Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.
Stones and Scars
By Victoria G.
She's staring at me. She does that… she's always done that and even now I don't have a clue what she's thinking when she does. She likes me that way… or at least she did a year ago. So I could just assume she's thinking the types of things that make me glad I can't see straight into her mind because she's teased me in ways that make it impossible not to at least consider that as a possibility. Shizuru… there's always a twist, always something just a little different and it makes it impossible to assume. She's a lot of things, but easy to understand has never been one of them. It bothers me more than if all of this was simplistic enough to be strictly about how she feels… the fact that I can't tell is worse, annoying and troublesome at the same time.
Every once in a while I feel like I get her, but it's not very often and pretty much never at the right time. Now though, I'm pretty sure that I know what's on her mind because I look back over at her and it suddenly occurs to me what she's actually looking at. I've caught her doing this once or twice before. My shoulder… she cut it with her Naginata when we were fighting. I know with uncanny certainty that she's remembering every minute of what happened when she stares there. Like she's watching a movie on my skin and honestly, I can't stand it...
"Stop thinking about it."
"What was that Natsuki?" She smiles at me, that unconcerned look on her face. I don't wanna play this game with her tonight. I'm not much for games. We're opposite that way. Everything, a word for her... it can be a chess piece and I don't think that way. That's how I walk right into it with her all the time.
"My shoulder... where I was cut..." I have to say it to make her be real, but I don't wanna talk about this… not really. I just want her to stop staring and stop remembering. She gives me no choice but to be blunt sometimes, not that it's a stretch for me. "You keep staring at it."
"Do I?" Another pretty but pointless smile and why that spot?
"Yeah...you do." Of all the things that happened, I don't understand why is that the thing that stays with her. Her eyes make me paranoid and I can't help but touch it. She must be able to pick it out somehow, her stare goes right there. There's nothing. No bump, no scar; it's all gone. There's just the memory left and it's one of the few that I've almost forgotten. Sometimes I think she's completely forgotten all of it. How she acts, how she pretends like everything is the same when we see each other is hard to relate to. These reminders that she feels it too...I wish they didn't exist at the same time that I'm glad they do. They make me feel exactly like the pictures of my mother I keep hidden. Looking at them and looking at Shizuru's eyes sometimes… it's the same damn thing. "I didn't think you could see it," I add as an afterthought.
"You cannot." Her voice is strained like she's being squeezed and it knocks me out of my thoughts. Now that stare, it's getting stranger… hard to describe and more uncomfortable for me.
She's making no sense and I need her to right now. I need tonight to be one of those times we are on the same planet.
"You're being weird tonight." She blinks for a second and then she's got that soothing smile instead. There it all goes and wrong move.
"Kanin-na, Natsuki. I was up late studying." I wonder if it's a total lie. She does look tired. It could be true but still, I don't fully trust her. You can't when she smiles like she is right now…that much I know.
"College keeps you pretty busy." I watch her for a response, feeling tense, but all she does is let her eyes fall back to my shoulder. They widen a little and I can feel the heat underneath my skin, a blush that I'm beating down. She can make me feel like a kid so easily… fluster me. I wanna yell at her for it like I would've before, but I don't. That's not why I asked her to come, but that stare. It's like her eyes are all over me.
I keep looking at her, force myself to because I'm waiting for an answer, for that smile to fall off her face so I have any idea what's going on. It doesn't though, not this time. It just gentles and that's okay too. I've always liked her smile when it's smaller. It's real and when she lets herself look that way she's beautiful. She always has been, really. It was one of the first things I noticed… besides how weird she is.
Her face just keeps softening though and now I don't like the look quite so much. It's... I don't know... adoring, I guess? Like she thinks the world of me. I guess it's not the worst thing in the universe to be adored, but it's never felt like a good thing to me. I have no interest in being anyone's hero or anyone's everything. It's never something I've wanted. Maybe it's stupid to complain about, but I wish she thought less of me.
