|The Time She Lost
Author: Ixthedamned PM
My only proper fic at time of writing Haruka awakes to find a worried Akane and a confused Mitsuki What has happened while she was asleep, and will her relationship with Mitsuki ever be the same again? Shoujo ai. HarukaMitsuki, MitsukiAkane, HarukaMayuRated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Words: 10,805 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 1 - Updated: 10-29-06 - Published: 08-30-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3131016
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Then something, almost inaudible, as if a distant voice was calling her back. She strained to hear it, but that seemed to make it fade further, her tired mind vainly reaching out to it. Moments before she lapsed back into unconsciousness, she heard it again.
Slowly she opened her eyes, the light flooding in instantly and blinding her. She winced, slowly allowing her eyes to get used to the glare.
Gradually, fuzzy shapes swayed into focus. Bare white, sterile walls stared back at her, the sun-bleached bareness punctuated only by the vase of yellow carnations perched rather precariously on the windowsill,
swaying gently in the breeze from the open window. Haruka closed her eyes and smiled. Akane must have been in earlier to change the flowers. She'd always hated carnations, but it seemed that her stubborn younger sister had forsaken her own tastes for once.
Haruka relaxed back into her pillow and allowed a wan smile to creep back across her face. She was still in the hospital. Letting her mind drift for a moment, an image formed from out of the fog. She was sitting in this bed and...and Takayuki had come to visit her...there were bunches of flowers...Akane had been there too. In her mind's eye she wandered across the scene, astonished at the turnout, all these people suddenly paying attention to her, congratulating her...and in the corner, someone had hidden themselves behind a large bunch of tulips. She remembered every detail; the slight blush that rose to her face when their gazes met; how she almost ducked back behind her flowers; the way her hair glowed orange in the fading light when she flicked it out of her face to greet her; the divine sing-song of her voice. A voice she had waited three years to hear again.
"Three years!" Akane's voice rang out urgently in her mind with such a ferocity her eyes jerked open, "Onee-chan, you've been asleep for three years!" A hot tear made its way down Haruka's drawn cheeks and hung, hesitating for a second before being wiped away by a shaking hand. Had it really been three years? The tears flowed more freely now, some escaping the furious swipe from the sleeve of her hospital gown, causing tiny grey damp patches on the white starched linen.
Wiping the last of the tears away, she took in the room again. The yellow carnations winked back at her, rustling slightly in the breeze. The draught from the window playing gently over her flushed skin, Haruka relaxed a little, and idly wondered how everyone was doing. She wondered if Takayuki had found another girl in three years...and if Akane had found anyone who could put up with her stubbornness long enough to actually get to know her. As her mind drifted, her right hand wandered over the sheets, which, oddly, felt a bit like hair.
Haruka spun round in surprise, only to be greeted by the sight of a huge tangled mass of blue hair. Somehow, it seemed in some way to be connected to a sprawled out pinstripe business suit balanced perilously between the bed and a hospital issue fold-out chair. She poked it. It groaned a little and shuffled away. She poked it again. "Mitsuki-chan!"
The blue-haired object jerked awake so suddenly that the perfect balance between chair and bed was catastrophically destroyed, sending both chair and business suit tumbling spectacularly to the floor in a heap.
"It...te!" exclaimed Mitsuki, who was vainly trying to clear the tangled mass out of her eyes. "Geez, you should know better than to scare people like that when they're sleeping, Haruka-chan..." Mitsuki paused as she looked up at her friend, who looked like she was about to pass out from fits of laughter. "Haruka! You're awake!" Mitsuki sprung up from the floor with alarming agility to pounce on Haruka's sniggering figure with a bone-crushing hug.
"Mitsuki, I...can't...breathe," gasped Haruka, still laughing. The taller girl's grip slightly lessened as Mitsuki buried her head in her red hair and sobbed.
"Mitsuki-chan," Haruka whispered.
"W...we...thought you'd...never wake up...a..again," Mitsuki managed, between sobs. She broke away from Haruka long enough to dab off her tears onto a small handkerchief. Haruka felt her friend's muscles relax as she leant back into her gentle embrace. "Don't do that to me again, Haruka-chan," she breathed into her ear. Haruka could only nod as her Mitsuki pulled away until their noses were barely inches apart. She could feel her heart beat a little faster as her friend's heated breath played across her cheek.
"Wh...what are you doing, Mitsuki-chan?" Mitsuki hushed her with a finger, her features gentle but serious.
"I think," she whispered, "I need to tell you something. About how I feel. About you." Mitsuki's expression was strained, as if fighting against overflowing emotions. "Haruka...I..."
Suddenly, the sound of the sliding door opening shattered the moment. Mitsuki jumped off the bed like a startled cat as Akane's voice rang through the opened door.
"Ta..da! It's Akane-chan again!" Akane bounded through the doorway with her usual, seemingly limitless energy and gave a theatrical bow. Mitsuki applauded gently. "Thank you...thank you," Akane's head rose from the bow and for the first time, she paused. "Onee...chan?" she whispered, eyes widening in surprise. Haruka gave a timid wave.
"Ohayo, Akane chan." For the first time, Haruka was startled at how weak her voice seemed. This feeling was soon replaced by another desperate need to breathe as Akane squeezed the life out of the startled girl.
"Ohayo...Onee-chan," came her muffled voice from a sea of red hair, "I'm so glad you're all right." Akane gave her sister a last squeeze and unwound their tangled limbs, swiping at a stray tear with the back of her free hand.
"Akane," Mitsuki's voice broke the sudden silence, "I'll...go and fetch the doctor, she'll probably want to know that Haruka's awake again."
"Hai, Mitsuki," Akane gave a brief nod as Mitsuki made a move for the door. Haruka couldn't help noticing as the two girls' fingers touched for the briefest of moments as they passed. And maybe it was just her imagination, but she could swear that Akane had always referred to Mitsuki as 'Mitsuki-sempai'.
