Sweet So Sweet
"That sounded really awesome just now, guys! We're definitely good enough to get to the Budokan!" said Ritsu enthusiastically, jumping up and pumping her fist in the air. She was still holding onto her drumsticks, and very nearly smashed the light fitting above her with the over-zealous motion.
"Ritsu! Watch what you're doing!" Mio snapped at the drummer. "You'll break something!"
"Hehehe." Ritsu gave a sheepish laugh, rubbing the back of her sorry. "Sorry, sorry."
"You will be."
"Oooh?" Ritsu's eyes widened, and she began to prod Mio in the sides. "Are you threatening me? Is the scaredy-cat Mio actually trying to threaten me? Ihihihi! Bring it on! Ihihihi~"
"S-stop it with that creepy laugh!" Mio retorted, pushing Ritsu away from her. She was trying to hide her fear behind a mask of anger; eyes narrowed, brows furrowed.
"Ooh~ Scared, are you?"
"Of course not!"
"You are scared!~ Mio is so totally scared- look at how her knees are knocking!" Ritsu taunted, sticking out her tongue.
"T-they're not! I'm not scared of you, stupid Ritsu. Humph." And with that indignant, haughty sigh, Mio turned her back to the infuriating drummer, arms folded. "You're such a child."
"Well, I'm soh-ree that I know how to enjoy myself!"
"That has nothing to do with it. We'll see who's laughing when I have a job and you end up sitting at home playing video games and eating potato chips all day!" Mio retorted, giving Ritsu a light bonk on the head with her fist.
"O-ow! Mio is such a grouch!"
"I'm nota grouch. I just happen to take my education seriously. You should try being serious sometimes too."
"No, I couldn't possibly!" Ritsu cried, backing away with a look of mock fear on her face. "Then I'd be as boring as you! I can't, like, even imagine that! Oh my Goddd, the horror!~ Kyahhh!"
It was probably a good thing Mugi began talking then, because, judging by the look on Mio's face, she might really have tried to murder Ritsu.
"It's nice to know you two are as friendly as ever, hehe~" said Mugi. She was giggling in a very ladylike fashion, her hand on her mouth, eyes sparkling with warmth.
"W-what does that mean?" Mio asked slowly, her voice faltering.
"Oh. Nothing really," Mugi replied, still with that sunny smile. Then, she turned towards the cabinet that held all their tea things, and began to get enough plates and cutlery for five- no, four people.
A small frown tugged at Mugi's lips as she hesitantly put the extra willow patterned plate back onto its shelf. It felt… strange without Yui. Every time she set the table after band practise, she couldn't help but think about the extra place she wasn't setting.
The place where Yui had always sat.
Mugi knew everybody else was thinking about her, too- but they didn't admit to it out loud. Yui was as conspicuous as she had been when she was alive, but only by her absence. She was the elephant in the room; the topic everybody wanted to discus, but nobody ever dared to.
It would… bring up memories.
Memories that were best left alone.
It had been six months since Yui's funeral, but she still hadn't faded from their minds. This was doubly true for Azusa, who had seen her slit Yui throat and watched her die. She had seen the knife glimmer in her hand, the blood drip to the floor, and the life drain from her eyes.
And she hadn't been able to do anything.
She'd been powerless, frozen, horrified, like a small bug under a magnifying glass.
Mugi doubted Azusa would ever fully recover. If it had been Mio witnessing a scene like that, she would have gone insane; Mio was too delicate to even watch such things in movies, when the blood wasn't real and the violence was completely faked. It was thankful, too, that the mutilated bodies of Jun and Yui had been removed from the club room before any of the other members could see them- otherwise, Mugi knew Mio would have suffered from nightmares for the rest of her life.
Even though the other members hadn't witnessed Yui's death like Azusa had, they still couldn't forget her, though.
How could anybody forget Yui?
It was almost impossible.
Everything had changed after Yui… passed away. Mugi didn't like to think of it as 'dying'- that put her in mind of corpses and soil and worms eating flesh. Whilst Mugi wasn't afraid of such things like Mio was (death was, after all, perfectly natural- just as natural as being alive) she didn't like to think of Yui in such a way. Yui had always been so full of life. It seemed impossible that, in the space of a few minutes, all that life had just… disappeared.
