Deleted scene from Frail Human Heart!
~ WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED ;) ~
It had been hours since they arrived at the human hospital.
At first Hikaru had been so ill and dizzy and confused that the bright lights and awful smell barely even registered. She’d been glad to collapse onto the little bank of seats – no matter how horribly uncomfortable – next to Jack in the waiting room and bury her face in her hands, to try to breathe through the lingering muscle cramps and the overwhelming, burning sting of the various puncture wounds all over her body.
The King’s healing magic was strong; strong enough to purge the poison from Hikaru’s system before it killed her or left her with serious brain damage. And start the wounds closing up already, which was part of why they burned so much. But nothing could entirely erase the side effects of being pumped full of enough supernatural neurotoxin to give a god a headache.
As the pain slowly passed off, Hikaru became more and more aware of Mr and Mrs Yamato’s strained grey faces as they talked to the doctors, scurried eagerly out of the room and then returned with dragging, shuffling steps after too short visits to Mio in intensive care. Gradually she gleaned the fact that doctors weren’t entirely sure why Mio was unconscious. There was no blood loss, no brain injury that they could find, nothing to treat. She just... wouldn’t wake up.
The news, when it came, that Shinobu was out of surgery and doing well, was a huge relief for everyone. Especially when Hikaru remembered the blood-stained nightmare he had looked when the human healers pushed his stretcher off the bridge. If they could fix him, surely Mio would be all right too?
But another hour passed with no change in Mio’s status, and the pall of doom descended inexorably over the small waiting room again.
This is all wrong, Hikaru thought distractedly. We won. Mio defeated the gods and saved the world. We won.
We should be happy. We should be celebrating.
Mio can’t ... Not after all this.
Humans were so bloody fragile.
Mrs Yamato looked up hopefully as a new doctor, a cheerfully plump Asian man with kind eyes, came into the room. She nudged her husband, who jerked out of an uneasy dose. After a short, whispered conversation, all three headed out of the room. Mrs Yamato spared a moment to offer a slightly shaky smile to Hikaru, Jack and Rachel as she went. “Back in a moment, kids.”
Hikaru stared after her, stricken. So fragile – and so kind.
“How are you doing, Furball?” Jack asked in a hushed, careful tone that was entirely unlike her. “You look a little better now.”
Hikaru risked a sideways glance in the other girl’s direction. Now was definitely not the time to ask if Hikaru had hallucinated that kiss while Jack held her limp body beside the river. Definitely not the time.
“Did you really kiss me, or did I imagine it?” Dammit, Hikaru.
Jack’s eyes went wide and she shifted a little uneasily, but she didn’t look away. “Um...”
On Jack’s other side, Rachel let out an ostentatiously loud sigh. “Hey, why don’t you two head down to the cafeteria and get us some new cups of tea? These ones are cold. And maybe some muffins or something.”
Jack twisted around and even though she couldn’t see the other girl’s face, Hikaru knew she was levelling a deadly glare at her sister. “You could give a sledgehammer a run for its money.”
“Coming from you, I’ll take that as a compliment,” Rachel said, shaking her head. “For God’s sake, both of you, stop making googly eyes and actually talk to each other! Before I lose it and strangle both of you.”
“But – Mio – ” Hikaru protested. “Mr and Mrs Yamato – ”
“They don’t need you right this minute,” Rachel said firmly but kindly. She lifted her arm and pointed at the door. “Go. Shoo. Now.”
Hikaru and Jack exchanged a resigned look for a split second before they both remembered that they were being awkward with each other and quickly looked away. Hikaru felt that unaccustomed heat in her cheeks and leaped to her feet, trying not to wince as various injuries throbbed in protest. “Fine. Tea and muffins, coming right up.”
Jack got up a little more slowly. “That’s a line I honestly never expected to hear coming out of a Japanese fox spirit’s mouth.”
“I don’t see why,” Hikaru returned swiftly, trying to get back into the rhythm of their old banter as they headed for the door. “I’m as British as you are, you know.”
A tiny smile twitched at the corner of Jack’s mouth. The door of the waiting room swung shut behind them. “Hence why both us hate talking about our emotions so much, I suppose.”
Encouraged, Hikaru let her shoulder bump against Jack’s gently. “Speak for yourself. The way I see it, I’ve already laid my cards on the table. The emotional constipation is your problem.”
Jack stopped where she was, the smile leaving her face as she pressed her lips together. “I...”
“Sorry, I didn’t – ” Hikaru back-peddled hastily, feeling her stomach lurch.
“No. Don’t – you don’t have to be sorry for being right.” She nodded, as if to herself. “You’re right.”
Her eyes met Hikaru’s fully for the first time. They looked huge in her face, and Hikaru could see fear and uncertainty and a faint edge of panic in them. And something more. Something soft, that yearned for a connection in direct proportion to how much Jack feared it.
One of the first things that Hikaru had fallen for about Jack was her strength, her absolute refusal to give up, her take-no-prisoners attitude – but right now Hikaru felt as if she was being shown a whole different Jack, a part of her that was just as integral to her personality, but that lived deep down, hidden away most of the time because it was so precious and vulnerable.
Given the chance, Hikaru knew she could wrap her arms around Jack and spend the whole rest of her life just keeping that soft, loving part of the other girl safe and protected, and never want anything else in order to be happy.
The problem was ... did Jack want that? Would she be able to accept it, from Hikaru or anyone?
“You’re right,” Jack repeated, and like a light had been switched on inside her, suddenly the smile was back, spreading slowly across her face. She reached out, a little hesitantly. The tentative brush of her fingers across Hikaru’s palm sent sparks of electricity shuddering through the Kitsune’s skin. Hikaru quickly twitched her hand around and grasped Jack’s.
“So ... are we ... we’re doing this?” Hikaru asked, worrying she was ruining the moment, but needing something, some kind of anchor to attach all these feelings to.
Jack squeezed Hikaru’s hand, and her smile was a grin now – a little giddy, a little reckless, and a lot happy.
She turned and started pulling Hikaru down the corridor towards the lift, swinging their joined hands between them. “You bet your fluffy backside we’re doing this, Furball. Come on. I’m going to buy you a muffin.”
Next Stop for Zoë is Lunas Library! Remember to check it out tomorrow and if you haven't already, pick up your copy of Zoë’s The Name of the Blade series at your local bookshop or online at Amazon, Book Depository, Waterstones.com and WHSmith.
Zoë Marriott is the author of many critically acclaimed and beloved books, including The Swan Kingdom, which was long-listed for the Branford Boase award, and Shadows on the Moon, which won the prestigious Sasakawa Prize and was an American Junior Library Guild Selection. Zoë lives in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. Visit Zoë’s blog at thezoe-trope.blogspot.co.uk or her website at ZoeMarriott.com. Follow her on Twitter (@ZMarriott).