Summary: This should not have happened. It was not meant to happen. She should not have died that day. (Submission to Saba's Reflection's Invincible Competition.)
Pairing: Implied Zakuro and Minto. If you pay close attention, you can find traces.
A brief candle; both ends burning
An endless mile; a bus end turning
A friend to share the lonely times
A handshake and a sip of wine
So say it loud and let it ring
We are all a part of everything
The future, present and the past
Fly on proud bird
You're free at last.
- Charlie Daniels
"A brief candle; both ends burning..."
Zakuro, beautiful face half hidden behind her flowing hair, did not pause before lighting the candle. She placed it gently onto the alter, head bent deep in prayer.
It was a ritual, so to speak. On each Thursday night, she would light a candle. For what is now. For what there was. For what there would be.
The yellow wax of the candle dripped slowly down its side and burnt her hand as she touched it. Zakuro made a small hiss of discomfort, kissing her hand. She knew it was going to leave a red, flaming, scorching mark.
The candle's life was short, briefly lit in the dark chapel as an unexpected gust of wind cascaded inside. Zakuro sighed before picking up the second candle and this time her grip did not fumble as the candle was lit. The red, golden glow of the flame cast shadows around the small church, flickering and sputtering as they danced along the walls. One shadow stood most noticeable above the rest: the shadow of Zakuro.
For a long time, she could be found kneeling and praying, but no one was there to find her.
Once the second candle was distinguished she took another and, forgetting her injured hand, grasped it firmly. On instinct, she dropped it. In an instant, she reflexively reached out to place her fingers around the cool wax. She missed. Zakuro's hand licked the flames and she gasped, the candle dropping.
From a mile away, the wooden cathedral was seen in flames.
It was learned that there were no survivors.
"An endless mile; a bus end turning."
Ichigo breathed deeply through her nose.
How did this happen? Why did this happen?
Her hands, wrapped tightly around the bus pole, tightened their grip. She sighed, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
Her stop was coming up soon: the old cathedral where Zakuro as of lately had been spotted praying.
Imagine the irony: being killed in a place of God.
The bus ride seemed to stretch miles, but Ichigo wasn't sure if she wanted it to end. She did not want to see Zakuro. She did not want to see her... Dead.
Ichigo struggled to remember the last words Zakuro had said to her, her memory failing her. She saw faint memory outstretched before her, Zakuro's elegant face turning towards her own. "You'll be great in life... You have a gift, Ichigo. For making people happy." A drop rolled from the corner of Ichigo's eyes, face fully stained in wetness.
The bus turned, and Ichigo pulled the chain above her so that she could escape from the hellish concubine of her seat. The vehicle stopped. There was no one else on the bus; it was very late at night. Close to midnight.
"You be safe," the driver told her, "it's late tonight. Late and dark."
"Thank you," Ichigo replied. Smiling grimly to herself, she remembered how the team had been in more perilous situations.
"We'll never be all together again," she whispered, voice hoarse from crying, as the bus faded into the fog in the distance. Briskly, she walked toward the chapel. Smoke she had mistaken for fog was still heavy in the air, stinging her eyes. She coughed. In the distance, she could make out a sole figure surrounded by the commotion.
Ichigo had expected to be the first one at the scene; Purin had not been contacted because she was so young, Retasu was unable to be reached, and Minto... It was Minto's ballet recital that night. But there she was; still in her make-up, still clutching her body, still adorning her costume.
"M-minto," Ichigo gasped, "I'm sorry, I'm so... Sorry!"
Minto looked to her and dropped to the ground, tears rolling, eyes pouring fountains of salty water. A shrill cry escaped from her lips. "ZAKURO!"
"A friend to share the lonely times."
Retasu was in shock when she discovered the news. That night, that unforgettable night, would always remain imprinted in her mind. She would never see Zakuro again. Retasu sighed, biting her lip. She had shed too many tears to cry another drop. That day, she had lost a friend. And she would never, could never, get that friend back.
