Natsuki is still finding it hard to handle Nao's erratic moodswings, but it seems that they may all be coming to an end.
I'm exhausted by the time we finally leave the bookstore. I never knew bloodstains were so hard to remove from carpet, but still, I don't mind since it merely serves as proof that I was here in time. It scares me to think of what they might have done to her if I hadn't been early coming to pick her up, of how close I came to losing her. When was it I started thinking of her as someone important to me?
I shake my head, it doesn't really matter. Why or when or even how is irrelevant, what's important is the fact that she is. I couldn't give a toss about the rest of it.
She's doing it again. It seems like every time she gets on my bike and we ride back to the dorms, she gets in a mood. She's stalking off ahead of me again, and it irritates me, but I say nothing, only following after her. By the time I reach our apartment, she's already in the bathroom; I can hear the water running so I leave her alone. Hopefully she'll work out whatever it is whilst she's in there, so I don't have to put up with much more of her snotty attitude. Knowing me, if I try to do something about it, it'll all blow right up in my face. I don't do sensitive very well.
After changing out of my leathers, I flick through another of Mai's horrible magazines as I pass the time, curled up on the sofa. Suddenly I feel tired, but I don't seem to have the energy nor the will to get into bed, so I just let myself drift off here. I don't know how long it was I slept, but I wake up with Nao standing over me, just staring down at my face. Seeing me wake up, she just turns and walks away, presumably to get changed since she's wearing just a bathrobe. I pull myself round to sit up, and my feet quickly get damp. Looking down, I see a large wet patch where she had been standing. How long was she stood there? I walk into the kitchen, grabbing a cloth before returning to try and dry the carpet. She comes back whilst I'm midway through, but just walks straight past me into the kitchen. I can hear the fridge opening and the clinking of bottles; quickly she returns and just watches me whilst leaning against a wall, drinking a beer.
"You could have gotten me one whilst you were in there," I comment as I get back to the drying.
"Yeah, I could have," is all she replies with, just watching me with a sneer on her face.
I straighten up, sending a glare at her before I traipse into the kitchen and liberate myself a beer. I stay out there for a few minutes just trying to calm myself down. I don't know what I can say to her that won't result in one or the other of us going ballistic. Then again, that might be just what we need, to get whatever the hell it is that's between us out into the open. I guess I've always been a shoot first, questions later kind of girl.
I march into the main room. "Why do you keep doing this Nao?" I practically bark out.
"Doing what?" she snarls right back. Good start. I calm myself down and soften my tone.
"Act so cold around me whenever you have one of those moments where your shell cracks. Every time you open yourself to me, you slam the door right back in my face moments later." She doesn't reply, and I suddenly understand how everyone else, you included, feels when they're trying to get me to talk. I almost laugh. "Are you that ashamed to have me as a friend Nao?" I ask softly, my hand reaching out and cupping her cheek. I can feel her shaking against it, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, eyes staring downwards as if she fears looking into mine.
"Don't touch me!" she cries finally, slapping my hand away and turning her back to me.
"You are my friend Nao, as I am yours. I will hurt you, I will cause you pain at times, as you will to me, but I will never do it maliciously." My arms wrap themselves around her waist as I pull her trembling body against mine. She goes stiff, unmoving within my grip. "You can let me in Nao. I want to help you."
Her body slackens. "Let go of me Kuga-san," she says, her voice shaky. She never calls me that, never uses honorifics. Certainly not for me. My arms drop loose, falling to my sides as I take half a step back. "Let go of me Kuga-san."
My brow furrows in confusion. "I already did Nao."
"No you haven't, you're still holding onto me. Why can't you let me go? Why do you have to make me feel so much?"
"Nao," I whisper as I place a hand upon her shoulder.
She spins around, smashing me in the face as she lashes out with the back of her hand. I stagger backwards, completely caught off guard. "I hate you!" she screams as I stumble over a chair and fall onto the floor. Suddenly she's sat astride me, seizing my head in her hands.
"I hate you!"
She smashes my head into the floor, pain wracking my skull.
"I hate you!"
My hands fumble at her as she smashes my head into the floor again.
"I hate you!"
I can't seem to think too clearly, the pain making everything seem kind of fuzzy. I just, I just need to...
"I hate you!"
She's going to kill me. I need to stop her, but I don't seem to have any strength in my arms. Again my head is driven into the floor.
"I hate you!"
I can see her tears and I reach out, brushing them away from her face.
"Why?" she asks, though I can barely hear her now. I struggle to concentrate on her voice. "Why do you have to make me feel so much? Why do you have to make me feel for you?"
Her eyes are wide, begging me to answer. "We're friends," I manage to say, my mouth feeling clumsy.
"No we aren't. I'm not your friend, I can't be." Her head sinks down to fall against my chest. "Hah, it's funny. I know just how she must have felt. Why did you have to do this to us?" She moves her body, lying atop me, her face inches above mine. "Why did you have to make us fall in love with you Natsuki?"
I know I must be suffering from concussion when I feel her lips press against mine. This can't really be happening.
I open my eyes and wish I really hadn't. The light, artificial as it is, is still far too bright as it burns at my eyes. I swallow and suddenly my head explodes in pain. I struggle to sit up, though my body protests strongly against such action. A hand comes to my chest, gently pushing me back down. I follow the arm to see Mai sitting down next to me.
"You gave me quite a scare Natsuki. Nao nearly broke our door down in a panic."
This time I do sit up. "Nao? Where is she?"
"Back in my room. I left her with Mikoto and the others. Now, what on earth happened?"
I hesitate, before making my decision. "Others?" I ask in an effort to derail her. She seems to take the hint.
