it's been a few months... it's been a few many months... and i have no excuse for this wait other than i'm self conscious garbage and i've tried rewriting this chapter so many damn times that i honestly just got sick and tired of it existing. i really didn't mean to put this off for so long and i can't apologize enough to the scarce few that are actually waiting for an update. this isn't nearly as complete as i wanted it to be, i really did have more planned and it was so much better developed in my head. i just... can't seem to translate it to my hands the way i want to. the fact remains that i'm sick of chapter 7, and if i get it out of the way i'll hopefully be in the right mood to continue the story. like a weight has been lifted off my conscience. this is all that i can say i'm happy with... otherwise it would have been longer. please forgive me... i'll try to be better.
I'm not sure when exactly I closed my eyes or when I began to tune out the world, but it all snaps back the instant I take another sip of my drink in some sort of dizzying haze. It's a concoction of stinging clear liquid and strawberries that Nagisa assured me was his specialty and I am none the wiser but to continue choking it down. It burns fire in my throat, warming my chest as it settles, and the loud music begins to fade again. I feel myself smiling at the absolute blank that is my mind. Not a thought, not a care, exactly what I've been needing.
If it had been any other night, if I had drank any less, if I was possibly focused on some other empty place in the room, I would have missed the sudden splash of color amongst the shifting lights around me. It's clear as day, but I shouldn't really be surprised; such vibrant eyes could find mine without even trying. My body shifts from its sturdy place by instinct, I almost think that I'm falling and about to meet the cold hard ground, but instead I'm inching forward. Putting one foot in front of the other, one breath at a time, whatever I have to do to reach the balcony door where my shimmering blue has disappeared behind. My drink is still half full, but I place the cup down on the nearest table I can find. I'll worry about it later. Considering my incredible lack of ability to form a coherent thought, I'm amazed I can even get my lips to form the shallow words I whisper as I shift past all the other dizzying participants, still mindlessly drinking and dancing, getting as close to one another as possible, sharing the warmth from their highs. The heat looming over the atmosphere of the apartment is nothing compared to the ice cold chill I feel when I see his face against the pitch black night turning towards me, and the way his expression shifts when he's caught completely off guard to see me staring back; it's exactly that. Ice cold.
Exactly the same.
Nagisa's shrill voice echoes through the apartment, yelling something about a spill. I wince trying to tune it out, still continuously gravitating towards the balcony. With all eyes turned to the little blond, I slip past the crowds with unsteady footing, the door meeting my side a bit harsher than I was expecting. The moment I pull it open, I feel the frozen winter air rush into the apartment. Honestly, I would be perfectly content just standing in the doorway for the next few hours if there wasn't something else already on my mind.
I watch the shoulders of the body in front of me tense. Literally every part of him seizes. His head lowers to his arms, resting against the railing in silence. The snow hasn't let up one bit since I got here. If I squint hard enough, I can maybe make out the silhouette of the next building over, but that isn't saying much. The weather is still pretty bad... and the boy is shivering with only a sweater on for warmth. He keeps himself as still as he can. It's easy to tell that he's trying his very hardest, but his hands are completely restless. I pull myself off the door frame to stand beside him.
My breath hitches when he looks at me and I hopelessly try to make sense of his solemn expression. His gaze is almost empty, his aura... defensive. From across the room, he looked completely shocked, maybe even a bit angry. Standing next to him now, I was wrong. He looks so broken.
I wasn't expecting a sudden scoff to leave his throat, or for the words he says next to make my stomach drop.
"Never thought I'd see the day... little Makoto Tachibana all grown up like this..."
His fickle demeanor shifts from solemn to listless. I smile at the sound of my name being said with a sweet voice I could just barely remember.
"You haven't changed a bit, Haru-chan."
It comes so naturally, I almost surprise myself. It's no wonder I found myself drawn to him so easily. He glares daggers at me for the nickname, but he can't honestly be mad at me for it, can he? We haven't seen each other in so many years.
