Different Circumstances

By Veronica Marie

Series: Shinkenger

Pairing(s): Takeru & Kotoha

Rating: G

Spoilers: Episode 20 and a brief mention of something that happened in Episode 6.

Summary: If circumstances were different he wouldn't be doing this. He wouldn't be holding her in his arms and he wouldn't be telling her that she was important. But these weren't ordinary circumstances.

Takeru couldn't sleep, or more accurately, he wouldn't. He really hadn't slept the night before either, not enough at least. Every time he tried he'd see dark, innocent eyes in a pretty face peering up at him from her place lying on the simple futon in her room. Her words filled with false cheerfulness and tinged with sadness echoed in his ears long after they had been spoken through pale, colorless lips.

Yesterday had started out with a pleasant enough morning. Chiaki and the others had decided to throw Kotoha a surprise party for her 17th birthday and so they had all agreed to stay out of sight while making party preparations. Takeru had, much to Ryunosuke's surprise, and Mako and Chiaki's amusement, decided to take it upon himself to specially order a cake for her special day. The two of them had exchanged knowing looks behind his back as he left the room.

They should have known better though. Doukoku would never deliberately allow them to have a day without him interfering in some way or another. This time, an ayakashi by the name of Utakasane had nearly been successful in depriving the Shinkenger's of one of their own. Kotoha, Takeru thought, his heart clenching in fear as he relived those moments in her room just before she slipped back into darkness.

It was the next morning, Kotoha's birthday, and Mako was the first one to come into the room and notice that Kotoha had awoken. "Kotoha! You're awake?" Mako exclaimed, clearly shocked that her friend had awoken. To Mako's knowledge none of the other victims had awoken at all after being attacked. She rushed forward and dropped to her knees beside Kotoha's futon. Mako pressed her hand gently against Kotoha's shoulder, an anxious expression marring her delicate features.

"Are you okay?"Mako asked and kept her anxious gaze steadily on the young woman laying down on the futon in front of her. A kuroko knelt at the head of the futon continued to squeeze excess water out of the rag in his hands over a bowl on the floor in front of him, completely ignoring the two girls. Kotoha, at hearing Mako's anxious voice, focused her dark eyes on the anxious Shinken Pink. Mako could see that this was difficult for her by the way her eyes took extra time to focus on her.

Chiaki, Ryunosuke, and Takeru had heard Mako's exclamation of surprise from the other room and had rushed into the room as well and knelt at Kotoha's bedside. Takeru was the only one who knelt on the other side of her futon, away from his comrades. All four Shinkengers were worried, but also felt some hope at the sight the pale young woman who had awoken.

"Kotoha." Chiaki stated softly clearly relieved that she was awake, even if she did look too pale.

"Everyone, I'm sorry," Kotoha spoke softly and haltingly, from her position on the futon. Her voice was filled with sorrow and she looked like she was fighting back tears of shame, thinking herself completely useless. She averted her eyes and swallowed back her pain before continuing equally quiet, "I wasn't able to fight…"

Chiaki, feeling her pain without actually being able to read her thoughts, said to her, "You shouldn't worry about that!"

Mako, equally moved by Kotoha's pained words, tried to comfort her by saying, "we'll do something." Kotoha looked at them with troubled eyes before turning her gaze to Takeru. Their eyes met briefly before she averted her eyes once more. This time she looked up at the ceiling and sighed. Her pale lips curved up in an effort to smile. It didn't quite reach her eyes.

"I'm just…" she began, haltingly, once more fighting the urge to cry. She tried for a genuine smile, and failed because there was still plenty of sadness and self-recrimination in it as she finished with the words that even now haunted her lord, "glad it was just me."

Kotoha's eyelids slid shut over dark, pain-filled eyes as Takeru and the three other Shinkengers watched helplessly. Takeru, overcome by fear of losing her, did something so out of character that if the timing weren't all wrong he'd have never heard the end of it. He pulled her towards him and gently cupped the back of her neck with one hand, while he gently gripped her upper arm with the other.

"Hold on!" he pleaded with her in desperation. "I will definitely save you! So until then…"

"Tono-sama," she said softly, as her eyes opened to reveal worried dark eyes. "I'm fine, I'm fine." The remaining Shinkenger's all looked at her with troubled eyes. She smiled at Takeru before going limp in his arms, her head falling to his shoulder.

It was at that moment that Takeru, Chiaki, and undoubtedly Mako, caught a glimpse of how deep Kotoha's pain went. How little she thought of herself and how the bright spot to her in that moment was that it wasn't one of the others. They could almost hear her unspoken thought, "I'm so glad it was just me. I'm so glad that it wasn't one of you because you are all such great, amazing fighters. Thank you, Kami-sama, for that gift. Thank you that it wasn't one of them."

Takeru opened his eyes and found it hard to breathe around the lump that had formed in his throat. He swallowed hard and he eventually felt better. How can she think that? He asked himself, clearly troubled as he remembered time after time where she had come through for them, and for him. Chiaki had been right a few months ago when he had said that Kotoha was amazing. And she apparently didn't even know it.

They'd almost lost her. If Genta hadn't come through for them in the nick of time, they would have gone with Juuzo's suggestion and thrown away their humanity and souls for their fallen comrade. No, Takeru thought, his fist clenched and his jaw tightened with determination, not just a comrade. She's a friend.