Mugi noticed, after Yui's funeral, that they practised more; but nobody seemed happy about this. Azusa and Mio had constantly fretted over practising- but now they had the opportunity to do so more often, they didn't really enjoy it. The expressions on their faces while they played were not of happiness or elation; they were completely blank.
It wasn't the same without Yui.
They didn't talk to each other as much as they used to, either. Ritsu and Mio still bickered like a married couple, but it didn't sound as natural as it had done before- it sounded like they were reading their lines off a script. It was almost a pantomime performance, done more from force of habit than anything else.
Maybe that was why they practised more.
So they didn't have to talk to each other.
So they didn't have to think about Yui.
Azusa barely spoke at all. She had retreated into herself, like a tortoise into its shell. When Yui died, Azusa might as well have cut her own tongue out. Her responses to questions were monosyllabic at best. At worst, she would completely ignore whoever was speaking to her, and continue to stare ahead blankly as though she could see something nobody else could.
The others were all worried about her; during practise, Mugi kept shooting the underclassman worried looks and, as a result, messed up some of her parts in songs, even though she'd never had a problem playing them before.
Nobody berated her for it, though. Everybody kept making mistakes while they played- even the perfectionist Mio.
Ho-kago Tea Time still sounded good. After their performances they would always get rounds of applause and compliments.
But they didn't sound the same.
Mugi doubted they would ever sound the same again.
"What cakes would you like to eat today?" Mugi asked her fellow club members, gesturing towards the selection neatly laid out on the table. "I have strawberry cheesecake, lemon chiffon pie or..." She paused at the last cake, sat innocently on its plate. "Mont blanc."
There was silence in the club room for a few minutes. It was so ethereally quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
Then, Azusa's voice- a rarity these days- cut through the silent gulf.
"Let's have mont blanc."
The others turned to look at the underclassman in surprise- even Mio and Ritsu, who had been so engaged in their petty arguing a few minutes before.
Azusa was bent down, putting her guitar away carefully, her hair falling in front of her face. They couldn't see her expression.
"It's what we ate the last time… The last time we were all together…" said Azusa softly, by means of explanation. She still didn't look up, even though she already put her guitar away. Her voice sounded thick. Mugi wondered if perhaps she was going to cry, or had already started; but when Azusa finally straightened up to look at her, her eyes were dry. They weren't even red-rimmed.
Maybe she'd shed so many tears she hadn't any left.
"A-ah, alright," said Mugi, nodding. "Mont blanc it is."
"This tastes great, Mugi-chan," said Ritsu cheerily, prodding her pasty with her fork.
"Thank you," said Mugi, bowing her head. "But you really shouldn't praise me. I was not the one who made it. I doubt I could bake something this delicious."
"Whatever~ You're still the one who brought it in. Without you, I'd never eat great food like this! Mugi-chan's the best~"
"Ritsu, don't talk with your mouth full," Mio snapped.
"Oooh~ Look at sensible Mi~o~" Ritsu teased, rolling her eyes. Then, she inhaled (Ritsu didn't eat in a very ladylike manner; she tended to stuff her food into her open mouth like a vacuum cleaner sucks up dirt) another forkful of cake and begin to eat with her mouth open, very deliberately. "Yum~ Tasty."
At this, Mio flinched a little. Then, as everyone had expected her to, she reached forwards and flicked Ritsu in the forehead.
"You're not funny. It's gross," the bassist complained.
Azusa continued to sit there in silence. Even though she had requested the cake herself, she hadn't taken a bite out of it yet. She clutched her fork so tightly her knuckles were turning white.
"Are you alright, Azusa?" Mugi asked, fixing her worried eyes on the underclassman.
Azusa nodded stiffly. Then, after a brief pause, she began to shake her head instead. The movement was more vigorous this time.
Azusa pushed her plate of untasted food away and let her palm fall onto the tabletop. The noise it made was loud enough to silence Mio mid-rant about Ritsu's non-existent table manners.
"Azusa…?" Mio asked softly.
Azusa continued to sit there.