"Natsuki will be going next year herself, will she not?" I keep getting so lost in my own head that these questions are throwing me for a loop. What were we talking about? College…
"Yeah." I cross my legs, trying to shake off the itch crawling over me at how childish my answer felt. The embarrassing way I keep losing track of the conversation, stumbling all over myself, is like a million bugs on my skin.
"Has she chosen a school?"
I kick away a few rocks, distract myself by moving them toward the fire. I like to watch them…that they can sit in the flames and nothing happens to them when everything else just burns away. How the hell do I get rid of any of this nervousness? I don't know how to say what I need to. I'm gonna have to say that I might do something as stupid as following her to Kyoto, eventually, I'm gonna have to say why. That's the reason I asked her to meet up with me. It annoys me that part of me wants to back out now, to run after getting her all the way here, after reaching out.
"I've applied places... I don't know, I don't really care which one I guess." I glance over; a quick sideways shift of my eyes.
"Still such a poor attitude toward learning. Where have you applied, if I can ask?" It's play for her, scolding me.
"... Fuuka, Tokyo...uh..." I'm annoyingly wrestling with my embarrassment again and it doesn't help that it takes me a minute to push out this last part. God, is this whole conversation going to be me sinking? An agonizingly slow sinking too. I hate slow. I throw up some truth to try and just get to the point. "...Kyoto."
She freezes. I surprised her, not just surprised her, shocked her. "Natsuki has applied to Kyoto University?"
That bit of me that has to get defensive rears up and I dive in because at least it's better than the suffocating nervousness. "Natsuki did. It's a good school."
I wanna be near you, I wanna be able to find you when I want to, I wanna walk into some random place again and have you just happen to be there… I miss you… but I'm too proud to say any of that. Too proud, or too damn terrified? It doesn't really make a difference in the end.
I think maybe Shizuru is more the same than I realized when we were younger. Oh, she would say it to me, but only in a way that sounds like it could be a joke. So much like her face right now...how everything's suddenly gone again except that fake smile. I just wanna wipe her face away, see what's underneath and what a weird thought that is.
My skin prickles and my toes and fingers twitch because the fake smile changes and her lips curl in a very specific way. I immediately know she's gonna say something, something I don't know what to do with.
"It is a good school, but did she miss me I wonder?" Panic, hot and sharp, stabs at me and even though it makes no sense I can't help it. She knows… she already knows and I lie before I can stop myself.
"…I said it's a good school." Why is this so much harder than I thought it would be? I slide down against the chair. She's gonna sabotage me accidentally because she doesn't know what I wanna say and I'm gonna sabotage myself because I'm too… arrogant, maybe that's the word… too arrogant to say I need her.
"And here I was missing my Natsuki terribly." Her honesty is wrapped in a tease like always. She missed me. God, I hate my heart for speeding up, hate her a little for being able to just say that so casually... like it's nothing… like it was meant to be said.
Then she's looking at my shoulder again and I can't let her keep doing this. I need to stop the feeling of her eyes on my bare skin, at least for tonight. "Oi …give me my hoodie? It's getting cold out."
She hands it to me and sighs deeply. I don't ask her why. "Kanin-na. I did not mean to make you feel embarrassed."
"I'm not… there's a breeze is all." Your eyes are eating me alive is all, but hell would freeze over before those words left my mouth.
"Natsuki is welcome to come sit on my lap if she is cold." I'm suddenly wondering, staring into space and wondering what she would do if I ever did any of the ridiculous things she suggests. Would she be as flustered as she wants me to be when she says these things? Or would she just take it one step further?
I'm not really sure I wanna risk it, but enough is enough. It doesn't have to be a big thing. This is what I tell myself. Buck up…take a minute… pull yourself together. It can't stay like this forever with her indefinitely having the upper hand, even if she is much better at innuendo. "Not enough room in that chair."
I'm shocked now because she actually blushes a little. I haven't seen that on her since I kissed her. It takes me a minute to notice my eyes are on her mouth, thoughts about the softness of her lips swimming in my brain. Now I'm remembering the kiss, wondering what it would be like to do it again and with what I feel now.
I need to change the subject. "Your parents have a nice place out here."
