Title: hate or something like it
A/N: For Enduring Tides! I wanted to tangle with Shinobu's growing feelings, the complicated mess of her not knowing how she feels only that their relationship isn't the same as it was before.
Summary: Shinobu was fine with getting trapped in the rain, in waiting in the closest abandoned building for the skies to clear up. What she wasn't fine was getting stuck with the annoying, irritating, socially inept Giyu. The morning couldn't come soon enough.
It was raining. Standing on the threshold of an abandoned house, Shinobu breathed in the earthy air as she watched the steady downpour. Not even the birds and insects wanted to be caught in this weather, and Shinobu missed their usual song. Instead, she was serenaded by the soft plip as rain hit the hole-filled roof, the pitter-patter of droplets as they struck the earth.
This wasn't the first storm that had caught her unawares. It probably wouldn't be the last. If anything, a dilapidated building was better than the caves she'd hidden in before. There was no point in risking a cold by heading to the town proper and searching for an inn.
Well, there was one point. Shinobu grimaced as she looked over her shoulder. Barely visible in the gloom was Giyu. Suddenly she found herself longing for a damp cave. Maybe she could even just keep heading home; what was a feverish week in exchange for a couple of hours worth of peace? Getting trapped with Giyu was the worst luck. It had been off-putting running into him while returning from a mission, but spending the night with him?
The rain was looking more and more tempting. Shinobu stared at the dark clouds one last time before stepping back with a sigh. If she got sick and a demon attacked—she shook her head, refusing to entertain the idea any further. She could put up with Giyu until the rain stopped, at least.
Steeling herself, she turned around. The house was a small one with a simple layout. The biggest room was this first room, featuring a sunken hearth and space around for its occupants to huddle. Water leaked into the house from several sizeable holes in the ceiling, but luckily none were near the firepit. Unfortunately, while Giyu was sitting next to the hearth, he hadn't actually started a fire. Hand on her hip, Shinobu tried to keep her irritation out of her voice as she asked, "Where's the fire?"
He looked at her, a sleepy expression on his face, and shrugged. "It isn't there."
"I can see that." Shinobu bit her cheek. This was just minute one. She had to at least make it to an hour before giving up. "Why isn't there a fire?"
"I didn't start it," he answered simply.
Maybe Kanao would visit her in jail. Shinobu gritted her teeth and quickly strode toward the center of the room. "This is why no one likes you. It's common sense to start a fire when it's cold." Ignoring his surprised flinch—and honestly, why did that surprise him? He should know how everyone felt by now—, she knelt by the hearth and inspected the coal there. Oddly shaped and crumbly, they were at least dry and would hopefully kindle. "Otherwise we'll get sick and the last thing I am doing is carrying you back."
Giyu didn't say anything, just watched as she pulled out her tinder. His eyes were barely visible in the half-light. At night, it would be impossible to see him at all. While that was preferable, she didn't want to break her neck walking around this place in the dark. Luckily, it didn't take long for the fire to take. The flames flickered to life, a thin curl of smoke rising to the roof. Immediately, the warmth hit her skin and she sat a little further back, letting the heat remove the chill from her bones. She sighed, "That's better."
He kept quiet. Soon, the crackling flames were the only sound in the room as they greedily gobbled up the remaining coal. Idly, Shinobu glanced at her companion. She could count the number of times she'd been alone with him with a single hand, maybe two. It was odd. They'd worked together for so long, but she'd never really thought of him before now. Maybe it was his lack of presence or the way he isolated himself. Even now, with no one around but the two of them, he kept to himself, his eyes trained on the fire.
Shinobu had never considered herself someone who needed conversation. She liked silence almost as much as she liked chatter, liked how doing nothing could sometimes be utterly comfortable. This was neither of those things. Feeling awkward and slightly unnerved, she wondered how she should break the silence. The shadows danced across his face in strange patterns. She kept adjusting her posture, her legs falling asleep as they waited, yet he hadn't moved an inch.
In the end, she didn't have to. Her stomach gurgled hungrily, and Shinobu immediately wrapped an arm around her waist as a mortified blush burned her neck. She snapped her attention to Giyu. Their eyes met and any hopes she had that he hadn't noticed vanished. "I…" she mumbled, her brain running in circles as she tried to find an explanation that kept her dignity.