Then, after deliberation flashed across her face for a few seconds, she pushed her chair back and stood up. The screeching noise made by the chair legs was painful- but the words that came from Azusa's mouth next were even more so.
"H-how can we sit here and eat cake and continue to practise like nothing's wrong?" she demanded. "H-how can we keep pretending like Y-yui-" Her voice faltered at Yui's name, but still she pressed on; it only took a few seconds to recollect her thoughts before continuing. It seemed like she had been thinking about this speech for a while; she wouldn't let her own stuttering hesitation get the better of her. Azusa looked so determined, it was almost heart-breaking. "How can we pretend that Yui never existed? Ho-kago Tea Time isn't the same without Y-yui-senpai! A-and we just sit around and pretend nothing changed… B-but we all know that's not true! Everything has!"
And then, to the other's surprise, Azusa began to cry. Her eyes sparkled- and at first Mugi wondered whether it was a mirage, or some trick of the light- but it soon became obvious it was neither of those things.
Tears were streaming down Azusa's cheeks, and she was whimpering, and her shoulders were shaking, and she looked so small and helpless and fragile it hurt.
Had she been holding those tears back for six months?
She had been dry-eyed and collected at Yui's funeral, and it seemed she'd been trying to forget about the upperclassman she loved so much, just like the others. However. going through the motions every day, pretending nothing was wrong, enduring the sympathy of others who didn't understand her real feelings, and then sitting down at a table with only four places to eat a cake Yui had always loved was simply too much. Azusa couldn't keep up her mature façade anymore; she couldn't pretend to be above grief or depression. No matter how seriously she acted, she was still just a little girl, and she had lost three of her best friends in one go, and she was hurting- she couldn't pretend she wasn't.
She had tried to bottle her emotions up for too long.
And it was killing her.
Eating away at her from within.
Like a parasite.
The others had all seen that. Mugi had seen that clearly; she could see the pain in the younger girl's eyes every time she played the guitar for two people because Yui wasn't there, or sat and ate cakes half-expecting Yui to try and steal titbits from her.
But Yui would never do that again.
She was dead.
They had all tried to forget- to move on with their lives.
But it hadn't worked.
Had they ever really expected it would?
"A-azusa," said Mugi, standing up. Then, without thinking, she pulled the smaller girl into a hug. Azusa didn't resist; instead, she stood there limply, allowing Mugi to hold her, as though she were a doll.
"Don't cry, Azusa," said Mug softly. "I-it'll be okay. We all miss Yui too…"
"T-then why don't you ever talk about her?" Azusa asked, her voice thick, some words garbled owing to tears. "W-why are you pretending nothing happened? I-I… I don't understand… I-I want to talk about Y-yui, a-and U-ui, and Jun…"
The other girls knew what had happened to Jun, of course. A doctor had confirmed she'd been hit in the head with something; and the blood Yui's Gitah had been evidence enough.
Yui had killed Jun.
But nobody wanted to talk about that, either. It was just another dark secret to put to the back of their minds and ignore; something so horrible nobody wanted to contemplate it.
"Azusa," said Mio. She got up on trembling legs, and put her own arms round the smaller girl. "Azusa, we're sorry. We all want to talk about Yui, too. W-we just didn't know how… It seemed easier not talking about it at all… I-I guess we didn't want to upset each other."
"But who could forget about Yui?" Ritsu asked. Somehow, Azusa didn't know how, the drummer had her arms round her too, and it should have felt comforting- it was comforting- but that only made Azusa cry harder because Yui wasn't there.
She was always the one who hugged Azusa, or patted her on the head. Not these three.
It wasn't a group hug without Yui.
"Azusa, we'll always be here for you," said Mugi. "Always."
"Nope. We're not going anywhere," Ritsu reassured, with her signature grin- though it looked a bit wobbly round the edges, as though she was trying to hold herself together to. "S-so if you ever need a shoulder to cry on or somebody to tell… stuff to, we'll always be here."
"I-I tried to tell Yui-senpai that," said Azusa. "I-I tried to tell her you'd help her, if only she'd tell you… B-but she didn't listen… S-she didn't want you to know. A-and then she did something bad… A-and she couldn't stop herself doing bad things." The young girl shuddered. "I-I don't want to do that."
