Bottled Strength

Bearit's Notes: A rough attempt at external angst rather than internal. Takes place between episode 24 and 25.


Izumi was stunned when she walked into the darkened room, the only source of light being a bright blue television screen. Next to it were Gekigangar cassettes and empty beer bottles; in front of it was the very woman she had left the hangar to seek.

She took a deep breath. What was she supposed to say to the woman she had never even taken another glance at before nearly last night, when that woman's life had changed for the worse? They never talked; Izumi wouldn't be surprised if she didn't know her name. There was only one reason why Izumi knew her name, though Izumi would refuse to remind herself why.

"Haruka-san?" Izumi called out softly.

"Go away," was the curt answer.

Izumi sighed. "Haruka-san, everybody is worried about you. I understand why you will not come out, but I refuse to leave until we've had the chance to talk."

"There's nothing to talk about. You don't understand a thing. Nobody does. Nobody except for maybe Yukina-chan, but nobody else. Nobody."

Izumi narrowed her eyes slightly and tried everything in her power to not feel offended. "I wouldn't make assumptions like that if I were you. You couldn't possibly know everybody's past to do so. You are not Fressange-san, but you are a very intelligent woman. Surely you must realize this."

She laughed bitterly. "As if."

Izumi paused and waited for her to finish the sentence, but the only response she received was for the woman sprawled on the floor to grab one of the last two beer bottles, open it, and chug.

Izumi could swear that there was something wrong with that picture.

"Haruka-san... don't you think that you are drunk enough already?" Izumi nodded her head towards the dozen of empty bottles rolling on the floor.

She pulled the bottle away from her mouth and shook her head violently. "No. No. No. No, no, no. I can never be drunk enough. I can never be drunk enough, for there aren't enough alcohol in the world to satisfy my despair. There is not enough alcohol in the world to drown my sorrows. There is not enough alcohol in the universe to take away my pain."

Izumi managed a small smile. "Maybe alcohol isn't what you need."

"Oh?" Haruka-san snapped as she slammed the bottle on the ground, the liquid spraying out of the top as the ground made a soft thud. "Oh? Is that so? Then what do you propose? That I slit my wrists? That I go to the shrink's office? I don't think Fressange-san is qualified to handle issues such as this. I think she's more focused on scientific issues." She brought the bottle to her lips and showed no mercy to a single drop in the amber container.

"That-- that wasn't what I meant," Izumi started but was cut off by Haruka-san as if she cared not for anything Izumi had to say.

"His death--" She threw the bottle across the room, and it smashed into tiny crystal pieces that shimmered as they fell to the floor. "--is anything BUT scientific!"

Izumi bit her lip. That was true. He had died in a bloody manner, and science was never involved with violence. The emotions that were projected afterwards were, indeed, anything but scientific.

"I know," said Izumi quietly. "I know."

Haruka-san snapped her head towards Izumi, her face scarlet and dangerously fierce as if she were having an allergic reaction to the booze she had indulged herself in. But Izumi knew better. Her face looked disease-ridden because she had been crying. Who wouldn't cry?

After all, Izumi, too, had cried.

"No, you don't," said Haruka-san. "You don't know a thing. Do you honestly think talking will help? Talking won't do a thing for me! It won't do a thing for me, it won't do a thing for you, it won't do a thing for him. Talking won't bring him back to life!"

Izumi closed her eyes and sighed again. "I came here to talk to you, but I didn't come to make you feel better. I came here to help you find a way to overcome this hard time in your life, but I didn't come here to see if you were all right."

Haruka-san looked indignant. "What do you know? You couldn't possibly help me!"

"I know. I've been through what you're going through right now. Twice. I know talking won't help, nor seeing a therapist, nor suicide, especially since your death would be the last thing he would want. And drinking until you pass out is not a legitimate way to take your pain away; it just makes it worse."

"You've been through what I've been going through?" Her face was still twisted with disgust, but her eyes now showed a little regret. Haruka Minato was still conscious somewhere in her soul.

Izumi nodded. "Like I said, I'm not here to alleviate your pain, nor am I here to make you feel better, nor am I here to lecture you on how to live your life. Haruka-san, what I'm here for is to help you see the paths you can take. I am here... to make you stronger."

Haruka-san blinked and stared into Izumi's eyes as if she were making sure that it wasn't a joke to Izumi. Being a punning mistress had its drawbacks, Izumi realized. Nobody was ever sure if she was truly serious. Of course, Izumi had made it that way. Nobody would dare get close to her heart. She could not possibly fall in love with anybody. She would not have to be hurt again, and nobody would have to do die because of her.

Finally, Haruka-san said, "What are you talking about?"

"When you get over the death of someone you love, you have to become stronger because of it. When you remember the peo--person you love so dearly, you must be happy, not sad. Haruka-san--" Izumi knelt on the floor next to the older woman and grasped one of her hands gently. "--how do you think Shiratori-san would respond to the way you are acting now?"

She bit her lip hesitantly, sheepishly. "With shame?"

Izumi shook her head. "Anything but. Don't you think he would wish for you to go on with your life?"

"Am I not allowed to mourn?!" Haruka-san snapped as she snatched her hand away from Izumi. "Am I not allowed to grieve for the loss of the man I loved--the only man I truly love and will ever love?"

"Don't you think that's being a little naive? Why can't you give it another chance?"

"I gave it too many chances."

"And?"