"Yes. Unfortunately, they do not make it out much any more… the drive is a bit long. I believe they've been renting it mostly."
Shizuru comes from a nice family, warm and funny and tight-knit. They joke with each other in the same way she jokes with me, that teasing sort of reaction seeking. She took me home with her once during break. It's a family like families are supposed to be. She belongs when she's there.
Stupid little reactions, bits of jealousy I shouldn't feel, resentment here and there… I wish I could get rid of it all. My hands slip into my sleeves and I cross my arms, these damn thoughts are making me tense and I'm tense enough already.
"You must like being closer to them." I throw the words out, trying to distract her... trying to galvanize myself.
"I do. It is nice to be able to go home so easily. I admit to missing my mother's cooking." She should miss it…her mom is a great cook. My own never was, but I always ate it anyway. I liked when she tried, even if she would peel carrots until there was nothing but a pencil left.
"Yeah, it's up there with Mai's."
Shizuru would always save me bits of what her family sent her; bring me back the things she knew I liked when she went to visit them. She's been thoughtful like that since before we were really friends. I tried to refuse the first time, said 'no' and she popped the piece of food right in my mouth like I begged for it. It was so her.
"How is Tokiha-han?"
It might just be diplomacy, but I like to think her concern over my friends is genuine. She never really tried to become a part of our group though. Maybe because she felt guilty, I don't know. She came to occasional things before she left for college, but she always stayed on the outside after what happened. It bothered me a little, like the closer I got to them the further away it made her.
"Good I guess. She spends most of her time with Tate." She spends nearly all of her time with him. Doesn't seem to matter that for a good chunk of it, they're fighting. Between that and Mikoto groping her and eating us out of house and home, sharing a room has been interesting. I spend a lot of time out because of that just as much as the fact that I hate small spaces. The dorm rooms get suffocating after a few days.
"Are they serious then?" She asks, again like cares. I always thought of Shizuru as an empathetic person by comparison at least, until watching her with Yukino. I still don't know what to think of that except that I want to think Shizuru wasn't herself. It's one of the more common lies I think, excusing the evils people commit because they weren't themselves.
It makes sense because it's the only way to ignore the fact that we all are capable of horrible things, capable of killing each other one way or another. Stop thinking Natsuki, goddamn it.
What were we even talking about? …Tate and Mai. "Seems like it," I answer, refocusing. Hell, if Mai spends that much time around him she must love him as much as she says she does. I have no other explanation to offer up.
"I am happy for her. And what does Natsuki do with her free time?"
What do I do? Distract myself, but that's not what I say. I kick another tiny stone into the fire and say whatever surface answer falls into my head. "I don't know. I'm trying to be more social. Nao and I go places sometimes, parties and stuff." How have I not said anything I want yet? I haven't even come close.
"I was surprised when you texted me." I can feel myself frowning because it's fair but annoyingly honest. I decide to be annoyingly honest back.
"…I try not to most of the time." It's the truth. I never had to think about it before, she just was always the one that reached out, that found me, that talked to me first. I can't decide if it bothers me the way it does because I don't want to be the one to have to reach out or because I need to feel like she still wants me to. I don't really like the idea of either because both feel pathetic.
She looks as confused as I feel. "Why would you do that?"
"I don't wanna bother you. I know you're busy." It's a bullshit answer, but the truth is too contradictory to try to explain.
"You have never bothered me." Her eyes and her body language are so sincere and there is that warm feeling again. "Is there something on Natsuki's mind?" She gives me an opening, but stupidly I don't take it. Chicken shit.
"No…I don't know." What an asinine answer. It's because that feeling she gives me like I don't know where to move, it's full force and I can't seem to get around it tonight... or ever really.
"What is it?"
I don't even have a clue as to how to begin explaining this. "I guess… it's weird. Not having you around… walking by the student council room and you're not there. I don't know. It's like my brain keeps forgetting you're gone." It's better than my last answer anyway.
"Natsuki…" The way she says my name... like she singing it or whispering it, grabs my attention completely. "I truly do miss you."