Zakuro was introverted. She was often spotted brooding, turning inward into herself. She only truly came alive around Minto. Minto had been the only one who could constantly bring the touch of a smile to her lips.
And she would be lost without her. Just like Retasu was lost for words.
Zakuro had been quiet. She had been blunt, she was the oldest, always the most mature. She had been most likely to take matters into her own hands, to make a decision. She always stuck by her decisions.
And she wasn't coming back.
The truth had been hard to grasp for Retasu. She did not want to believe that a friend was dead. But friendships often do die, don't they? Retasu had felt like she was dead herself and it was painful waking up to the realization that Zakuro, ever so mature and ever so graceful Zakuro, was dead. But even more than that, more than the pain, Retasu knew that Minto needed her. Needed someone: a friend. And Retasu knew, more than anything, she should see her.
Slowly, she packed her bag, filling it with necessary foods and comforts. The walk to Minto's home was long, and she had to stop for a moment to shed the tears that she thought that she could no longer cry. Licking her lips, Retasu hugged herself tightly. Why had this happened? How could this have happened? Zakuro dead. It was almost too much to bear. Although she knew that she could not change the past, she wished that she could. If only things had been different. If only Zakuro had not been praying, praying for heaven knows what.
"It looks like I'll never know now, will I?" She whispered to herself.
Minto's home was soon seen in the distance and Retasu struggled to put a smile, once upon a time easy to conjure up. Once she saw Retsau, Minto did not hesitate to fall into her arms and cry.
"A handshake and a sip of wine."
Purin's grasp was weak, and she knew it. Fragile. Her hand felt small in Minto's. "Minto," Purin started.
The light in Minto's eyes had vanished, a sheer vague and numbness in their place. "Yes?"
"I'm sorry," her younger friend whispered. She did not add "na no da" to the end of her phrases anymore: the death of a beloved friend was too much to bear, and "na no da" was for happier times.
These were no longer happy times.
Minto bit her lower lip slowly, chewing it slightly. Her voice was quieter, no longer piercing, much softer than usual. "I am too."
Purin chose her words carefully, slowly saying each one before pausing. She choked back a sob. "It was an accident... I, I don't think anyone meant for it to happen."
Minto only nodded, eyes harsh. "I know."
"I miss her," Purin said, eyes filling up with tear.
"Don't start crying," Minto told her sharply, "I'll start crying a-again... And I c-can't--" But it was too late, and Minto sank to Purin's feet, eyes on the coffin. The paparazzi were no longer present, disappearing once coverage was complete. It was only the remaining Mew Mews, along with Ryou and Keiichiro, that still stood crying silent tears.
"Minto," Retasu sighed, tears bubbling in her eyes. "It's okay. We'll all be okay."
"I know we will," Ichigo assured Minto, hugging her gently. Once again, Minto merely nodded her head. The same numbness had taken over in her eyes, and she was cold. Unmoving. Unfeeling. It was almost as if she had put up a shield to her emotions, a wall to cover them. And then, the walls crumbled and Minto was a crying heap once more.
Purin wished, desperately, that there was something, anything, she could do to help. She had always liked helping people best. But she instinctively knew when something could not be helped and Minto could not be helped, could not be healed.
Pudding let the tears cascade down her cheeks, dropping onto Minto's sobbing from. But maybe, just maybe, this could make things better... Purin walked over to the dark wooden table, feeling her feet sink into the flooring. She came back with a glass in her hands, filled with liquid. "Drink this," Purin told her.
"Purin, that's wine," Retasu gasped, but Minto had already taken a sip.
"I think," Ryou said softly, "that one sip will be okay."
The ghost of a smile lingered on Minto's lips, and she pushed the cup away. "Thanks for caring about me, you guys."
Purin giggled through her tears. "What are friends for?"
It was quiet.