"I'm pretty sure the last time we were together, you were still taller than me," I laugh.
Haruka frowns, expression twisting in an obvious pain. I regret commenting on his height immediately. His arms cross and he takes a step back away from me.
"I wasn't expecting to see you here," he mutters quietly. The words cut deep, it sounds like he isn't happy to see me at all, more like it was an annoyance.
"I wasn't expecting to be here either," I laugh out of sheer nervousness now.. or maybe it was the alcohol. "Nagisa... he really wanted me to show up... it's hard to say no to him under the circumstance."
"O-Oh, I mean with class being canceled... I didn't exactly have an excuse to say no."
He nods, turning his head towards the snow filled sky. This tension is insane... I search my mind for something to say, some topic that we could both latch onto but it doesn't seem like he would willingly go along with conversation. Not even for the sake of nostalgia.
Maybe he's just the type to dislike that sort of thing.
My footing is still rather unsteady, but I shift a little bit closer to him. He watches me mindfully with every move, all the while ignoring the snowflakes that keep landing in his dark hair and on his cheeks. They shine against the balcony lights, I'm drawn to the shimmer. I'm drawn to the warmth I know has to be coming off his skin. I'm drawn to the memory of his smile.
"Are you drunk?" he asks coldly. So he noticed, huh? Well I guess it's kind of difficult to miss... I rub the back of my head in embarrassment.
"Ehh.. maybe a little," I hiccup.
Haruka rolls his eyes, "Maybe a lot."
My hands grip the railing trying to regain some balance. "It's funny you ran into me while I'm like this, I rarely drink. I know from the few times I have that I'm a really bad drunk but... when I saw you..."
I bite my lip realizing it would be better to stop talking now, but my hazy judgment doesn't allow the words to stop flowing.
"I saw you and I guess I got nervous. I wasn't sure... and Nagisa kept offering me his specialty, heh. Whatever that mixture may be. I thought maybe if I drank enough it would give me the courage to say something."
Haruka sighs and moves to lean against the railing beside me. My anxiety triples when I realize we're three stories up and there's nothing but cold hard concrete beneath us.
"And why would you need courage to talk to your dear old neighbor?" he taunts.
"Ehh.. don't be mean, Haru. It's because we haven't spoken in so long... I didn't expect for you to turn out like this either."
I turn bright red, not wanting to repeat the words that flashed through my mind just now. Striking. Mature. Beautiful. There is no way I could say the things I was thinking when I saw him.
"Just... it was..." I turn away, "This is all really surprising, that's all."
Haruka scoffs, "Speak for yourself."
A sudden harsh gust of wind tunnels into the small space of the balcony. The frigid air was piercing, the snow hitting my exposed skin harshly. For a moment, my eyes close in defense. My balance is thrown off again. The small steps I take tip me over into Haruka's unsuspecting side, maybe if I hadn't drank I'd have been smart enough to lean away instead. But, of course, I'm clumsy and I fall forward, practically pushing Haruka further over the edge of balcony. He gasps when the railing shakes underneath him and he starts falling back. I have no time to process the few good seconds that my heart has definitely stopped for.
His cheek is pressed into my shoulder without any warning. My hands are against his sturdy back, his muscles tensing as he clings to me keeping himself away from the edge. My arms wrap around him tightly as I move both of us closer to the door and away from the edge. Thank god. I moved before I even had a chance to think. And the only thing I am able to focus on is putting distance away from the open ledge for as long as my head is still swimming in haze. Haruka doesn't let go immediately, his breathing still uneven from the scare. He turns his head into my neck, and a quick thought races through my mind.
He fits so well.
He pulls back a bit, looking up at me. I could be imagining the light blush I think I see across his cheeks, but by the time I have half a mind to double check, Haruka pulls himself off of me. He lowers himself to the ground, back close up against the wall. I join him.
