived to tell the tale – which he did, being Gin. That was before I got to know Seiran,” he clarified, “let alone Miss Ringo. Suspected it all but had to be one of you, what with the, er, descriptions – except, you’d have snapped his arm on a table edge before events… got to where they got. I have no doubt.”
“Which was where?” obliged Seiran, who hadn’t a havable doubt either.
Hito tucked down her collar so that his thumbs may touch the nape of her neck directly. “Hmm. Not sure how much of this I ought to repeat.”
( ) About Ringo’s indiscretions? All of it. ( ) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.
(X) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.
It's just the two of them now, no need to ruin the private moment by talking about their friends' raunchiness. Plus, the other option sounds more like it'd belong on an /at/ side thread and I'm not too enthused about Ringo lewds anyhow..
(X) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.
Seiran was a good sister-in-arms as a rule, ready to leap into the firing lane of criticism for her compeers. Not tonight. She was also a Moon rabbit, thusly a glutton for gossip, but also not tonight. Tonight, the bad apple had spoilt not only the bunch but Seiran’s blood as well. Apple pie was in the notional offing.
“None,” she said, brushing a cheek on Hito’s forearm to continue. “No point. I was told the need-to-know; it was already lots. She was more than a mote ashamed of it, too. So, let’s shush about that – today.”
Hito’s fingertips gave her bared neck a tentative squeeze. “Not,” he said, tactfully, “in the old boy’s rendition, she wasn’t, but very good. Ought to assume some poetic license. The takeaway I was, excuse me, cooking up, Seiran,” he added on, “was that we have possibly our… interesting friends to thank.”
“… For what?”
“For you, me, being here,” said Hito, punctuating along on her sore spots. “Or had you divined somewise it was this lotus-eater’s original idea to court a youkai rabbit with a dango shop? Come, now.”
“Mm. No,” allowed Seiran. “Not desperate enough.”
“… Too right. Then we owe Gin a drink for blazing the trail. And Miss Ringo for… er, right, another colourful metaphor. Maybe not both at once, though. Might leave ruddy stains on the floor.”
“I’ll pul— toss her an invite next time we touch bases, if you’d like,” Seiran proposed, jealousy bubbling to the surface like a simile. “If you’d like. Then you two can have a drink together.”
“I’d like,” said Hito, carefully, “for you to do as you like, Seiran.”
“Mm.” I know. Out of line. “Copy.”
He was Seiran-vvy enough not to comment further. Seiran eased up and raised her arms to feel at his face. Not as an apology; they were beyond, at this stage, begging each other forgiveness for being themselves. She’d long internalised even such a trivial thing somehow gave him satisfaction, and it cost her nothing – sans her anyhow mucky Moon rabbit’s pride – to give up to him that part of her body. That was all. She felt out his lips, hedged in by days of coolly unshaved scrub, and let him to brush those on whichever fingers were favourite today. Which turned out every last one and the inside of her palm in a slow, doting sequence.
These kisses, apparently, did not count.
They did, as he’d said, have a good thing going. Seiran couldn’t… well, no, she could have asked for an easier man to keep content, but the Earth would have had its work cut out to provide. Who else would’ve taken upon themselves a Moon rabbit who hardly provided back? Hito, by contrast, was a handrail. A solid, metal handrail you could bend a routine around. Hers had been. And for all that, Seiran…
… Seiran had all along been aware something had been missing. She wasn’t ignorant; she’d read books and danced with a buck, once. Only, a Moon rabbit of her stripes acclimatised quickly by necessity. The small, daily surprises were a challenge still, though expected and welcome. The long, silent stretches in Seiran’s conversation? They’d learnt to tide them over with less wit-taxing alternatives – or not to mind at all. The marginally moral, physical contact? She consented to it each and every time through reciprocation. Nor had Hito strained these boundaries a single one.
Safe and spoilt, Gunner Seiran had loafed on her laurels. Complacence had settled on her like sediment on the bottom of a soy sauce jug. It’d taken Ringo’s unbottling to kick it up.
Where had gone the Seiran who shone when breaking her back? From sweat if nothing else?
Here, thought that Seiran, inside. She is here. Smothered under those big, dependable hands of a man too politic to say when she was disenchanting him. That Seiran squared her back… and not because the hands had squeezed down on her shoulders as if they’d meant to wring the sweat out manually.
“… Are you disappointed?” asked That Seiran. “That I’m not like her?”
Hito was gallant enough to feign blindness. “What is she you’re not?” he asked back. “Chatty to a fault besides?”
