Author's Note: So... here's a one-shot! It was inspired by the short story "Moonlight Shadow" by Yoshimoto Banana. It is an amazing story, it's in her book 'Kitchen.' I highly recommend it. Please excuse any errors I have about Japanese legends, I'm an amateur. Big big thanks to Lakewood for betaing. Yes, I will continue 'Identity Crisis.' For now, hope you enjoy this little story. Comments always appreciated.
I had stopped sleeping on the floor around the time I had stopped carrying my gun, which was about six months after she was taken from me. I had no one to protect. I had no reason to be armed. I had no motive for hiding out under the box spring. She was gone, I was helpless, and that's all there was to know or feel.
Mithril had found the enemy base. I myself had dashed into the cells where they kept prisoners. I fumbled with the keys to every heavy metal door, sweat beading on my forehead in anticipation. I received the weeping thanks of captive after captive. I slumped against the wall when I opened the final cell and she wasn't there.
The base was searched, survivors interrogated. The brains of the plan had been killed in battle; the men I had watched stuff her into their van while I was restrained were found dead in their ASes. Bunkers, hideouts, homes -- all were scoured for her. She wasn't anywhere. The only evidence we had that she had ever been in their hands was her stained and bloodied yukata, folded neatly in their damn immaculate operating room... evidence that they had done something to her.
The guilt was unbearable. If only I hadn't been distracted that day, that day when she was captured right under my nose. We'd been sitting out by the river. She had wanted to enjoy the summer festival, despite my anxiety about the crowds and the hubbub. She had looked so beautiful in her soft pink Yukata. She laughed and the floating lanterns lit up her face, her eyes bright and care-free. In an unusually bold display, I had tucked a small flower into her hair, timid but contented when she smiled softly and a blush tinted her cheeks. I was so lost in that moment, so preoccupied by how heavy and rich and surreal it all felt. Soon the crowds had dispersed, the lanterns had burned out. It was just us sitting by the river in the moonlight. Then suddenly they were upon us, dozens of figures in dark clothes, all armed. I was held back, and their sheer numbers managed to put down my best efforts to repel them. I shouted after her when she called my name, but all I could do was watch her get stuffed into their van before I was hit on the back of the head and woke up a few days later in a Mithril infirmary.
Even after Mithril declared it a lost cause, I still kept searching. But how long can you roam aimlessly to find something that seemed to have disappeared completely? How long can you go with nothing to start from? After six months, I started to lose my drive. I put my weapons away. I stopped sleeping under my bed.
I stayed in Tokyo; I didn't go back to Mithril. I thought that if she ever escaped, she would come back here. She would come back to me and I would protect her. I would really protect her this time. How many nights did I end by begging, begging that if she'd only come back, I wouldn't fail her again? She just had to come back. I would handle the rest.
Then, one morning I was lying in bed and woke to see the dawn just rising outside of my window. Shafts of orange light peeked through the blinds, and I rolled over and I saw her there, next to me. I was surprised at how... not surprised I was. It all seemed so familiar, so normal. She was lying there just like she always did. In the last year we were together our relationship had come to some kind of agreement, some kind of silent acceptance. I would wake up and climb out from under the bed and there she would be, her arm bent and tucked under her head like a pillow, her lips slightly parted, her hair mused and falling into her face.
Now my breath caught and my heart beat faster, and I reached out to touch her skin right in front of me. My hand froze when her eyes opened, bright even in the dimness of the room. She smiled in her amused, groggy way, and blinked the sleep from her mind.
My heart soared. She came back in the night, even though I had long since stopped pleading for her to do so. She had found her way back and now everything would be fine. I didn't even care how she got back. I wouldn't ask questions. We were together and that was all that mattered. She would never have to leave again.
"Kaname!" I whispered.
But the instant that the sound left my lips, she was gone. There was no sound, no disturbance in the air. The sheets were lying next to me as if I had always been the only one there. I bolted upright, rubbing my eyes. I felt wide awake; it couldn't have been a dream. I searched my whole apartment, the bathroom, the living room, the balcony, but she was nowhere. Then, when I got back into bed, I touched the side of the bed she had been lying on, and it was warm. I pressed my face into the pillow where her head had been resting, and it smelled just like her. It was unmistakable. My heart lurched at that familiar feeling of being so close. Just so close.
I saw Kyouko on the way to the grocery store. My life had lost most of its purpose, but I usually still managed to eat. She must have noticed I was pretty out of sorts and asked me if anything had happened. Usually, I would just deny it and move on. Nothing I could say would express the paralysis that had overtaken me since Kaname was taken. Anyway, I had lost my girlfriend, but Kyouko had lost her best friend. She did not need to hear about my grief... she had plenty of her own.
It felt so different this time though, different than all of the dreams I had had about Kaname coming back. So, I told Kyouko the whole thing. My voice sounded distant and foreign to my own ears as I spoke.
Kyouko stopped walked and chewed her lip thoughtfully. "You know, something like that happened to me this morning, too."
I raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"I was in the drug store and I looked over and I could have sworn I saw Kaname near the candy she used to spend all her money on. That one kind of chocolate. It looked just like her, well it was her back, but her hair was just the right color and just the right length. I went up to her, but when I reach out to tap her shoulder, she was just gone." Her eyebrows furrowed in distress. "I thought I was going crazy, but then you know what day it is... now that you've told me about your story, well... maybe there's something to that legend after all."
