You Without Me Without You
Warnings: Future speculation, characters making out, overuse of Shiki's birthday, non-linear.
Disclaimer: I don't own The World Ensd With You, and am not making a profit off of writing this stuff.
AN: Think of this as several possibilities, or the way things take place in several alternate universes. You'll get a headache if you try to fit it to one linear timeline.
Thanks to Chel for betaing-- all mistakes are mine for making and hers for not catching. :3
Shiki is twenty years old today. Eri turned twenty a few months ago, and if Shiki was a different sort of person, the type she's narrowly escaped becoming, she'd be bitter that Eri's beat her at something yet again. She remembers being irritated about it when Eri was the first to turn fifteen. There was an unspoken difference between fourteen and fifteen. Fourteen was sort of too young to be taken seriously or accomplish much of anything, but fifteen... why, you could be an amateur fashion designer at fifteen if that's what you wanted. You could be anything at fifteen is what Shiki didn't know then. You could be a skateboarder or a music aficionado or whatever Neku's friend Joshua was, or even a seamstress, and maybe none of those things were really the best out of them all. You played the hand you were dealt, and Shiki's really not that upset that Eri's older. She wonders how Eri's doing. It's been a while.
She gets up and she's glad she bothered to make the coffee last night because she needs it now if she's going to be able to finish her homework before class starts. She pours herself a cup, extra cream, a little bit of sugar. Eri used to take her coffee with cream, too, but she'd take three or four packets of that sugar substitute that Shiki's parents were too oblivious to buy, rip them open, and let the not-quite-sugar fall into her drink. Would you like some coffee with your sugar, Eri? seemed the obvious response, but she didn't really tease Eri ever, even when there was an opportunity. Eri's way of doing things wasn't wrong, it was just Eri, and even if she liked her coffee too sweet, they were the only ones they knew that made a daily habit of coffee anyway. It was a thing. It was their thing, even if Shiki hadn't actually started liking coffee until seventeen.
It's not their thing anymore because Shiki barely ever sees Eri, but she still needs the caffeine to get up and get to class and keep her eyes open. She never thought she's be in design school, her, Shiki, who wasn't meant to be a designer, but hey, life takes you where you don't expect sometimes.
Eri isn't in design school. She wonders why Eri didn't apply. She's going to be a teacher, now. Maybe Eri didn't want to be half of Eri-and-Shiki anymore. It doesn't matter. There's still coffee, even if it's not a thing. There's still school, even if there's nobody to study with. Practicality is a wonderful thing to have learned, even if there's nobody to congratulate her for it. She's learned her lesson the hard way to take what she can get.
The phone rings, and Shiki's mother calls to wish her a happy birthday.
The alarm goes off. Eri gets up first, while Shiki lies back and groans. It's too early for this. Shiki closes her eyes and wonders if she can go back to sleep, hoping Eri's going to hit the off button instead of the snooze button. They stayed up way too late for Shiki to happily get up and learn about how to make pants that let the wearer actually look attractive (instead of lumpy, like the effect Shiki's pants tended to produce). Design school was past the point of design school – they'd made it.
Eri puts on her bathrobe, covering herself up if anyone passes by the window and sees her. Shiki throws on an old shirt, scrounges for her pajama pants. Being Eri's roommate is an exercise in inadequacy. Shiki's parents had been too glad that someone was helping her pay for room and board at college, and Eri's parents had thought their girl was learning charity and compassion, helping out that poor Misaki girl who couldn't pay for her own things. Neither set of parents bothered to wonder why they were really sharing. Shiki's found that as long as somebody's got a reason for something, they never look any harder for another reason. There's nothing better to hide a reason behind than another reason. She says she's staying with Eri because they have fun and their clothes have never looked better. The truth is that she stays because Eri loves her.