It was Genta, in the end, who they owed the most to. If not for him thinking up that little trick of having Ebizou, Genta's latest origami, get Utakasane to show himself earlier than he'd anticipated they would have had no other option but to fall into gedou. Takeru knew, and he was sure that the others knew too, that if they had done that it would have hurt Kotoha terribly. Of course, he thought with an affectionate smile touching his lips, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have done the same thing.

His thoughts were interrupted at the sound of someone playing the flute softly outside his room. He'd know that flute anywhere. "Kotoha," he whispered her name and listened with eyes closed to the soft notes of the song she was playing. The notes were soft, sweet, and pleasing to the listener. In this case, of course, the listener was Takeru.

It had happened one night, not long after they'd all been introduced, that he had his first taste of the healing power of her song. Even now it helped to soothe the aching in his chest. He opened his eyes, the soft smile never fading, and stood up. Letting the covers drop to the ground at his feet, he stepped over them and made his way quietly out of the room and onto the back porch.

Her back was facing him and he just watched her as she played her flute in the night. Stars twinkled in the nearly black sky overhead. A breeze blew softly and gently toyed with her hair. Takeru once more closed his eyes and thought to himself with a dull ache in his chest, this is what I,no, we, he corrected himself, would have lost if Utakasane had succeeded. No more Kotoha, gentle smiles, or music. Thank you, Kami-sama, for not taking her away just yet.

The music stopped and Takeru opened his eyes to find Kotoha turning his way. Though he was in shadow, he wasn't completely hidden from view. He stiffened and knew he was caught when pretty brown eyes, wide in surprise, met his.

"Tono-sama?" she called quietly, uncertainly, before walking towards him. She paused right in front of him. "Are you okay?" She asked, peering up at him with anxious dark eyes.

He'd only had the time between three breaths before she was standing in front of him. Once again she had caught him unawares. This would be the third time, if not more, in the length of their short acquaintance that she had done this. He had to fight the urge to blush and could feel his heart beating at double its pace, if not more, at their close proximity. What is she doing to me? He asked himself, still completely clueless of the reason behind his physical response to her. This had happened earlier in the day at the party as well.

Ryunosuke had informed her that the cake with the saru origami and her playing her flute on it had been purchased by Takeru. When she'd heard this, she'd looked up at him and said sweetly, "Tono-sama." When he looked at her in surprise, he caught a full dose of that beautiful, trusting smile that was purely her. His heart had literally skipped a beat and he'd averted his gaze to hide the blush staining his tanned face. Only Genta would dare call him out on the fact he was blushing by saying, "Hey, hey, Take-chan, don't blush," and smiling while he nudged him in the shoulder. At that moment, Takeru would have liked nothing more than to deck his best friend. Even now he felt embarrassed by the whole thing.

He was pulled out of his reverie by the feel of a small, delicate hand pressing against his forehead. Looking down at the young woman in front of him in surprise, he caught her look of anxiety. Realizing that he was now back to himself, Kotoha let her hand dropped to her side and started to take a step backward. It was not to be though.

Takeru caught her hand and pulled her into his arms, hugging her closely. He felt her stiffen in his hold, but ignored it. He'd been scared earlier and even if she didn't need to be held, he needed to hold her. To feel that she was real and that this wasn't all some happy dream that he was having and that he'd awaken from only to find that she was gone.

Once the shock of Takeru pulling her into his arms had worn off, Kotoha could feel embarrassment taking its place. She blushed hotly. "T-tono-sama," she stammered out, her voice muffled by Takeru's shirt. "A-are you okay?"

She felt his grip on her loosen, but only a little bit and he rested his head in the crook of her neck. She could feel his warm breath against her skin. He sighed and closed his eyes as he continued to hold her against him.

They stayed like that for awhile, neither one of them knew how long. While Takeru was reveling in the feeling of just holding her and feeling her warmth seep into him, Kotoha was trying to make sense of what was going on. What's wrong with Tono-sama? Why is he holding me? These were the kinds of questions running through her mind as he held her. While she was still puzzling over all of this, he lifted his head and looked into her eyes before finally breaking the silence.

"Kotoha," he said quietly, his voice and eyes touched with conviction and tinged with sadness, "you are an irreplaceable member of this team. Chiaki, Mako, Ryunosuke, Genta, you," at this point, Takeru faltered, before continuing, "and I-we're all necessary in this fight against Doukoku. Please never let me hear those words from your lips again." Once he had finished saying his piece, Takeru looked down at the young woman who was still being held loosely in his arms. When his eyes met hers he could feel his treacherous heart skip a beat for the second time in under fifteen minutes.

Kotoha beamed up at him in gratitude while tears slid slowly down her face. No one, absolutely no one had ever told her that she was necessary for anything. She pressed her face into his clothed chest to hide her blushing face. That he said she was of value, especially after all that happened in the last two days, filled her with joy. Takeru felt his lips curve up in a gentle smile at her innocent actions and he continued to hold her, even if it was for just a little while it was enough. It would have to be, at least for awhile, because almost losing her had been a wake-up call for him.

I'm in love with you, Kotoha. I won't be able to say it right now, but one day, when Doukoku isn't here anymore I'll be able to say the words. I hope you will feel the same way and accept my love when I do, he silently promised her.

Yes, if circumstances were different he wouldn't be doing this. He wouldn't be holding her in his arms and he wouldn't have told her that she was valued. But these weren't ordinary circumstances and Takeru really couldn't care less.

The End.