Disclaimer: I obviously do not own these characters. Just the story. Don't plagerize my stuff please.
Now she would have buried them all.
It was strange for her to think of it this way while she lifted the lid and her hand touched the cotton beneath. All the preparations had already been made, much to her relief, tinged as it was with always that slight hint of irritation she felt whenever she thought of him. Yet, she had to prepare one funeral already before this on her own, one more, she thought, would not have made that much of a difference. At least, not while the first had hurt so much.
Yet, to her surprise, it did matter.
The realization was a slow one. The call had been an unexpected one, to say the least. She had, at first, thought it was a rather nasty prank. But, the crisp voice on the other end held neither humor nor sympathy. The car was already waiting for her when she crossed under the torii and looked down to see the black, sleek shape of it gleaming beneath the still bright sun. The city had passed, at first familiar and then, the further the car drove, the less the scenery she recognized.
She had calmly approached the nurse behind the counter. Had rode up the elevator without a sign of urgency nor a show of distress. She had heard rumors of his slow decline, not so much in popularity but in health, so it had not been entirely a surprise that this was where he had ended up. And yet, not until now had he called her. Not until now had she really been in the same room as he had been in since her Grandfather's passing. Since that night he had offered her to go back to the house that would never again be a home and the man who she never again would think of as a Father beyond the title she called him by, they had never spoken. She had never taken a yen he had sent after and he had never bothered to visit or call or write.
Not until now.
She had thought it was over then. Thought she no longer cared that afternoon she stood in the sun dappled room with a rising annoyance that had always visited her whenever she was forced to enter a hospital. She had thought she would not care what he would say or what he would do. There was nothing between them, and perhaps too much to be wiped away by disease or death. Not when life had failed them in healing wounds that no longer mattered.
He had watched her as she stopped, just at the edge of the shadows. Far enough not to obstruct the door but close enough to exit without delay. She had hesitated there, her eyes lingering due to the surprise of seeing him. He had lost weight, from the few pictures she had seen of him before the newspapers respectfully let him disappear gracefully from the spotlight. The shadows beneath cheekbones and underneath eyes were darker, his skin was more sallow and his hair far thinner.
In those shadows, she saw what waited for him to close his eyes.
There was not even the politeness of greetings between them, and after awhile she could no longer look at him. "I'm glad you came, Rei." He had said her name with the same rich timber, yet it still lacked the warmth of familiarity he so easily displayed in the presence of his supporters. Of all that he had been, his voice had not changed. It had strength in it that belied his image and the conditions she had already been briefed on before arriving in this room. Yet, it was still cool and controlled, as if she were a stranger...
And she was, as much to him as he was to her.
There were a million things she could have said then. Some words cruel and some kind, some angry and some sad, some cold and some needy. Yet, she stood straighter instead and tried to smooth the frown from her face. He did not look away from her and she refused to meet his gaze. "You may sit," he finally indicated to the farthest chair from him, as if he understood that she would not sit closer and wanted to keep the physical distance between them as wide as the emotional ones.
Out of politeness, she did as he commanded. They spent much of the night in silence. He never apologized for anything and she never showed any sympathies for the situation he was in. For three days, she watched him get weaker than he already was when she had arrived, leaving only for brief periods of time to clean up and eat. No one asked her to stay nor told her the limits of a visitor's hours, something she had experienced before in another room by another bed. He was still powerful, and even if they held no ties of emotions, the titles still mattered. They spoke very little. He tried, once or twice to ask about her friends and the life he had so little hand in, but her answers were always terse and left little to keep a conversation alive.
She thought, once, his eyes had flared and the expression they wore were disturbingly familiar. It was a resemblance she wanted little in reminder. On the day he died, he had woken her from her dreamless sleep. She hated the hospital but duty, if not love, forced her to stay by him even if he had never stood by her. "You look just like your mother did," he told her. Nothing she had not already known and nothing he had not already said. "Rei," he breathed a labored breath. "Can you come here?" She wanted to refuse but something, in the air and the darkness that stuck to him like an enclosing skin, made her move stiffly from her chair to his bed side. "Your hand," he insisted. She clenched her fingers into fists, this was the one thing she didn't want to do. For a long moment she thought about walking out and never coming back, but at last, she hesitantly laid her fingers over the hand he had not the strength to lift.
