"Could you please excuse me?" I smiled politely at another one of the endless strangers who were intent on futilely plastering their faces on my memory.
"Where are you going?" I turned and gave a careless grin.
"Don't worry, Kumiko. I'm just going to take a breather. This is getting too suffocating for me."
"Well, don't be long. You're one of the stars tonight, and they'll definitely want you to pose with him later." She tilted her head in the direction of the one person I had been avoiding the entire night.
"Sure, I'll be back soon." That said, I wove my way through the crowd, carefully refraining from making eye contact with anybody, and pretending not to hear anyone at all. At long last, I reached the entrance to the room, and sighed in relief.
Glancing around, and making sure that he was still in there, I turned around the corner, on my way to the studio where we had shot most of the show.
I opened the door and stepped into the dark room silently. Without turning on the lights, I walked among the props, knowing their positions so intimately maneuvering about them blind wasn't a problem anymore.
Pausing by a couch, I ran my hand over the soft leather, the memories just suddenly washing over me like a tsunami. I plopped down on the cushions with a gasp at the intensity of my feelings.
It was weird. It was just supposed to be a show like any other, and I hadn't even been rather interested in it anyway. If it wasn't for Kumiko, who had this small role in the show, I wouldn't even have heard about it. She thought it would be fun if we acted in a show together once. Still, love stories never ever did it for me, violent or otherwise. But she bugged me about it constantly, pleaded, cajoled, pulled out all the heavy guns, until finally I had relented. Hey, I was just human, and besides, I loved her too much to resist her. At least, that was how it was then.
How long had it been? Years, I guess. I never knew how a show could so completely consume you. Nor that it could change your life. Just a job, huh? Well, guess again.
Maybe it was because he had not been on the other shows I'd ever worked on. He made the roles so real. Before I realised it, before I could do anything but put up a token resistance, he had drawn me in so deep. So deep that one could forget one's own reality, and be willing to stay forever in that fantasy world of make-believe with him.
The curtains dropped in front of the show for the final time yesterday. I held him in my arms for one last time, and then the director yelled, "Perfect! And that's it, people!" We separated amid whoops of joy and triumph, and at that moment, I had yearned so much for one more embrace, one more touch, one more... anything. But then, the crew had surrounded us, hugging us, congragulating us on a job well done. And we had been drawn away, each by our own lovers. Left, not sparing another glance for the other. Because there was no further need... right?...
Leaning my head against the back of the couch, I closed my eyes and let a soft sigh escape my lips.
"Why do you sound so weary?" The soft question, in that so familiar voice, was like a gong.
I bolted upright, hair whipping around my face as I turned swiftly to face him. "Izumi." My voice sounded strangled to my own ears.
"What are you doing here?" He was framed by the light from outside streaming in past him, a slim black silhoette against a white brilliance my eyes could not adjust to immediately after having sat in the dark for so long.
"Then what are you doing here?" I had turned back, away from him, though his image had already been imprinted on my mind. But I could still sense his approach, and forced myself not to jump when I felt his fingers bruch my hair.
"Just... looking around. Saying goodbye." I was glad my voice sounded steady. Now, if my heartrate could just achieve that steadiness too...
"Hmm, never realised you were the sentimental sort, Kou-chan." The playful tone set off something in me.
Jerking away from him, I stood up and tried to get past him. "Don't mistake me for that Kouji, Izumi. That was just the show. We're different, just like you and him. The Izumi Takuto of Zetsuai. Now, get out of my way." Again, I attempted to push past him.
"Leaving so soon?" He backed up against the door, effectively barring my exit. Damn him! He knew I would never ever throw him around violently as I did in the show. "Just what do you want?" I demanded desperately.
For a moment, the silence was thick with questions and maybe, answers. There seemed to be something, a flicker perhaps, of what?... that flared within me before it died out again with his whispered "I don't know..."
Suddenly, he grabbed me and slammed me against the wall, mirroring what I had done to him more than once during the show. "You tell me, Kouji! Tell me, what do you want? what are you going to do? Are you going to just..." He let go of me just as suddenly and spun away. But I realised what his question was anyway. Are you going to just let go of everything we had here?
Unprepared, I slid to the floor, still slightly dazed from his manhandling. One discovered new things all the time, I didn't know he was so strong. Shoving that inane thought to the back of my mind, I focused my concentration on him again.
I almost did not recognise the monotone that ensued as my own voice. "But there was nothing. There was only the show. And now that's over. So we're back to square one. With nothing. There was nothing to begin--"
The slap was swift and stinging, I could taste blood from where my lip was cut. "Don't! Don't ever say there was nothing there again." He was shaking me so hard, but I seemed to be cocooned in a web of isolation, cut off from him. His words seemed to reach me from very far away.
Then I realised he had buried his face in my chest, and I could feel the hot tears soaking my sweater. Slowly, I raised my arms and placed them over those trembling shoulders. There was a strange prickling about my eyes so I quickly shut them and only concentrated on Izumi in my arms until the moment passed.
God, this felt so right, but...
But, I was still under the illusion that we were living in that insane world of Zetsuai, and that was wrong. It would never work in reality, never...
The slim frame I held stiffened, as if sensing my withdrawal.
I steeled myself and gently pushed him off of me, and stood up, making my way to the door. But a hand snaked around my ankle and grasped it.
Taking a deep breath, I prepared to make one of the most difficult speeches of my life. "The Nanjou Kouji in Zetsuai loved Izumi Takuto, to the extent that he would do any number of crazy things for him. But the real Kouji loves Midou Kumiko, his girlfriend of five years. He loved her before Zetsuai, and he will love her after it."
I met his gaze, and the question blazing in his eyes was evident. What about "during"? Did you love her during Zetsuai? I remained silent, just looking at him. I did not say "yes", but I refused to say "no" either.
His hand loosened his grip on my ankle, and fell away.
He was letting me go.
I was letting me go.
Leaving the both of us alone.
I opened the door and stepped out, whispering an aching "Sayonara, Izumi-san."
Never looking back to the studio with that man in the its dark depths, I strode resolutely towards the room where the celebration was being held.