Natsuki struggles to deal with living a normal life, whilst Shizuru's shadow hangs over her.
I'm starting to get really pissed off at all this. Sakomizu's still pretending he's a real teacher and has me doing schoolwork even though I did all the extra classes and crap needed to avoid repeating the last two years. This was all a lot easier when I had you... helping me. Shit. You know, I swore I'd try to go an entire day without thinking about you, but that didn't last long now, did it? I throw my pen down to the table in disgust, slumping back into my seat. You didn't even say a word when you left, but then, I knew you were going to try and sneak off, that's why I was waiting by the gate for you. But still...
Arg, this is infuriating. You've gone so I should be able to get you out of my head, but your shadow still haunts me. I don't know, I wish that I had loved you the way you wanted; maybe then I wouldn't feel this crappy about it all. You were always there for me when I needed you, even after the Carnival ended, and I know how much it must have hurt you for me to be so close and yet so far, but I can't help what's inside my heart any more than you could. With time, could I have come to love you? I don't know, and I guess now we'll never know. I think part of it is that I never even considered the idea of you feeling that way about me, or vice versa. Instead, you were just my best friend, the shoulder I could always lean on. But now that crutch is gone and I'm floundering on my own.
I shake my head, trying to get thoughts of you out of it, before I pick up the pen again and turn my mind back to the essay I'm supposed to be writing.
About half an hour later, Sakomizu waddles back in. I give him my best glare as I offer up the sheets of paper I've filled up. "Can I get out of here now?" I ask petulantly.
"You know, if you put in half the effort you used in investigating the First District, you'd do a lot better in class," he replies with a smile. I continue glaring until he finally accedes. "Fine, you can go Natsuki-san. I'll get this back to you tomorrow."
I quickly grab my stuff and scoot out before he has time to say anything else. I'm not in the mood for another lecture and I've got... well, no, I don't have better things to do, but anything's better than this, right? Walking through the empty school grounds, I'm feeling pretty run down. It's just... well, what am I supposed to do now? The First District was pretty much annihilated by you, so I can't continue on my search for information about my mother, and what else is there for me? Am I just supposed to get on with my life now, push everything into the past and pretend like everything's alright? It isn't though, nothing's alright, nothing is fine.
This is a crossroads right? A point in my life where I'm supposed to pick which route I take, which path I shall travel down for the rest of my life, but I just don't know what I'm to do. I know I've got to be in a pretty bad way when even Nao tries to help, albeit in her own bizarre way. I should probably go and see Mai, but it's kinda hard to face her. It's like, when I'm with her, I think back to that last night before the Carnival ended, of the things we talked about. She won't press me on it, but I know she's wondering the same thing I imagine you were; am I in love with you? But that's a question even I don't know the answer to, and it's not one I want to think about either. You left me behind, you ran away, you don't have the right to continue haunting me like this. I hate what you've done to me, this state you've left me in. I'm caught in-between two different worlds, and only your shadow is in either one, but I can't get by without you at my side.
Furiously, I pull out my cigarettes and quickly light one up, sucking hard on it. Look at what you're doing to me, how low you've sent me. I wish I had a bike, I could do with blasting all of this away with a ride, but I trashed the one Yamada gave me in the fight with you. It's not unfixable, but I guess I just haven't really wanted to do so. Until now at least. Anything to take my mind off you.
Quickly stopping off at the dorm to change clothes and dump my school stuff, I head off to the garage I rented out for storing the wreckage in. As I open it up, I'm astounded by the sight that greets my eyes; the bike is there, sure enough, but in the state I left it. Propped up on its kickstand, it sits there in its former splendour, fully restored. As I move to stand beside it, I see a note sat on the seat, covered in a sheet of dust, as is everything else in here.
My dear Natsuki,
By the time you find this, I'll be gone. It hurts so much just to be around you, and I can't take the pain anymore. I don't expect it to stop any time soon, but hopefully some time and space will help ease it a little. I wish I could bring myself to tell you these words face-to-face, but I just know that if I tried, I would only end up saying something completely different, or maybe even changing my mind.
I realise that none of this will make it any better, that it will make my sneaking off alright, but I wish you to understand the reasons behind my actions. I can no longer bear to be by your side without taking you and making you mine, body and soul, but I dare not try for I know what would surely be the result. Maybe one day I'll be able to stand by your side once more, able to accept that we will never be joined in the fashion that I wish for, but I fear it will not be any time soon.
Consider the repairs to the bike as a small step towards reparations for all the hurt I have caused you. I know it's not nearly enough, but it's all I can do for you now.
I love you Natsuki, and I fear I always shall,
You... you bitch! I lash out with my foot, striking the body of the bike as hard as I can, making it rock, but not enough to tip it over. As usual, you manage to do exactly the most infuriating thing you could have. Yet another display of cowardice from you. I'm tempted to just consign the bike to the garage, but I know how badly I've missed being able to go out on rides when I've needed to blow off steam, which seems to be more often than not lately. My riding suit and helmet are back at the dorm, but I figure I can get away with it just this once. As I bomb down the empty roads, my hair streaming out behind me, I can't help but feel exhilarated. The wind whips at exposed skin, chilling me but I don't care, I feel free, unencumbered by all the crap that's been going on. Leaning into the corners, I let the bike take me where it will, no destination in mind.
Naturally, I end up on that damned cliff edge. It's like this place is a lodestone, always pulling me towards it. Everything always seems to get messed up here and yet I keep on coming back. It's like a destiny I can't escape, my fate already bought and wrapped up in a messy little bundle, but no amount of tugging will unravel it all. Leaving my bike leaning up against the crash barrier, I step over and walk out onto the ledge, staring out over the horizon. I can't help but feel insignificant, like I don't really matter to anything or anyone. Everyone that did care is either dead, or they ran away like you did, and so I'm all alone again. I mean, I shouldn't feel that way, right? There's Mai and Mikoto and even Nao who seem to give a crap about me, so why do I feel so empty? Because you're not here. You were my precious person and you just left me behind.