"All the men I have been with were only interested in me for sex, or they were too clingy," Haruka-san replied, turning her head away. "It was because of the clinginess that I dumped Goat. He was too overprotective. I don't want that--I don't need that. I don't need to be protected. Shiratori-san was the only man to ever realize this. He was the only man to love me for who I was."

Izumi tilted her head and decided for a moment to birdwalk. "Hory-san? You used to date Hory-san? How old is he anyway?"

Haruka-san laughed bitterly. "He's about forty-two. Nearly twenty years older than me. Did you think I cared when I thought that I loved him? He's a sweet man beneath that solemn stare, almost too sweet. So sweet that I couldn't stand it. I hate being protected."

"Would you ever go back to him?"

"If he changes his ways. Otherwise, no."

Izumi smiled gently. "It never hurts to give love another chance unless you've been hurt by it for too long and far too much."

"I think I have."

"Not yet. I may be younger than you, but I know the pain of the one you love the most dying... and even dead before you could even have the chance to say 'goodbye'. I know that feeling, and look where I am now."

"You said twice, didn't you?"

Izumi blinked. "What?"

"You said something about twice, and what you just said rung a bell--could you hand me that bottle over there?"

"Twice is not important. I am not the important one right now. You are." Izumi intentionally did not say anything in response to Haruka-san's request. No more drinks for her. Was it Tenkawa-kun who somehow let Haruka-san get to the liquor? Or was it Howmei-san? Or maybe Haruka-san had somehow manage to sneak the bottles in--

No, she didn't seem to be the type to be a heavy drinker. Her amazing stability to her intake of thirteen bottles showed that she was stronger than she truly let on.

"Maybe it would help," Haruka-san offered. "Could you hand me that bottle?"

"My experiences would be of no use to you. Find your own strength in order to move on."

Haruka-san looked at Izumi with a curious stare. "You know, this is the first time I ever remember you being so serious. It's almost funny. I knew that there was something more complex to you."

"Haruka-san--"

"Bottle, please."

"Haruka-san, what do you think Shiratori-san is doing right now?"

She stared at Izumi. "What do you mean?"

"I want to know your religious viewpoints. It might help."

"I... I don't know what I believe in," Haruka-san admitted. "I like to think that we don't only get one chance at life--we get another one through reincarnation. Almost like Buddhism. But I also believe that horrible, terrible people go to Hell and good people to Heaven. Or something like that. Nobody is pure evil. Nobody is pure good. I know that, too." She shook her head. "I don't know."

"Do you think Shiratori-san is with you now?"

Haruka-san did not answer. Izumi stared at her intently and saw that after a moment's contemplation, her eyes were brimmed with tears, and she brought her wrist up to wipe them away.

"I don't know," she whispered coarsely. "If he is... how do you think he would react to my watching the show he grew up with?"

"I don't know," Izumi answered. "I never knew him."

She snapped her head up at Izumi again, her wet eyes fiery with resentment. "So why are you here? You know nothing of Shiratori-san! How could you possibly help me if you know nothing of Shiratori-san?!"

"I'm not here to help you, remember? I'm here to make you stronger."

"I don't need strength."

"That's the first time I've heard anybody say that," Izumi said with an amused grin. "You really are trying to get rid of me, aren't you?"

"Don't you have to go into battle soon?"

Izumi nodded. "Which is why you have to work with me for a little while. Just a little while longer. Maybe it'll discourage you from drinking, and you'll be left to think."

Izumi paused and took a small breath while she recalled her memories of a time not so long past, but indeed very long ago. She had someone's shoulder to cry on the first time; the second time, she mourned for a day alone and the next day, she had acted like nothing had ever happened and continued to do so until very recently. What had she done? What had she thought about? What does she constantly think about to move on with her life?

How could she tell Haruka-san how to get stronger when Izumi had all but gotten weaker? She gave up on love. She wanted to die and be with them. She had a strong barrier that she refused to let anybody purge through. For the longest time, only Ryoko and Hikaru truly knew Izumi's past, but they only showed sympathy towards her just that one time when she told them. They encouraged her to get stronger; that was why they probably never thought twice about the thoughts that raced through Izumi's mind at the time of Shiratori-san's death.

"Think about what?" asked Haruka-san.

Izumi sighed again. "What would Shiratori-san want? You must know. I'll give you the entire day to think about that. What would Shiratori-san want from you? And what do you want from what you do for Shiratori-san? What do you want to live for?"

Haruka-san shook her head. "A difficult question with a simple answer. He... he wants me to live. He wants me to be happy. But how can I be happy?"

Izumi patted Haruka-san's shoulder and stood. "It's not as simple as you think--or maybe it's simpler than you think. Give some thought to it."

"I hardly knew him," she quietly admitted.

"It's not too late to do so," Izumi answered. "You still have what he cherished the most, don't you?"

Haruka-san stared at the ground and hugged her knees. Izumi smiled.

"Bottle," Haruka-san ordered.

Izumi shook her head.

"You can get stronger. You just have to put your mind to it," said Izumi and she left the room with only one more glance back at Haruka Minato... and for the first time that night saw Minato as the younger yet more mature version of herself. She smiled and ran back to the hangar.

And as the announcement rang for the pilots to man their Aestivalis, Izumi only hoped that Minato would choose the better path, the one opposite the one Izumi had chosen so many years ago.

But then... how would her fiancées react to her barriers?

She would never know the answer.