Her wedding day is the worst day of her life.
This realization surprises her, more the truth of it than the sheer absurdity. Because it couldn't have been, really. All the tears, screaming, and eventually the devastating silence, only for her to find her greatest despair in the sea of flowers and smiling faces? How could it possibly be?
Because she was blind then. And now she sees.
All eyes on her. Whispers.
Now, 'Such a beautiful bride!' and 'What a lovely girl!' and 'How lucky he is!'
Then, 'Such a precious child!' and 'What a strong, dignified girl!' and 'How unfortunate that…'
A step forward. Farther from the door, closer to the altar.
Where her husband is waiting for her—
Where her brother was waiting for her.
The priest standing up front, eyes darting quickly at the empty seat her mother should be filling, then darting back at her with a twinge of ill-disguised pity. Her father in his place, smile perfectly empty. And the last remaining seat—
She hates it.
All of it. It reminds her of what should've been, what could've been, and what is not.
She looks into her now-husband's genuine, warm eyes. She could probably write an ode to the love and joy in its depths. She hopes he can't see the glaring need reflecting back in hers.
Because she needs to be saved. More importantly, Haruko needs a chance to save.
'I could still save this report.'
It's messed up. He's totally blown it now, and he knows it. This is one of the most—if not the most—important presentations of their careers. But his father got into one of his violent Alzheimer's fits last night. And his sister got ditched in some alley by some drunk bastard. Alibis. He's making shitty alibis.
But a part of him, a part which has been reduced to an inaudible wisp over the course of his life, begs to differ. 'It's not your fault. It's not your fucking fault, no, not ever—'
And the loud mantra of 'Damn, I can do this,' kills it.
So he goes faster. And faster. Until a white van swings out of lane and crashes to his car.
"We initially hoped there would be less damage, considering the relatively intact body. But there was internal haemorrhage from the impact. Pelvis dislocated, femur fractured. Four ribs were broken, one of which punctured his right lung, causing it to collapse. Unfortunately, a stray glass shard also impaled his liver."
Then, the dreaded words.
"There's nothing we can do. I'm very sorry."
And the family breaks down to inconsolable sobs and wails. A tight-lipped man stands by, pale and seemingly in shock.
Looking at the scene, he grows cold. Because he knows he might be…no, he can't. He can't.
The doctor turns to him, gently guiding him away from the bereaved loved ones.
"He's going to be fine."
That is when Mitsui breathes out in relief. "Kami," is all he manages to murmur as he falls on the chair, face in hands. "Couldn't you have gotten that out sooner?"
A gentle smile spreads on the doctor's face. "He's extremely fortunate, considering the extent of the accident. It will take quite a while for him to recover, including months of therapy to regain full use of his legs. But he's stable now."
Mitsui doesn't miss a beat. "When can I see him?"
"Right now would be fine. I should be letting him rest, but hey, the guy just got mowed down by a van, he might need someone to talk to."
Mitsui runs a hand through his hair and stands up. The doctor leads him to the door. Mitsui thanks him and he leaves.
He slowly opens the door, still afraid of what he might see despite the reassurances. 'With good reason,' he thinks as he drinks in the sight of his friend. Leg propped in mid-air, bandage peeking out of the blankets, wrapped up to his neck, one arm in a sling. And his face. Unscratched but badly bruised.
Mitsui plops down on the bedside chair. He takes a few breaths before calling out Kogure's name. No response. He tries again, getting the illogical fear that his friend might not respond, ever. He shakes it off and glances back at him, just in time to see the brown eyes blink and open into the dim room. Kogure looks around, and when his eyes land on Mitsui, he automatically breaks into a smile. But then realization dawns on him.
"Oh shit. Oh, shit," Kogure closes his eyes shut tightly, turning to the ceiling. He flinches at the sudden pain of the gesture.
"Easy, man," Mitsui chides him, reaching out awkwardly.
"Easy? How can I take it easy?" Kogure snaps at him. "We worked so hard for this. And I screwed it all, I drove too fast and I wasn't thinking and, and I—"
Mitsui drags his chair closer to Kogure's bed and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Kiminobu, look—"
"I'm sorry," Kogure apologizes, his voice loaded with the guilt of a genocidal tyrant.
"Don't," Mitsui sternly replies, now taking his panicking friend's face in both hands. He forces the latter to look him in the eye. "It's not your fault. And it's fine. It's fine, and even if it isn't, I don't care."
Kogure is frozen in place, unable to process the new situational development. Guilt drowns him again as he revels in the position they are in, and the words Mitsui has just said.
"You're here. You're alive. I don't care."
The moment lasts a few seconds longer before the patient picks up his eyeglasses from the bedside table. With his other hand he pinches the bridge of his nose and lets the spectacles hang between his fingers, seemingly forgotten.
"He's the one I need right now," Kogure quietly says, eyes closed. "Maybe I need someone who's gonna tell me to get my shit together. But he's…"
Mitsui looks away. "I still can't believe it happened."
Kogure turns to him and smiles sadly. "It happens to the best of us. It will happen to all of us, sometime in the future, one way or another. Sometimes there isn't really a second chance."
His companion's next words are still echoing in Mitsui's head as he opens his car door, turns on the ignition and drives away from the hospital.
"So when there is, we should bloody hell jump on it."
He simply takes the sight of her in. "Ayako."
"Well," Ayako stutters, an unsure smile on her face. "Come on in."
Mitsui enters the small apartment, absently noting the old and homely sofa, the bulky TV set and the pictures on the mantle. One is of the couple's graduation, another of their wedding, and the third of—
"—hope you like green tea."
"Are you happy?"
Ayako blinks twice. "What?"
"Is this…" Mitsui looks out the window, willing the burning behind his eyes to die down. "Your life now?"
"Hisashi, I know this is confusing. To us both. But it's been a long time and you must've had…and I know you and Ryota have already talked." Ayako rubs her hands on her arms, as if a sudden chill has been casted upon the room.
'Mitsui is broken,' she finds herself thinking in a defeated, sombre way. 'We're broken.'
"Yeah," the man finally concedes. With no idea what else to say, he turns toward the door.
"But me. You haven't talked to me. And now I see you."
Hope is a cruel, cruel thing. It might be the sweetest misery in the world. Mitsui whips back and immediately starts to Ayako.
"I've had it all and damn, somehow I always see you."
Ayako instinctively takes a few steps back, trying to digest what she is hearing. Perhaps she's always known it isn't over.
How can it be over when it never really began, when all the needs and fantasies have only built up over the years?
As if talking to the floor, Mitsui evenly continues, "If I were half the man I should've been, maybe there wouldn't be ten feet between us right now." He runs a hand through his hair, his forehead wrinkling as he struggles to swallow. Then his eyes snap back up and he stares straight into Ayako's.
"I can't stand it," his voice finally breaks. "I can't not do this."
No one knows who stepped forward first, but in a blink of an eye the two are at each other, hands clawing and bodies writhing and lips crashing in a raging frenzy thought long buried under ten years. Unfamiliar of the place, Mitsui bangs himself on a couple of furniture before finally swiping the third picture with an unguarded hand. The glass breaks over an old photograph of a grinning, construction apparel-donning Miyagi and a smiling Ayako wearing a flowy white dress over a swollen belly.
Notes: I have very inadequate knowledge of Japanese wedding and funeral ceremonies, so I just made it seem that both are Westernized in this case. Please bear with me and correct me.