Before Arimel knew it, Kaede had become something of a fixture in his life. As he looked up at the brilliant, orange-dyed sky, he was reminded of their first meeting weeks ago.
"I get cold easily," Kaede would tell Arimel later, which would explain why Kaede spent the first part of his first visit half-buried in the sandy lakeshore. It was a warm afternoon, perfect for sitting on the beach. Arimel's hut was on the banks of this saltwater lake, which drained into the sea. It was a hidden space deep within a forest where the canopy above let in mere trickles of sunlight. He had deliberately chosen this area so as never to be disturbed. It suited him to be secluded and alone, he thought. He would never have to deal with others' painful gazes ever again.
And yet, as Arimel sat at his work bench diligently sharpening his garden tools, he heard the sound of disturbed foliage from just outside the hut. It was a little too deliberate and heavy to be caused by an animal. It was a presence that shouldn't have been, but was. He didn't hesitate; Arimel burst out the front door with a low growl.
"Get away from here! I have poison......" He trailed off as his eyes lowered and set themselves on the last thing he could have expected: another Venos; a diminutive creature with a nervous smile.
"I, um, am poisonous, too! Oh, but I don't mean you any harm!" The smaller Venos clasped their paws in front of them. "Honest!"
Arimel stared them down for several seconds as various thoughts flew through his head. Why are they still here? Why won't they run already? They look so weak...how did they make it all the way out here? "This.........is my hut." he finally managed to say.
The interloper leaned their body slightly to the right to peer behind Arimel. "I... I see."
Feeling thoroughly deflated now, hostility and anxiety all but gone, Arimel raised his arm and scratched the back of his head in confusion. What was he to do in a situation like this? Everyone else who'd stumbled across him had run off at the mere sight of him. He didn't know what to do with someone who seemed not to feel that same fear. "Right. So..."
An awkward silence descended. The other Venos looked up at Arimel curiously, their eyelids blinking. Arimel bit his lip and averted his gaze. He wasn't sure quite where to look. "Ah! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude. I was just walking upstream and stumbled across this lake. I was admiring the view for a while, but then I saw the hut and got curious."
"No, err... It's not like I own the lake or anything. You can do whatever you want. Just don't go trampling around my garden."
The other Venos's eyes widened. "You have a garden?" Their voice was filled with wonder.
Arimel had no idea how to respond to such genuine interest. He settled, begrudgingly, on the truth. "Yes... I grow vegetables and—"
"Can I see it!?"
"Well..." he craned his neck to look in the direction of his small plot, weighing the pros and cons of the situation.
A quiet voice interrupted Arimel's careful calculations. "Oh... I'm sorry." The smaller Venos visibly shrunk back. "I'm trespassing in your territory and you probably want me gone, but here I am, asking you to show me around! I should be—"
"I don't mind! Showing you the garden, that is." Arimel cut them off, his voice more forceful than he'd wanted it to be. "I'm warning you, it's not much to see."
To Arimel's surprise, instead of being scared off, the other Venos broke into a relieved smile. "All right. I'll take you at your word, then. Let's go!" They walked past Arimel as if to lead the way. After a few steps towards the hut, however, they paused and turned around. "Ah! I'm sorry, how rude of me, not even introducing myself. I'm Kaede!"
"It's nice to meet you! Now let's have a look at that garden~ I really like plants."
"Same here" was something that Arimel couldn't quite bring himself to say. Not yet. Letting people into his circle, befriending someone... These were things that he was deeply afraid of. Still, he didn't dislike this small, cream-colored Venos. Moreover, he didn't have the heart to chase off someone who was so pleasant and unguardedly friendly. There would be time, later, for judgment. Old habits and past traumas were not so easily forgotten. For now, though, Arimel decided to show Kaede his garden. Later, Arimel would ask why Kaede didn't run away. "I just didn't sense any real danger from you," Kaede would reply. That was it. That was everything.
That evening, they'd seen their first sunset together. This evening, when Arimel heard a light tapping at his door, he knew just who would be standing there when he opened it. For now, Arimel decided to let Kaede inside.