'Just my imagination,' she thought, as the door slid closed with a click. Turning back to her sister, who was righting the crumpled chair, she subjected her to a full inspection. Akane was wearing a slightly crumpled Hakuryou Academy uniform. Her bow was slightly lopsided, as if she had dressed in a hurry. That was all normal, Akane always rushed out after practise. The really suspicious thing, Haruka noticed, as her sister arranged herself in the newly righted chair, was that her hair, freed from her usual yellow headband hung down roughly, slightly covering her face. Haruka blinked a little in surprise. Her sister had always worn that headband, even to sleep sometimes; something was very strange indeed. Akane caught her sister's scathing gaze for a second and her face reddened, her usual genki manner silenced for a second.
"Akane-chan," her voice came out sterner than she had expected. Her sister jerked up her gaze from her lap. "What's going on?" Haruka opted for the blunt approach.
"O..onee-chan, that can wait till after the doctor comes to check whether you're all right!" Akane laughed uncertainly and sweatdropped, forcing a grin.
"Suzumiya Akane!" Akane almost snapped to attention at this tone, but she took one look at Haruka's stern face and sagged back into her chair, defeated.
"It's been really hard, you know, since the accident," she began. "A lot has happened..."
The door clicked open, as a silhouetted figure slipped through and slumped down against the other side of the door. Akane sighed. Everything was falling down around her ears, it seemed. Six months had passed since her sister's accident. The outer wounds had healed, but she just wouldn't wake up. Sensei had refused to give a decision on that front, instead stating that there had been cases where the patient had stayed asleep for days, months or even years. That didn't help. Akane had tried to rise above it, to not let it affect her; but in truth...
Akane sat; head slumped on her chest, resting against the door. Her mind floated back to earlier today. Her coach had been shouting at her, She wasn't trying hard enough anymore, she had said, not applying herself like she used to. She had listened to all the usual 'focus yourself, don't let yourself be distracted' pep talk. Threats of dropping her from the team washed over her like a gentle rain. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy swimming, it just seemed that nothing really mattered that much any more. All the colours in Akane's world had faded into various shades of dull grey. It wasn't just swimming; her grades were slipping too. Akane brushed away a stray strand of hair and idly wondered what would happen if she dropped out from school. She was so deep in her own world that she almost didn't hear her mother calling her from downstairs
"Akane-chan! Hayase-san is here to talk to you!" her mother's voice rang out through the door.
"Hai..." Akane pulled herself off the floor and brushed herself off.
She brightened a bit; it had been a while since she had seen Mitsuki-
Except on a couple of occasions at the hospital, she had hardly seen her around. She had heard that Mitsuki had got snapped up by the FourX swim team as soon as she had graduated from Hakuryou, but what she did for the rest of her time; well she hadn't got around to asking. Her thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock at the door.
"Akane-chan? Are you there?" Akane relaxed as she heard her sempai's voice and turned the handle.
"Konban wa, Mitsuki sempai!" Akane put on her best smile. She studied the figure standing in the doorway briefly. Mitsuki's hair still stretched down to just touch her waist. She was wearing a faded old pair of blue jeans and a plain white cotton shirt knotted above the navel. Akane's eyes rested there for the briefest of moments before making eye contact. "Please come in," she heard herself say.
"So what brings you by, Mitsuki sempai? I don't usually see you around much anymore," Akane mumbled, the words tumbling out nervously as Mitsuki knelt down by her table.
Mitsuki smiled warmly and motioned to the position opposite. As Akane made herself comfortable, Mitsuki produced a cloth bag, which she opened to reveal a selection of slightly dented cookies. "Gomen, Akane chan, they got a little crushed on the way here."
"Oh no, Mitsuki sempai, if you made them, I'm sure they're delicious." As if to demonstrate, she picked one of the morsels and popped it into her mouth. "Oishii," Akane mumbled, through a mouthful of crumbs. Mitsuki laughed a little and Akane blushed, her troubles forgotten for a second. For a good few minutes, the pair sat in comfortable silence, chewing their way through the rest of the biscuits. As her hand snaked out to snatch the final cookie, Akane felt Mitsuki's hand gently clasp hers.
"Can't I have it?" Akane gave Mitsuki the soulful eyes she usually reserved for persuading her parents to let her stay out late.
"Akane-chan," Akane looked up, sensing the sudden change in tone of her
sempai's voice. "I heard from Takayuki the other day that you're really
letting your grades slip. He talked to your friends after school and
they said that you'd been skipping classes. This isn't like you Akane-
chan. What's going on? We're all worried about you..."
Akane gazed into Mitsuki's blue eyes and saw compassion and worry. The hand reassuringly placed over her own clasped her gently. A tear rolled down her cheek, closely followed by a second and a third. Suddenly, Mitsuki was there hugging her close, whispering to her that it would be alright. Burying her face into the soft fabric of Mitsuki's clothes, she let the tears flow.
After that night, Mitsuki came round more frequently to the Suzumiya household, sometimes bringing treats, but more often than not, just a shoulder to cry on as Akane poured out her worries and Mitsuki stroked her hair, whispering soothing words. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, Akane began to improve. Skipping classes became a thing of the past and her grades were back on the rise. Her swimming, however, was another matter. Somehow, she managed to do enough to keep her coach from dropping her from the team, but her Olympic dream seemed further away than ever.
The sun shone brightly down on the high street. The clouds lazily strolled across the sky as if the wind had taken a day off. Mitsuki shaded her eyes from the glare and spotted Akane waving madly from the shade of an umbrella outside a cafe. Sitting down, Akane pushed a glass of iced tea over to her with a smile.
"Sorry, I couldn't wait. This sun really makes you thirsty, huh?" Mitsuki just smiled at her. She had just got back from an emotional reunion with her old coach at Hakuryo and there was something she needed to discuss with Akane.
"Akane-chan, when were you going to tell me that coach has been on the verge of dropping you from the team for months?" Mitsuki's face was serious. Akane looked down into her glass and uncomfortably fiddled with her straw.
"I was going to tell you, sempai," Akane's fingers clasped the glass tensely, "but I thought that you would think worse of me unless I did it by myself." Akane looked up at her sempai, whose expression had softened, "Because I really respect you, sempai."
Akane felt a pang at her own words. Respect? How many nights had she cried herself to sleep on Mitsuki's shoulder, so that the older girl had to carry her to bed? She secretly always looked forward to this, hearing the slight grunt of effort as she was clasped in Mitsuki's gentle arms. Her heart beating a little faster as Mitsuki gave a good night kiss to the cheek of what she thought was a fast asleep Akane. She shook her head slightly to throw those thoughts to the back of her mind.
