It was an average day. Hei and I had been running from the Syndicate for over a week now. According to Hei, we were almost far enough out of Tokyo for relative safety.
Today's motel room was even smaller than the last and had a faint scent of mold. It was unpleasant but necessary. Money would be tight until Hei decided it was safe to look for a job.
With a loud crackle, the broken stove Hei had been trying to repair for the last hour finally came to life. Hei stood, and I turned my head towards the sound.
"As I thought, electrical problem," Hei noted. Then he addressed me. "Yin, anything?"
I slowly shook my head. While he had been fixing the stove, I had been searching for signs of pursuers. With no evidence of danger found, I stood and carried the pot of water I had been holding to the stove.
"Thank you, Yin," he said as the pot was taken from my hands and put in its proper place. "It'll be a little while before the stew is done."
I nodded and walked to a corner of the room where I would not be in the way before kneeling down to wait. Though I could not see them, I could feel Hei's eyes on me as he cooked. I had long since become accustomed to the way his gaze disrupted my thoughts. I was unsure of why this was, or why he had taken up this habit.
We ate in silence. Contrary to my expectations, Hei was not a great cook. I did not mind, however, for I would certainly be far worse.
Hei unexpectedly stood up. My head turned towards him. He typically ate several bowls' worth of food, but tonight had only eaten two.
Somehow sensing my confusion, he responded "I wasn't that hungry."
He paused, as if unsure how to respond. "…Just have some things on my mind."
"Like what?" I asked softly. This line of questioning was unusual for me.
Hei either did not hear my query or did not wish to answer, because his only response was to begin washing out his bowl at the sink.
Before long, it was time for bed. Earlier, Hei had procured a cot to supplement the room's lone bed, and it was obvious that he intended to use it himself. Nevertheless, when it came time to sleep, I intentionally made my way over to the cot and claimed it for myself.
"…Yin, you can have the bed if you like."
I did not respond.
"Yin, the bed would be more comfortable."
Hei soon gave up and took the bed. This pleased me.
As usual, I woke up before Hei. I spent a few minutes staring at Hei, struggling to make out his outline with my nearly-useless eyes. Once I was satisfied with the phantom image in my mind, I set about the task of searching for pursuers until Hei awoke.
As Hei showered, my mind soon became distracted by thoughts of him and what he looked like while he showered. This led to preposterous ideas such as the use of my observer spirit to find out. Naturally, I would not do such a thing. However, it was strange that such instances were becoming more mundane.
When Hei finished, it came time for my shower. After I completed it, I filled the sink and dipped my hand into the water. On previous days, I had spent only a few moments checking my appearance, but today I was more patient, carefully observing and analyzing every detail of my clothing and hair. After several moments of minute adjustments, I was satisfied. I attempted the appropriate facial response, but was unable to do so until I used my free hand to force it.
When I opened the door, Hei was behind it, as if he had been waiting.
"Is everything all right, Yin?"
I nodded slightly before walking over to the table where I could smell breakfast. Hei did not comment on my appearance at any time during the meal. This disappointed me.
As we traveled, Hei and I changed trains on a regular basis. Often, we would head in a direction other than our destination or go back to a previous station. This slowed our progress, but I did not mind.
"Station F, please," Hei told the clerk.
"That's pretty far out. You two running away to get married or something?"
Hei's grip on my hand tightened somewhat.
"No, no, we're a bit young for that, don't you think?" Hei laughed. "I'm taking her to meet my parents. I guess that's what I get for talking about her so much, huh?"
"Yeah, I hear that," the clerk responded. "Well, here ya go. Have fun, you crazy kids."
"Sure thing," Hei said before taking the tickets and leading me away through the crowd. His grip had not loosened.
"Something's wrong," I stated.
Hei stopped in his tracks. "What is it, Yin?"
"I don't know. But your hand is tense."
"It's nothing," he replied. "We need to get to the next train."
With that, we continued on. However, his grip on my hand had not loosened.
Day turned to night. The two of us were seated on a bench at a bus station, waiting for the next one to take us to our next destination. A light breeze ruffled my hair. It was pleasant.
"So, you can't see them, can you?"
I turned to Hei.
"The stars," he explained.
I shook my head slightly.
"…My sister and I…" Hei began. "We used to look up at the stars together. Before the real ones vanished. Still…I never really stopped watching them. It's like a part of the past that I can't seem to leave behind."
"The moon," I said.
I was uncertain of why I had spoken then, and even less certain of why I chose to elaborate.
"I loved the moon."
"I thought you couldn't see it," Hei remarked.
"I could feel its light."
We fell silent for a few moments.
"Have you ever felt the stars' light?" Hei asked.
I did not know. I had never tried.
As if knowing my thoughts, he added "You should try sometime."
I nodded, for I could think of no other way to respond.
The silence returned, punctuated only by our breathing and the occasional breeze.
For a few minutes, Hei was still. But eventually he began to shift his weight, as if trying to find comfort on the steel bench. In time his head came to rest on my shoulder. Soon he was asleep.
It felt pleasant.