"Yeah, it's been pretty... lively today. Both Reito-san and Tate showed up. Mikoto ratted me out as I hid, so I got stuck in between the two of them. Not a whole lot of fun, I can tell you."
"I think I'm coming to understand that." I struggle to my feet, swaying a bit as I fight for balance. I still feel a bit fuzzy, but I ignore it. I need to see her. As we head to her place, Mai talks about her problems but I'm not really listening. I just need to see her. To talk to her.
As we enter, I see Nao sat at the table. She doesn't notice me, but I don't think she's really noticing anything as she stares down at the floor. Everyone else in the room is looking at me, uncertain of what's going to happen next. I move besides her, resting a hand on her shoulder. She looks up at me, fear in her eyes and she flinches as she sees it's me.
"Come on Nao, it's time to go home."
Slowly she rises to her feet and I take her hand in mine, leading her away in silence. Her fingers are gripping mine tightly as she follows mutely behind. Back in our apartment, she still seems distant, numb. Not Nao. Her childlike grip on my hand is released as she sits down on the sofa, as far away from me as she can. I move to stand in front of her, but she turns her head away, gazing down at the hands folded in her lap.
"Nao, look at me."
Her head rises jerkily, and our eyes meet. She seems almost dead.
I slap her. Hard. Fire fills her eyes as she shoots up to her feet.
"That's for kissing me. Again." The fire is nearly quelled, but some still resides. "And this is for trying to kill me."
As I raise my hand, she flinches, but instead I wrap my arms around her. "You stupid, stupid girl," I whisper softly. Her forehead comes to rest on my shoulder as her arms slip around my waist.
"Why do you keep being so nice to me?" she mumbles.
"Because I'm your friend. Because it's my job to be there for you. Because I want to be there for you. In case you haven't worked it out by now, I kind of like you. I care about you."
She pushes away from me, a weary look upon her face, like she's had about all she can take of this. Of me. "You know, I used to think of you as my hero. The person I wanted to be like. When I transferred to this school, there you were. You'd lost both your mother and father, but you were still standing tall, never backing down. You were beautiful. You were proud. You were strong, while I was weak. I couldn't take all the hurt, so I dished it out instead, taking my revenge. But it wasn't really vengeance, I was just trying to run away from the guilt, so I wouldn't have to face the fact that it was all my fault. I used and manipulated people as I did the truth, all as a means to escape. But it doesn't stop, the guilt doesn't go away. I took on more and more for every sin I committed. Yet you keep being so nice to me, and that's just another form of cruelness Natsuki."
As she says my given name, I remember what else it was that she'd said to me. And I understand what she means by my kindness being cruel. Just like you, she doesn't want or need kindness. She craves forgiveness, even though she can't forgive herself. But it's not my place to forgive Nao, is it? I'm in search of my own salvation. I drove you away by not being able to love you the way you wanted, but not rejecting your love either. I left you hanging with my kindness, hurting you more and more as each day went by.
"I forgive you for what you've done to me Nao, I mean that. It's not much, but it's all I can offer you. But that's not all we have to talk about, is it? There's what you said to me before."
"That I love you."
"Do you? Do you really love me, or are you just confusing friendship for something more?" I can see the fire rekindle in her eyes, and it tells me the last thing I want to hear. "I'm sorry," I breathe. "I don't think I know what love is. Nobody showed me what it was, not really. My father, I can't even remember his face. My mother, I want to believe in her, I really do, but there's doubt in my heart. What good would have come from her selling me to the Searrs Foundation? And then she died, leaving me alone. Shizuru, she only told me that she loved me after I found out what she'd been doing. How she'd taken advantage of my trust, how she'd taken advantage of my sleeping body to steal kisses and comfort from me. Shizuru, who killed hundreds of people in my name. And now you, who only told me that you love me after you'd beaten me senseless, you who have tried to torture, maim and kill me multiple times. This is all the love I've known in my life.
"What I did to Shizuru was terrible. I didn't reject her, but I never accepted her either, and I lost her because of that. You're my friend Nao, and I care about you. But I don't know what love is. I don't know how to love you the way you want me to, and yet, I don't want to lose you too. A part of me is tempted to just try and love you, but what if it doesn't work out? Stringing you on like that would only hurt you even more than just rejecting you right now. I just... fuck! Every way I look at this, I can't come out of it as the good guy. I'm going to hurt you one way or another and I'd like to cause as little as possible."
"Wait, so let me get this straight. You're not saying you'll never love, just that you don't understand it? You don't know how to?" She rises to her feet, staring me down.
"Um, well... yes."
"So, you're scared to try it in case you fall flat on your face?" She takes a step towards me, and I can feel my heartbeat rise.
"That's kind of... well, true I guess."
She takes another step, now stood right in front of me. "But you have not once said that you aren't attracted to me in the slightest now, have you Natsuki?"
I blush. I don't know if it's the insinuation or her using my given name, but my face feels inflamed. "I... well, uh... um..."
"Hush," she whispers as she presses a finger to my lips, her face drawing closer to mine. I want to draw away from her but I can't seem to will my body to move. Gently she traces the finger around my lips. Her hand drifts around my face to the back of my neck, pulling me in towards her, her mouth only an inch or so away from mine. I can smell her breath; it's sweet and... oh god, what is she doing to me? "Know this Natsuki," she drawls, "nobody really knows what love is, but we all can learn. And I'll tell you one more thing. I will make you mine."
I blink as she steps backwards. "Oh well, good night. I'll see you in the morning!" And with that she walks into the bedroom.
I slump down to the floor, my wits lost. Just what the hell was that?