"Well, look at that."
At Shido's words, Madoka turned her head in his direction. He wasn't looking at her--she could always tell when he was--but she smiled anyway. If anyone else had said those words in her hearing, they'd be all over themselves a second later, awkwardly apologizing for hurting or offending her. It pleased her that Shido did not take her blindness to mean that she was also so emotionally unstable that she couldn't handle people speaking as they normally did.
Besides, she knew he'd been speaking to Mozart, not her.
She reached out to pat Mozart, who was lying between his mistress and the beast master, and accidentally placed her hand on Shido's.
"Oh... excuse me," she said and hesitated, not knowing whether she should pull away or not.
She felt Shido's gaze then. She knew it from the prickling awareness at the back of her neck that she usually got when being watched and the strange warmth in her chest that seemed to come only from Shido's attention.
Silence stretched between them for a moment as if everything around them was holding its breath. Then, Shido's hand moved away from hers.
She bit her lip and buried her fingers in Mozart's fur. For a second there, she'd thought... No. It was okay. Shido would scoff at being called such, but he was... shy. He was so much more at ease with his animals. She would wait longer.
Shido stood up.
"Would you like to meet another of my friends?" he asked.
"Yes. I like all of your friends, Shido." She started to stand up as well.
"No." He stalled her with a hand on her shoulder. "Stay right there."
Madoka settled back onto the grass and listened. Shido was more difficult to track than most people. He moved like a cat stalking its dinner, impossible to detect unless you knew exactly what to listen for.
She was tempted, sometimes, to replace her lawn and gardens with an extensive rock garden. The crunch of raked gravel under his feet would make him easy to follow. But rocks would not be as comfortable to sit on. They would not smell as good, either. And, most importantly, Shido and his friends would not feel as welcome in such a place.
Besides, her ears were good. She was up to the challenge of tracking him anywhere. Right now, he was walking forwards... and a little to the left... to the azalea bush?
She tilted her head and thought she caught a bit more of the flowery scent in the breeze than usual.
"Well, Mozart," she said quietly, "which of his friends is hiding in our bushes?"
Mozart woofed and stirred, bumping his cold nose against her knee.
She smiled and scratched between his ears.
"That's okay. I'll let you keep his secrets."
She lost track of Shido for a moment, then heard his low voice speaking in a soothing tone, though she didn't catch his words.
How did one become a beast master? Was it something Shido'd had to learn? Or did it just come along with being born with that voice? She'd willingly follow it anywhere...
"Here," Shido said, touching the back of her hand and startling her.
She blushed for having let her daydreams distract her.
He was kneeling beside her, and he drew her hand towards his chest. His hand was big and warm, and--unlike any other strong hands she knew--smooth and uncallused. It really was no wonder that animals accepted his touch so easily.
"Hold your hand like this," he said, and turned it so her palm was held vertically. "Okay?"
His hand left hers, and then the back of his other hand gently nudged her palm and he was saying, "It's okay, little one," and tiny, dry claws were closing around her index finger in a grip that was both tight and barely discernible.
"Oh," she breathed.
His hand cupped hers, supporting it, and she felt the claws tremble slightly around her finger and she marveled at how impossibly light this living creature was.
"It's so small," she whispered.
"He's a fledgling, first time out of the nest. His mother is letting me borrow him for a while."
"Here," he said. He wrapped his free hand around hers and guided her until one of her fingertips touched the bird's breast.
The bird's heart was racing. Each beat fell into the next so quickly that she was surprised that even her sensitive fingers could tell the beats apart.
"He's scared," she said.
"No." Shido's thumb rubbed over her knuckles. "No, he trusts us. His heart always beats that fast."
"It feels like his heart will burst."
His breath brushed against her temple as he spoke, and her attention shifted. He was so very close.
It feels like my heart will burst.
She ducked her head and sought a distraction.
"What color is he?" she asked.
"What color?" Shido's smile was audible in his voice.
There was the sound of wings, and Shido was no longer looking at her. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"Ah, his mother's insisting I bring him back now," Shido told her. He moved his hand, and the bird hopped off her finger.
She nodded her head though he was already moving towards the azaleas.
"Tell her thank you... for me," she said, and lay back on the grass, her face to the sun, and tried to calm her own heart. They spent so much time together, but he didn't touch her nearly enough. He was always so circumspect...
What held him back? Did he think she was too delicate? She wasn't. And it got old, always being treated like something fragile--
A bird chirped, then trilled, and she caught Shido's voice again without hearing the words.
That must be Mama that he's talking to.
She sighed, and Mozart licked her outstretched hand.
"No, Mozart, I'm not going to be jealous of a bird."
She laughed at herself and traded her self-indulgent thoughts for the sounds of leaves rustling and Shido's lion snoring softly somewhere behind her. She had Shido in her life every day now and no reason to be discontent.
And Shido...well, maybe she was coming at things wrong. He wasn't shy, so much as reserved. And as for him thinking she was too fragile, that couldn't be right. If anything, he seemed to think she had no failings.
Right. And everyone thinks I'm the blind one here.
Shido was returning. She started to sit back up, then decided to stay as she was. He sat at her side this time, without Mozart between them.
"What did Mama have to say?"
"Ah, it was just gossip."
"What's happening in all the other nests in town?" she guessed.
"Just about," he said, and she didn't need eyes to know he was smiling at her.
"So... what color was he?"
"I thought you didn't know what any color looks like."
"I don't. But I can still be curious, right?"
"Sure." He shifted, and his thigh pressed against her forearm. "But you're luckier than most people, because you can imagine him in any color you want." He looked away from her and seemed to be thinking.
She was luckier than most people were, because he didn't talk to them even this much. She waited.
"Isn't it better that way?" he finally said. "Your world is more beautiful than ours."
She sat up and gripped his arm.
"But I don't want that. I want to be where you are."
"Or I want you to be where I am."
And that was it, wasn't it? It was foolish to keep hoping he'd match her in desire, if she didn't at least show him where she was and invite him to join her.
It would be a little scary, making the first move, but she was brave. She was, after all, the girl who had kneed "Undead" Ishiki Ryuudo in the balls.
"They're not that different, are they?" she asked. "How can my world be better just because blue is the warmth of a sunny day? Or because green is something I hear dancing in the wind?"
"You hear green?"
"Yes." She slid her hand up to his shoulder and leaned closer to him. "I even smell purple."
"What's it like?" He was watching her so intently, she felt like she was sunburnt.
"It smells like bruised flowers. And then there's my favorite color..."
"I don't know its name, but I know that it tastes--" She breathed deeply. "Like your smile."
She pressed her lips to his and kissed him.
After a long--and thrillingly scary--moment, he pulled her to his chest and cradled the back of her head in his hand.
She smiled against his lips. Later, she'd ask him what color he thought his happiness was. For now, she only wanted to taste it some more.