Genre: Drama, angst.
Pairing: TezuFujiRyo. Depends on the point of view, really.
Disclaimer: I claim nothing but the insanity and mistakes.
WARNING: THIS IS A DEATHFIC. There is a major character death, although not directly in the ficlet itself. Please do not read if it bothers you.
Dedicated to Em-san, the Almighty Awesome Beta. Thank you!
(November 15, 2004)
God, he's back again. I resist the urge to groan, and your laughter rings in the empty space next to me as your cool lips brush against my ear. You always ignore him anyway, you whisper.
"…Please don't do this to yourself."
But you know… your voice is a ghost of a whisper, cool wind brushing past my ear. He won't go away if you ignore him enough. Cold fingers trace up my forearm playfully, and I'm half-tempted to smack your hand away.
Except that would never work, would it?
"…and he's not doing well, either. We can't have both of you like this…"
You can't make him go away by ignoring him. Your whisper finds its way to my ear, insistent. Icy prickles dance up my spine, startling me. After all, you always ignored me. There is a lilt of amusement in your voice, and I shiver.
But I didn't go away. The ring of your voice is real this time, clear, and my head whips around to look for you automatically. And as always, you are not here.
"You haven't been eating, either." I finally force my attention back to my friend – my only friend? – who is staring at me with concern in his eyes.
"I just don't feel like it," I tell him, and sigh inwardly when I see his eyes light up at such a simple response. He talks to me even when I don't respond to him, trying to draw me away, away from memories, away from you.
But he can't, can he? You laugh softly in my other ear, breath cool against my skin, except I know you can't have breath. Not anymore.
Now you're just being mean. I hear the pout in your voice. If I could see your face, I imagine I would see an uncharacteristic pout replacing the usual, gentle smile. If I saw it, I would think it an expression that suited Kikumaru a lot better.
I turn to look at you, and as always, look at empty air. I hear you always, in my sleep, in my waking hours, everywhere I go, but I never see you. I don't know what scares me more, that I hear you like this, or that I'm sorry I don't see you as well.
That's funny. You never saw me when I was still…
"Shut up," I say aloud, and he looks at me with surprise.
"Uh, did you say something?" he asks innocently, as if he did not hear me. As if he thought I didn't know what he was thinking. He would say I was being uncharacteristically impatient, brusque.
I'm just being honest. Why shouldn't I be? You're not here anymore.
Are you sure about that?
No, I am not sure. I never was. I never knew where I stood, with you.
And now you never will. You sound reflective, not teasing. So you would drive yourself crazy with a room full of…well, me?
"I know I'm crazy," I say aloud, and he flinches. I wasn't even talking to him, but it's just as well.
"You know you're not crazy," he tells me patiently, his eyes full of compassion and kindness. "You're just grieving. We all are."
I laugh. It startles him, I can tell. As close as he is to me, he has never heard me laugh, either.
"No, I just hear him. Everywhere," I tell him, voice just a little shy of hysterical. "I hear him even now, you know."
"Stop it," he whispers. I had forgotten. He was close to you, too, wasn't he? Closer than I ever was to you, at least in public. After all, he cares about everyone on the team.
It's not like you to be forgetful, you whisper, teasing and disapproving at once. Or thoughtless, you add, almost as an afterthought.
In the meantime, he has collected himself, pushing aside his own pain in favor of mine.
"You can't destroy yourself over what happened. Not even over…him. He would never have wanted you to do this." He sounds so pained. His last words are but a whisper. A pang of regret seizes me and I reach out to touch his hand, only to stop myself and grab a glass of water instead. I never used to offer gestures of comfort or support before. Doing so now…how would that help?
It might help if you stopped lying to yourself, you know.
"Tell me," I say quietly, reflectively, "if he doesn't want me to 'destroy myself,' as you put it, then why do I keep hearing him?" I know the last part was vicious, and I feel another pang of guilt as he flinches again, the remaining blood draining from his face.
"You don't. You just think you do, because you can't let him go. Because you don't want to lose him," he replies at last.
Spoken like a true psychologist. I should have known Oishi would turn out to be a psychologist when he started whipping out personality tests for the team. I laugh again, and he looks away as if he cannot bear to look at me.
"You might try telling him that," I say when the last of my laughter dies out. Then, I calmly take a sip of water from the glass in my hand. Instead of flinching as before, he gets up abruptly, walking to the door. I can't be sure whether I'm relieved or disappointed.
You've been trying to get rid of him, you realize.
"…How's your shoulder?" He doesn't turn back to look at me as he asks. I automatically reach for my left shoulder with my free hand. It doesn't hurt anymore. It hasn't, not since the...accident.
There, I can say it to myself now.