"Akane?" Mitsuki was saying, "Are you alright? You were spacing out there for a second."
Akane could only nod mildly. "I'm alright, sempai. What were you saying?"
"I was saying that I could help you train for those upcoming trials. Winning those is just what you need to convince your coach not to ever think about dropping you!" Mitsuki paused, "That is, if you want to..."
Akane was taken aback, "Of course, I would be honoured to train with you; but I don't want you to go out of your way...I mean, you're probably really busy, with FourX and training and all that." she trailed off.
"Don't be silly, Akane chan!" Mitsuki grinned, "How about Tuesday after school at the swimming pool? I've made sure there aren't any class activities then and Coach was only too honoured to let me use the pool. As a sports idol, of course!" Akane laughed and agreed.
Over two more iced teas and a round of cheesecake, the two girls got down to some of the less serious topics.
"You're kidding!" Akane giggled "Takayuki's gay?"
The other girl nodded and took a bite of the cheesecake, "Yep, he's been 'seeing' Shinji kun ever since the two of them both made it into Hakuryou University."
"I always thought there was something extra between those guys! No wonder Haruka said it never felt right when she kissed him!" Mitsuki's smile faltered slightly at the mention of Haruka's name, but Akane didn't notice. "So is there someone you like, sempai?"
Mitsuki felt the blood rush to her face, "I guess there is someone..." she answered hesitantly, "but I can't tell them, or other people important to me will get hurt."
"Sempai!" Akane scolded, "If you like this person, then you should tell them. I'm sure the other people will understand. I mean, if you love someone, then you can't do anything about it. That's just love, you know."
Mitsuki smiled wanly, "Maybe I will..."
There was just something about watching Mitsuki swim that was mesmerising. Maybe it was the elegance; her lithe body cutting through the water, arms rising in perfect rhythm. But to Akane, all this paled into insignificance with the emergence of this mermaid from the water afterwards. She watched as Mitsuki shook her hair free and briefly wondered how she managed to keep her huge mass of hair inside her tiny swimming cap. Over the last few weeks of private training, she had got to watch Mitsuki swim many times, but this part, she decided, was definitely the best.
Since Akane was not one to avoid making important decisions when they had to be made, she had long decided that the feelings that she shared with her sempai were no longer those feelings of utmost respect felt between a kohai and sempai; but had blossomed into what she could only describe as love. Things changed, even indiscernibly to the naked eye. Hugs became longer and more intimate, goodbye kisses left her flushed and flustered.
Akane openly gazed at Mitsuki's swimsuit-clad body. She had long given up on pretending that she didn't ogle her and now took every opportunity to make her sempai blush. 'She really is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen' Akane thought, admiringly. Muscles rippled faintly underneath Mitsuki's Hakuryou school issue swimsuit and water dripped lazily from the slight outline of her breasts. Mitsuki blushed as Akane slowly drank in the sight.
"Let's go, Mitsuki-sempai," Akane slipped her arm through Mitsuki's, turning in the direction of the changing room. Mitsuki stiffened slightly at Akane's touch.
"Mitsuki-sempai? What's wrong?" Akane stared at the other girl, concerned.
"Oh nothing!" Mitsuki brushed it off, a little too cheerfully, "I might have pulled something a bit on that last lap. Don't worry, I'll be okay." Mitsuki skilfully disengaged her arm from Akane and skipped off towards the changing room, leaving a confused Akane far behind.
"Oh sempai?" They were in the changing rooms now, Mitsuki in the shower as Akane pulled on her school uniform
"Mm?" came the reply from over the hiss of the shower.
"My coach says she's putting me in for the trials for FourX next year. She says I've really improved and that you've had a great influence on me..." Akane was cut short as a pair of wet arms waylaid her from behind.
"That's fantastic Akane-chan!" Mitsuki bear-hugged the surprised girl; "See I told you that you could do anything if you really worked at it hard!" She loosened her grip and Akane gaped, blood rushing to her face so fast she almost fainted.
"M..m...Mitsuki-s...s..sempai," she managed. Mitsuki's eyes went wide and she quickly turned away from the gawping Akane.
"Akane-chan ecchi!" she tutted. "If you stare too hard you might get a nosebleed!"
Akane recovered enough to tear her eyes away from Mitsuki's exposed form. "Gomen nasai sempai," she apologised, struggling to think straight. "But I would be honoured if you would come over to my house for tea to celebrate tonight. I told my parents earlier today and my mother insisted on baking a cake." She risked a peek over her shoulder to see that Mitsuki had already dried off and was more or less decent. She sighed, half in relief, half in disappointment and tried to calm her racing hormones. "We're not going to be able to eat it all, so it'll be a waste if you don't come..."
Mitsuki smirked at the still-blushing girl. "I'll come, just as long as you keep your eyes to yourself!"
Mitsuki stared around the impeccable neatness that was Akane's room. It seemed paradoxical that an impulsive and normally scruffy girl like Akane had such a feminine and tidy room. Shoujo manga neatly lined a bookshelf on one wall and a couple of Haruka's picture books lay opened on the desk. Mitsuki padded across the room to the bookcase and ran her finger over the spines of the books, searching for one she recognised. Suddenly, something caught her eye. A small passport sized picture frame rested on top of the bookcase, almost hidden behind two oversized teddy bears.
Mitsuki squinted to bring it into better focus. It was a picture she recognised. Akane smiling her trademark grin, with her arm round the neck of a rather surprised blue haired girl. She smiled; she remembered Akane insisting on taking one with her when they had all gone to that fairground last year. She wondered for a while why Akane would keep such a thing in a frame. The obvious answer leapt up from her subconscious like an eager lemming, but she beat it back down again. It had to be a respect thing, she thought. There had been quite a few younger girls from the swim team who had confessed to her on various occasions and she'd always put it down to Onee-sama complex. They'd always been happy with a hug and a gentle refusal. Mitsuki steeled her resolve, 'She has to know that my heart belongs to someone else' she thought to herself. "I'm sorry Akane-chan..." she whispered.