"Hungry?" Giyu asked.
"Yes," she reluctantly admitted. Somehow, an hour had passed since they'd taken refuge. Even now, the rain didn't let up, the droplets drumming on the roof as the night took over. Shinobu prided herself on her preparation, but she had planned on arriving home hours ago.
Something crinkled and she watched as Giyu pulled out a leaf-wrapped bundle. Holding it out, he offered, "You can have some."
"I don't need—" Her indignant response was immediately cut off as her stomach grumbled yet again. The hot blush on her neck crawled up her cheeks and there was no escaping this now. Flustered, she quickly got up and moved next to Giyu. As she sat down, her hand out to take the food, she growled, "You tell anyone about this and you're dead."
Confused, he cocked his head. "Why?"
She wasn't sure if that was 'Why would I tell anyone' or 'Why would I die'. She also didn't care. How could she ever look anyone in the eye if they knew that Giyu of all people was more prepared than she was? Shaking her hand insistently, she snapped, "Does it matter?"
Giyu gave her a long, blank stare before slowly unwrapping his bundle, revealing three large onigiri. "No."
Somehow, even when she got what she wanted, Giyu still frustrated her. What did he think of it all? Did he care? He had thawed since their last, but changes with him were as subtle as erosion on a rock. It didn't help that he was as dense as one. Fighting down her irritation, she plucked one of the rice balls from his hand. The very round rice balls—Giyu took the 'ball' part literally it seemed. Still, maybe it tasted good.
A single bite dashed her hopes: the food was as tasteless as he was. Resisting the urge to gag at its blandness, she asked, "Do you know what salt is?"
"Yes." Of course his expression remained utterly placid as he ate. Bite after bite, his face was as still as a lifeless pond. Maybe his taste buds had died long ago. Noticing her stare, he held out the last ball. "You want another?"
She couldn't stop the grimace. "I can barely handle this one." There was no point in nuance or tip-toeing around a matter with him. If Shinobu didn't bluntly state it, he wouldn't get it. "Did you make this? It's terrible."
"Terrible?" Shocked, he looked at the ball, then back at her. It was like kicking an ugly puppy.
"Yes, terrible. You can't serve this to anyone." Shinobu rolled her eyes. "How did you mess up something so simple? Even I can do this."
"Oh." Looking utterly devastated, he stared at the rice ball. It was impressive how broken he looked, even though his expression didn't change much.
"Just add salt next time," Shinobu relented, already tired of insulting him. Like this, he reminded her too much of Kanao when she'd first started learning things. Kanao. Her mind wandered to the Butterfly Estate, to the five girls waiting there. Well, perhaps four now that Kanao had her own duties. Aoi would be worried. She always worried too much. "She won't like this," she muttered, half to herself.
Still chewing on his riceball like a hamster, Giyu shot her an inquisitive look. "Who?"
She hadn't intended to say that aloud. Another clumsy mistake in front of him. Maybe she should just bury him under the wisteria trees; they needed the nourishment. Reticently, she mumbled, "Aoi."
He only looked at her, perplexed. Shinobu longed for the good old days when she didn't care about anything. Louder now, she repeated, "Aoi. I'm late from the mission, she must be worried."
"She isn't," Giyu replied immediately.
It took her a full minute to process his response. Gritting her teeth, she asked politely, "Why not?"
"There's nothing to worry about," he stated flatly with the absolute assurance that only a complete moron had.
Last Shinobu had heard, there was another water pillar in training. They wouldn't miss Giyu's absence for long. Curling her hand into a fist, Shinobu glared at him. "This might be a foreign concept to you, but some people actually care about others."
Honestly, she wasn't sure what about him made her so angry. It couldn't just be his rudeness—Sanemi was twice as rude and she didn't want to murder him at every encounter. No, it had to be something deeper than that, but she didn't want to waste her thoughts on it, on him. Focusing instead on her nails digging into her skin, she forced herself to calm down.