Took you long enough.
I grit my teeth. "It's fine."
"We'll win the Nationals," I say firmly. "With or without him," I add, voice quieter. His hand on the door trembles, but he nods, once.
"Will you be ready by then? The team needs you."
"I'll be ready," I assure him – myself? – and wish I felt as confident as I sounded. I take another sip, but the water tastes bitter, acrid in my throat.
"Don't say that name!" I nearly scream, and he starts, turning to face me with surprise clear on his face. "I don't want to hear about it," I manage to say with a little more restraint this time, my knuckles white over the glass I'm clutching with both hands. He looks at me with that pained expression that says he understands everything. But he doesn't. He wasn't there. He didn't see – doesn't know –
Really? But neither do you.
"…I'll come by again later." He walks out without looking back, and I'm glad. I drain the water and set the glass back on the table beside the bed. I can't stand his sympathetic glance. Not now.
You mean, not ever. Your breath is closer again, next to my ear. I can almost see you leaning closer to speak, a playful smirk on your lips. You would always draw closer than decency should allow, invading personal space, speaking in low murmurs that made ears strain to catch the words. You would angle your head just so your breath would brush against the cheek, the ear, ruffling the hair around the earlobe.
And you would never do any of those again. All because of him.
It's easier to blame him, isn't it? Easier to make it his fault.
"It is his fault." I mutter stubbornly. I'm glad Oishi left. No one is here now to give me strange looks if I talk to you. You laugh softly, just behind my ear, the same way you always do.
So you never ignored me? Never pretended I didn't exist because I just didn't fit into your neat, ordered life?
"I respected you –"
Which isn't the same thing. You can't deny it, can you? You've always ignored me, until you didn't have to anymore.
I don't answer. I don't know what to say. There was no part of me that said, "I will wait until we are both in high school to engage in a relationship." I always just assumed there would be enough time, after the Nationals ended, after the high school entrance exams were finished. Enough time to tell you how I felt about you, and then you would tell me how you felt about me, and we would be able to make up for all the lost time, the time we both had dedicated to the team…
But now, I will never have a chance to tell you. You will never know. All because of him. You're gone because of him, and it's all his fault!
Do you regret it now? Your voice is softer, but not gentler. With you, I've long since learned to tell the difference.
Did you love me?
Cold lips brush against my neck and I shiver again.
Do you love me even now?
Sleep, you tell me, and your cool hands are now gentler, softer. It's difficult to sleep with ghastly hands caressing my hair, massaging my temples, but I eventually manage to fall into a dreamless sleep.
"How is ochibi?"
"Did he take the meds like he's supposed to?"
"He didn't want to. I slipped it in his drink."
"That was the only way."
"Do you know –"
"No, I don't know how the accident happened. I think the three of them are the only ones who can tell us what really happened."
"And Fujiko-chan can't…tell us…"
"…He blames himself for the accident, you know."
"That would make two of them."
"It would be just like him to."
"Momo? What is it?"
"You both have to come. He…!"
I wake up and stare at the sterile, white ceiling of my hospital room. I'm grateful that I'm in a private room now, or other patients would have been rather unnerved by my recently developed habit of talking to empty air. Although, I'm sure you would have derived some demented amusement out of the whole thing.
I have to go, you know…
Your voice sounds fainter, somehow. Deeper, but fainter.
Won't you let me go?
I can't. You hate me for not telling you. You hate me for letting this happen, to us, to you. You hate me as I hate him.
It's not his fault, you know.
Of course it is. If only it weren't for him, you would never have…
Stop that. Is it because you really think it's his fault? Or is it easier to blame him than facing yourself?
Your voice is sharp. You rarely take that tone with me, unless you're very annoyed. That doesn't happen too often, either.
I just want you to stay…
But I have to go. You have to let me go.
I don't want to lose you.
And you won't.
Liar. I lost you already. I can't bear to lose you again.
Cool air envelopes me, and I can easily imagine it is your spectral arms surrounding me, comforting me. Isn't it strange? While alive, you would never have put your arms around me, or tried to comfort me like this. You would have been too proper to do either.
You won't ever lose me…
Your voice is deep and hypnotic, and I blink at the feeling of hot wetness sliding down my cheeks. I brush them away, feeling the transient warmth transferring to my hands, and then cooling as the moisture evaporates. I close my eyes, and somehow, you're not cold as you have been ever since the accident. You're warm. Your voice is familiarly, strangely deep, warm and kind as it never had been in life.
But you have to let go of me now.
My eyes snap open, and focus on my hands, staring at a familiar green wristband on my left wrist. When had I taken this? It's my…no, this wristband isn't mine. It's –
"I never blamed you, you know."