"Sorry for what?" Akane stood behind her, cheerful as ever, tray of tea balanced on one hand and two magnificent slices of chocolate cake on the other. Meandering her way precariously to the low table, she arranged the crockery for the both of them.
"Oh, nothing, Akane-chan," Mitsuki gathered her wits, "I was just talking to myself. Wow that cake looks delicious!"
Akane looked at her suspiciously for a moment, but her smile quickly returned, "Help yourself, Mitsuki-sempai, there's plenty." As Mitsuki nibbled daintily at her slice of cake, Akane watched her intently. As Mitsuki caught her eye she hid behind her mug.
"I told you to keep your eyes to yourself, didn't I?" joked Mitsuki
"I'm sorry, sempai, but you're just so cute when you eat," suddenly, the temperature in the room seemed to rise a couple of degrees. Akane looked across the table, but Mitsuki seemed to be unaffected. 'Great,' she thought. 'They could probably use my face to direct traffic. Can't let it throw me off. I'm going to tell her today. I have to tell her today,' she mentally cheered herself on.
Mitsuki studied the redness slowly rising to Akane's cheeks. She had seen this look on all of the girls before they confessed and she was well used to it. Somehow, though, this time seemed different. Maybe it was the slight flutter of her heartbeat or the strange feeling building in the pit of her stomach that caused her to lose all confidence in her once simple reply. Her mind yelled a message to her muscles to get out of there fast. "Oh, Akane-chan," she started, a little too loudly, "I completely forgot! I promised the other guys in the team that we'd all go out for a drink tonight." She stood up and quickly threw her rucksack over her shoulder, "Gomen ne, Akane-chan, maybe we can do this some other time?" Mitsuki made a break for the door.
She had one hand on the handle when Akane grabbed the other, "Come on Akane-chan, I'm going to be late," she managed, weakly, not turning round.
"Don't go," Akane's soft voice almost echoed in the silent room, the two girls frozen in place, both too afraid to move and break the spell.
"Please don't go." Mitsuki felt her resolve leaking away with every syllable. She spun around to face her. And then Akane kissed her.
It wasn't a long kiss, perhaps only a few seconds, but to Mitsuki, it could have lasted for hours. As Akane slowly brushed her lips across her own, Mitsuki could feel the last drops of her willpower seep away. She pulled away, and they gazed into each other's eyes, unspeaking for a moment. A wave of loneliness, pent up for years washed away the whispered protests from her subconscious; suddenly her cold bed at home seemed infinitely less welcoming.
Akane spoke first, "I...love you Mitsuki-sempai. I mean...I've always respected you, I mean, you are my sempai," she stumbled over her words. "I mean, you're so beautiful and kind...and funny; how could I not fall for you? I don't care that you love my sister. Please...just hold me tonight." Akane felt her face flush and she looked down at her feet.
Mitsuki was shocked for a second, "How...how do you know?" she stammered.
"You always talk about her so fondly, you come to the hospital four times a week, sometimes more, just to hold her hand. And it was pretty obvious when you two were out together that there was something else...all those lingering glances and sad eyes you used to give her," Akane twiddled her fingers nervously. "And I might have sneaked a peek at your diary," she stared at her feet again. As she looked back at Mitsuki, she saw the stern scolding melt away on her sempai's lips.
"So you know then," Mitsuki let out a long sigh, "at least that saves me the trouble of telling you" she slumped down on the bed. "So why then?" she asked, simply.
Akane sat beside her, "I care deeply about my sister and my only wish is that she is happy. If it takes you to give her that, then I would be happy to back down. But now," Akane took Mitsuki's hand in hers, "I need you to be with me. I love you Mitsuki-sempai. I mean, if you have no feelings for me, then I understand, but...I just had to say it," she finished lamely. She looked up from her lap. Mitsuki was smiling. She closed her eyes as the older girl closed the space between them and felt Mitsuki's soft lips envelop her own. And Akane kissed back with all her heart.
"Thank you, Mitsuki-chan," she whispered, as their lips eventually parted.
Mitsuki gently pushed Akane back onto the bed until their noses were almost touching. Tenderly, she stroked the other girls cheek.
"I love you, Akane-chan."
The light was fading to the dull glow of evening when Akane finally finished her story. The nurses Fumio and Amakawa had been in briefly to check up on Haruka, but she had quickly shooed them away. There had been no sign of Mitsuki at all.
"Well, since that night," Akane continued, "we've been getting closer. Going out to the movies, out for dinner, you know, like a proper couple. Last Sunday I took her to that ice rink on the edge of town." Haruka nodded, she knew that Mitsuki had always wanted to go there, but had always been too busy with swimming. And besides, Shinji had been terrified of ice-skating for some reason, so the idea had been quickly abandoned. "At first, whenever we went out, Mitsuki was always smiling, but I could see that twinge of sadness in her eyes." Akane brightened, "But in the last few months before you first woke up I think she was getting happier. The smiles seemed more genuine I think. She even started asking me out on dates." Her eyes glazed over, lost in the memory for a moment, "And the sex...well, not that it wasn't good before, but..." she paused, catching sight of a furiously blushing older sister.
"I...really didn't need to know that, Akane-chan," she grumbled, feeling her ears burn as wild steamy images ran unchecked across her imagination.
"Onee-chan, it's so easy to make you blush!" Akane giggled as she gave her sister a friendly hug.
Haruka slowly felt the redness subside, "So what happened then? Did something happen when I woke up?"
The joy quickly drained from her sister's features. "Well, since you woke up for the first time, Onee-chan, Mitsuki's become...well, more distant, I suppose. We don't see each other as much as we used to. She doesn't come round every night like she did before and...and," she felt a lump building in her throat as the painful memories resurfaced in her mind. "She didn't come to see me at the big swimming competition last week," she finished, tearfully.
Haruka embraced her sobbing sibling as strongly as her weakened muscles would allow and tried to comfort her as best she could.
"She really loves you, Onee-chan," Akane mumbled through hospital issue cotton nightie, "I think...maybe I was her replacement for you. I hope...I hope...she can make you happy," Akane burst into fresh floods of tears as Haruka hugged her tighter.
Eventually, as the flood slowed down to a trickle, Akane extracted herself from her sister's nightdress and wiped away the remnants with the sleeve of her school uniform. The two girls remained silent for a moment, the revelations proving a little too much to allow speech.
