Her dark hair was lit by the sun, a golden glow brightening her form. She was a lovely sight to behold. Her smile when she turned to him was bright, welcoming; reminding him why he came home.
"Welcome home, Toga."
"It's good to be home."
"Next time that you leave, though, I would prefer that you leave my garden alone," she said, amusement obvious in her voice despite her serious tone.
He walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. "I am sorry, Shiriko," he spoke quietly into her ear.
She gave him a scrutinizing look before diverting her gaze. "I suppose that you are forgiven." The corners of her lips twitched and she moved out of his embrace, dancing away from him. "Do you remember when we slept outside when we were children?"
Watching her move away he noticed that she seemed to be happier than she had been for some time. He nodded in response to the random question. Those nights were some of the few memories that he kept carefully guarded and turned to when everything else was shadowed. Things had been simpler then before reality sunk its ugly claws into the story and tore away the dream that he had allowed himself to believe. "I do."
"We should do so again. Tonight."
"If you wish to then we can."
"Don't sound so enthusiastic, Toga. I might begin to believe that you're in a cheerful mood," she said, winking.
He frowned, but it quickly vanished into a smile. "That sounds like a perfect plan."
She smiled. "I suggest that you start preparing the beds then."
"As you wish." She gave him another dazzling smile before disappearing into the house. Almost immediately afterwards he followed her path. A glance down the hall showed that she was in the kitchen, starting her preparation of the evening meal. He walked in the opposite direction to a room that had been kept closed for over ten years. For a moment the door was stuck, but he managed to open it after pushing it with his shoulder. It was dark inside and there was the overwhelming scent of dust. Stepping into the room, he found the light and looked around. It was dreary.
"What are we doing mother?"
"We are going to spend the night outside."
"Why would we want to do that?"
"To watch the stars."
Finding the futons that he was looking for, he grabbed them both and took them out into the hall. He turned the light off and closed the door again.
"Did you find them?"
"Yeah." He glanced down the hall and saw her face briefly before she disappeared from his sight. Carrying the two mattresses to the back of the house, he managed to open the door without putting them down. He stepped out onto the back porch and laid them down where they had been over ten years ago those nights when the dark sky was their roof.
He turned in time to catch the blankets that she threw at him. Giving her a smile, he then unfolded it and covered one of the futons.
"Do you want to eat inside or outside?"
"Out here would be nice."
She nodded. When she had finished covering the mattress, she grabbed the pillows that she had brought out, from a chair, and tossed them onto their beds. "Why don't you help me cook."
He looked at her, not sure if he had heard her correctly. "I'm not a cook," he said, wondering why she had suggested such a thing when she was well aware of his inadequacy with such a skill.
"That does not mean that you cannot cut the vegetables."
After a moment he nodded, albeit reluctantly. The kitchen was not his place, the past had made that painfully clear.
~ * ~ * ~
She glanced up from stirring the stew when she heard the curse. "Are you alright, Toga?"
"Fine," he muttered. Looking at the blood that bubbled to the surface from the cut across his hand, he walked over to the sink and ran cold water over it.
Her lips twitched and she turned her attention back to what she was doing. "I would have thought that cutting vegetables would have been a simple task for you. It does not involve any form of cooking."
"You know that I am terrible when it comes to anything in the kitchen," he grumbled.
She laughed quietly. "Still."
He glanced at her before shaking his head. Turning off the water, he glanced at his hand to make sure that it didn't start bleeding again before resuming his task. Paying closer attention to what he was doing, he managed to finish cutting up the vegetables without damaging himself again. After putting them into a bowl, he then brought them over to her.
"Thank you," she said, taking the bowl from him. He didn't answer and she resisted the urge to laugh. She knew that he was irritated about helping her in the kitchen, even if he had been willing to earlier before he had cut himself. Adding the vegetables to the concoction, she then handed him the bowl to wash out. "It should be done in an hour or so. Why don't you clean up."
"Are you sure that I'm allowed to?"
"Are you teasing, Toga?"
He didn't answer, only smirked. His mood couldn't be helped. Her cheerfulness had brightened his day and was making him feel almost normal. He couldn't' remember the last time that either of them had ever been this happy without some sort of shadow hanging over them like a sword.
~ * ~ * ~
She watched in silence as he ate, trying her best to not seem like she was staring. He was on his third bowl, devouring the stew and looking very much like he had not had a good meal in weeks. Of course, he was normally like that whenever he returned from a hunt. He always seemed drained, even if he did try to not make it obvious to her. Forcing her gaze away, she focused on finishing her own bowl of stew. "Is it good?"
"Yes." He glanced at her, catching the smirk on her lips before it vanished. In an almost self-conscious manner he slowly finished eating the remainder of his stew.
"I'm sorry," she said, immediately noticing his change of demeanor. He shrugged and she lowered her gaze. It was normal again, or as close to normal as they could be. That's the best that she could hope for. She couldn't help but wonder though, about when he would return and he would not be the brother that she had known, but a stranger instead. Thinking of the day when he would no longer become self-conscious when he realized that he was eating like a starved dog or would try to be sweet and assure her about her fears about what they were doing. She felt a dull ache in her chest at the thought of losing that, at the thought of him becoming their father.
He looked at her. She was frowning and there was something in her eyes. Setting his bowl aside, he reached over and took her hand. Her gaze instantly met his and he watched as she forced a smile. "What is it?"
"It couldn't have been nothing." Her gaze lowered and she almost looked embarrassed.
"I was just thinking how I would like things to stay as they are," she admitted. "Change can't be stopped though."
He stared at her for a moment. Her words were far too true. "No... It can't be."
"Are you done?" she asked suddenly. He nodded and she took his bowl and her own.
Following her with his eyes, he watched as she disappeared into the house. He released a heavy breath and looked out at the grounds. The trees were spread out, appearing almost like sentinels. Even in the darkness, he could see their shadows stretching out across the grass. The mattress shifted suddenly and he looked at her. She was smiling again, the facade raised. Turning his gaze from her, he stared out into the night. "What inspired this?"
She shrugged. "I don't know." She was quiet for a moment. "I wanted to see the stars." She studied his expression. "Was it not a good idea?"
He looked at her and smiled. "It was a perfect idea."
Her smile reflected his own. Leaning against him, she studied the dark grounds. Almost she could picture her mother standing a few short feet away, staring out into the night as she waited for their father to return. Mother always did that, watching and waiting when she thought that she and Toga were sleeping. "Promise me that you won't become like father."
Glancing at her, he was met with her staring intensely at him. "I promise."
She held his gaze for a moment longer before she nodded and rested her head against his shoulder.
He looked at her, wondering the reason she had him promise such a thing. Another time he would ask. She seemed relieved now and he didn't want to upset her if it wasn't necessary. Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, he held her close.