010. Part of my 100 Songs Challenge.
Inspired By: Trouble, Coldplay
Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon or the song.
Five times Hiroaki Ishida apologized, and only once was he forgiven.
He isn't paying attention.
Like usual, his head is up in the clouds, thoughts drifting around aimlessly like gusts of wind. The world around him is dull and ugly on this day – rain has washed the color out of everything, leaving nothing but dull greys and browns. It is on days such as this that Hiroaki lets his mind wander, away from the tedium of work and daily life. He thinks about what he wants. He thinks about what he's lost. He thinks about his dreams and his failures and everything in between. He's been through a lot, despite his young age. There is much to think about.
Nothing good ever seems to come out of grey days like this one. Things always go wrong somehow, whether it's something small like leaving his briefcase at home or something far more imperative, like having his wallet stolen by a punk ass pickpocket. So Hiroaki has found that it is much easier to just ignore such days altogether, for they are hardly worth the trouble of getting up in the morning.
Because he isn't paying attention, however, as he rounds the corner on the way back to his cubicle he runs straight into someone holding a large stack of papers. The collision is forceful enough to send the papers fluttering to the floor like a drift of snowflakes. The person he has crashed into falls to the ground with an aggravated, overdramatic, "Oof!"
Hiroaki peers down at the person he has knocked over with mild interest. She is an attractive young woman, roughly his age, with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair and sharp, intelligent blue eyes. The business-like suit she is wearing really didn't flatter her at all, he thinks. She seems out of place wearing something so plain and decent.
She is also glaring up at him angrily, eyes flashing with menace.
"Sorry, miss," Hiroaki says mechanically, extending a hand to help her up. She brushes him off, cool as ice, and hauls herself to her feet without his assistance. She flips her hair over her shoulder haughtily.
"You should watch where you're going, dolt," she hisses. "Don't you know how important these papers are?"
A wry smile graces Hiroaki's face. "No, actually, I don't," he says, amused by this extremely irritable stranger. He bends down and gathers the papers into a messy pile before handing them to her. As he does so he catches a glimpse of her name written at the top of one of them: Natsuko Takaishi. A pretty name.
She grabs them from him with a "hmph" of disapproval, turning on her heel and storming off moodily. She is wearing precarious high heels, however, and has to grab hold of a table to prevent herself from toppling over once more.
"Have a nice day, Miss Takaishi," Hiroaki calls, trying hard not to laugh. "Don't hurt yourself, now."
She shoots him an over-the-shoulder glare that would have made a weaker man flee in pure terror. Then, having regained her balance and her dignity, Natsuko walks away with her blonde head held high, tugging at the uncomfortable collar of her suit jacket. As soon as she turns the corner, Hiroaki chances a grin. He strides back to his bland, fluorescent little cubicle with the slightest smile still tugging at his lips.
Perhaps grey days aren't completely useless after all.
She is dressed in her finest – a head-turning, champagne-colored evening gown that accentuates all the right curves. It is made of a silky material that shimmers when the light hits it just right, drawing stares and covert glances from anyone and everyone in the room. She has even donned her grandmother's diamond necklace, a family heirloom passed down through generations. She hates the thing with a passion (the clasp pinches the nape of her neck every time she moves), but she has worn it anyways, just to impress him.
She wants to impress him.
The thought is as horrifying as it is discomforting. Since when has she sought any man's approval? It seems like just a little while ago that she had declared her independence; told herself that men are more trouble than they're worth. So why now, all of a sudden? Why him, of all people? Why does she find herself caring about what he thinks?
Natsuko glances anxiously at her cell phone, checking the clock for the twentieth time since arrival. Her scowl grows more pronounced.
He is late.
He is always late.
Her fingers drum impatiently on the table as she scans the wide expanse of the restaurant, seeking him out. What might his excuse be this evening? Work? Traffic? Death in the family? She almost snorts with laughter as she imagines what he might tell her. That is, if he ever gets around to arriving.
Natsuko glances at her phone again. It is half past seven – he was supposed to have arrived an hour ago. At this point she has already downed four glasses of wine, but not even alcohol has been able to soothe her. Why she has waited so long for him, she hardly knows. Perhaps there was some small part of her that gave him the benefit of the doubt, no matter how much he hurt her. He doesn't mean it, a voice inside her whispers. He loves you, Natsuko. He'll come. Just wait.
But at some point, even that hopeful voice would quiet, and Natsuko would give up on him entirely.
She pushes her chair back and stands up on slightly unsteady legs. Maybe all those glasses of wine hadn't been the best idea. She weaves through the candlelit tables and happily chattering diners, desperate to get out, until she finally reaches the door.