I want to hate myself for admitting that in this short time, I've wondered about what Haruka's frame would look like bare. He felt so sturdy in my arms, just the thought of his muscles against my hands was enough to keep my heart racing. This isn't like me at all. It absolutely has to be the influenced mindset, or that's what I hope at least. But his skin truly felt good under my touch. What am I supposed to think when he looks at me with those eyes. It's like reopening the door to all those feelings I thought I had long forgotten about. Every time I meet that blue, it's there.
Haruka pulls his knees to his chest and rests his head in his arms. Just like that, the mood is back to sullen, the conversation at a standstill.
"S-Sorry.." I mumble.
He shakes his head, "Not your fault, you always were afraid of heights."
"You remember things like that?" I didn't think details like that were important enough to take up space in someone's memories.
Haruka smiles fondly. "I remember the first day that we had to cross that bridge over the river. The one to get to the school? You got to the top step and decided it was too high to cross. You scolded me for crossing without any regard for safety."
"Ahha... that did happen, didn't it.." I lock my fingers together.
"You wouldn't cross until I held your hand, and even then you closed your eyes the entire time."
"I did something that embarrassing?" I laugh.
Haruka turns to face me, still mostly buried within his arms.
"You have terrible memory, don't you?" he whispers. I watch him intently as his expression returns to the same solemn expression from before. His eyes close, he seems to be exhausted. He sighs tiredly before continuing.
"When you think about it now, that bridge wasn't very high at all. You had the dumbest fears. Bugs scared you, the dark scared you, strangers on the street scared you. You would hide behind my back all the time."
I smile, "When I think about that time, the thing I remember being scared of the most was being away from you."
Why... did I say that.
Haruka lifts his head and stares at me wide eyed.
Haruka narrows his eyes with a frown when I don't continue, "See, this is a perfect example. Dumb fears."
"Why does that count as dumb?!" I cry. It definitely doesn't sound dumb to me!
"Because I ended up leaving anyway," Haruka mutters, "What good did it do being afraid?"
My breath hitches in my throat, the reminder of a memory I have long buried resurfaces... it leaves an unpleasant taste. While Haruka was my neighbor growing up, it feels like we were together for such a short time now in comparison. He lived beside me until he was 11 years old. His parents weren't around all too often due to work, although Haruka didn't seem to mind. He was perfectly content being by himself, lost in thought more often than not. I envied him. An entire evening spent by himself in an empty house wasn't a problem at all. I think Haruka might have thought of it more like a gift. Me... Being alone scared me. Maybe it still does. Haruka was my best friend from the earliest I can remember. I've always had somebody there. I wasn't prepared to have someone important to me taken away. Haruka moved to the city with his parents without warning. All I remember about that day is coming home from somewhere and seeing boxes piled along the stone steps above my house. By the time I ran over and knocked on the door, there was nobody left, and Haruka had been taken from my life.
I was a child. Friends move, nothing is permanent, I understood that... but Haruka was special. Haruka understood things I've only dreamed of. There were so many things I still had planned, so many things I never got to say, explanations that were never received. My mother told me that it would be better for me to just let it go. Dwelling on the past only prevents you from moving forward. I had many other friends, she said I would be okay.
That's one thing I never quite got. Having other people tell me whether I'd be okay or not. It was never their call to begin with. It wasn't their burden to shoulder or pass judgment on. Pain is subjective. They didn't have the first clue... that all my dreams were always submerged underwater because I had been missing a crucial piece of myself. That a part of what I always wanted to be would never be achievable. That I was always endlessly reaching towards a surface that was just a little bit too far. That water filled my lungs whenever I thought back to that time.
I was drowning.
Haruka's worried gaze suddenly breaks through my inner thoughts. I have to blink a few times to make sure I'm really seeing it. Worried? It's like he can hear every word I'm thinking; that there is real struggle within my heart this whole time. Did he understand that when he left? Did he understand it now?