"Legend?" I asked, stuffing my hands into my pockets.
"Yeah, that whole Tanabata theory."
Tanabata? I frowned, realizing that it was indeed July 7th, Tanabata, the summer festival... exactly one year since Kaname had disappeared. How had I lost track of time?
"There's a theory?"
When I got home, my sheets were cold and they just smelled like my laundry detergent. Maybe I did dream the whole thing, maybe nothing unusual happened at all and my loneliness and despair was just driving me crazy.
Still, that night I decided to go out to the river and watch the lanterns. I wondered if sitting in the same spot we'd sat at one year ago would make me feel closer to her somehow. I was stretched out by the river just after the sunset, when I saw someone across the way, standing by herself in jeans and an oversized t-shirt.
Kyouko told me that there's a theory that most people don't believe. It says that every hundred years or so at a certain time, in certain places, if you miss someone enough and think about them enough, you can see them with you. You can't speak to them, and you can't touch them, but they're there all the same.
The girl across the way had dark blue hair, much shorter than Kaname's, falling in waves around her shoulders. She had her arms crossed over her chest and was glancing around as if she wasn't quite sure she was in the right place.
Tanabata, Kyouko had said, is a holiday celebrating an old myth. The story is that in the sky, there are two bright stars on either side of the milky way: Vega and Alstair. Vega was also called Tanabata-hime, a weaver maiden, and she was in love with Alstair. The two were separated by a great river: the milky way, and could only meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, and then only if it's clear out.
I couldn't move as I watched her cast about, but finally her gaze settled on me. She cocked her head a little. Her eyes were deep and brown and so familiar. She smiled a little and started down the river towards the thin pedestrian bridge.
Kyouko told me that in some versions of the myth, Alstair crosses a bridge of magpies to visit Tanabata-hime. I don't think I believe that.
I don't think I believe any of it.
She was next to me now, looking down at me. I didn't want to look up. It wasn't Kaname. I didn't want to see her and feel that splitting in my chest, I didn't want to think about how I would fail, I didn't want to remember just how much of my heart she had taken up, and just how much I fell apart when she was gone.
The girl sighed, and I couldn't help it, I slowly turned my gaze to look up at her.
Her hair was shorter, she was thinner, and her eyes had lost just a little of their sparkle, but it was Kaname. She was glaring daggers at me. Maybe returned from the dead to scold me for not guarding her more carefully.
I said nothing. If this really was a part of that theory, if she really was a lost loved one returning for closure, then I would let her do her thing. My eagerness had chased the vision away this morning, but this time I would be patient. Closure was one thing I could definitely make use of.
She cleared her throat, raising an eyebrow.
I stared in awe.
She pulled a paper fan out of her back pocket, pulled her arm back, and thumped me smartly on the back of the head. "SOUSUKE!" she roared.
I recovered quickly, looking back at her, shocked. She could talk this time, and hit me. Apparently whatever part of me is responsible for causing visions is a little overactive.
She put her hands on her hips. "Aren't you going to say anything?"
No, I'm not. Hit me all you want. Shout and scream. Just don't disappear. Just don't go away.
I don't need closure as much as I need you.
"I've got other people to see, you know. I'm sure my friends will be glad to know I'm back." She scowled. "So, say something! Aren't you even glad to see me?"
My lips moved, but I couldn't find words. What do you say to a vision? What do you say to the ghost of the girl that you love? If you could only tell her one thing before she disappears, what would it be?
Her eyes were filling with tears. Was I hurting her by saying nothing? How could you hurt something that's not really there?
Say something. Say anything.
"I..." I croaked. "I loved you. I really loved you."
She looked shocked, but she didn't disappear. She even looked a little angry, but she still didn't disappear. "Loved? As in past tense?"
I looked down at my feet, feeling a little dizzy. "No, always," I corrected myself quietly. "I love you still. I probably always will."
She didn't answer. How do you answer that? I fiddled with the grass nervously. Then finally I looked up.
It was getting late, the lanterns had started to burn out and the crowds were thinning. The last few people were starting towards their cars. Little kids carried souvenirs and junk food. I rubbed the back of my head where it still hurt from being hit, but Kaname wasn't there. I didn't really expect her to be. The space in front of me was empty, there was no one near me at all.
I stared blankly ahead. Is this how it would be? Would I live my life from Tanabata to Tanabata, hoping that one day these dreams would be real? Would I always feel that I was the one responsible that such a light in the world was put out? Was she still alive somewhere, waiting for me to find her? Am I failing her even now by hoping she'd be the one to find me? Was she already dead, waiting for me across the river?
I turned stinging eyes skyward, my gaze tracing the milky-way above me. The universe is so big. I've had some big problems. I've fought in wars and had comrades die at my feet. My solution has always been to keep moving, to keep fighting, to work through the pain and be stronger for it. But it's this emptiness. This loss. It stills me. It stops me. I don't have closure. I'll wait forever. I'll search forever... even if all I find is a whisper of her...
...a ghost every hundred years.