"How do you feel about her?" Akane whispered, breaking the silence.
Even though she was expecting this question, Haruka was still taken aback. How did she feel about Mitsuki? "I think you were right...I suppose I have always thought of her as more than a friend, but to love her in that way?" Suddenly, an image of Mitsuki crossed her mind, straddling her on the bed, as she had just a few hours previously, seconds away from confessing to her. She thought back to what she had been feeling at that moment. Surprise, shock perhaps, but love would have been the last thing she would have felt at that moment in time. "I'm not sure how I feel about her," she said, out loud. "I need more time to work out how I feel...this is all so sudden," she rubbed her temples, vainly trying to curb an already angry headache.
Akane looked at her sadly. "I think you'll have all the time in the world to make your mind up, Onee-chan." Haruka noticed her expression grow serious for a second, "But, if you're going to break her heart, please, do it now. Seeing her killing herself over this makes me so sad." Akane rose to her feet, "I have to go," she said, suddenly.
Tears streamed from her eyes as she turned to go, shining blood red in the evening light, "I hope you find your happiness, Onee-chan," she whispered under her breath.
Outside the sliding door to the room, Mitsuki listened to the murmur of voices drift through the air. She wasn't listening too hard, half out of respect for Akane's wishes, and half because she already knew what was going to be said. Leaning back against the sterile-white wall, she gave a deep sigh and commanded her heart to calm down for the hundredth time.
Abruptly, Akane burst through the door, tears streaming from her eyes. Unspeaking, she hugged Mitsuki tightly, her free hand gently tilting the blue-haired girl's head to meet her quivering lips. Mitsuki felt Akane's feelings pouring themselves out into her, weeks of sadness and hurt compressed into a few brief seconds. When they finally separated, Akane's eyes looked lifeless and dull, their usual genki spark eerily absent.
"I'll always love you, Mitsuki-sempai." The words hung in the air as Akane turned and ran, not looking back.
"A.." Mitsuki started, when she felt a tender hand on her shoulder.
"Sensei!" she squealed, "Don't surprise me like that!" Kouzuki Motoko
stood behind her, unfazed as always, chewing on the butt end of a long-
"I think the thing that girl needs right now is some time to work things out in her head," she said, patting Mitsuki softly on the shoulder. "You being around would only confuse her more. Right now there's someone else who needs you." Motoko slid open the door until it clacked back on its hinges. "She wants to talk to you."
Mitsuki nodded sadly and stepped through the doorway.
Mitsuki stepped through the doorway, the same doorway through which she had stepped almost every day for the last three years and stared. It was so different; Haruka's presence lifted the atmosphere making the room seem so vibrant...so alive. She felt her heart skip a beat as the night-dressed figure on the bed gave a little wave.
"I...talked with Akane-chan." Haruka's voice jarred Mitsuki from her thoughts. She nodded, not having recovered the power of speech. "It's true, isn't it?" Haruka asked, simply. Mitsuki nodded again, slowly walking up to the bed and taking the other girl into her arms.
Stroking Haruka's long hair, Mitsuki could feel the hotness at the back of her eyes and knew she was going to cry. Welling up with the tears, words rushed desperately to her vocal chords; words left unsaid for three years. One by one they tumbled out, confessions of love rolled off her tongue so easily she wondered why she couldn't have done it before. She found herself telling Haruka that she had always loved her; from the minute she had met her on their first day at Hakuryou; how her heart beat a little faster every time she held her hand; how she had denied her own love as a bad influence and pushed her towards Takayuki. The confessions came thick and fast until she was out of breath and exhausted, sobbing into Haruka's gentle embrace.
"I was really jealous of Takayuki for a while, you know," whispered
Mitsuki, after she had calmed down; "I tried to do little things, so
maybe you wouldn't like him as much as you did. Talking to him to make
him late for your dates, mentioning his bad habits to you, things like
that." She paused, "It was a little immature, now that I look back on
it." An ironic smile forced its way across her face, "I felt so guilty
after the accident. I thought that maybe if I hadn't been so immature,
he wouldn't have been late for your date, then you wouldn't have.
Haruka stroked her friend's shoulder as the floodgates opened again. "It wasn't your fault," she whispered soothingly, "You couldn't have realised, no one could have." Mitsuki looked up at her friend, her face brightening into a sad smile.
"I always loved that about you," she murmured. "You never blamed anyone, never held any grudges. Always so kind..."
Haruka blushed and for a moment the only sound was the rustling of the
leaves on the old oak outside. "So what happened between you and Akane-
chan, then?" she asked, finally.
Mitsuki sighed and reeled her mind back to that time, "When you had your accident, I fell into a depression; the only thing keeping me going was my swimming, so I threw myself desperately into that. As soon as I left Hakuryou academy, the FourX swim team snapped me up, and I took up swimming mostly full time. Doing something I loved did help to keep my mind off you." She paused, taking a sip from the water glass on the table by Haruka's bed. "That's when I learned about Akane's school problems; one of my team still had friends at Hakuryou Academy. It was that night I went round to comfort her and...well, I think Akane told you the rest."
She paused, thinking for a moment, "I think maybe, deep down, I said 'yes' to Akane-chan because she reminded me of you...shy, a little unsure of herself and emotional, but covered in her brash stubborn exterior." Mitsuki smiled, "We always agreed that things would change if you woke up. When I saw you awake for the first time in three years, my heart almost jumped for joy. All those old feelings came flooding back...I couldn't even look you in the eye the first time we came to visit." Haruka smiled as she remembered the oversized bunch of tulips.
"I don't know how you feel about me. I don't know if you'll ever love me in that way, but I love you. I always have. All I'm asking for is for you to give us a chance. Please..." Mitsuki gripped Haruka's hand tightly, her eyes begging for that chance to make her happy.
Haruka took one look into those blue soulful eyes and any resistance or scruples in the depths of her mind dissolved away into nothingness. She blushed, "Mitsuki-chan," she croaked, "you're not giving me much of a chance to make up my mind! I've only just woken up again, I need more time." Haruka waved her arms around, flustered beyond all measure, "Of course I've always thought of you as more than a friend, but this is all so sudden."