"I think that just by standing next to you, I felt more hopeful," I lower my head to his shoulder. Whether it's too bold of a gesture after only being together again for such a short time... I couldn't care less. Liquid courage is only a small part of this equation anymore. Haruka shifts in place a bit, but he doesn't move away. Instead, his forehead presses into my hair, his eyes shut tightly, his whole body still shivering from the cold.
"It wasn't easy for me either, you know..." he whispers. I lean into him, his neck barely an inch away from my lips. His fingers brush against mine. I wonder whether it's on purpose or just due to his restlessness, but I take his hand with a firm grasp. I didn't expect for him to feel so warm due to how much he was shivering, but then again, maybe it wasn't from the cold afterall.
"Isn't it funny..." I mumble against his neck, "How it feels like we picked up right where we left off?"
Haruka nods against me, "I don't think this is exactly how we left off."
"It should have been," I say before my better judgment stops me. "Hey... tell me something."
"Why did your parents move you to the city with them?"
Haruka falls silent. I tilt my head upward to catch his glance, but he's looking elsewhere, his fingers instinctively attacking the skin on each other. Ah... old habits die hard I guess. I remember this habit of his from childhood. His distraction from words whenever there was too much on his mind. He moves to pull off skin, but I grip his hand tighter. He sucks in a harsh breath before glancing down at me again.
"You don't know?"
I shake my head, "Not a clue."
He hums to himself in thought, "I'll tell you some other day then."
Part of me wants to pry, I've been wondering for so many years. But there's another part of me, a stronger part, that latches onto the fact that... he plans to see me again. That this encounter wasn't going to be the last. I can't be reading too much into it...
He nuzzles into my hair again, this time in warning. He knows I want more.
"We should probably go inside..." he mumbles, starting to pull himself off me. I don't let go of his hand, I have no intention to stand up yet. I don't think I have the inner strength to break our contact.
"The world is still spinning," It's not exactly a lie. I strengthen my grip all while pulling him slightly closer. His eyes close in exasperation, but he returns to my side once again to borrow my warmth.
He leans in close... closer than I was expecting actually. His gentle fingers touch my cheek, thumb sweeping across cold skin and tucking away loose strands of my hair that have fallen into my eyes. I can feel myself burning.
"Are you feeling okay aside from the alcohol?" he asks in a serene voice. I don't deserve to grace his presence. His incredibly beautiful presence.
I nod, making sure to get a good look at his eyes while he was this close to me. I can see every single spec and shade there is to them, every waver and every shimmer. Mine wander, naturally, lower to his nose. And to his cheeks. And his lips... until I realize I'm locked in place, unable to tear my gaze away from how they slightly part with every breath he takes.
I didn't need alcohol to admit to myself that Haruka was my first crush. It was painfully obvious to me when I walked into an empty house expecting to find him and felt more broken than I ever knew possible when he wasn't there. I didn't piece things together until I was a bit older... but still, it's been too long since then to be dwelling on something of the past.
Who am I kidding?
My chest is constricting just from staring at his lips, there was absolutely no change. I had to be insane to think otherwise. I could have gone my entire life without remembering what his touch felt like or what his voice sounded like. I could have never found out that I'm the taller one now. I could have lived peacefully without being introduced to the deep blue of his eyes that stole away any repression of those old feelings. I could have forgotten his voice, his skin, his smile, but I'm so glad I didn't.
"Haru, you're not just going to disappear from me again, are you?" I wonder out loud. Haruka shakes his head.
"You're really here, right?" I wobble a bit trying to straighten my posture, "This isn't a hallucination, right?"
Haruka gives me that look, the one that causes my stomach to flip. I can't even take it. His answer is written clearly.
"Did you want to forget?" I boldly ask, staring back wide eyed for an answer I wasn't sure I could be prepared for.
And it's true, I definitely could not have been prepared.