Eri's beautiful in her red-dyed hair and her silky bathrobe. It never bothers Shiki at all anymore, not even when she's in her own ratty pajamas. Eri's at the top of the class and Shiki's... passing. But she's not jealous anymore. It never bothers her, not even a smidgen. Except for when it does.
Shiki gropes for her glasses, finds them, and stares at Eri from across the room. She pours out two mugs of coffee, gives Shiki one spoonful of artificial sweetener and herself three, and carries the coffee back to bed, spilling a drop or two on the wood floor along the way. Shiki smiles, even though it's early, even though she's grumpy. She knows it'll be her to wipe up the coffee, but she can't really hold it against her. They're Eri-and-Shiki, after all, and it only hurts a little.
Is that Eri? With her arm around that boy? Shiki stops to stare, but the girl doesn't look at her. Shiki looks basically the same as she did when Eri last saw her. She's gotten slimmer glasses, ones that flatter her face a little better, but she dresses mostly the same.
She hopes it's not Eri. It's been a long time, but she's still selfish, and what's hers is still hers. She's not about to lose Eri to a guy, on her birthday.
The girl couldn't have been Eri. Eri would have known she was twenty today, would have at least said a "happy birthday."
She doesn't make it to class on time.
Eri kisses Shiki lightly, touching their lips together and then pulling apart, together and apart. Shiki likes that sort of thing, Eri knows. Shiki is predictable. She likes light kisses for a while before she'll let her kiss you deeply. She'll let you run your fingers through her hair before she'll let you kiss your way down her neck. That's Shiki. Even if it wasn't Shiki, it's the routine they've built up between themselves, something comfortable enough to fit both of them, like their pair of faded jeans that used to be Shiki's and then became Eri's and finally became both of theirs. Eri smiles, her lips on Shiki's lips, which curl up into a smile, too.
For a moment the world is different. Better, even. There's no such thing as jealousy or insecurity and nobody ever invented a way to break a heart. Shiki was a designer and Eri was a designer, and they were both going to be stars someday and they'd do it together, holding hands on the stage behind the catwalk as models wearing their clothes strut and stride in front of the adoring audience, made of sparkles and glitter and glow. Eri grins like a cat and turns Shiki's head to lick the inside of her ear, whispering a "happy birthday" as she does so.
"Eriiiii," Shiki whines, pink and flustered. "You know I..."
"Okay, fine," pouts Eri, kissing her again. Softly. Softly, softly. Then deeper. She runs her tongue over Shiki's lips, then Shiki's mouth opens and Eri kisses her full on.
"Eri!" Shiki says, pulling away. "I'm supposed to be in class in... (here she cranes her neck to see the clock)... oh no, it starts in two minutes! I'm never going to get there in time!"
"Skip with me? It's your birthday. You deserve a day off."
"Eri!" Shiki cries, finding herself pushed backward. Her head lands on the pillow. Eri's not the one with the careful hands, but they've found themselves in this situation quite a few times, and Eri's always been a fast learner. Eri's legs are splayed out over Shiki and she pins Shiki's shoulders down with her hands, kissing her and kissing her, trying to convince her to stay. She tastes the inside of Shiki's mouth, like bitter coffee. It's bitter to Eri, at least, Eri who sweetens her coffee to the point where it no longer tastes like coffee, who sweetens her life to the point where the world is always pretty and nobody gets hurt, the kind of feeling Shiki only gets in the best moments of elation. Shiki's something bitter, if only in comparison.
Eri knows Shiki's not the same as her. Shiki's skinnier and smaller, and gets a look in her eyes like you've killed her when you're just trying to help and you tell her something you don't really mean. She's fragile and Eri is almost worried she's done it again, broke something in her again, before Shiki grins up from the pillow at Eri, with a smile that could melt her.
"Okay..." she says, probably against her better judgment, but with a kind of finality. "I won't go."
Shiki turns her phone on after she gets out of Foundations of Design. She's got two new messages. She dials up her voicemail and checks them.
