After classes finished Hisao called Lilly.
"Why hello Hisao! What was your excuse for getting back to class?" asked Lilly, a smile in her voice.
"It turns out that our mutual friend the Nurse dropped by 3-3 and gave an excuse in my stead."
"What? He didn't do that for me."
"So how'd you get out of trouble?"
"Said I had some Student Council work that I absolutely had to take care of. I don't like abusing my position, but I do believe that these are exceptional circumstances."
"You can say that again," sighed Hisao. "Anyway, I called because I noticed that Hanako was absent today."
"She does that sometimes," said Lilly, a tad sadly. "Usually she only needs to take a single day off to feel better, but I like to check to make sure that it isn't anything worse."
"I could check for you, if you like," said Hisao. "I'm already outside the dorm buildings."
"My, you move fast, don't you?" Lilly chuckled. "Very well: since you're so eager to help out I'll leave it to you on this occasion. Be sure to let me know how she is once you're done, all right?"
"Will do. Bye for now."
'However fast I'm moving it can't be fast enough,' Hisao thought to himself darkly, putting away the Blackheart and hurrying to Hanako's room. As he knocked on the door he had dark visions of what he might find within: despite Lilly's reassurance that Hanako often did this kind of thing he had a bad feeling about this.
CAST SUCH UNWORTHY FEAR FROM YOUR MIND, the sweatervest scolded Hisao. THE ONLY POWER WITHIN THIS ROOM IS THE SAME AS MINE.
"You mean Hanako gets told off by her clothing too?"
There was no response. Hisao figured he'd just have to work it out himself.
He knocked on the door. There was no answer immediately forthcoming.
"...Hanako? Are you there? It's Hisao. I just want to talk."
And then footsteps, very soft, approaching the door. Hisao breathed a sigh of relief: he'd been afraid that Hanako might not even react.
The door opened. Hisao took back his sigh. Inside was pure darkness: not just normal darkness from the lack of light but actual physical darkness with substance of its own, roiling and swirling like a turbulent oil slick.
...No answer. The darkness moved slightly as though disturbed by motion inside but didn't go past the threshold, as if there was an invisible barrier holding it inside.
Hisao took a deep breath. There was only one thing to do.
"Hanako, I'm coming in."
He stepped forwards into the darkness. It swallowed him up like the water of the sea, the door clicking shut behind him.
Hisao kept his eyes closed, and not because he wouldn't be able to see in the darkness. As his time in the Burning Hells had taught him, living darkness like this doesn't merely obscure vision – indeed, it may even show you things that you wouldn't want to see. He wandered on through the dark, trying to feel his way: even though it felt like moving through water, he could breathe and hear perfectly well – not that there was anything to hear, only the silent sussuration of the darkness all around him.
"Hanako, are you there?" he called out. He had an uncanny feeling that this darkness was somehow down to Hanako: while he was in here, he was at the mercy of her whims. He didn't fear too much for his own safety but he had to find her and talk to her as soon as possible, which could be a problem if she didn't want to be found.
Hisao heard something to his right: a gentle pattering of unshod feet, almost quiet enough to be inaudible. "Please, show yourself to me. I promise I'm not angry at you: I just want to check on you, for Lilly's sake." Hisao paused, and then added: "You don't have to be afraid."
"I don't want to lose you." It was Hanako's voice but it sounded strange, as though she were talking from far away and very quietly but he could hear her as though she were whispering directly into his ear. Hisao reached towards where he thought the voice had come from but grasped nothing.
"Lose me? What do you mean?" Perhaps not the most insightful of questions, but at least she was talking now. Keep her attention, keep her engaged.
"You were really nice to me... the first boy ever to get so close... but now you're more interested in Shizune..."
Hisao could feel the emotional power surge through the darkness all around him. The air was thick with fear. As only a servant of Diablo could know, fear can be very powerful. This was another moment where a careful choice of words was in order.
"I'm sorry, Hanako. I didn't know you liked me back."
"...You mean... you do like me?"
Hisao smiled, as genuinely as he was able. "Of course. Why wouldn't I? You're a very kind girl, and pretty as well."
"Don't say that!" The fear tightened on Hisao, coiling around him like a boa threatening to crush every bone in his body. "You don't mean it!"