My vision goes dark. It takes a few seconds to realize that my eyes have closed, and that hot feeling is Haruka pressing his lips against mine. It's such a contrast from the frigid air surrounding us, like it's threatening to burn me. He moves with care but is fueled by need. His hands grab at my shoulders keeping me firmly in place against the wall as he parts my lips, seeking something more. Our tongues meet roughly; if I thought my world was spinning before I was wrong. I've thought about what this would feel like before. I expected it to be a bit more timid, but Haruka isn't holding back at all. I'd fully believe that he wanted this more than I did if it wasn't for how hard my heart was pounding.
"Haaaru.." I moan into the kiss, and that alone is enough for him to break. His hands slide from my shoulders to my sides, fingers dipping under my shirt frantically. Timid is the furthest thing from what this happens to be turning into. His movements are desperate, skin seeking motions. He stops himself though before getting too far, sucking in a shuddering breath, his hands still firmly pressed against me, and mine against him. He presses his forehead to mine, our lips just centimeters apart before his eyes slip open and meet mine.
I just barely catch the break in his voice before I'm clouded with bliss again. His lips ghosting over my neck, his hands pulling my shirt aside to attack the normally hidden skin, god... he's insatiable.
"Don't make me wait any longer.." he mutters into my skin.
I blink a few times, the sight before me not becoming any clearer. The memories mesh together so quickly that I almost fall back over the same balcony from before. Haru's eyes are watching me so intensely, every atom in his being waiting for me to spill even a single word, because what has just become obvious to me must be written all over my expression. Just how on edge he looks... the twisting feeling that forms in my chest is so far past guilt it would be an insult to describe it as such. This... this is a crime.
"I thought I lost you for good this time..." Haru bites his lip as he speaks. My grip on the balcony rail is unsteady, and I don't trust myself for even a second longer. I pull myself away from the edge and take a timid step towards a sudden familiar sense of home. A direction I have forgotten existed. A way I had long since headed towards.
"Haru... how long has it been?" I quietly ask.
He still won't look at me.
"It doesn't matter.."
"Of course it matters! I haven't seen you in years!" I cry, "It's been... years, Haru... and I spent a week treating you like a stranger that I was trying to get to know."
He flinches at my raised tone. My shoulders sink without intention, the dejected look that crosses his features entirely my fault. This is wrong.
My hands cover my eyes without warning, fingers curling tight, the only thing I can do to keep myself together.
"I was a whole world away, and you just handed me a map..."
Haru's eyes flicker, and I have never seen someone turn their attention to me this quickly. The gaze so sharp it could slice clean through the tension we both heavily feel.
"I'm not your compass, Makoto," Haru mutters.
It happens quicker than I am able to notice. Maybe somewhere down the road it would make sense... as one of those little moments that actually meant something big. But as I watch my hand reaching for Haru's, as I watch the glaze in his eyes disappear with a shimmer, I feel my lips tugging into a smile. I feel my soul rest as I'm struck with understanding.
"Why didn't you say anything? You could have just reminded me... or at least mentioned that you are that one neighbor I knew a little too well.."
Haru shrugs, entirely expressionless. And somehow, I feel more at ease than before. With his frigid skin below my fingertips, shivering under my misplaced warmth, I feel more whole knowing my memory is once again put together. And even if Haru didn't want his expression read, I can feel the weight that has been lifted off his shoulders.
"Maybe you didn't want to remember," he nearly whispers.
I take a step closer, pressing our foreheads together, "Don't say such ridiculous things."
He leans into me, his arms finding my sides comfortably. I turn, shielding him from the cold, guiding him back towards the door.
"We've been out here too long.." my voice lowers in time with the silence. The music from inside has paused momentarily, shifting between songs. The moment isn't lost on me. "We should go somewhere warm.."
Haru pulls me close, cheek finding my shoulder, "You're warm."
I sigh contently. This familiarity is something I know I'll get used to quickly.
"Do you want to go back to my place? You know it's not that far.."
Haru nods quickly.
Just like we left off.
Just like the last time.
i'm so sorry.