"Hey, Shiki," comes Neku's voice over pounding music. "Happy birthday. Let's hang out this week, okay?" She recognizes the song as one of her favorites, and smiles. Neku wouldn't be caught dead listening to that on his own. She smiles, and hangs up on her voicemail (the other message can wait a minute) to send him a text message. I'd love to! When are you free?
She dials it back to hear the second one.
"Yo, Shiki!" yells Beat. He's loud, but he's not that loud-- he must be holding the phone away from his face.
"Happy birthday!' comes Rhyme's voice, more quietly. They talk into the phone at Shiki for a good minute or so, him trying to be tough and her laughing. Shiki laughs, too. It's good that she's got friends who still care after five years... even if she can't help but focus on the call that she didn't get.
Shiki turns on her phone. No new messages. "Happy birthday, Shiki," she muttered.
Eri wonders whether to call Shiki. If she remembers right, Shiki turns twenty today. It's been forever, though, and Eri isn't sure Shiki would want to talk to her. Eri wouldn't want to talk to herself. She didn't want to drift apart from Shiki, really. They'd been so close together, her hand clasped in Shiki's, fingers interlaced, no matter what happened, but then the separation just sort of happened, too. Eri didn't really realize it until she was kissing whatsisname behind the gym, him enthusiastic while she couldn't care less. Shiki was spending all her time with that boy with the headphones, anyway, only nowadays he wore earbuds to listen to his music. Eri talked to him a few times, pausing her flights of fancy when he was in her path, trying to get an idea of what he was like. He was okay. It became much less imposing to talk to him after he met Shiki and put away the headphones-- he didn't seem so much like he was trying to force the world to stay away from him. She wondered if the events were related, if Shiki pushed him out of his comfort zone only for him to find he liked it better outside. He was sort of like a big, orange flower, Eri mused, and Shiki was the sunshine.
She's always suspected as much.
She didn't think something like this would last forever, Eri and Shiki and their whirlwind fashion romance adventure. She knew Shiki was too shy to buck convention, that she'd end up somebody's girlfriend and then someday somebody's wife, and that it wouldn't be Eri-and-Shiki, that it would be Eri and a boy, and Shiki and another boy. It was all an elaborate dance, and the dancers needed to switch partners. Even if she didn't even like the boy she ended up kissing. It just happened. Everything seemed to just happen around then, when usually Eri was charging out ahead, bringing people together around her and making it happen. It was just... this boy, or some other boy, or people whispering rumors about her and Shiki, and were they just finally growing up and dating or was it a breakup? Better not hold on too hard to her, better not hold on too hard to you. She saw herself holding onto something that slipped out of her fingers regardless. People change, and if the predetermined path on which she led her life led to some classless young man slobbering sadly all over her mouth, then that's where it led. High school was one thing, but if you came from a family like Eri's, then even if all you thought about was fashion design, then you'd better get a backup plan. You couldn't be the same you forever. She wanted to be a photograph, but she needed to be a video.
Eri got into design school, but she didn't get a scholarship, and, well, that wasn't good enough...
She thinks she'll call Shiki. She wants to call Shiki. She's just not sure she wouldn't be a huge disappointment, Eri of all people boring after all this time. She used to be so interesting for everybody, so pretty and shiny and new.
"Happy birthday, Shiki," she whispers, holding onto her phone like a life preserver. But she doesn't call.
Shiki pushes Eri up against the wall, kisses her hard. Her lips are starting to hurt, pressing between her teeth and Eri's lips like she's never going to get this opportunity again, but she doesn't mind. She thinks Eri would widen her eyes, look surprised to see her like this, but she doesn't open her eyes. Shiki hates taking charge. She wishes that if someone had to be pushing someone up against the wall, it would be herself up against the wall and Eri doing the pushing, but Eri's not herself today. There can be... exceptions.