"I need more time," she repeated, more steadily this time. Mitsuki leaned forward and gathered up the other girl in a final embrace. After the initial surprise, Haruka found herself hugging back in return.
"You have all the time you want," replied Mitsuki, "After all, if I hurt you, Akane-chan would kill me..."
Haruka laughed at that.
Since that day, Mitsuki came to visit the bedridden Haruka every day after practices as the other girl struggled to regain her lost strength.
Haruka always protested that Mitsuki needed to put more effort into her swimming, and that she wouldn't suddenly waste away if her friend didn't come to visit every single day, but Mitsuki wasn't having any of it. They sat and talked for hours: about how their old school friends were doing, when Mitsuki was going to be in the Olympics and reminiscing about their times in Hakuryou academy. Mitsuki made fun of Haruka's crushes on male teachers, but her eyes went wide as saucers as Haruka admitted several crushes on female sempais whose shoe lockers Mitsuki had also once placed heartfelt letters of love into. If you'd asked Haruka, she would have said that it was just like old times.
Akane also came to visit regularly, but she always scheduled her visiting times to avoid her ex-love. The times they did accidentally bump into each other were quickly cut short by brief nods and curt farewells. Akane herself talked to her sister as if nothing had ever happened between herself and her former girlfriend and was always quick to steer conversations clear of the topic. If Mitsuki's name was mentioned, just accidentally in conversation, Haruka would notice a brief sadness cross Akane's mask of happiness, though it was quickly wiped away by a "Ne, Onee-chan don't worry about me!" accompanied by an uneasy laugh. When pushed further, Akane would only state again and again that it was more than enough to see her sister happy. Eventually, even Haruka started to avoid the subject as well, both for her sister's sake and for the increasing levels of guilt building over the tension between the two most important people in her life.
A few weeks later, in the rehabilitation clinic, Mitsuki showed up unexpectedly. Haruka had quickly determined the times for Mitsuki's practices and other commitments and had thought that she had planned her rehab sessions around them. So surprised was she to see Mitsuki at the end of the runway that she almost lost her grip on the rails, slipping but managing to catch herself on her elbows. She felt strong hands taking the weight off her tired arms and helping her back into her wheelchair.
"Mitsuki-chan!" she exclaimed, "I thought you had practice today? What are you doing here...its...embarrassing for you to see me like this."
Mitsuki grinned, "Practice was cancelled today, coach said she had some other commitments she couldn't cancel." She stretched her arms above her head. "I thought I'd drop in and see how the rehab was going." Haruka nodded, still a little embarrassed. "Do you want to go down to the beach?"
Before she knew it, Haruka was being pushed leisurely down the path towards the beachfront in her wheelchair. She basked in the rays of the evening sun, feeling the heat slowly warming her pale skin. She looked up at her friend, but her eyes were fixed ahead. Briefly, Haruka admired the way the sun silhouetted Mitsuki's features so perfectly. Her eyes sparkled gently and her skin glowed warmly in the dwindling light. Her hair flowed slightly in the breeze, accentuating Mitsuki's natural grace. For a moment, Haruka felt she could fall in love with her there and then.
Suddenly, they were at the beach. Unusually, no one had been there today, and the sands stretched out before Haruka's eyes, flat and featureless, save for the faint tracks of a few sand-dwellers and birds here and there. They stayed in comfortable silence for a few minutes, each happy just with the other's company as the sun set lazily in the distance.
Mitsuki smiled down at her friend, "Beautiful, isn't it?" She looked back up at the crimson sky and sighed contentedly, "I'm glad we can share times like these again. It kinda reminds me of the times we used to sit with Takayuki-kun and Shinji-kun on his hill, just watching the sunsets over the town."
Haruka nodded. "I've really enjoyed these past few weeks with you," she replied, suddenly emboldened. "I've...asked Sensei's permission. Would you like to come on a...date with me...maybe to get something to eat? Sensei says its okay as long as its somewhere close..."
Mitsuki hesitated, just for a split second, "A d...d..date?" she stuttered, "are you sure you're okay with that? I don't want to be pushing you too fast!"
Haruka giggled at her flustered companion. "What's wrong? I'm sure you've been itching to ask me out since you confessed."
Mitsuki narrowed her eyes slightly, "That's awfully forward of you. When we were in high school you would be blushing from head to toe even thinking about asking someone out."
"Well, I guess...I grew up a little," Haruka relaxed back into her chair, "I can't stay the way I was forever you know, Mitsuki-chan. I've got three years of growing to catch up on, and it occurs to me that obsessing so much over something like that is just so..." she paused for a second, collecting her thoughts. "I just want to make up for the time I lost," she explained.
Mitsuki nodded in agreement and the two of them were silent for a moment, listening to the waves breaking gently onto the beach and the squawking of the seabirds in the distance.
"By the way...I don't suppose you could tell me how Akane-chan is doing?" Mitsuki asked after a few minutes. "Only, she hasn't been returning my calls lately." Haruka looked questioningly up at her friend, "I only want to know if she's okay or not," Mitsuki blurted, "I mean, just because we aren't together now doesn't mean I don't care about her..."
Haruka's face broke into a smile, "She's okay. I think she's coping. She keeps saying to me that as long as I'm happy then she is as well. But I think that my waking up really hit her hard. She'll need some time to adjust, perhaps."
A frown passed briefly across Mitsuki's features, "And are you happy?"
"Yes," came the reply, "I really appreciate the time we've spent
together as 'just friends'. But I think we need more time before we
start thinking about turning it into something more serious, Mitsuki-
chan." Her voice accompanied a warm smile.
"But...what about tomorrow? Isn't that...a date?".
"Trust me," she replied, simply.
Later that night, Mitsuki sat in her room, her back against the bed, the lights turned out. In her arms she clutched a large cushion to her chest, her eyes focussing on nothing in particular. She had been sitting that way for about two hours now, and the pins and needles were starting to work their way up her legs. Silently, she crushed the pillow against herself tighter.
Suddenly, the phone burst into life. Mitsuki lunged across the room, but her numbed legs protested, collapsing beneath her. She just managed to grab the phone off the hook before tumbling to the floor in a heap.
"Akane-chan?" she said into the receiver, desperately.