Seiran assayed another place for her hands, now the man’s mouth was on duty kissing up to her with a preposition. Hooked around his sturdy forearms, halfway up his sleeves, assayed very nicely.
“I’ve been with Seiran from the word ‘waaah,’” That Seiran reminded. “Never knew her to be touchy or feely.”
A funny-mocking sort of sound was her censure. “You will excuse me,” said Hito, with a smile she could hear, “for undermining a lifelong conviction, but you are the single biggest cuddle bug in this mountain range. Maybe even neighbouring ones.”
“I… am not.”
“No?” Hito squeezed on. “Must be. Heard no stories of other youkai rabbits taking every care to get three hugs each day and not a half fewer.”
“… It’s a neat number.”
“Suppose so, suppose so. Then again, you fell asleep right here in my arms two evenings ago, Seiran, which I cannot tell whether it counts as a one, extended hug or several separate for each snuggle.”
“I was tired,” complained Seiran, a small voice of logic in the incongruous hullabaloo that were the various physiological necessities. And she hadn’t fallen asleep, either; all she’d committed to was a wink to rest her eyes, which’d run away with them quite on its own. Certainly, she hadn’t planned on pinning the poor man to the hard, wood chair for two hours on end.
“And it was lovely,” Hito opined, possibly in disassociation from his fundament. “Anywise, Seiran, could be you do not talk much—”
“—or with sense—”
“—about how you feel,” he plugged away despite the interruption, “but your arms, ears, the dimples in your cheeks – they do for you. And it is as well. Touchy-feeliness can be, whatsit, un-verbal just the same. Not everything needs saying; I’ll take a hug, two – bless it, a dozen – over the floweriest poem. Think you would, too. There is nothing wrong with that, Seiran. Saves on the ink, at least. Or the breath. Two precious resources, those.”
Seiran saved on both. What was there to verbalise? That this was anyway the only way she knew how to give back to him without bungling it terribly? He would’ve argued, and that was a no-go. Worse, he could have won the argument. That was an even noer-go.
“… Cheerful?” she tried the next accessible angle.
Which turned out a straight scrape to the point. “You hum when you cook,” said Hito. “Sing, occasionally. You can be cheerful, Seiran. Skip and spin, even. Just need to be dunked in your element and left alone. That’s the pip in the pith. All have our own happy places – not all in plain sight. It’s no sin, tending toward solitude. Happy is where happy makes you. But, guessing,” he tacked on, plainly hitting some internal limit on eloquence, “none of this’s really what you were picking at, is it, Seiran?”
“You were asking,” he went on, “if I’m disappointed that we haven’t jumped in bed like our lax, cheerful friends.”
Hito released her shoulders, eliciting from Seiran her own, private tug of disappointment. It was made up for without delay by Hito’s broad hands gliding all down her arms to cradle her compacter pair. He breathed out, tickling her slouched ears, and squeezed her fingers.
“… A little,” he admitted.
Seiran tried not to deflate.
“But,” Hito added.
“… But what?”
“But that’s just it,” he explained. “A little disappointed, Seiran. Know flattery gives you wrinkles from here to Moriya, so I won’t belabour it, but you are a treat for the eyes. Curvy, big eyes, soft and smooth all over; and I am a man, yes, sorry if I’ve played you false thus far. Wouldn’t have been one anywise if I said no to a scuffle in the sheets. With you, above all. But that’s just it, Seiran,” he repeated, petting her resigned hands with his large thumbs; “I’ve been by myself for a… right, fine spell. You not jumping in bed with me is, excuse me, business as usual. No change from the long norm. So, please, don’t go imagining I’m like Gin, grappling with my gonads every night I bed down alone.”
Seiran grappled with an impure, hare-brained snicker. Then didn’t.
“Mm. Khm. Copy,” she managed to reply. “… That, though,” she complained. “That’s unfair. You know? When you do that. Serious one tic, then out come the… the gonads.”
“Hate it myself,” Hito sympathised. “Supposed to keep my laces strait and my nose in the air. Gonads, the things I say to entertain you.”
This time, she nudged the back of her head into his stomach. “Shut, you.”
The man inhaled rebelliously, but Seiran gave him a tilted-back, upside-down look which put continued entertainment in perspective. He smiled, though inoffensively.
“We’ve both had to work through some misconceptions, Seiran,” he said, again in the same, ungrudging tone, while Gunner Seiran strove not to interject something about “conception;” “there are still some remaining, as has been made plain, but that, also, is fine. We can work through those, too. We don’t have to jump anywhere. I’m not in it for the curves, bounce or bunny ears. I’m in it for you. Seiran.”
