Risa sat on the edge of his bed, gazing down at his sleeping form. His hair was tousled around his face, his complexion was pasty, the black sleeves of his shirt were pulled over his thin wrists and the seams dripped heavily from his thinning body. His cotton trousers were bunched around his calves from his sleeping movement and his bare feet were tucked beneath a sweater that hung off the foot of the bed.
He was laying on his back, one hand resting on his stomach, the other over his chest, almost as if he were limply trying to hug the warmth into his body.
Risa looked around and found her hair ribbon on the floor. It had come loose when he had kissed her, his fingers combing through every strand of her hair as if he couldn't touch it enough. She smiled weakly. He had kissed her, sat on the bed and held her in silence until his fatigue wore him thin and he had laid down to sleep.
She started to reach to pick it up, stopped and then recoiled back. She'd leave it where it had fallen.
She looked back at him.
Was this the boy that everyone swooned over in class? The boy all the girls wished for and the boy all the other boys wished to be? Was this the genius of their school, the one who had already graduated from college, who was Chief Commander of Police and heir to an ancient surname?
This ghost of a boy…
She reached over and traced his jaw line with her finger. He had more faults than assets, more troubles than luxuries. He was essentially one problem following another, whether they were problems of his own accord or else issued by outsiders. He was work, hard work. And the work that he required was draining on Risa's end. She was not only physically tired but mentally as well. She was drained from having to deal with the girls at school, drained from their differences that were all too obvious at the beginning of the relationship, drained from worrying about him in the hospital and being angry at him for slamming her hand against the fence. Boyfriends weren't supposed to lie in their apartments sick and weak, unable to get up and outside with no clear sign of ever getting better. But Risa's boyfriend was, and it was draining her.
She slumped in her seat, her hand gently cupping his face.
"But I'd rather be drained and as weak as you are than walk away," she said out loud, keeping her words to a gentle vibration. "I'd rather be drained and never leave this room if it meant staying right here."
Satoshi inhaled deeply and opened his eyes as he exhaled, waking to her voice. "What?" he breathed. "Risa, did you say something?" He focused his glasses-free vision on her face and noted the seriousness and solemnity. He reached up and touched the hand on his cheek. "Are you okay?"
She shook her head. "No," she replied. No dramatic tears. No saddening violin to underscore the moment. It was just the simple truth: no, she was not okay.
She blinked. "I said something to you before, a while back actually, but you were asleep, so I don't think you heard me."
She shook her head. "No, you don't have to be. I knew you were sleep. I said it while you were asleep with the intention for you not to hear." She nudged him slightly in the side and he scooted over on the bed, giving her room so that she could lay down next to him, her head sharing his pillow, her long hair fanning out across his sheets. He turned his head so he could see her face. "But now I think I have to repeat it, while you're awake."
"I don't think I'm fully awake. I'm still a little groggy." He said it solemnly but lightly, his indication that he was playing. She smiled briefly.
"That's all right. I still want to tell you now."
Risa shifted slightly on the bed. "I'm falling in love with you," she said.
For a long time after that a silence followed. Satoshi stared at Risa and Risa stared back, and her words hung in the air, heavy and potent and powerful. Risa blinked once, twice, thrice and still he said nothing. At one point Risa broke their eye contact and glanced towards the window, at the snow outside. When she looked back she found that he hadn't moved, and was still looking at her with the azure stare he was so well-known for. Then, suddenly, he reached over and tapped her on the nose with one finger, a very un-Satoshi-like thing to do.
"You act too quickly on things," he told her quietly, almost sadly. No, definitely sadly. "You don't take the time to think extensively over your thoughts before you relay them."
A shadow began to swell inside Risa's chest but she did a very good job of keeping it off her face. She forced the unwanted tears to stay away from her eyes, and she was surprised that they obeyed. She had become stronger. "That's just the way I am, I guess."
"I know." He turned back to the ceiling and threw his arm over his eyes, his next words muffling themselves as they caught on the fabric of his sleeve. "After you yelled at me for not kissing you I promised myself that I'd make it a point to do things first. You made me feel like a coward back then, and I was angry that a girl had made me look and seem so inferior." He sighed. "I really didn't want you to say it first. I wanted to be the first one to say 'I love you'." He lowered his hand and glanced sidelong at her. "I just didn't want to say it too soon."