"I miss you too." Me saying this makes her even quieter. Because she's quiet and straight-lipped, I know she's hurt and I'm not sure why.
I wonder if it's because me saying that seems like false hope still? I don't know. I had no choice the night she left. I couldn't say 'no' and I couldn't say 'stay'. I couldn't tell her that I hated the way her decision to go sat inside my stomach, made me nauseous. After she said she was going, there was just empty silence between us, like she was a like already gone. The space was already there. I remember how it made my throat tighten, all the things I thought I want to say but couldn't, because she loved me. She was in love with me and it made me happy, but it was happiness while she suffered and that ruined it. I couldn't do anything for her. I didn't have any other answer except what I'd told her in the church, so I gave her nothing else. Always right and wrong.
Even though letting her leave was the only thing I should've done at the time, I wonder now if that means I missed my chance at this? It's a thought that's been scaring me more and more lately. It might be too late now that I feel differently and maybe the possibility left with her...
That isn't really the worst of it. It's the idea that the space between us is what we will be from now on that really scares me.
She lifts her eyes and smiles a bit. "Yes?"
I need to know something immediately, something selfish, but something that needs to be sorted out before I do anything. Because I'm having a moment of clarity and the worst thing just changed. It just became that she might want it to stay like this with us. God, I need a fucking drink. "Are you… dating people at college?"
"Why do you ask?"
She didn't say 'no'. It fills me up so completely and so quickly that I'm saying something before I think it through. "I tried it," I say reactively, reflexively. I'm such an ass sometimes.
"Dating?" She's upset already. I can see it and this strange part of me wants her to call me out, to acknowledge my flaws I guess… to say I'm not perfect, to be angry at me for being so goddamn unwilling to be uncomfortable.
"Yeah." I know it's the wrong way to start, but I moved already.
"I'm pleased Natsuki is finally enjoying herself a bit." Her response is all façade and it cuts me more than if she'd been angry. I'm thrown and riled by it. Not only because she doesn't say what she means, but also because I can't seem to either.
This conversation, this stupid dancing back and forth, isn't me. It's only me with her and so it takes me a minute, but I try to be more direct. "I wanna talk to you about that." I'm watching her, looking for whatever she won't show me. "It's why I texted you."
"What about dating did you wish to discuss?" It's the fakest smile yet.
"Are you dating anyone or not?" I ask, trying not to sound harsh, but it matters. If she actually is trying, if she's moving on, I need to know now. I need that cold hard reality in my face.
There is a flash of anger in her eyes for the first time and it actually comforts me. "No, I am not." I feel like an ass again for being relieved, even a little.
"Why?" It's something I have no business asking, but she still answers me anyway.
"I suppose I haven't found anyone that I am interested in." She says and that might be as close to a glare as she's ever given me, a touch of coldness I'm not used to from her.
"No one tells you this…" I can't go back and going forward has been more of a stumble, but maybe I can go sideways. "But it sucks."
It's the littlest smile, but it's a real one at least. "Does it?"
"Yeah, it does." I have to close my eyes because when she looks at me like that and I actually see her it's hard to focus and I fumble. "I've been trying to figure out why." You're why is what I mean.
Her silence is so loud that I have to open my eyes. It's a total misstep and everything that was there two seconds ago is gone. "I do not know that I am the person to be speaking to about this… perhaps this is a conversation better suited to Tokiha-han or Yuuki-han."
It's such an icy stare she gives me. "I am afraid I do not have much valuable advice for you on men, Natsuki."
The burn of embarrassment comes on quick. "Uh… no. That's not it…" I know I'm blushing which only makes it worse. "I wouldn't ask you for that, Shizuru." It's said firmer than I intend, but I'm really annoyed at myself… a little at her too, fair or not.
"What would you ask me for?" The way she says it is only slightly softer than before, still a definite edge.