"Mean it? I don't know it for certain, but I want to believe that it's true," said Hisao, feeling strangely calm despite the fact that he could very easily die in this abyss. "I like to think that you can see a person's true nature in their face and that its beauty matches that nature, regardless of age or scars." This was a lie, but the important question was: could Hisao get Hanako to believe it?
It seemed to work: the pressure around Hisao slackened slightly. "...I can't show myself to you." This was less afraid, more sad.
"That's okay, you don't have to," said Hisao gently. "I just want to know that you'll be okay. You can take as long as you need, I just..." Hisao paused, assuming a heartfelt demeanour. "I can't bear the thought of you not coming back to class again. Even if we don't talk much, just seeing you there makes me happy."
There was no reply, the air holding itself as though in disbelief. Slowly, bit by bit, the fear drained away, the darkness going with it. Hisao finally opened his eyes and saw black strands streaking past his eyes, scurrying away into the shadows as though fleeing back home. A low light returned to the room, although there wasn't much of it: the lights were off and the curtains closed against the sunlight such that the entire room was cast in murky gloom.
He was standing in the middle of Hanako's room. Hanako herself was in bed. Hisao checked: she was sleeping. Could that have been one of Hanako's nightmares he'd wandered into? He regretted keeping his eyes closed – he might have been able to garner some useful insight into the workings of Hanako's mind – but decided that it was probably best this way.
As he stood there, thoughtfully staring at Hanako's sleeping face, he had to say: she looked perfectly peaceful. Now that the nightmare had been dispelled there was no fret, no fear, all of her usual anxiety completely fled from her face. Her hair still covered her scars, and for a moment Hisao was sorely tempted to brush it away to see what lay beneath – but decided against it. It just felt wrong, somehow, as wrong as it would be to take advantage of her sleeping state to undress her. Instead, Hisao pulled Hanako's blankets up around her, gave her head a gentle stroke and then took his leave, closing the door softly behind himself.
Hisao reflected on how protective that girl made him feel: while Emi had some of the same natural cuteness she was still very much determined to stand on her own two legs (as it were), whereas Hanako just radiated worry and doubt. Had she always been that awkward? How did she get her scars? These were some questions Hisao resolved to ask Lilly as he saw her making her way towards him down the corridor.
"Lilly! Glad you came."
Pause, turn, smile. "Hisao. Is all well with Hanako?"
"I think so, yes: we talked a little and whatever it was that was troubling her seems to have been settled for now, so she's sleeping."
Lilly gave an audible sigh of relief. "Thank goodness. I was afraid that it might be worse than usual this time."
Hisao took a leap of faith. "You mean, 'room full of darkness' worse?" He saw that he'd hit his mark: Lilly was quite taken aback.
"The whole room? It's never been that bad before." She paused. "...And you dealt with it?"
"I walked in, yes." Lilly gasped and looked about ready to slap Hisao for his lack of caution, so he hurriedly continued: "Considering my 'special talents' I was sure I'd be safe."
'Which I nearly wasn't,' Hisao added in the privacy of his head.
Lilly took a moment to compose herself. "Well, thank Heaven for small miracles. She has reacted this way to unpleasantness in the past, but it was never quite that severe. I was always able to contain it, with... my own talents."
"You mean you're able to hold it back?"
"Somewhat, yes. However, as you've no doubt discovered for yourself, it's largely dependent on Hanako's mental state: kind gestures and words of reassurance go much further than any God-given power."
"It's a good thing you've got both, then." Hisao smiled at Lilly. Even if she couldn't see it, he hoped she'd feel it. Apparently she did, as she reciprocated the gesture, but there was a sad quality to it.
"I hope you know, Hisao, that Hanako is very much enamoured of you. Her talk isn't just hero-worship: she truly wishes for something more, something closer."
"And what about you?" asked Hisao, reacting to a potentially sticky situation by going on the offensive. "You can't tell me that all the attention you've been giving me is just because of your duties."
Lilly took some time to consider her answer. "...Hanako's happiness comes first. I'm strong enough to take it."
"Love isn't a matter of damage assessment, Lilly," said Hisao, taking hold of Lilly's hand – she was momentarily surprised by the gesture, but allowed it. "While I want Hanako to be happy as well, I'm not going to let you just fall by the wayside. It wouldn't be fair."
Lilly's smile became sadder. "That which is just is not always fair."