"Ma'am?" a voice calls. "Please don't leave until you have paid-"
She cuts him off. "The money's on the table. Keep the change." And then she pushes the door open and steps out into the chilly autumn evening. The air is bitter and biting like a knife's edge, and she shivers and wraps her arms around herself, feeling goosebumps beginning to rise on her skin. The wind whips her hair around her face, upsetting the image of the perfect, beautiful goddess that she has tried so hard to create.
She looks up to find him staring at her. A cigarette hangs from his mouth casually, and the ashen embers smolder with the same fire as his eyes. God, those eyes can see right through her. They take in everything with their flinty brown gaze, piercing her soul and igniting a fire in her heart – a passion. She aches for him, and that is her curse.
He runs a hand through his windswept brown hair, sighing tiredly. "I'm sorry, Natsuko," he says, but there is no emotion in his apology. "I got caught up in something at work, and I had to stay a little longer than I'd planned."
Work. It's always work. Or is it just an excuse, a cover? Is he cheating on her? Or can it even be called 'cheating' when they're not even truly together?
He wants her to say, 'It's fine. I don't mind.' He wants her to smile and forget and not care at all that she was just left alone for an hour, waiting and waiting and waiting…
But not tonight. Tonight was supposed to be special. All this extravagance – the gown, the necklace, the lipstick, the manicured nails – they were all for him. And he had squandered it; tossed it aside as if all her effort hardly mattered.
"I'm going home," she whispers into the wind, and turns from him. She can feel the surprise on his face without actually seeing it. He thinks he has her in the palm of his hand. He thinks he can wound her and get away with it, but he's wrong. She's not his to hurt.
"You're leaving? Come on, Natsuko, I said I was sorry." That voice, rough yet tender, sends chills up her spine.
Not tonight, she reminds herself. She stops herself from giving in.
"I heard you." Her voice is cool, leaving no room for sentiment. "But I'm leaving all the same."
She is almost at her car when he calls out to her.
"At least let me drive you home? We can come pick your car up later."
How tempting. Natsuko wavers for a moment, torn between two choices. The effects of the wine have not yet worn off, and her mind feels a little slow. She wants to go with him more than anything. Perhaps it would be for the best. But then again… She knows what will happen if she does. He'll end up spending the night at her place, and she'll wake up in the morning wallowing in a frightening combination of love, sadness, and regret.
"No, Hiro," she replies forlornly. "Not tonight."
She gets in her car and drives off without a backwards glance.
He is left alone in the darkening parking lot until his cigarette finally goes out.
They are halfway through their first dance as man and wife when doubt begins to prickle at the back of her mind. Her smile falters, but only for a second, and then it is back in place, a mask that hides her true feelings. She is supposed to be happy. It is her wedding day, filled with laughter and dancing and love, and she is not supposed to be second guessing herself. So she smiles through her doubt, ignoring the creeping shadow of uncertainty in her heart.
He looks so very handsome, like one of those old-fashioned gentlemen in a black and white film. His smile is filled with secrets, and he whispers promises in her ear with that harsh, mesmerizing voice, entrancing her as they sway in unison. She burns for him, yearns for him, wants nothing more than to lose herself in the passion of his eyes, and he knows it all too well. His hand is resting on the small of her back, tracing lazy circles against the fabric of her white gown and setting her skin aflame. There are dusty stars in her blue eyes as their lips touch, and in that moment she wants so much more. But there are gazes upon them – wedding guests with flushed faces of excitement and drunkenness. Now is not the time for intimacy.
The song draws to a close and they drift apart reluctantly. They are both feeling giddy and anxious, intoxicated by one another's presence, eager to be rid of all these people and be alone with their desire…
Desire. Is that all they have? Just a glance and her pulse quickens, her breath comes rapidly, and a spark ignites within the depths of her soul. She wants him, all of him, and he wants her. But does he love her? She doesn't know. Those vows he had spoken had sounded so lacking. His oaths of eternal companionship and affection had seemed so empty. She had never been able to trust him in the past, so why now? How can she believe that he will honor his words?
He sees the expression on her face and knows what she is thinking. He's always been good at reading her thoughts, as if they were a book for him to open at his every whim and fancy. She hates him for it, for she is allowed no lies while he has so many.
He takes her fragile hand in his and leads her out on to the balcony, where the cool air of spring clears their minds. Neither of them is much for crowds, and the constant attention and congratulations are beginning to wear thin. He leans on the railing, every inch the dark, brooding stranger, and pulls a cigarette and lighter from the pocket of his jacket.
