Ayane moaned a bit painfully, sitting up straight. She groaned again while turning her arm to work her shoulder, trying to make sure that stiffness was the worst of it.
Hugo lightly frowned, in an effort to speak his mind.
Instead, he spoke his concern.
“I’m sorry about the Darkness.”
Surprising yet again, he knew. The Shadow turned, sitting sideways on the bed, and looked at him. He was still looking up, not really sure how to engage her when he was such a sorry sight. No left arm. No legs. She wasn’t the picture of perfection, her uniform was ragged and slightly bloody, with strips cut here and there. She had ripped her right sleeve off by the shoulder so the dark undershirt covered that one arm.
“Thank you,” Ayane said, cautiously. “I am sorry for what happened to you.”
Hugo chuckled, in a different, softer way than he used to.
“I really am a freak, now. But I dunno. Never felt so normal,” he confessed.
Ayane scoffed lightly, nodding in understanding.
“It sometimes feels like that, doesn’t it? You do look different,” she said.
Hugo chuckled again, softly, and looked at her with a smile.
“Like I just said.”
There was no misinterpreting that look, he was sure. The way his face illuminated when looking at her. He knew that against her will, the Shadow’s instinct was reporting to her mind that all signs pointed to him being infatuated. Hugo could tell that happened by how she physically reacted to a dawning realization that brought along a bit of embarrassment.
Ayane’s body language had always been too sincere for her own good.
“I’m happy I get to see ya one last time,” Hugo said, to dispel the discomfort. “I wanted to ask you something.”
“You want to tell me a joke?” Ayane asked.
He chuckled yet again, softly, and brightened up an inch more, as if it was possible.
“If you want. But first, I really wanted to ask why you care?”
The Shadow tilted her head, perplexed. “Why I care?”
“You went after the skydiving girl,” Hugo reminded her. “You saved those survivors. You saved the warlock and even that Beast pilot we interrogated. You just…save everyone. Why?”
The Shadow looked down and around. He could tell by how her face tilted slightly, and also by how her tongue pushed against her lips, that it was a hard question to answer.
“The first time…my body just moved on its own,” she started. “This was back in Pelindrad. I heard a scream, it reminded me of the destruction I observed when we first escaped the Beasts, back in Prusnia, and I just…moved. After that? I made this mistake, back in Igtahlia, and well, people died. That only made it worse. Now, I cannot…I cannot help myself anymore. Letting people die? Suffer? When I could have done something?” She grabbed at her chest, over her heart, and continued, “simply painful beyond measure to me. Sorry, I cannot explain it any better–”
“No.” Hugo lifted his one good hand to stop her from apologizing. “I think the only thing that’s not crazy is selfishness. That means heroism is insane. So it makes sense that you can’t make sense.”
Ayane sighed in agreement. “I have definitely felt insane every time,” she confessed, helplessly, and then paused as if to think carefully of what words to say next.
The Circus Freak waited.
“But it has kept me moving,” the Shadow said, almost like she was realizing it herself. “It has kept me standing,” she added with a nod, finding some pride in it because the truth of the matter was indisputable. “It was always the right thing to do.”
“Hm,” Hugo concurred. “Never woulda had the stone if you hadn’t chased little magpie.” He looked up again. “And the rest of it all also worked out, one way or another.”
“Except for…Falk’s girlfriend,” Ayane said, frowning in regret.
The Shadow looked to the side, sadly. “He killed her,” the Shadow said.
Hugo sighed, shaking his head.
“Of course he did. Anyways, the prisoner also only suffered,” he added with a shrug, “but still, that was on others. You did the right thing.”
Feeling like he had answers, Hugo very lightly nodded, staring up in thought.
The right thing…
So far, he had simply done what she would have done. Was that the right thing? How to know the difference? It seemed she just followed her conscience. She cared, and she pursued every concern that came to tug at it. How could he do that when his only concern seemed to be her? Had that been the only reason behind his attempt to save the brat? He couldn’t remember those moments. The realization he had died for the brat drove him to insanity, there was little about what had happened that Hugo could clearly recollect.
I wonder wha–
“Tell me a joke,” Ayane requested.
He looked at her somewhat surprised, and then happy. He felt his insides lighting up.
“Happy to,” Hugo said. “Two grains of sand were crossing the desert. Then, suddenly alarmed, one of them looked to the other and said hey! I think we’re being followed!”
He then held a knowing smirk while the Shadow tried to figure it out. It took her a few seconds longer than it should have. She cracked an awkward smile.
“That’s…not very good,” Ayane admitted, feeling sorry for him.
“Ah, well. I guess circumstances being what they are,” Hugo said, lining it up by lifting what was left of his missing arm, “I’m a bit too stumped for humor.”
Ayane took exactly as long as she should have to get that one, which was one less second than her filter for self-control and politeness did.
The result was that she snorted.
Hugo let the arm fall and laughed lightly. Ayane followed that with one of her own.
Then they truly laughed, together, sharing something the Shadow probably had not expected to result from her kindness.
They both stopped after a few seconds. Hugo led them into it with a sigh, there was more he wanted to say since he might not see her again.
“I’ve been pitied, Ayane.” He looked back up, bringing thoughts into words, to make everything real. “I’ve been cared about. I’ve been saved and helped. Eliza died because they were worried about me.” He grasped the sheets with his one remaining good hand. “How can anyone remain the same after someone’s sacrificed so much for their sake?”
He knew they did. He had witnessed many people do so. From the simplest case of family members to the more complex cases. But now that it had happened to him, and more than once?
“Now more than ever, I don’t understand how people can remain the same after something like that.”
The Shadow smiled somewhat.
“Is that a jab at me? Over how you saved me?” She asked.
“Hah. How could it be? You were just a thief then, more like me. Now you’re gunning to save the world,” Hugo didn’t expect the idolizing tone of voice to come out, but there it was.
“Ouf.” She took her turn at sighing, looking up. “Do not say that.”
“Haha,” he felt his hand on his chest, though how, he didn’t know. It was there, however, grasping heartily at a pain that he much loved having. One that was not misdirected, not anymore. He had thought he wanted to see her one last time, but now that he did, there was an anguish. A despair.
“Ayane, it’s selfish, it really is. But if you don’t survive this, please don’t succeed either. Living out my days like this without ever seeing you again would be the worst.”
He wasn’t looking at her, a bit shocked at the fact he had said something so straightforward, even though that was technically what the Circus Freak did.
Calmly, he just heard her apologetically call out his name.
His facial expression contorted, fully aware of how awkward he had made the room. After all, if Circus Freak had one ability, it was reading the room.
“Sorry. I’m not used to this.” He brought a hand over his face, despairingly adding in his mind, not even close, not by a long shot.
“You keep trumping all of us,” Ayane said, sounding meaningfully impressed. “Out of everyone, it is crazy how much you have changed.”
Hugo scoffed. Then he chuckled and raised his hand, making a triumphant fist, sincerely smiling with pride and happiness that was, seeing his physical condition, absolutely insane.
“I’m Hugo, the Circus Freak,” he announced, “I out-crazy anyone!”
The Shadow chuckled, meaningfully.
“You really do.”
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