Just from looking at her, Haku could tell she had a story.
She showed up at the chapel's door on a peaceful night, body weary, eyes bright and focused. Pretty gold and black silks peeped out from beneath the hem of her cloak, slightly mussed from the damp, muddy terrain. The girl looked bold and confident despite her petite stature.
"Are you going to let me in or what?"
Haku realized she'd been staring and gave a little start, stepping aside hastily and almost tripping over her own skirt. "O-Oh, of course! I'm sorry..." She mumbled in embarrassment as the woman stepped inside, tucking a golden lock of hair behind her ear and huffing in annoyance.
"You...must have come a long way..." Haku remarked absently as the woman sat herself down in one of the rows of pews, unresponsive. She looked relieved to be inside. "I'll get you something warm to drink." Her skirt rustled softly as she quickly scurried to the kitchen, putting some water on for tea. As she returned, she saw her mysterious guest peeling her hood back, shaking her long hair wearily as she set the garment aside. There was a truly regal air about her.
"You trying to swallow a fly or something?" For the second time already, she'd caught Haku eyeing her.
"F-Forgive me. I thought I recognized you from somewhere-"
"I doubt it." Haku held her tongue nervously. She was rather short with people, it seemed. Haku waited a few apprehensive moments before asking, "What brings you here?", if for no other reason than to be polite and fill the silence.
"If you really must know," she sighed, speaking in a condescending tone. "I'm looking for someone. And once I find him, I'm going to teach him the lesson he deserves." Cloudy anger filled her eyes and she clenched her fists.
"It sounds like you've got quite a journey ahead, I think."
"Yeah. I'll look for him as long as it takes. It isn't right..." She folded her arms, "...for people to hurt others without being punished, right?"
A sudden tightness wound its way into Haku's chest, her throat going thick as breathing became painful. She'd managed for a few weeks without brooding too badly on her friend, the horrible thing she'd almost done for her sake. This woman spoke with so much conviction that she started questioning herself again. Envy grew in the pit of her stomach, wishing she had such courage to call on, such resolve.
But she knew she couldn't harbor ill will against Rin, no matter how great her misdeeds. Rin was so alone now, and she saw too much of herself in her to have the heart to go through with revenge.
Despite her brusque mannerisms, Haku had a feeling there was a tenderness inside, with how deeply she was devoted to her task. "W-Would you like to stay and rest a while?"
"N-No! I don't need you to help me." She flushed and looked away. Haku felt guilty: it was probably rude of her to suggest that such a strong-willed woman could be helped by the likes of herself. It must have been force of habit that made her want to offer help to others, to have that feeling of being needed by someone.
"I just came here. To...to pray." The way she blurted out the word made it clear to Haku she was new to the idea. At least she could help with this. She smiled understandingly and motioned towards the altar, and the woman stepped forward, shedding her cloak. Her golden dress shimmered in the weak candlelight and her silhouette was ethereal, familiar somehow. Haku couldn't quite place it until she kneeled and clasped her hands. She was really beautiful, almost like she was from...
Remembering suddenly the colors of the court, Haku felt her pulse quicken. Who was this person? She was positive it couldn't be simple coincidence...
"Please God, guide me on my journey. I want for nothing but to find that traitorous servant, and punish him accordingly for abandoning my lady in her hour of need. And...please, let my queen's spirit watch over me...That's all." She stood up and exhaled, looking relieved it was over with.
A sleepy voice called from the corridor. "Haku, do we have a guest? You left the tea..." The guest jolted in such surprise that she had to cling to the altar for support. Rin stopped mid-yawn and her eyes widened in shock. "I-It...can't be-" She gulped, voice dropping to a whisper, "-Neru?"
Neru gasped, her mouth opening and closing as she searched for words. "My...lady! H-How!" She made a weak noise in her throat and ran, nearly tripping over her dress as she closed the distance between them, throwing her arms around the queen's neck in a tight, frightened embrace, like she was scared she'd disappear if she let go. It was a very joyful display. Haku, thoroughly forgotten, knew she had no place here. She had a sinking feeling, like they were going to both leave her, and she would get left behind.
And once again, Haku would be completely alone.
The two women were chattering excitedly, their faces a spectrum of emotions. It was too much for Haku to handle. In a daze, she quietly stole into the next room, lighting a candle at the small shrine the queen had confessed at not so long ago herself. She knew she was being punished. Solemnly, she kneeled, eyes weak in the low light.
She was scared.
Haku wanted to pray and clear her conscience, do something, let anything out. The words simply would not come to her. There were so many things she wanted to say. She'd always had trouble finding words. The candle's wax had thinned and began dripping onto the wooden desk by the time Haku could think of anything to say.
"I'm s-sorry I couldn't do more for her, or get over what happened. Thank you for bringing someone who can." She bowed her head and wiped her eyes, wishing she had the strength to continue. It dawned on her that their voices had quieted a long time ago. A shadow was in front of her beside her own, and then-
"You knew. Right?"
The harsh edge from Neru's voice had disappeared, and it brought a sense of calm to Haku's frayed spirit. Her shoulders sank and shuddered, body trying to suppress her sobs. Neru's slippers made a soft noise on the stone as she came closer, without fear, and firmly placed her small hands on Haku's shoulders.
"Hey now, settle down." Neru shushed her gently as the gesture relaxed her, allowed her to let go of her tears. It made her realize how starved she'd been for a new friend, someone whose touch she didn't fear.
"It...was good of you to take her in, I guess." She began absently rubbing her shoulders. "I appreciate it." She knelt and circled her arms around Haku's shoulders, giving a gentle squeeze, hesitating before lowering her face into her neck and whispering a very hasty "oh thank you so much".
The gesture was so tender that it actually brought a brief smile to Haku's wet face. As she lifted a hand to pat Neru's arm, the girl squeaked and grew heavy, ceding many tired, raspy sobs. She turned and let her sink to her knees, allowed her cling to Haku's dress and cry. Her cheeks were bright red with embarrassment, and as she whimpered and rubbed her eyes, Haku realized that she herself was not the only one who couldn't find absolute comfort in the queen's arms.
"Puh-Please," Neru sniffed when the worst had passed, eyes wide, mouth trembling. "D-Don't say anything about...ugh." She wiped her eyes hard and covered her face. "I just don't w-want her to worry. This...didn't happen, okay?"
Haku didn't take the stern words too personally, sensing that she had her reasons for behaving the way she did. She understood completely what it was like to have to hide things.
She helped the woman to her feet, watching with admiration how quickly she straightened up and squared her shoulders. As they made their way back down the corridor, she couldn't help but feel a sense of fulfillment.
Haku had been able to make herself helpful to her new guest after all.
A/ N: So, this is my biggest project as of now. This story's going to be quite long, unlike what I usually write, and it's going to have -gasp- a plot. XD It's definitely going to have Neru/Haku as the main pairing though. :3 Anyway, thank you for reading the first chapter! Feel free to review if you like.