He did not even have the strength to turn his hand to clasp her tentative fingers. Instead, he glanced at their point of contact before looking back up at her. There was no warmth or forgiveness on the blank face she shown him, and his held no relief or smiles of acceptance. "You look so much like your mother, especially when you smile," he repeated himself, this time with what may have been regret. "But you have my eyes, Rei," he continued and there was pride in his voice that she had never known to exist. His eyes glittered alert and sharp in the dim light of morning, yet they also looked tired. "And my stubbornness," he added, and though he did not smile at her, there was still an amusement there in the corners of his mouth. His eyes, and the subtle nuances of his face, were things she had not been close enough to witness for a long, long time. It was also the first time she was old enough to grasp more of the things he had never said to her and never will.
The moment passed, as so many moments between them had passed.
It was not long after, but she felt him go as the city woke beyond the window and in the city he pursued at the cost of his family. By that time, she had long returned to her chair and was watching the sun rise over the taller buildings from the eastern windows that decorated that small coffin of a room. She sensed an itch beneath her skin as she felt, more than saw, his last breath take with it the life left in that body. She was suddenly visited by the same feelings she had felt when her childhood self had stood upon the steps and watched him leave her for, what she had thought then, was the last time.
But that had not been the last time.
In the mirror, she had seen her eyes flash in anger before, and the look they had held had been the same look her father had given her in that room with little comfort and even less resolutions. She had realized, as she picked the kimono he would wear for the funeral, that this was forever and surprised herself with the darkening of clothes between her hands as the tears fell. She was taken to the house she had not set foot in for almost two decades, and it was a stranger's house. She stood at the foyer of another's home and came to the realization that she cared still more than she had ever wanted to. Even after all this time, after all the things he had never done and all the disappointments caused by the distance they both kept, she had still wished that he had tried harder.
She had spoken to the other girls over the phone, but chose to stay away from the shrine so that they could not seek her out. Some things, even after all this time and all the terrible, wonderful things they'd been through together, she still did not wish to share with them. She had dutifully agreed to all the terms of the agreement to the funeral. She had greeted the guests that were marked for her father's burial. Had given gifts in thanks and accepted the money given when the funeral ended. She had watched them bury the urn with her father's ashes and she had felt suddenly so very alone again, as alone as she had ever been.
And then she had gone home to the temple.
She had smiled a relieved smile at the friends that waited for her there. She had laughed and hugged them, had looked the right amount of sad and just enough aloof for Usagi to hesitate on asking too many questions. Makoto had held her hand and Ami had respectfully brought her tea. Then they had gone. Minako, she had lingered at the end, and held her stiff shoulders. "It's okay for you to cry, Rei-chan."
And she had been close. She had been so close to saying that she had no tears to shed when she had already shed them in the bedroom that a stranger slept in, in the shadows of another's life. She had almost given herself away, letting go of that bitterness that had lived in the darkness that followed her and the echoes of her footsteps in empty hallways. She had been so good, despite the catching glimpses of her father in the daily newspapers or the screens of somebody else's TV. But, she had instead pressed her hands to Minako's cheeks and said, more gently than she had meant, that the other worried too much.
It didn't explain why, in the end, she had ended up standing in front of a closet of white dresses her father never picked out and stared at them in a daze. It didn't explain the sudden urge that possessed her to start methodically taking down each from its hanger. Somewhere between the first dress and the last dress, she began to toss them away around her room, knowing only that she wanted them down and not able to spare the crumpled ones she'd thrown on the ground a glance. She had collapsed and clutched at her middle when her hangers were bare, rattling gently as the frames bumped clumsily against each other. In the midst of the mess she'd created, she felt the shrine seem to echo with the sound of metal against metal.
She knelt there, hunched protectively over her knees, pressing her forehead to the floor and tried to stop the break-down that shook her body. She attempted to regain the composure she usually kept but it was the sound of her voice, the distant stumbling of sound without words that caught her off guard. Why was she so distressed? Why did it hurt so much that she felt as if she had received a physical wound? Why for a man who had never even been able or willing to do anything more for her than her friends, friends who would have laid their lives down for her without hesitation? Why could she not share this? This one small, infinite pain that ate at her from the inside and shook her in places she never even realized to exist. She had been so sure, so certain that she had wiped him from existence when he first walked down those one hundred steps, got into that car they rode to get to the shrine for the first time, and never looked back.