“Seiran is the ears,” noted Seiran.
“And the curves, and the bounce,” Hito conceded, “but she needn’t endear herself to me with those, specially. Time was, I’d reconciled with never holding someone close again. With you, it just happened. Naturally. Something should’ve been infeasible. That is why. What we’ve got here. It’s plenty.” He shepherded the pauses with light, unobjectionable pecks of up along her lolling, left ear. “Small steps, Seiran. Are fine. Sleep in a hammock myself, anywise, and don’t keep the guest futons aired out either, so be a bit difficult to throw you onto one without forewarning.”
“… And do small steps,” asked Seiran, ducking under this yet another, sudden gonad quip, “make you happy?”
“Half a lifetime ago, I resolved to be happy with any little thing comes my way,” said Hito. “This? This is more than little. I am happy. Would be happier,” he stressed, “if you were happier too, Seiran.”
Seiran breathed in.
There was, of course, no feedback.
Seiran shut her eyes. She was trying. She had been. The mission had been all about little else. Had her ex-XO not prised the lid off of it, she would’ve believed it future-proof. Now, the metaphorical pickle jar was forever unscrewed.
On no cue she might have given, Hito’s fingers slipped free of hers. Without a word of danger-close, the man bent as low as Seiran’s bounce. The Moon rabbit responded by rote, equally eloquent – looping her arms behind his neck. Hito lifted her out of the chair with minimal effort; a heft, a twist and a thump, and he’d finagled himself once again between Seiran and her seat. A big, snug, self-heating cushion with an embrace you could get lost in.
Seiran, however, was recon. Ways around were what she knew. And, the only one presenting was forward. She left her arms where they were and sank, sank against the man’s warm, welcome bulk. Hito drew her closer still by shoulder and hip, flattening out some of those contentious curves. Notwithstanding his outspoken disappointment. Notwithstanding that her time for self-indulgence had long ticked over into reprehensibleness. What would’ve ground her teeth to Moondust a month back now made her wish to cram herself and the man inside an atmospheric regulator, so that the perfect… ly serviceable moment could be preserved forever.
Who was watching, anyhow?
… Seiran was. Seiran was, and she was her own worst watcher.
“… I don’t deserve you, do I?” she asked quietly of Hito’s beating heart.
A large, gentle hand touching down on her head and thumbing the base of her ear preceded the answer. “… No,” Hito agreed at last. “Nobody does, really. Unfortunately for you, Seiran, you gave me a chance.”
“My luck,” she sighed back, on reflex.
“All mine,” he corrected.
Seiran holstered a retort. She didn’t want to prove him false. To reaffirm what’d already been patent to anybody with a pair of ears. That Seiran, the turncoat, was as deplorable a partner as she’d been an Eagle Ravi, failing to supply the customary intimacy – or even think of it – till a third-party intervention. Whether someone like her could supply such was… a question. A question of no substance, now, anyway, beside her amatory lapse.
And the dustiest, Earthed thing about it was, Hito didn’t mind. He truly, veritably did not. Here was a man – a transient, impure Earthling – who’d marched lockstep with Seiran’s greenhorn motions and never once raised a fuss. Never rushed the clumsy Moon rabbit along but for kick-boosting their courtship on (what Seiran had learned later to be) a misestimated impulse to help. A selfless soul who’d put Seiran’s happiness before its own.
It was a blessing. It was a curse. It was what military life hadn’t prepared her for whatsoever.
That four-letter word dreamed by bunny-rabbits who don’t yet know better.
“… I am here,” Hito’s deep, deeply comforting voice shook the thought’s black foundations; “I do what I do, because I want to, Seiran. And I want you, for you, to do the same.”
And what is that? Seiran heard Seiran question inside. What is it I want? What’d Gunner Seiran expected from Earthly life? What had Miss Bunny wished for on Moonless nights? Seiran, the dangonista – where was she headed? What did she want?
What should she want?
… There was no easy, mass-issued answer. None – except that which Seiran had always known. The only one she ever had.
To do good. By someone. By everyone. Anyone.
And that… that, Hito’s breath in her hair was urgently saying, she was. Not to the Moon, not to her squad mates, not to her customers, but good was being done. Maybe not even to him; for certain not in a futon or hammock or a manner he might’ve preferred from a soft, curvy Moon rabbit. Or one she might, but feared to try.
But it was good. And, for the time being, this would do. In this man’s arms, it was enough.