The voice at the end of the line was distinctly male. "Mitsuki-chan?"
"Oh! Takayuki-kun!" Mitsuki tried not to sound disappointed, "What's up?"
"I went to visit Haruka-chan today, she said that you two are looking for somewhere to eat tomorrow night. I suggested that you came to the restaurant I work in, you know, Sky Temple? It's just down the road from the hospital. I could ask the chef to whip you up something special. Anyway, I haven't seen you for ages, it would be good to catch up."
"Hai," Mitsuki felt a little bewildered.
"Anyway, I need to get back to work now...See you tomorrow night!" The phone clicked back into a dial tone. Mitsuki stared at it for a moment, as if it was the root of all her problems, before giving up and collapsing face first into the bed.
The next evening, Mitsuki wheeled Haruka down the road towards the restaurant, her wheels bumping gently across the car park. Haruka watched her friend closely. For the entire fifteen-minute walk, Mitsuki had been strangely silent, slightly spaced out, her gaze fixed intently on the road in front of her. Her trance ended suddenly as she felt slender fingers tenderly intertwine with her own. Surprised, she looked down at Haruka.
"We're here, Mitsuki-chan"
"Gomen nasai, Haruka-chan, I was miles away," Haruka squeezed Mitsuki's fingers soothingly.
"Ah, there you are!" A third voice caused both girls to whip round, "Mayu-chan said you've been standing outside here for ages. Now come in quickly, I don't want Haruka to catch a cold!" Takayuki stood sternly between the sliding doors, hands on hips.
The tension dissolved in a flurry of hugs and gentle jibes as the two girls greeted their old friend. "So you're not worried about me getting a cold then, Takayuki-kun?" Mitsuki mock-pouted as they wheeled Haruka to their table.
"Well, Haruka-chan is meek and feminine! She needs to be protec.." Takayuki ducked under a glancing blow from Mitsuki's right fist. "I'll just get Mayu-chan to get the menus," he added hastily, feeling their scathing glares burning into his back as he ran into the kitchen.
"Takayuki-kun hasn't changed much, ne, Mitsuki-chan?" Haruka turned to look at her friend, but her eyes were elsewhere again, and she seemed to be staring thoughtfully at a rubber pot plant. "Mitsuki-chan?" she repeated.
"Gomen," Mitsuki apologised again, "It's just...Akane hasn't contacted me at all for nearly two weeks now..."
Her explanation was interrrupted by the arrival of a cute mousey-brown haired girl with a cat hairclip wearing a frilly maid uniform that seemed to provide more than just the usual restaurant service for the customers. "Irrashaimasen!" she beamed at them, seemingly oblivious of the fact. "I'm Tamano Mayu, and I'll be your waitress this evening! Is there anything from the menu that you would like to order?"
Haruka giggled, "That's a lovely uniform, Mayu-chan! But Takayuki told us that he'd tell the chef to cook us something special..."
"He did? Eto..." Mayu looked confused for a second. "Sumimasen!" She bowed deeply and sauntered off in the direction of the kitchen shouting "Sempai! What do I do now?" before being clouted about the ear by a young girl with blonde ponytails.
Quickly, the food arrived, steaming and delicious on two huge platters, accompanied by a seemingly endless bowl of rice. Their problems put aside for a second, both girls realised just how hungry emotional discussions can make a person and found themselves ravenously attacking the mouth-watering meal. Soon afterwards, as Mayu arrived again briefly to remove their empty plates, they were stuffed to bursting. Mitsuki lay back in her seat and groaned, holding her stomach.
"I think I overdid it..." she moaned. Haruka wiped her mouth daintily with a handkerchief. "I'm curious, Haruka-chan," Mitsuki asked, suddenly, "Why did you want to go out on a date with me, but tell me that we should think about it before making the next step? It's been puzzling me ever since yesterday and I just can't work it out."
"I thought we should go here tonight because I want to tell you something." Haruka took a deep breath and sighed, mentally preparing herself, "Mitsuki-chan, you have been more than a friend to me and you will always be my best friend, regardless." Mitsuki felt her heart drop sickeningly in her chest, guessing where this confession was going.
"But I can't love you."
Mitsuki felt like her heart had been shattered into a million pieces. For a moment she was too stunned to speak. "Do you love...someone else?" she managed to say, gritting her teeth to hold back the tears.
"No," came the reply. "You do."
"What do you mean?" Mitsuki couldn't help but be taken aback. She was flabbergasted, shocked, stunned, bewildered; all of the above and more. Surely Haruka was the only one she loved?
"Akane," came the reply, a little sadly. "Don't you miss her? You've been asking about her a lot...you get distant when I mention her and Takayuki told me how you answered his call last night." Mitsuki hung her head. "She loved you, Mitsuki-chan. She says she's okay, but I can see through the mask she always wears. She misses you immensely. She needs you. Deep down, you know you still love her dearly."
Suddenly, all of the haze of confusion in Mitsuki's mind cleared, just long enough for one shining truth to force its way out into the open. She broke down in tears. "I do! God I do love her so much..." she sobbed. "But how do you know she would take me back after all the pain I caused her?"
Haruka gripped her friend's hands gently. "I don't know if she will, but love is all about taking those risks, isn't it? Isn't Akane-chan worth putting your heart on the line for?"
Mitsuki hugged Haruka tightly across the table, sobbing quietly. "Thank you...thank you Haruka-chan, for showing me what an idiot I've been."
Haruka held her friend in her arms, tenderly stroking her hair with her free hand. "Now you'd better go, Akane-chan is going to be back from practice in exactly one hour. You'd better hurry if you're going to make it on time."
Mitsuki extricated herself from Haruka's grip and nodded again. "Thank you," she repeated. "But what about you?"
"Takayuki already offered to take me back to the hospital after he finishes his shift here in an hour."
Mitsuki shook her head, "I didn't mean that."
Haruka smiled, "Seeing my two favourite people happy makes me happier than you could ever imagine. Don't worry, Mitsuki-chan, I'll find my special someone someday. Now go!" she motioned towards the door.