She had not cried this way since she had cried with a child's bewilderment, after her mother's passing. She had not stood with such solemn, swollen eyes since she had hovered over her grandfather's body, wishing him back to life despite him imploring her, with a voice hoarse from exhaustion and age before his passing, "Just remember to bring those pretty friends of yours to visit me when I'm gone." He had held her hand and doted on her, in his own way, till the end. There had been a smile on his face while he told her to smile back. "Don't ever lose that smile, Granddaughter. It was your mother's smile, but now it is yours." And then she had lost him too, to the relentless tide of time and age and disease. How could this death possibly measure up to the ones that had passed already? How could this make her feel so miserable, a familiar misery she had already felt when those who had actually loved her crossed the bridge of no return?
Why did it matter to her when she had never mattered to him?
She smashed her fist against the floor, hoping the physical pain would distract her from the internal one. Here and now, with her head pressed to the floor-boards of her room, she waited for the sudden flare of unexpected moment to pass. She refused to accept a loss that had long taken root. Why feel abandoned when the act had been done years ago? And yet, tears still fell and darkened the wood with moisture, wetting her skin as she pushed herself up.
Time had passed and evening had fallen over her. She stood before her opened drawer, unsure why she felt so unwilling to lift the lid. The white box laid innocently in her hands and she had only opened it once before, at her grandfather's urgings. It had been her twentieth birthday gift, and instead of a white dress and flowers, instead of a meeting with a stranger over a silent dinner table at the Rain Tree, a driver had come with a signed birthday card and a box at the bottom steps of her shrine.
The smooth, polished rosary with its deep brown and glossy beads were protected by a white cotton cloth within, as she had left it. She removed the strand and held the weight of it in her hands. She had put it all away like the dresses she never wore and the flowers that lived longer than the hope she had had for a father's care, if nothing else. She had briefly wished she had burned it all and buried them, along with all of her useless wishes. They were, after all, only empty husk without even the touch of lingering memories or fondness, their worth gone with the body of a man who barely even acknowledged her.
Yet, she had not done so no matter how many times she had stood before that closest and thought she could, this time.
It had been the one gift that was more like her than all the other gifts he had ever given her. All those rituals that had never meant anything to either of them and none of those hours wasted went anywhere. They had only ended up being just another series of events that had managed to widen the growing gap that had separated them for as long as she could remember. This had almost seem like the most tentative of acts and it had startled her with an attempt that was closer to the mark of her beliefs than she had every expected. It had still managed to miss her heart completely though, because he had never followed up on any of her expectations and this had been no different.
She touched the wood and found no fond memories that visited her, no nostalgia for the past, and nothing to tie her to what was lost and gone. It was just like any other prayer beads from any other stranger. And yet, while she held them in her hands she felt the ache in her chest ease slightly and the echoes in her head subside. The solid strands wrapped around her hands, unused and new. It was not a symbol of her father but a symbol of herself.
She moved to sit at the table with the single small mirror in her room and looked to see her father's expression in her eyes, resting upon her mother's face. He had given her so very little in life, and not provided her with much more in death. She could not forgive him in life, but she had found that she could not forget him in death either. Perhaps she would always wonder what it would have been like to have been loved by him. Perhaps she would always watch with a small amount of jealousy in her eyes whenever Usagi told her stories about about the other's father and his constantly changing opinions of Mamoru, even after all this time. Those stories would even move their stoic Prince to rolling his eyes like an exasperated teenage boy and sometimes she would find herself laughing without meaning to, while other times, she would smile until her face felt like a crackling mask and her heart an empty space. Perhaps, she would always have to stop herself from flinching when Makoto touched her hands with too much understanding in those forest green eyes, because of all the things she wanted to have in common with her well-meaning friend, this pain was not one of those things. She had tried hard not to stiffen more than necessary when Minako hugged her, some times too close for comfort, always asking her to speak or show more than she was willing to or able to. Perhaps, one day, even Ami's respectful silence would not grit on her nerves or make her chafe at the care she doesn't always want and has never asked for.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...
She settled the rosary back into the box she'd never throw out, but she knew as she lets out a shuddering breath, that she would never use them either. Some memories, she would never willingly visit, and some feelings were better kept in boxes left unopened...
And now that she has buried them all, Rei wondered if memories and regrets were as simple a thing to let go of as ashes to the grave.
This story was written for sm_monthly, on LJ, for Theme 1 of the May - Rei challenge: Rosary