I freeze. It can't be. I can't be looking at you, standing in the partly open doorway, looking as if nothing happened…
"You shouldn't, either."
…Looking very much alive…
"…You're dead," I say numbly.
You shake your head sadly, and I begin to wonder if I have finally gone over the deep end. Hearing your voice in my head is one thing, but this…
"Look," you tell me gently. "Look to your right."
I obey, or try to, but the sudden smell of blood sickens me. I tremble.
"I know it hurts. But you have to. Look carefully."
I clench my teeth, feeling my stomach rebel, and turn my head until I can see the body next to me, the familiar Seigaku summer uniform, the bloodstained white shirt…
"Who is it?"
Brown hair, soft and springy. Thank goodness, his eyes are closed. I don't have to see the empty eyes staring, the way they do in my dreams. There is blood on his face, matting his hair down, darkening the color with crimson, running down his forehead. And…
"…no…" I whisper.
…His glasses are missing…
"Echizen, it's not your fault."
His eyes are closed. He doesn't look as if in pain. It must had been instantaneous.
You nod. This time, there are tears in your eyes, but you make no effort to hide them. You cross the distance between us to take my shoulders in your warm – living – hands.
"Tezuka is not the one with the regret, Echizen. It's you."
I look to my right again, but the vision is gone, though not the sickening smell of blood. No matter how many times I wash, it never disappears. And then, you pull me closer, wrapping your arms around me, wrapping me in the warm scent of your body, and it overwhelms the smell of blood.
"Echizen, it's all right. I don't blame you. Tezuka doesn't blame you. You can let him go, now."
But it is my fault. He died because of me, and now you will never know.
"I've always known how he felt, Echizen. I know who he loved."
Your arms tighten around me, and for a selfish moment, I wish they would tighten enough to smother me, so I would not leave your embrace alive.
"And no matter what you tell yourself, I know you loved him, too."
My head snaps up, and I stare up at you, at your warm blue eyes gazing down at me kindly.
"But he – you –"
"Echizen," you shake your head, closing your eyes briefly.
"He loved you!" I blurt out.
"Ryoma," you call quietly. I stop, unable to go on, and you look at me, eyes warm and sweet and sad. "You were there. You remember who it was that he shielded, that moment."
I say nothing. I remember Tezuka-buchou's body slamming into mine, pushing me away, and…
…Tezuka-buchou's body had been warm against mine…
"Ryoma," you breathe my name like a sigh, combing your fingers through my hair. You lay your cheek against the top of my head, and I bury my face in your chest, feeling tears burn my eyes.
"…I miss him," I say suddenly. I never admitted it, either, when he was alive. On my left wrist, the green wristband feels warm. It's the one Tezuka-buchou wore on the day of the accident, the same one that brushed against my arm as he pushed me out of the way.
Tezuka-buchou had worn it for his match against Monkey King, during the Kanto Regional.
"Me, too," you answer gently. Your arms are warm around me. "So don't let me lose you, too."
I burrow closer, wrapping my own arms around you, feeling yours tighten around me in response. And finally, I let my tears fall.
"Shouldn't Fuji-senpai be in bed?"
"Momo! Lower your voice," Oishi admonished, taking a quick glance towards the room's partially open door. He could see Fuji embracing Echizen, and relaxed minutely. "It's the first time I've seen Echizen actually aware of himself and his surroundings."
"How did Fuji-senpai know where Echizen was? I mean, he's been unconscious until just now, right?" Momoshiro asked, curious despite himself. As soon as the Golden Pair came to Fuji-senpai's room, he had headed to Echizen's room to tell the younger Regular Fuji-senpai had woken up. Before he took ten steps away from the room, however, Fuji-senpai suddenly came out and without a moment of hesitation strode to Echizen's room, with the doctor, two nurses, and the Golden Pair trailing behind him. Not knowing what else to do, Momoshiro had followed them all the way to Echizen's room, and waited while Oishi talked to the doctor. The doctor and the nurses looked distinctly unhappy, but stood quietly outside the door, leaving Fuji-senpai alone with Echizen.
"He was," Oishi confirmed absently, his attention clearly on Fuji and Echizen inside the room. Momoshiro turned to Kikumaru instead, who looked unusually thoughtful.
"Fuji just opened his eyes, like he'd just been sleeping or something, and said very clearly, 'Echizen needs me.' I was too surprised to say anything. I think everyone was," Kikumaru said finally.
"How did he know Echizen needed him?" Momoshiro asked, frowning.
Kikumaru's eyes slid to his, holding him with an unnervingly transparent gaze, and Momoshiro felt his throat go dry for some reason. Kikumaru blinked, and answered him softly but clearly.
"He said Tezuka told him."