In a flash of blue, Mitsuki jumped out of her seat and enveloped the other girl in her arms. Haruka felt Mitsuki's lips press urgently against her own; her tongue delicately tracing patterns that made her skin prickle and her face flush bright crimson. And then just as quickly, it ended, leaving a blushing and startled Haruka and a quickly receding Mitsuki as she raced out through the front doors, waving.
"Good luck, Mitsuki-chan," she whispered under her breath.
"Oh, I see your friend left," Haruka noticed the waitress from before standing beside her table. Mayu smiled warmly at her. "Can I get you any dessert?"
Despite herself, Haruka found herself returning the grin, admiring this girl's unbreakable genki spirit. "Oh," she said, "I hadn't thought about that yet...what would you recommend?"
The key slowly turned in the lock and the door creaked tiredly open, revealing an exhausted Suzumiya Akane. Kicking her shoes off, she sloped towards the shower, desperate to wash off the sweat from her weights training, part of her coach's new scheme to build up their upper body strength. She sighed, at least it kept her mind off moping about her ex-love. Slipping out of her sweaty clothes, she dumped her kit unceremoniously into the washing machine. As she slipped her yellow headband over her head, she caught sight of herself in the mirror, hair down and dishevelled. She sighed, tossing the headband the same way and headed towards the shower.
As the hot beads of water massaged her aching muscles, Akane relaxed and tried not to think about all the troubles in her life. So engrossed was she in relaxing, that she didn't notice the shower door close for a second time until a pair of arms embraced her from behind. "I always told you your hair looked so much better down," a soft voice murmured behind her.
"Mitsuki-sempai? What are you doing here?" she yelped in surprise, turning to face her former lover.
"I came to say I was sorry," said Mitsuki, still holding Akane gently in her arms. "I've been such an idiot these past few months. I can't believe I hurt you for so long without realising my true feelings. I love you Akane-chan, and I want to make it up to you...for as long as it takes for you to forgive me for what I've done."
"I fell in love with your sister a long time ago, but it was stupid to think that my feelings for her would be the same as they were back then three years ago. Things changed. I changed, because of you. When we started going out, I think the only thing I saw was your sister in you, her mannerisms, all your similarities; but as I got to know you better, I started to fall in love with you. I fell for all the things that made you unique: your perpetual cheerfulness, the way you always were so stubborn not to ask for help from anyone," Mitsuki ran her fingers lightly down the other girl's sides. "Not to mention everything you taught me."
"What about Onee-chan?" she asked, quietly. "Do you still love her?"
"I still love Haruka as a friend. We can live without each other, but I can't live without you, Akane-chan. When you ran away from me that day, all I could think about was you: all the times we spent together, all the nights we spent, just in each other's arms. When you stopped calling me, I thought of you every day, wondering how you were, why you didn't want to talk to me any more. Please, Akane-chan, I was such a fool to let you go, give me another chance and I will do it right. I will make you happy. I swear I will."
Through the steam of the shower, Akane saw the determination in Mitsuki's eyes; determination to put right what she had done wrong. And just like that, Akane felt her fears melt away. She looked up at her lover to be and tenderly claimed her lips with her own.
"Damn it! Where's that lazy girl got to?" Daikuji Ayu flicked a wave of blonde hair back over her shoulder and fumed. The lovebirds were at it on table two again; it always made her mad that they wouldn't listen when she asked for their order and ordering Mayu around always made her feel better.
She was just stomping past the storeroom when she heard rustling noises and the banging of boxes. Ayu smiled to herself, maybe Mayu had gotten lost in the stacks again. Last time it had taken her an hour and a half to find her way out with 12 cartons of orange juice, only to find that the chef had asked for croutons. She smiled evilly, "I suppose I could help out that lazy bug this time," she said, out loud.
As she opened the door to the storeroom, the first thing she noticed was Mayu, in full view of the door, facing away from her sitting on a crate of mixed nuts. She called out to her, "Oi, Mayumayu, there's work to be done; what are you doing lazing around in here?" she started to walk towards her.
Mayu spun her head round towards her, her eyes widening in surprise. "H...h.h.ai, S...se..sempai, I'm c...c..coming," she stammered. Ayu took one more step and Mayu let out a little yelp.
"Mayumayu, are you okay?" Ayu seemed genuinely concerned, "Did you hurt yourself walking around here in the dark?"
"No...I'm okay, I'm just...a...little busy...right now," Mayu seemed out of breath and breathing heavily.
There was another click and the door opened again. Takayuki poked his head around the gap. "Hey, Daikuji, there you are. The floor is packed, we've got customers out of our ears, get out there now!" He looked closer at the two girls and smiled, "Daikuji, didn't anyone tell you that it's rude to peep in on other people's private time?"
Ayu was puzzled for a second. But then she noticed how Mayu's uniform seemed to be undone a little further down the front and seemed to be making its way down one arm; how her hair was more dishevelled than usual; how her expression had guilt written all over it. Her eyes widened in disbelief.
"Sempai...I..." was all Mayu managed before letting out another yelp.
"What's the matter Daikuji? You jealous?" Takayuki quipped, before ducking back to avoid a tin of canned salmon. Ayu ran out of the door after the retreating figure, letting the door slam shut behind her.
"LAZY BUGS! YOU CAN ALL GO STEP IN CAT SHIT!" Mayu winced as Ayu's voice came loud and clear through the door. She made a face at the girl grinning up at her from her lap
"Haruka-chan hidoi desu," she whined, but her complaints quickly silenced as Haruka resumed her ministrations. "Kimochi..." she breathed, her skin tingling with every stroke of Haruka's skilful tongue.
"I can't help it. You're so cute when you're flustered," came the muffled voice from down below. Mayu didn't reply but pushed her lover's head further between her thighs.
Ecchi: sex, used to refer to people as perverts in some way
Eto...: A way of saying "err..." in japanese
Genki: energetic, healthy
Gomen nasai, sumimasen: sorry
Hidoi: cruel, mean
Irrashaimasen: a formal welcome greeting
Itte: an expression of pain, similar to ouch in English
Kimochi: feelings, used to mean 'feels good'
Konban wa: evening greeting
Ohayo: Good morning greeting
Onee-chan: (older) sister
Oneesama complex: The phenomenon that many high school girls' first crush is on a beautiful (female) sempai
-sempai: senior form of address
Sensei: Teacher, also used to refer to doctors.
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