Tonight's motel had only one bed, and Hei was unable to get a cot. We would have to share the bed. But as the two of us lied there on opposite sides of it, I discovered that I was not yet tired. Something was weighing too heavily on my mind to allow for sleep.
"What am I to you?"
Even I did not know what exactly I was asking. However, Hei answered anyway.
"You're all I have, Yin."
His reply calmed me. Yet something was missing. I stared blindly at the ceiling above me. The sounds were all there. The smells were ordinary. That left touch.
And then I realized: it felt dark; darker than usual. With the curtains closed, I could not feel the light of the stars on my skin.
"I don't feel it."
"The stars. Their light is not here."
Hei stood and walked to the window. Then he parted the curtains, and I could feel light stream into the room and onto my skin. Somehow, the light made me feel more at ease.
"How about now?"
I nodded. "I can feel it now."
Something told me this was a situation in which I should smile. I attempted the action with only my lips. It was difficult, but I believe I succeeded.
"Yin…" Hei began.
I turned my head towards him.
Hei sighed and returned to his side of the bed. I was unsure of what he had been trying to say.
The next morning, I awoke with the feel of the sun on my skin. However, something was different. Pleasant, but different.
Though I could not see, I had an instinctive knowledge of where things were. It was why I could move about freely and find objects without groping blindly in the darkness. Hei called it a sixth sense.
At that moment, I was acutely aware that Hei's body was close to mine. I began reaching out, and discovered him only a few inches from me. During the course of my sleep I had turned over and moved across the bed. This was unusual, for I normally did not move in my sleep.
I stood and began my daily search for pursuers. According to Hei, this was no longer necessary. I continued to do so anyway.
Hei shifted slightly in his sleep. My head turned towards him. However, he did not wake.
Bringing my observer spirit back to the room, I used it to watch Hei. He was lying on his side at the edge of the bed, with one of his arms dangling over the side. Through my observer spirit I gently ran my fingers through his hair.
Then I froze. This was wrong.
My observer spirit dissipated. I began my shower early.
Afternoon came. Once again, the two of us needed to catch a train. Hei's hand gripped mine tightly as he led me through what sounded like a bustling shopping center.
It was warm out today, but I did not mind. On cold days Hei would sometimes wear gloves, and I preferred the feel of his bare skin.
A pleasant scent drifted into my nostrils, and I stopped for a moment. Hei stopped as well as I gazed blankly in the direction the smell had come from. It smelled like roses.
"Would you like one, Yin?" Hei asked, having guessed the objects of my interest. It was true that I wanted one, but I was unwilling to waste our money.
After a few moments without a response, Hei made the decision for me. Within a few seconds, he had led me to the flower cart and asked for a rose.
"What color, sir?" the florist asked.
A conversation I had once had with Kiko came to mind.
"Every color of rose has a meaning," she had said. "Purity is symbolized by white, yellow means friendship, and love is-"
"Red," I told the florist.
The rose Hei had gotten for me had yet to leave my hand as I sat in our room for the night. My fingertips had long since memorized every detail of it, from the delicate petals to the sharp thorns that adorned its stem.
Hei placed a glass object with water in it on the table next to me. "It'll last longer if you put it in a vase."
I did as he asked, fingers lingering on the stem for a few seconds more.
Something was missing.
"Hei," I began.
"Why did you get this for me?"
Hei pulled up a chair and sat down next to me. "Because you wanted it."
Because I wanted it?
"What about what you want?"
My query caught him off guard. "…Don't worry about it."
I felt that I should respond somehow, but I could think of no words to say. However, I did not have to speak. As if they had minds of their own, my hands ventured outward towards Hei. I allowed my body to follow suit so that my arms were around his neck and my head rested on his shoulder.
I ignored him. This was too comfortable.
Hei's fingers inadvertently traced gentle lines up my back as he moved to return my embrace. It was pleasing. However, I still felt that something was missing.
I slowly pulled away from Hei just enough to be face to face with him. His shallow breath was a gentle breeze against my skin.
"Hei…" I whispered as one of my hands touched his cheek.
At that moment, I felt an unexpectedly pleasant sensation as something soft and warm contacted my lips. Was Hei…?
Yes, he was. The facial structure was his. The hair that my fingers were exploring with such reckless abandon belonged to him. And the warm embrace I was locked in could have come from no one but him.
This was what had been missing. This was what I wanted.
I immersed myself in the moment, drowning in the man who had awakened these feelings within me.
But all too soon, it ended, and Hei released me.
I placed a finger to my lips. I could still feel him there.
"Sorry," he apologized as he stood. "I shouldn't have done that."
His tone of voice indicated shame. Did he believe me displeased? Had he not noticed the way I had melted before him and clutched at his shirt as he kissed me?
Whatever the reason, this would not do. I wanted to feel that pleasing sensation again.
"…Yes?" he replied hesitantly, as if afraid of what I would say.
"Could you do that again?" I asked.
"…Sure," he responded, apparently relieved.
I smiled as Hei's hand found mine. This was a pleasant day. And somehow I knew that there would be many more to come.