The shadow immediately dissipated from Risa's chest and she smiled broadly. She scooted closer to him and rose up on one elbow, kissing him sweetly—passionately—with a smile on her face. When she pulled away her hair played across his skin.
"That's you're problem then," she told him. "You still think too much."
"That's just the way I am, I guess." He snaked his hands into her hair and pulled her down to him once more, this time initiating the action. When they released he wasted no more time. "I love you, Risa. In my time I never really knew what love was, but if I always want to see your face or hear your voice or desire your approval or your attention or require your presence or miss your smile or wonder about your thoughts or worry about your well-being…then I supposed that the only explanation for any of that is that I love you."
She smiled. No one could say that they'd gotten such a speech from Satoshi. No one could say that they'd ever heard that many words come out of his mouth. And not only that, but they were beautiful words. Words that Risa didn't know were so good to hear.
She rested her forehead against his. He was such a handsome boy, and so intelligent. And he was so troubled, and so melancholy. He was perfect.
"I love you," he repeated, although this time is was hardly audible, so much so that she almost didn't hear it. She smiled.
"Yeah, I know. I love you too."
He really didn't know what he was doing.
He was standing in the middle of his room, pretty little Risa Harada asleep on his bed behind him, a blank canvas on an easel in front of him, a pallet in one hand and a brush in the other. Outside the snow had lessened and then stopped.
He had never stopped painting. He painted all the time at school and even at home, when he was finishing projects. But that was was it: he only painted projects. He did assignments and special artworks for school or else museums, but it had been eons since he had painted simply for himself.
He stared at the expanse of white for a long time, trying to envision what he wanted to create, like all the stupid art teachers had told him too. Back then he had humored them, giving them a rough outline of his process and pretending to see the painting that was 'already there'.
In truth, however, he never ever thought about what it was that he was painting or sculpting or drawing. It was like meditating: he just stood there and thought of absolutely nothing and in three hours the canvas was covered from edge to edge in vibrant color.
Satoshi picked up a tube of oil paint and started to squeeze out the bright blue pigment…
…and almost immediately his mind was in another place, where he wasn't looking, just seeing, and his hands worked on their own.
There was a word he used for times like these, with his girlfriend dozing quietly behind him, the canvas awaiting before him and the winter weather surrounding him from the outside:
Risa woke up to the faint sound of soft scratching, the rhythmic din coaxing her eyes open. She sighed and blinked away her fatigue, rubbing the sleep from her lids. Satoshi's room came into focus and she turned her head to find him standing in the middle of the room, his back to her, his body blocking the canvas that rested on the easel he had set up.
Risa had seen him paint before, but in those times, although his strokes were brilliant, he had seemed tense and under strain. Now she could see that his shoulders were lax and his posture was at ease, his arm moving independently of his laidback demeanor, the bristles of his brush scraping softly against the canvas. Her eyes combed his appearance and she smiled when she looked at his hair. He had a cowlick.
Quietly as she could, Risa rose from the bed and crept up behind him, grinning mischievously as she peered around him. But when she saw what he was working on the smile dropped from her face and she gasped out loud. Her breath startled Satoshi and he jumped slightly, his brush immediately retreating from the canvas as he turned towards her. He relaxed when he saw who it was and asked her if she had slept well and if he had woken her, but Risa didn't answer him. She was too enthralled by his painting; hypnotized by it.
He had created a self-portrait, detailing it down to every fine strand of his own hair. She was caught by the striking resemblance and definite accuracy. He wore exactly what he was wearing now, and every highlight and wrinkle was emphasized in gleaming oil paint.
But the most profound factor of the artwork came from the most unexpected addition to his appearance, the factor that made it true art rather than a middle school fair entry.
White, vibrant white, wings protruded from his back, extending twice the image's height to the point of burdening the painted Satoshi. But they didn't seem to burden him. They seemed a part of him, a simple extension of his actual being, splayed about the canvas in a flurry of soft purity. The hue of the wings was surreal, the dimensions and layers of color making them seem to pop right out of the picture, to the point where she was sure they were moving and flapping in the wind. It was a breathtaking sight. Completely angelic. A winged Satoshi Hiwatari. A winged Satoshi Hikari.
"I didn't even know what I was painting," she heard him say quietly. She turned to look at him and saw that he was staring at the canvas, his painting hand hanging limply at his side. "I don't really pay attention to what happens…I just paint what comes to me."