"Do you have to do that now?" she asks, lip curling in distaste.
"… Sorry," he murmurs, and lights it anyhow, taking a deep drag. He exhales slowly, and she watches with a sort of sad fixation as the acrid smoke drifts away, blending into the bruise-like purple of the sunset sky.
This is all such a terrible mistake.
Neither of them can bring themselves to say it aloud, and perhaps she should be grateful. If he can't say it, it must mean that he cares. And that, she supposes, is all she can ask for.
"Natsuko… This is your wedding night," he says from behind his hazy veil of smoke. Not our wedding night. Your wedding night. "Try and enjoy it a bit, will you?"
"… You know I hate parties," she replies, her voice monotone. "Too many people. Too much noise."
His calm eyes are staring deep into the depths of her, contemplating each and every one of her secrets, and the air between them is filled with electricity that could singe and burn. Her heart is beating out a fast-paced rhythm, and she is positive that he can hear it. She evades his gaze, instead staring down at the new silver wedding band on her ring finger, inscribed with some beautiful phrase that in no way describes what they have.
Nothing ever will, she fears.
What they have is not love, no matter how much she wishes it. If he is capable of loving her, he doesn't show it. If he feels any sense of affection for her, he doesn't show it. No, what they have is not love. They have lust, yes, but it's so much more than that. Because she needs him.
And God, sometimes she hates herself for it.
She twists the band absentmindedly, trying to force the heated flush from her cheeks. His eyes are still upon her - cold, calculating, yet brimming with some indescribable emotion that he will never speak of.
They leave the reception a few minutes later by way of a hidden back door, stealing an expensive bottle of vodka that will make their first night as newlyweds that much more enjoyable.
There are lines of weariness on his face, some visible, some not. She sees them all.
His eyes, the same eyes that once made her shiver and tremble with ecstasy, are tired and downcast, steadily losing their captivating hold over her. Now when their gazes meet, there is no spark. There is no passion. There is no longing. There is only emptiness, a hollow place within both of them where devotion withers and fades like flowers in an early frost. It is a place where love goes to die.
She can't wonder where they went wrong, because she already knows. They went wrong all those years ago, when they so foolishly chose to stand at the altar and make promises they couldn't keep. She went wrong even before that, when she stayed up all night waiting for him, knowing all the while that it wasn't how things were supposed to be. He went wrong even before that, when he surrendered his dreams to the dark demon that is reality, slowly forgetting what it meant to be really, truly happy.
She thinks back to their wedding day, when the first misgivings crept into existence out of the shadows in her soul, and the only thing she can wonder is why they didn't end this charade sooner. It's all pretense, that's what it is. The polite dinner conversation, the good night kiss, the bed they share. It's as if they're actors up on a stage, going through the motions of the ideal marriage, trying to convince their children that yes, everything's just fine.
But it's not.
His head is in his hands. Her arms are folded across her chest, as if she's keeping herself from falling apart. There are dark circles under his eyes. Her face is streaked with tears.
They are anything but 'fine.'
"I'm sick of this, Hiro," she whispers, each word toxic and painful. "I'm sick of playing this game. Aren't you?"
"It's not a game," he says, but he doesn't really believe it.
"Really now? You could have fooled me. Did you ever love me, Hiro? Did you ever care?"
He doesn't answer, because no matter what he says she won't believe him. He loves her. He always has. But life has made him into this… thing he knows no name for. Life stole his hope. Life took away his compassion. The harsh truth of life has twisted and turned and distorted him from the very beginning, creating a hollow, warped shell of the charismatic young man he used to be. And because of this, he was never able to give her what she deserved – a happy life.
The guilt plagues him like a fatal disease.
If only he had turned away. If only, when she looked at him with those enamored, uncertain blue eyes, he had ignored her, sent her on her way with a broken heart and a bright future. But instead he had drawn her closer, magicked her away with pretty words and fiery touches, and together they had traversed the long, dark, winding road to oblivion. And now they are standing at the crumbling precipice, gazing down into the endless, yawning chasm beneath them, knowing that there is no way back.
If not for him, she could have been so much more.
She is crying again, and he sees firsthand the damage he has done. Because Natsuko is no longer the strong-willed young woman he met on that grey day. There is no determined glint to her eyes; no haughty way in which she holds herself. She is weak. She is scared. She is broken. And it is all his fault.
"I'm sorry, Natsuko," he murmurs.
Their eyes meet – red-rimmed blue and lifeless brown, and they hold each other's gaze until fresh tears brim up and she has to look away.
"Sorry isn't good enough," she whispers.
