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The prologue

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Such strange taste, she thought to herself, running her fingers along the spines of his collection. Her hand froze over a title with a ticket stub poking out of it.

“Are you a fan of that one?” Shishio asked, leaning on the doorframe of the kitchen. His face held a note of amusement, no doubt in response to her alarmed jump.

"I’ve never read it” She confessed. She tried to find titles that interested her, but after years of editing they all seemed to blur together. Every story was one she’d already read a million times. There was the occasional mold breaker, a shooting star among the countless stream of mediocre, but they were rare, especially with her preferences.

“Borrow it.” he reached over and pulled it off the shelf, plucking the ticket out. “You can read it to pay me back for using my veranda again.”

Of course she hadn’t meant to make this a habit, she hardly wanted to inconvenience him. The first few times it really was an accident, but each new encounter only made her more curious about him, and thus eager for another, and it wasn’t long before she had begun to purposely forget her keys when she went out. She had told him she was used to having a roommate who always provided a spare. The barely concealed grin on his face each time she explained that she locked herself out again told her that no matter how long she’d spent reading them, she’d never be good at making up stories.

He placed the book in her open palm and her eyes briefly lingered on the mysterious ticket he clenched firmly in his hand. It looked old and worn, but he obviously cherished it.

"You must really like this.“ She rose her eyebrow quizzically, scanning her over the synopsis.

"The real test is seeing if it meets up to your standards.” He replied, following her out to the balcony. She wrapped her coat tighter around her waist to ward off the chill. The roads had been closed due to a heavy oncoming storm, but right now the snow was only dusting the ground in light clumps. She watched a few small snowflakes fall into his hair and start to melt. Absentmindedly she reached out and brushed them away. He looked down at her, surprised and her hand dropped back down her her side. She felt her cheeks spread with warmth, and she inwardly shook herself for blushing, what was she twelve?, but if he noticed, he didn’t lead on he did. She mumbled something, grappling to relieve the tension.

“Hm?”

“The aquarium” she nodded her head towards his hand. His eyes momentarily flickered.

"I haven’t been in years now,” he answered after a count, “I guess I’m not much of a fan.“

His entire demeanor shifted and she felt it again, the alluring pull he seemed to have over her that she didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t pity, she knew pity. His expression was all too familiar, she had seen it a thousand times, every time she looked in the mirror, and she realized; he was running away from something too.

“I’m sorry” she said feeling her face flood with color for the second time that night. Was competing for a goddamn medal at making things awkward?

“I didn’t mean to pry”

“I know.” He replied.

She had begun to make her retreat back to her apartment.

“You don’t have to leave just yet. It’s almost Christmas, and we can’t leave the house tomorrow anyway. Come back in, have a drink with me.”

She thought about it for a moment, gauging how much more of an ass she could make of herself.

“Okay, but just one”

He did a military salute and lead her back into the warmth of the apartment.

“Just one” he repeated firmly.