I head back towards the dorm, but as I stop at a red light, I cast a glance at my watch. Changing my mind, I take a right turn instead of carrying on straight, and a few minutes later I'm at my destination. I sit up on my bike, across the road from the small store she's working in. I guess she lied about her age, since I'm pretty sure she's too young to be working, but I'm not about to say anything. Checking my watch again, it's a few minutes before she gets off shift, so I light up a cigarette as I wait. It's amazing how therapeutic these things are, considering it's basically suicide in a stick. But then, I guess taking risks is my stock in trade, it's what I've always done, so let lung cancer be my next chance.
I flick the butt towards a gutter as I see her emerge. Gunning the engine, I check both ways before doing a u-turn to get to the other side of the road. She looks surprised to see me, and then a grimace of distrust crosses her face, but I guess that's to be expected. It's not like I've treated her particularly well lately.
"I, uh... fancy a lift Nao?" I say after a few moments of hesitation. I figure it's up to me to offer out the olive branch, I mean, I'm the one who's been all grouchy and snarling at her, she's just been reacting to it.
She pauses, uncertain I think, certainly unsure of just why I should have been waiting for her, especially after our little spat last night. Finally, she shrugs her shoulders. "Sure, why not."
"The hospital right?" I ask as she eases herself onto the bike behind me.
"Yes," she says, her mouth inches away from my ear. I almost flinch as slender arms wrap themselves around my waist, but I try to contain it. Memories of you doing the same thing echo through my brain, and I curse silently. I tuck my hair into my top and kick the engine into gear.
We ride in silence, winding our way through the streets of Fuuka, until we pull up in the hospital car park. As she dismounts, I let out a deep breath, before turning to face her. "Would you mind if I came in with you?"
Distrust covers her face, and I'm kind of hurt by that, but I can't blame her. "I mean, if you don't want me to, that's fine, but, y'know..." I finish lamely.
"Why would you want to do that?"
"No one should have to go through this alone."
She stares at me, as if sizing up my intentions before she shrugs again and turns away. I figure that means its okay, so I get off the bike, set the kickstand and then follow her in.
As I walk along behind her, I remember the various visits I've made to this place over the years, all of them bitter. We get off the elevator at the second floor, and I'm only half surprised by the room that Nao enters. Yet another of fate's cruel jokes, I presume, that her mother would be in the same room that my mother died in. A vicious circle that just won't let go of me.
I watch as Nao places a tender kiss on the forehead of the woman in the bed before sitting down. This is a side of her I've never really seen apart from that one time on the rooftops where you slew her child.
"Hi mama, I'm back again. I brought a..." she pauses, turning to look at me with a frown on her face, before turning back. "A friend. I brought a friend this time. Most of the time she's an annoying bitch... sorry mama, I shouldn't say things like that around you, should I? Anyway, she's usually annoying, but I guess she's alright... she's a friend."
I look down at the woman stretched out on the bed. There's an IV live in her right arm leading to a drip, and a line running from her chest to some machine, but otherwise, that's it. She's relatively free of all the pipes and tubes that often come with hospital patients. Her hair is an unsurprising dark black, short curls framing her face. It doesn't look particularly clean, but I guess only so much can be done here. Her face looks peaceful, the lines on her face shallow and softened as she slumbers, unmarked by stress.
I pull up a chair and sit down besides Nao. There isn't really anything for me to say or do, so I sit there in silence, listening to Nao talk about whatever comes to mind. I watch her face as she speaks, and she looks beautiful in a way, like all of her darkness is just lifted away by being here. It makes me jealous I realise, this wrenching in my gut. Even if she's in a coma, Nao still has her mother, while what do I have? A toy dog and a bank account full of money from the proceeds of my sale. That's all that remains of the woman who birthed me.
It's only when I see the tear roll down her cheek that I realise Nao has stopped talking. I'm caught unsure of what to do as she starts to break down, sobs wracking her shoulders. I push away from my chair and pull her to me; at first she starts fighting back, hitting at my chest. "Don't laugh at me! Don't laugh at me!" she screams as I hold her tight. I neither would nor could though, not about this. I wish I could shed tears over my mother, but I no longer can, so I'll shed them for Nao's instead. Finally she stops beating at me and instead wraps her arms around me, nearly crushing my ribs as she squeezes hard, bawling tears from her eyes as I rest my head upon hers.
I'm not sure how long we sat there like that, arms entwined around each other as we cried, but Nao eventually pushes away from me, rubbing at her eyes. She looks up at me suspiciously, looking for even a glimpse of a grin which she could take offence at, but my eyes are just as puffy as hers and she relents. "You cried," she whispers, staring down at her legs.
"First time since my mother died, though I've come close a few times. Never let myself go I guess, too afraid to. Thought once I started I'd never stop, and there's always more and more to cry about."
"But you can't keep it all inside, or it tries to eat you up inside. You have to get rid of it somehow."
"And neither of us exactly picked healthy ways of dealing with it, did we? We both sought revenge on those we blamed for what happened, shutting everything and everyone else out. But that doesn't work, does it?"
"You were right, weren't you? When you saved my life, you said that we were similar. We're both pretty messed up, aren't we?"
"No kidding," I reply with a smile. Pulling my chair back to her side, I sit back down. Reaching out, I wrap my arm around her shoulders and pull her towards me, her head coming to rest on my shoulder, my head atop hers.
"You're not alone Nao, not anymore. Us idiots need to stick together."