She is silent for a few moments. And then… "I've been waiting, you know," she says. "All these years, I've been doing nothing but waiting for you. Waiting for you to realize your duties as a husband and your responsibilities as a father. Waiting for you to realize that life is happening right here, right now, not underneath piles of paperwork. But you never did, Hiro. You never understood."
"I know," he repeats. "I'm sorry."
"Stop it!" she shouts, face flushed and glistening with tears. "Apologizing won't give me my life back, Hiro!"
Her words are like kindling fed to the roaring flames of his guilt, stoking them until they consume him entirely. She is merciless – an angel of destruction, with pain etched on her beautiful face.
She takes a deep, shuddering breath. "You should leave," she says, her voice small and weak.
Hiroaki nods, because it is the least he can do for her. He stands up, feeling the exhausted ache of his muscles, the throbbing pain of his headache, the tired numbness of his thoughts, and he walks out the door of the bedroom they have shared for years. He is glad to go, for now she shall be free. He is glad to leave her, because the rock beneath him is crumbling and he is falling down into his own black abyss. She will step back from the edge. She will no longer wait for him.
She will finally start living.
A small blond head lifts as he walks out the door. Yamato is sitting in the darkened hallway, arms wrapped around his knees, blue eyes blank. He looks up at his father, and in that moment Hiroaki knows that he has heard. Little Yamato, only seven years old but wiser than many a grown man, has heard everything. There is no fear or worry in his young face. There is only sadness, the melancholy of one resigned to their fate.
Hiroaki turns away from his son's sad sapphire gaze, wondering how many lives he has ruined.
He pulls the covers up and tucks them underneath his son's chin in what he hopes is a comforting manner. Yamato is eight years old, but Hiroaki is just now learning what it means to be a father. It's a strange feeling, to say the least, this sudden want to protect this little boy – to shield him from harm. Hiroaki looks down at his son's face and all he wants is to shelter him from the many cruelties of the world. But he can't. Not forever.
"Good night, daddy," Yamato says calmly, in that quiet, dignified manner of his. His eyes are reflective and owlish in the semidarkness.
"… Good night, son," Hiroaki says gruffly. What else should he say? I love you? Sweet dreams? Don't let the bed bugs bite? He vaguely recalls Natsuko saying all of those things as she tucked them in for the night.
But he can't say those things. It isn't his way. So instead he simply ruffles Yamato's dirty blond hair, hoping that his affectionate thoughts will somehow make themselves known in the boy's mind.
He gets up with a grimace, rubbing his aching back. It has been a long day for all of them, and he is eager to sink into blissful sleep and be rid of it once and for all. Their faces keep flashing through his mind's eye – Takeru, confused and innocently oblivious, Yamato, solemn and somber as if attending a funeral, and her, uncomfortable and yet relieved all the same. He thinks of them and a terrible weight seems to settle on his shoulders. It is over. It is done.
The rusty chains have broken, but he is not free.
He pauses before leaving the room, glancing back at his son. He clears his throat, trying to find the right words to say. He could deliver a speech about love, and how sometimes it is led astray. He could ramble on about happiness and dreams and learning to live with mistakes, and hope that the boy would take his words to heart. He could. But he can't find it within himself.
"I'm sorry, Yamato," is all he can manage.
Hiroaki thinks back, as far as his memories will let him. He thinks of the young man he used to be, lost within his own daydreams, slowly losing sight of the future. He thinks of her, watching and waiting as the nights grew longer, wondering what his excuse might be next time around. He thinks of her emotions, delicate and easily shattered, and how he pitilessly toyed with them until the bitter end. He thinks of Yamato as a toddler, asking him to play, and he remembers his cold, callous indifference. He thinks of Takeru as an infant, crying for attention, and he remembers how he walked away.
There is only one answer to give.
"For everything," he replies, and is surprised to feel his throat tighten and constrict as tears threaten to spill from his eyes. His hands are trembling. His shoulders are shaking. He tries to hold it back, but he can't, and he feels so ashamed. Crying in front of his son? What kind of man is he?
The tears run down his cheeks his salty rivulets, and as he tries to wipe them away more and more fall in their place.
"It's okay." Yamato's voice sounds distant. Hiroaki turns to face his son, bleary-eyed and shame-faced, to find that Yamato is smiling for the first time in God-knows-how-long. He looks so much like his mother in that moment, with a slant of light illuminating his angelic face, that Hiroaki forgets to breathe.
"It's okay, daddy," Yamato says, smiling sweetly. "I forgive you."
And that, Hiroaki thinks, is more than he deserves.