"We should leave now," Ichigo said, eyes downcast, adding, "Goodbye, Zakuro. We'll miss you."
Retasu smiled gently, with as much happiness as she could muster, and Purin attempted to hug the picture of Zakuro that was placed on the altar. Minto made a sound at Purin's touch, but fell silent once more.
Ichigo paused before tapping Ryou's shoulder in concern, Keiichiro turning as well in Minto's direction.
"Minto?" Ryou asked, turning around, a frown wrinkling his features.
"I want to stay here for a minute," Minto said, voice shaking slightly.
Ichigo nodded, smiling in understanding. "We'll see you around."
Minto did not know how long she cried for Zakuro to come back to her, but somehow she made it through the day. Somehow, she made it through one day at a time.
"So say it loud and let it ring..."
Minto woke up in the dark; sheer black, pure night. The ghost of a sigh echoed in the room.
Three months. It had been three months.
Zakuro was not coming back.
It was obvious now. At first, it had struck her... That Zakuro was dead. But then, she started to prefer living in a dream world. That Zakuro was not dead, merely hiding. The reasons always changed... Zakuro was simply away on business, her parents had suddenly come in contact with her or that she was trying to save the word alone. Yet the truth was dawning on Minto once more, and reality was coming back to her.
"Wake up, wake up," Minto whispered, hugging herself, "she's gone." The word "gone" seemed to echo in her mind. Choking back tears, Minto walked over to her long mirror. She gasped upon seeing her own reflection.
"I'm a mess," she said flatly. And at that moment, she realized that she could no longer be the ghost of a person she had become. Her friends were worried about her. Her family, always missing from her life, were worried about her. She was worried about herself.
Minto needed to live again, needed to learn how to love again. But somehow, she knew it was impossible. Allowing a single tear to slip from her closed lids, Minto whispered three small words, and a name, the sound echoing. Her voice rang loudly in the silent night, followed by body wracking tears.
"I love you, Zakuro."
"We all are a part of everything."
There was no escaping it.
There was no escaping the ghost of Zakuro. Even in her dreams she was there; she was always there, always. The people were talking, everyone was talking. About her and Zakuro. But strangely, Minto did not care.
Every little thing reminded Minto of her: tea time at noon, dance lessons in the evening and nowadays, six and a half months after Zakuro's death, she often found herself crying. Crying for what is, what was, what would be. Suddenly, it struck Minto as hard as the slap Ichigo gave her when she had not snapped out of it: that that was what Zakuro had been praying for in that church.
Clenching her fists, Minto grimaced before breaking down once more. No matter how hard she tried, she could not escape the memories of Zakuro.
She was everywhere: she was a part of everything.
"The future, present and the past"
A year after the death of Zakuro, she knew it.
Minto knew she was going to die. Somehow, it rang in her: her actions, her words, what was left of her emotions. Besides, Minto was already dead within herself. Her past had caught up to her. She no longer felt the need to live in the present, and did not want to live in the future presented to her: living a life without Zakuro.
Some, her friends, would say she died of a broken heart. It was truthful, defying medical standards, but the truth will set you free, won't it?
Once upon a December, she fell. The tea, once shaking in her hands, clattered to the floor and then splattered out, staining the pristine white walls. There was a whimper, the sound of a fall, and Minto fell comatose. There was an almost hopeful sigh lingering in the air of "Zakuro..."
And then, at last, silence.
"Fly on proud bird,
You're free at last..."
A/N: Ah, now that was rather grim and dark now, wasn't it? Believe it or not, I wrote this two days after I heard about the competition, couldn't found the document, and finally dug it up a while later. Oh wow.
If anyone was wondering, yes, Minto DID die at the end and, you can fill in your own medical reason, but for story's sake it was of a broken heart. Ah, depressing... I've always wanted to try a character death(s), and the contest seemed like the perfect opportunity. Might as well give it a shot, eh? :)