Eri doesn't look like Eri anymore. Her hair is back to its natural brown, and she's wearing a tame business outfit, shirt covering everything, skirt down to her knees. Bubbly doesn't last, except when Eri heard Shiki's voice over the phone her own voice changed from settled to free-floating again, to something that flitted about like a sparrow so easily when Shiki drug herself through life.
Bubbly lasts when Shiki's there, so she's over at Eri's spending the last several hours of her birthday kissing the girl who'd been her best friend for years, and she doesn't understand why and she doesn't understand why now, because it's been a couple of hours since her birthday began and Eri didn't start this earlier
because it's been days and Eri could have at least called sooner, really
it's been weeks and she was left to wonder if they were even still what could be called friends
months and that was it, they weren't a team anymore
years since the last time she's heard from Eri, and it can't be so different now that they're twenty, not when Eri's been gone for so long, been distancing herself from herself and everybody else that helped to define her. Mina hadn't heard from Eri. Ai didn't either. Eri didn't want to see her then, so why does she want to see her now?
"You know it's my birthday, right?" Shiki mumbles between kisses. Eri doesn't say anything for a while. She lets herself be kissed, lets Shiki run her fingers through her hair, push off the tacky hat that the old Eri never would have worn. Maybe there's hope for this yet. Maybe Eri can turn it around and be her Eri again, because she's lost without her and doesn't really know how to be Shiki without Eri in contrast.
"Hey," Eri says between the aggressive kisses. Eri fiddles with the hem of Shiki's shirt, and Shiki turns red. It's her birthday and once again Eri is taking everything over and pulling Shiki along by her hand while Shiki blushes and freezes. She hates being in charge but she can't give it up. It's exhilarating. Shiki didn't want this, but that's what Eri did, that's what the old Eri did, and maybe there's hope for both of them yet because if they're fitting into their old roles just this once, it can happen again. Shiki's enamored with the way it used to be, Eri, why did you leave? and she kisses Eri again, harder. Maybe Shiki can't let it be the way it used to. Maybe she's got to take charge if she wants to be half of Shiki-and-Eri again. Maybe the point of everything is that she can't lay back and take it as it comes, because that leaves her bleeding on the sidewalk, leaves Eri somewhere gone.
She thinks her lip is bleeding. She doesn't care, if Eri doesn't care.
Shiki takes off her glasses and turns off the light, before pulling back the sheet and curling herself between the blankets and the mattress. It's cold. She's not a fan of sleeping alone, not when she's had otherwise. She remembers when Eri and her shared a bed, either Eri's nice one or her own rather lumpy one, when they worked on their clothes together. They'd stay up sewing until one or two in the morning before they put away the needles and fabrics and curled up to go to sleep. They'd been Eri's Shiki and Shiki's Eri. There hadn't been a point to sleeping separately. Shiki didn't understand what being in love felt like back then. Looking back, it might have been that feeling: in love with the clothes, in love with accomplishing something, in love with being part of a team, maybe a little in love with Eri, too, although that had been beside the point.
It didn't matter. Why bitch about sleeping alone when there's nobody to share with? She was going to be a designer. It was going to be okay. She'd see Neku in a couple of days once she got the time to travel to Shibuya again. People leave sometimes. She'd been worried about losing Eri once, but it hadn't been so bad once it actually happened. There was still Neku and Beat and Rhyme, sometimes even Neku's friend Joshua, even though he wasn't any more reliable than Eri at her flightiest. There were still the guys she'd yet to meet, the girls she hadn't gathered up the courage to compliment quite yet. She was fine. She was twenty today, and her life was under control, and there was coffee set to brew for tomorrow. She smiles. She tells herself it was a good birthday, and look, there's still another message waiting for her on her phone. A happy birthday call? She'll check tomorrow.
She curls up and before she knows it, she sleeps.
"Night, Shiki," Eri mumbles, tired and over, but still full of kisses and love and shine. Always Eri. "Happy birthday."