"It's beautiful," Risa breathed. She took a step towards it, leaning in as close as she possibly could. "It's gorgeous. It's like nothing I've ever seen before." She smiled faintly. "You painted yourself…with Krad's wings."
"Yeah. I did."
She looked back at him. "His wings fit you. They look right. They look like they fit."
He nodded blandly but sincerely. "Yeah. They do."
"So what does this mean?"
Satoshi didn't say anything.
"Does this mean he's still alive inside of you?"
Satoshi didn't say anything.
"Does this mean he really is gone forever?"
Satoshi still didn't say anything.
Risa straightened up and surveyed the artwork. "Or maybe this means that you've accepted Krad into who you are and have come to terms with the fact that, although he was a being centered around pain and hatred and power, he was still a significant face of your existence, someone that was still important." She stepped back so that she was standing at his side. "Maybe this means you've finally accepted what all the little hints have alluded to."
He frowned slightly, tilting his head to the side. "Then why did I paint that?"
He pointed to the hand of his double and Risa squinted at the area. She had barely even noticed, but the painted Satoshi was holding a tiny pink ribbon in his right hand, clasped so tightly in his fingers that only a small edge of the pink was visible. Nonetheless, it was unmistakably the same ribbon Risa always wore.
"That's mine." She was flattered, but confused. "Why did you paint my ribbon?"
"Because only my Sacred Maiden can set that side of me free."
He was feeling better. Actually feeling better.
It wasn't a figment of his imagination or a simple lightening of his mood. He was feeling better.
His chest didn't seem so heavy, his muscles felt less taut. His head didn't hurt. It was easier to breathe. His stomach was settled. He blinked. He hadn't felt so light in days, in weeks, in months.
In short, he was healing.
"Satoshi?" Risa was looking up at him, her wide eyes curious about his silence. She gently took the brush and palette from his hands and set them on the floor next to the painting. "Are you okay?"
It was not asking for his suffering as payment for relief. It was not asking for pain.
It was asking for happiness as the catalyst for regeneration. It was asking for him to let go of his pain and heartache and embrace the new life he had been granted. Too long he had wallowed in the misery that had been his existence. And for too long he had waited for the sadness to be compensated for. He had clung to his past in hopes to have every wrongdoing avenged.
Risa was frowning. "Satoshi, are you sure you're okay?"
He stared off into his own world, contemplating her question for a long time before he finally nodded. He thought of her presence next to his, still so potent even though they weren't even touching. He thought of seeing her face in his doorframe so early in the morning, or opening is eyes to her sitting figure next to the hospital bed. He thought of how she had smiled while she ate her croissant and dropped crumbs onto his notebook in the library.
Then he thought of Krad, imagined his face so vividly in his mind's eye, but it was almost immediately washed out by every memory he had made with Risa.
She outweighed him. She was more important.
He looked her directly in the eyes, nothing connecting them but their gazes. There was six inches between them, and still she burned against his skin and his heart.
"Yeah," he replied, finally able to answer her question with a solid truth. He could almost feel himself begin to heal; could finally feel the relaxation that came when the burden was truly lifted. "I really am."
She smiled, blinking. "Good. As long as you're okay…."
He thought of how he had always wondered if he should have changed for her. Now, he realized, she wasn't making him change who and what he was…she was only helping him to evolve from the person he was now to a better Satoshi for the future.
She already loved the real Satoshi. So now he wanted to perfect being Satoshi just for her. He wanted to see how much he could improve himself for her.
Dramatic as the thought may seem, he had found someone to live for.
"I think I'll be okay for a long time. In fact, I think I'll be getting better and better each day."
He leaned down as if to kiss her. She closed her eyes automatically, but he stopped just short of her lips, his face hovering not but half a centimeter from hers. He studied her from the close proximity, gazed down at every curve and shadow of her face. Risa opened her and blushed when she found him staring at her, her gaze nearly drowning in his.
"What are you--,"
"Let's go back to the park today," he told her.
"But it's freezing outside. There's five inches of snow."
"I don't care."
She laughed lightly and unconsciously stepped away, but Satoshi followed, keeping the same distance between them. "You're going to make us sick."
"We'll dress warmly."
She laughed again, this time from his breath tickling her cheek. "Fine, all right. Whatever you want."
With that, Satoshi closed the distance and kissed her, a kiss reminiscent of their first, with all the more electricity shooting between them, around them, within them.
It wasn't the start of a new beginning.
Only the continuation of one that had already begun.