This is going so badly and I can't seem to start it right. My ears are still burning and I wish I could crawl inside my hoodie. I pretty much try, right before more nonsense spills from my mouth. It keeps me traveling along the biggest fucking circle I've ever talked in my life. "I don't know… I'd go out with these guys and I'd be sitting there with them, listening to them talk and whatever…"
"That sounds normal." She says. Normal. I thought, stupidly I guess, that things would go back to normal when I started acting like they were. Dating and going to school and hanging out with friends... I expected it to close the hole in my chest. Now I see the flaw in that because I didn't have a normalcy to begin with. That wasn't where I started and how is it possible that I still haven't made it all the way back around to the truth?
"But all I could think the whole time is that I'd rather be watching a movie or cooking dinner like we used to." I try.
She's not even looking at me, has closed her eyes even. "Then why not suggest such an activity?" God, the pain is practically steaming off of her.
It's finally enough to kick me back to a bit of the honesty I intended for tonight. "That's not what I mean." I didn't even realize how much I'd tucked myself into my hoodie until I felt my own breath trapped in the fabric. It's symbolic almost and I have to say this better. I can't stand the way either of us is feeling. I'm sick with it. "I mean like we used to… like we… like you and me…"
"Natsuki…" The first inkling is there and it helps me break through my ramblings.
"Did you go to school in Kyoto to get away from me?" I ask, surprising myself.
"I went to Kyoto because it is my home… and because I needed some space."
I push even though it sucks to hear. "From me." I don't need her to confirm it because I know it's true already.
"From my feelings." That's the same thing, I think, but don't say it. There is no guarding on her face right now and the run of emotions is crazy, does crazy things to me in turn.
At that moment before we died, when I kissed her, what I said made sense to me, seemed so simple. Maybe because I never meant it as a beginning. It's not like I regret it, or would take back anything I said for that matter because it was true when I said it. I wouldn't have said it if it wasn't, not in that sort of a situation. White lies always seemed so pointless to me, but I guess sometimes the truth doesn't help anyone. Besides …truth when it comes to emotions isn't easy like it is with everything else. Because that kind of truth isn't solid. It changes on you. I hate it when things feel true even though you know they aren't… and that somehow it's easier sometimes to trust a feeling than a fact.
The knot in my stomach is huge like I ate a brick and my hands are hurting because I'm balling them so tightly. Gone in my thoughts, I have to find the conversation I've lost again. Everything tonight has felt like metaphor and right now I'm on the edge of a ledge. The thought feels as cliché and as unoriginal as everything I've tried to say.
"I… " This isn't what I do though, talking… taking the things in my mind or my heart, making them string together prettily. "…think I was wrong Shizuru."
"About what were you wrong?" She asks, looking genuinely curious. Maybe because it's so out of the blue.
"About what I said… in the church… that I couldn't feel that way…" I'm staring at her half in disbelief that I'm saying any of this, just watching her eyes widen. "'cause when I'm with those guys, I just wish it was you instead." It just comes out, exactly what I meant, said like a damn middle schooler… and those eyes are impossibly wide now. Somehow I keep stumbling through this, trying not to let my embarrassment swallow me whole. "I want it to be you." And why isn't she saying anything? Say something! "Shizuru… can we still try?" Deafening fucking silence. "Oi!" It's like she can't even hear me almost and I'd never thought… if I said this… she would just… "Are you even listening to me?"
Another second before she says only… "Yes."
I'm scooping up all the pieces of me that broke off in her non-reaction. Trying to seem whole. "So… you will?"
"Kanin-na. I am more tired than I thought. Will I what Natsuki?"
I… can't. My mind is all fire and I'm collapsing inward again. "Damn it Shizuru!" I feel like such an idiot and the shame is all over my skin, making it itch and shake. My arms whip around my body, against it, against her. How could you just sit there, not even hearing me? What was happening? "You weren't listening at all!"
"Kanin-na. Please, tell me what you said." I'm so thrown and frustrated… so mad…the heat of it… of trying… of tripping all over myself… of her just staring… it's all… I don't know, I don't know.
"Why weren't you listening?!" It's an accusation and I'm not very much in control of myself right now. Just leave…I clench my hands… trying to breathe, trying not to obey the impulse that has almost reached my legs. Run away… I want the dark roads… I want air whipping past my head so loudly that I can't think.
