Pleiades: Ai

Fanfiction, Starry Sky.

Oneshot, Kagurazaka Shiki x Takanashi Ai.

Word count: 1604

Warning(s): Age difference, not my best, heartbreak, vague language, character death, possible canon inaccuracies

Takanashi Ai is eight years old when her parents leave. At that age, she's old enough to understand that her father his gone, and that he isn't ever coming back. Death is a distant world of impenetrable mists and fog that she is neither capable of seeing into nor understanding, but she knows that it's claimed the man that would always bring her pieces of candy when he came home from work, and sit her in his lap to tell her stories. Ai is wise beyond her years in the way that she doesn't cry or throw a temper tantrum, but simply watches her mother's grief with a pair of silent, glassy eyes. What's lost won't come back, this she knows, and that it's useless to make a fuss over it, is what she thinks.

What Takanashi Ai is not yet capable of comprehending yet at the not-so-tender age of eight is why her mother decides to leave right after. After only a week of hearing sobs and the sounds of things smashing around the house at late hours of the night, Ai comes home to find that the crying woman has already packed all of her daughter's belongings into a small suitcase. Ai has lived through many weeks in her eight years, but no matter how good or bad those weeks have been, this is the first time that one has ended like this. "You're going to be staying with Uncle Soujirou for the weekend, alright?" Ai doesn't believe the woman's diluted smile and tear-stained eyes; they remind her of the look on relatives' faces when they told her that her father had gone on a trip. Ai will never understand the woman's reasons for doing so, but she is hardly surprised when the woman vanishes without a trace.

Shiranui Shrine is nice, even if it is rather old and drafty in the night. Before she sleeps, Ai wraps herself tightly in two blankets to keep herself warm, and Uncle Soujirou laughs, saying that she looks like a cocoon, or a roll of sushi. Ai has to take a different bus to get to school, and Uncle Soujirou has her do chores around the shrine on the weekends. It's different from where she used to live, but she likes how quiet it is here. Other than her uncle's chatter, the place is usually quiet save for the rustle of dried leaves swept across the ground by the wind, the metallic groan of the shrine bell, and and clatter of the wind chimes hung up by one of the doors. Ai thinks that she could get used to this.

Winter is cold, and Ai's blanket sushi is upgraded to three layers. However, when Kazuki and his friends arrive to visit for winter break, two of those layers are unfortunately confiscated because Uncle Soujirou needs to provide blankets for the guests as well. Ai resents this and wishes that they could sleep without covers, because she enjoys being warm. Of course, all is forgiven when she is allowed to sleep next to kotatsu.

Kazuki, despite being her cousin, is someone that Ai has never met before. He's just as loud and jocular as Uncle Soujirou, although he has less facial hair. Ai doesn't really understand him, but he's alright. Along with Kazuki are Yahisa-san and Kagurazaka Shiki. Yahisa-san is always with Kazuki, and when Ai asks Uncle Soujirou where the two of them disappear off to all the time, her uncle simply holds his finger up to his lips and tells her that she'll learn these things when she's older. Ai doesn't like these vague, dismissive answers; she knows what happened when her father and her mother left, so she doesn't see why she wouldn't be able to understand this sort of absence. The only difference would be that when Kazuki and Yahisa-san leave, they always come back. The thought of that is comforting, so Ai eventually stops asking Uncle Soujirou about it.

Takanashi Ai is eight years old when she meets Kagurazaka Shiki, and the first thing that he does is offer her candy. Ai stares at the fruit-shaped sweet that he holds out to her, and blinks. Kagurazaka Shiki blinks back, but doesn't resume eating yet. There's a hesitance before Ai reaches out to accept the candy and pops it into her mouth with a soft 'thank you'. It's strawberry-flavored soft candy, sweeter than she's used to, and she chews on it for a while before it dissolves on her tongue. Ai doesn't have to ask for another before she is handed a lemon-flavored sweet.

Kagurazaka Shiki is the same age as Yahisa-san, which is double Ai's age. He enjoys sleeping under the kotatsu, which makes Ai jealous because Uncle Soujirou won't allow her to do that. He likes snakes a lot, and even has a cushion of one, so it's a good thing that Ai isn't afraid of snakes or else he probably wouldn't let her borrow it sometimes. His skin is light because he doesn't like the sun too much, and because his hair is almost white, Ai once asked him if he was the yuki-onna. He told her that he wasn't, and that he certainly glad that he isn't, because standing outside in snowstorms without any clothes doesn't sound like a very pleasant experience.