Now that her appetite was appeased, however badly, she listened to their surroundings once more. The rain tapped unevenly on the roof, the storm abating slightly. Unfortunately, it was still rain. She was still trapped here with him. Resigning herself to her fate, she shifted to get more comfortable one. "Even in this weather, a demon might come. We'll have to take shifts," she announced, rubbing the back of her neck.
Giyu nodded his agreement.
When he didn't say anything else, Shinobu added irately, "I'll take first watch."
Once more, he merely nodded. Rude, lacking manners, utterly unreadable—Shinobu didn't know how it was possible to find only new disappointments with a single person. The only thing he had going for him was his slightly above-average looks, and even that was ruined the second he did something. Fine, whatever, she thought. It wasn't like she could sleep comfortably, knowing the only thing between her and death was him.
Leaning forward, she stoked the coals once more, embers flying as she gathered the broken rocks together. "Make sure this doesn't disappear when it's your turn." Satisfied, Shinobu sat back and stretched her arms above her. Maybe she should take a walk after this and smooth out the crinks in her back. "I'll wake you up in four hours."
"Okay." Crossing his arms, Giyu buried his hands in his sleeves. His eyes remained open.
"You know you can sleep, right?" she asked, just in case he didn't understand what a 'watch' meant. The other pillars didn't like him, after all. Maybe he'd never gone on a mission this long with someone other than her.
"Yes," he nodded, his eyes still wide open. There was nothing about his stiff posture that looked like a man about to sleep.
It wasn't worth pursuing it any further. She refused to go bald from the stress of dealing with him. And if he didn't trust her abilities enough to rest, well, he was the one who wanted to pull an all-nighter.
Making herself comfortable, Shinobu rested her cheek on her hand as she watched the coals. It was going to be a long, uneventful night. Even demons didn't like coming out on nights like these. In the distance, she heard an owl hoot, the rustling of leaves, the chirping of crickets. The rain almost washed it all out, a steady static noise. It had been too long since she'd had an uneventful night like this.
An hour passed. Then another. Glancing at him from the corner of her eye, she observed Giyu's profile. He was just as hard to grasp from his side as he had been from the front. Maybe he'd be a mystery to her for her entire life. Tired as she was, that didn't sound entirely bad.
"You're strong," he said, breaking the silence. She wasn't sure if she was still in her watch or part way through his now.
Drowsy, she retorted, "Of course I am."
"You're strong," he repeated, as though she hadn't said anything. "So no one has to worry about you. The strong…" he paused. She could feel the weight of it. "The strong come back."
She didn't have to ask if that was personal experience. There was only one reason anyone joined the corps, after all. Still, Shinobu wished she was sitting across the fire, still able to see his expression. Or even just was more awake than she was now. His voice had a flavour to it. She could only imagine what he looked like.
Her eyes closed. Opened. Closed again. The next time Shinobu was aware of her surroundings, there was a warmth behind her head and a strong arm around her shoulders. Giyu's, her fuzzy mind provided helpfully. She should be disgusted, but it was warm and comfortable, so she'd allow it just this once. His breathing was even, as always, and she fell asleep once more to the sound of his heartbeat.
When Shinobu woke up the next morning, she was alone. Curled up on the ground and a jacket covering her shoulders, but utterly alone. Rubbing her eyes, she slowly sat up and glanced around. Sunlight filtered through the holes in the roof, illuminating the place. There wasn't hide nor hair of Giyu anywhere. It felt almost like a dream, though if it had him in it, it had to be a nightmare.
The only proof that any of it happened was his jacket on her shoulders, keeping her warm. It fell to her lap in a crumpled heap as she straightened up. Gingerly, she picked it up between two fingers, eyeing the fabric distastefully.
What, exactly, was she supposed to do with this? Returning it felt like a loss. Shinobu glanced at the hearth in front of her. She could still burn it in there; even if the coals were gone, there was plenty of dry wood in this house.
She bit her lip, studying the jacket once more. Part of her could still feel the warmth of his shoulder, hear his quiet voice. Shinobu couldn't return it, couldn't destroy it. Couldn't figure out exactly what riled her up about this man. It'd be easier if she didn't care or was truly as disgusted by him as she acted.
Sighing, she folded the damned fabric. If she couldn't figure out what to do with it now, she'd just have to keep it until she did.