"Please?" Her voice is so soft, eyes so unusually open. It penetrates and ratchets me down enough to at least look at her. I hate that she can do that to me.
"I said I wanna go on a date with you Shizuru." I don't really even know what I'm saying, hate that I'm still so unsteady, hate that my voice is so unsteady, so unlike my own. I hate how it sounds, but I don't even know. "I asked you to."
And the look on her face, it's a straight punch to my stomach. "Did you?"
I whip my hood up because my head just exploded into a million goddamn pieces. "All you had to say was no." … I feel small … so stupid. This whole idea was so fucking stupid. Why did I ever think we could just start over? You can never go back… I should know better.
"Natsuki…" Her voice is there before I even realize she's moved, caught up to me, her arms passing around her waist, her body pressing into mine from behind.
I nearly jump out of my skin, because her warmth, her softness, they're smashing against the hot, hard bursts that are spreading all over me. I can't calm down. I need to get away… god, I should have stayed away. "Oi! Let me go!" I need air that isn't so suffocating and tears are pricking my eyes and I can't think of anything more mortifying than the possibility of crying in front of her.
"Na-tsu-ki…" But her voice and her body tighten around me and I feel her bury her face in my hair. "You surprised me… it is just that I never thought…" The air from her nose is all over my neck, but it's her whispered words that stop me. "Please, turn around." It's a real plea, real need and all emotion.
It's so unlike her that I straighten up, forcing back those stupid tears. "What…" It's all I can manage.
She says nothing but stares at me with the type of admiration that makes me feel like a lie of a person, smoothing the fabric. The shift in her is terrifying and so is her finger on my chin. Shizuru is visibly lost, searching for words and the rareness of seeing her this way is the only thing keeping me here. It takes me outside myself.
"Do you not know that I belong to you Natsuki?" My cheeks are on fire instantly and that was the type of unexpected, heartache of a thing that I maybe had hoped she would say when I somehow got through this.
Exasperation, confusion, trepidation and so much else, I shove it all in her name. "Shizuru…" It's all I can say.
"Are you certain you want this? Truly?" She is nearly whispering now and I still don't have any more words.
I look away and then suddenly I'm kissing her. I'm kissing her in a very different way than I did before. It feels like everything I was trying to say all night, everything kind of pours into it and out of it at once. I watch her eyelids flutter after. Then everything falls back in on me. The doubt is there because if this worked, by some miracle, I was resolved to do it right. I want to make up for the time it took, which again, I don't regret... maybe then for the pain she felt.
"Wait," I say, annoyed at the slight frantic note. "The date… I wanted…" It sounds so idiotic aloud…
"Did you intend this to be a date?" She's obviously caught off guard again, but I'm too lost in embarrassment at having brought this up now, to enjoy it.
It doesn't matter now, it's out. "When you said we could come up here, I couldn't ask anymore."
She leans on the side of the house with a delicate hand, looking at me almost shyly. "It is rather romantic with the fire, is it not?"
I don't know what to say. "I guess."
She's studying me intently. "Why could you not ask any longer?"
My right foot is already all the way in my mouth. Might as well through in the left. "I can't ask you on a date to your own parents' summer house. That's so stupid."
"Natsuki has put a lot of thought into this."
"I didn't wanna screw it up!" I say dumbly, trying to grab at some semblance of composure. But she's smiling down at me, standing her full height, with a hand on my cheek. She's taller and I feel so much like a girl, especially when I see her eyes drop to my lips.
"You did not Natsuki. Ookini…" She's pressing her mouth to mine. Her hand is dragging gently over the place she was staring at all night and my whole body feels like a heartbeat. I'm sinking in a different way, loosening. My hand just goes to hers over my collarbone. "It is perfect." She says when she pulls away.
I shake my head lightly, not able to agree with that at all. Tonight was about as far from perfect as it's possible to be. It's so like her to claim it, to believe it, that I can't help a small smile.