After dinner, when Uncle Soujirou lets everybody gather around the kotatsu and tells them stories of youkai, kami, samurai, and ronin, Kagurazaka Shiki lets Ai sit in his lap as she listens. After Uncle Soujirou's finished yet another tale of the Shinsengumi, Kagurazaka Shiki will sometimes tell her stories as well. The stories that he tells are much shorter than Uncle Soujirou's, and his voice is nice to listen to, so Ai enjoys this. One night, Kagurazaka Shiki tells Ai a story about a girl and a boy who fall in love, and Ai remembers that his eyes were blank, doll-like, and very very sad.

Ai is thirteen years old when Yahisa-san has a baby. Ai's mother now lives with her and Uncle Soujirou in the shrine. Lots of people gather at Shiranui Shrine to celebrate. Ai is introduced to Tsubasa-san, a friend of Kazuki's whom she vaguely remembers having seen once before, but never talked to. Tsubasa-san's parents left him when he was younger than Ai was, so they understand each other.

After dinner, Uncle Soujirou and Kazuki regale the men while the women crowd around Yahisa-san and her baby. Ai goes out into the yard to see Kagurazaka Shiki falling asleep against a tree. She approaches him, and without opening his eyes, he offers her the spot next to him. Ai looks at the damp patches on his cheeks, and blinks. Kagurazaka Shiki blinks back, but doesn't speak yet. There's a hesitance before Ai steps forward to sit next to him. She doesn't ask any questions.

They sit there in silence for a while, and Ai thinks of all the candies that he's offered her, all the stories he used to tell her when she was younger and small enough to fit in his lap. She misses those days.

Ai tilts her head to rest it on Kagurazaka Shiki's shoulder.

A cloud passes over the moon, casting a shadow on the both of them. Kagurazaka Shiki leans close and whispers softly into her ear.

Ai is fifteen years old when she has her first boyfriend.

He's loud, talks a lot, and isn't her type at all, but he likes her. When he confesses, she feels that there isn't much she can do but accept his affections. They hold hands, they eat lunch together, they hug, and they kiss. She makes him bentos once or twice, and he walks her home from the school to the station after club activities every day. The two of them don't disappear the way that Kazuki and Yahisa-san do, but it's comforting to have him by her side. She likes him quite a bit when he isn't talking, and she likes him even more when she sees his sleeping face.

Her first boyfriend is light blonde with pale skin.

He doesn't like sweets and he doesn't tell her stories after dinner, but he has light blonde hair and pale skin. He reminds her of the yuki-onna.

Ai breaks up with her first boyfriend immediately after realising this.

Ai is sixteen when she understands. At that age, she's old enough to understand that that when something is gone there's nothing you can do about it, and that making a fuss won't bring it back. Death is a quiet field of fresh white snow. Ai is wise beyond her years in the way that she doesn't cry or throw a temper tantrum, but simply watches everyone's grief with a pair of silent, glassy eyes. It was going to happen sooner or later, this she knows, and that he was right all along, is what she thinks.

Kagurazaka Shiki is twenty-four when he steps into that quiet, snowy field.

One night, Kagurazaka Shiki told Ai a story about a girl and a boy who fall in love, and Ai remembers that his eyes were blank, doll-like, and very very sad.

Ai remembers the taste of too-sweet strawberry-flavored soft candy, and the wet trails on a pair of pale cheeks, tears that may have been caused by any combination of joy and sadness.

Ai remembers Kagurazaka Shiki leaning in close as a cloud crossed the moon, and whispering softly into her ear,

"I am going to die."

Ai never asked any questions. She is sixteen when she understands.

(a/n): And after a slew of Gay Basketball fic, the infamous 'character death' warning is back. I have never played After Winter, but Ai is a sweetheart so I decided to write her. My apologies for any factual/canon inaccuracies. This didn't turn out as well as I wanted because I got noticeably lazier in the second half and it's very imbalanced in terms of detail. I might redo this piece another time.