increase.

.****.

She is sitting in her corner, reading. As always. For some reason, they are alone.

The silence in the room is starting to get under his skin. "Oi, Nagato…" he says, and the words are so loud—so foreign—in the silent room that they sting his ears.

She looks up, eyes shining like water on a spring day.

"What are you reading?"

She blinks, and he can already guess what her answer will be. But, for once, he is wrong.

"A remarkable tale about a post-apocalyptic organization and two heroes' plight to fight destiny."

His eyes widen and his mouth opens, lost in shock. Her response is a mere dip of her head, and in another second, her eyes are scanning the words on the page once again.

.*****.

"Here."

He is taken by surprise at the sudden prod at his back. He turns, and is met with the stoic girl's firm gaze.

"Yeah?" he asks, letting go of the doorknob.

She holds up the book she had been devouring before. "You should read it." Her voice is as monotone and selective as ever.

For an instant, he is convinced that something is amiss. That he must fix something that went wrong in the past, or fix something to do with that girl, or listen to another explanation.

But, from the look in her eyes, he can tell that is not the case.

.*.

"Yu~ki, what are you doing?" the girl with ribbons asks, towering over the reading girl with her arms folded stubbornly.

She does not answer.

"Come on, don't you do anything besides read that book?" the ribbon-girl inquires, even ruder than before.

"I enjoy reading," she says quietly, like a sister to a whisper.

The ribbon-girl's lips point jaggedly, but she understands.

Sort of.

.***.

The white queen moves gracefully over the board, taking out pieces in her path. The stoic girl watches her color's movements like a hawk. She waits patiently for her opponent to make his next move.

"My, my," the smiling boy says with a light flutter in his voice. "You're awfully good at this game. It's only been a few turns and you already have me at check."

The stoic girl nods her head, her gray hair swaying with each miniature movement. The black king moves a square, but the white's warriors are too quick. The king is trapped in a matter of moves, pinned by elegant knights and proud pawns.

A laugh wafts into the room. "And now you've already beaten me. You are quite impressive, Miss Nagato. You should consider competing in a chess tournament. I'm sure you'll do very well." For once, no obvious mocking is behind those words.

The smiling boy reaches for the pieces, about to put them into their box to rest. But the stoic girl, gently and silently, reaches for her king and grasps it protectively.

"Play again."

.**.

The timid girl carries a tray full of piping-hot teacups, a look of intense concentration on her face as she desperately tries not to trip and spill them. She makes her way around the room, placing a cup next to each member. Finally, she stumbles over to the reading girl, and tenderly places the final cup right next to her.

"Thank you."

The words were so small; the timid girl glances around to make sure it wasn't a ghost. But when she realizes who they came from, she can't help but smile awkwardly.

"Y-y-you're welcome, Miss Nagato."

.******.

He stares back at her, and finally smiles. "I will," he says honestly, and takes the enormous book from her fragile hands. He observes the eloquent designs swirling on the cover. "If you like it so much, then I guess it has to be good, right?"

She nods and opens her mouth. But, for some reason, no words form. She closes it again and pans her eyes down to the floor.

He notices this gives her a worried look. "What's the matter, Nagato?"

There was a pause. "It is an endowed example of the complications of human interaction and emotion, as well as the study of some peoples' lust for power and their greed. However, I enjoy reading about the main characters' interaction between one another, and how their emotions grow over the span in which the series takes place more than the malevolence that the author is trying to convey. I enjoy the book because of a reason not intended."

He sighs and scratches the back of his head, noticing how she almost seems… disappointed with herself. "There's nothing wrong with that, you know," he says. "People dedicate their lives to finding the hidden messages of books and stuff."

"Oh."

She meets his gaze and blinks once. "Please return it when you are finished," she says simply. "It is very important to me."

She walks around him and opens the door.

There is an odd feeling welling in her chest. She ignores it.