Mio herself quaked slightly at the mention of the 'bad things', but she forced herself remained strong. She couldn't put her fingers in her ears and run off, or sit the corner shaking like a wreck. She couldn't hide from the truth. She had to be strong for Azusa.
Poor, fragile Azusa, who was trying so hard to cope- an uphill struggle that she was losing.
But at least Azusa had realised she couldn't do it alone.
She had realised she needed help.
If only Yui had done the same…
"If you try to do anything 'bad', Azusa, we'll- we'll stop you," said Ritsu confidently. "I'll punch you in the face."
"Ritsu!" Mio scolded.
"What?" the drummer smiled. "I swear I won't let you turn out bad, Azu-nyan. I'll do everything to protect you. We all will."
"Yes," Mugi agreed. "You're not alone. You'll never be alone. I promise."
"Ho-kago Tea Time will stay together forever and ever," said Ritsu.
"Even though it's not the same without Yui… And we'll never forget her… We'll always stick together. We'll always be friends. I'm sure it's what Yui would have wanted; and she definitely wouldn't want to see you upset," said Mugi, trying to believe those words herself.
"A depressed Azu-nyan isn't as cute as a smiling, happy Azu-nyan," said Ritsu wisely, nodding. "Yui always said so."
"Y-yui said that? About me?"
"So you should try and be strong- if not for yourself, or for us, then for the sake of Yui," said Mio. "But if you're ever upset, you should definitely tell us. And if we're upset, we'll tell you."
"Hehe~ Don't agree to that, Azu-nyan; Mio always gets upset. She cried at the end of Bambi, She'll be clinging onto you blubbering about her problems for hours, like she does with me."
"T-that has nothing to do with anything!"
"Mio's such a scaredy-cat," Ritsu teased, prodding the bassist in the ribs. "Ignore her, Azusa; she's no good to go to in a crisis. She'd just go to pieces and cry even more than you."
Mio gave an undignified squeal as Ritsu began to tickle her, and she backed away from Azusa, slapping her friend's hands away with a little too much force. Her cheeks were flushed red.
"S-stop it, you dummy!" Mio snapped. "I am responsible; far more responsible than you!"
"No, that's just an act~" Ritsu retorted, reaching out at Mio with grabby fingers and a spiky, evil grin. "You may pretend to be all sophisticated and elegant, but don't be fooled, Azu-nyan! This is the realAkiyama Mio! Behold as she falls apart before your very eyes!"
And then Ritsu pounced on Mio, her fingers scrabbling under Mio's armpits and chin, tickling the bassist mercilessly until she was half laughing, half wailing, crying at Ritsu to get off her or she'd murder her…
Azusa watched the bickering pair with wide eyes, silvery tracks of tears still glistening on her cheeks.
And then, for the briefest of brief seconds…
Her lips quirked upwards.
She smiled for the first time in sixth months.
It was small.
The smile trembled, like a baby bird about to leave the nest in the springtime- unsure whether it would fall, unsure whether it would fly, but determined to jump out and see what would happen anyway because in life you had to go forward, no matter how worried or scared you were of falling.
There was nowhere for them to go but forward.
And even though they would never get Yui back, they would always have the memories.
It was a tiny smile, really; just a slight twitch of the mouth. It didn't mean anything.
…Or maybe it meant everything.
It was only a fragile hope- but it was still hope.
And hope meant everything.
After practise the quartet of girls decided to go to a nearby shrine to pray. It was deathly cold outside; summer had given way to winter, and the air was frosty. They were all wrapped up in coats and scarves as they knelt by the old shrine, heads bent in silent prayer. They were the only people there.
Azusa's eyes were cloud, puffs of air emitting from her slightly parted lips, as she prayed.
I promise I won't forget you. I couldn't ever, anyway- it would stupid to try. And I don't do stupid things. So I wouldn't waste my time trying to do something so stupid. You know I don't waste my time, and I don't like stupid people…
I'm here just because I wanted to tell you I'll never forget you… O-oops, I already said that, right? Well… I don't know if you'll hear this, but I pray my words reach you, wherever you are… We're all praying for that, too. And I pray that you'll be happy- if you can still, um, be happy- and I hope you've been reunited with Ui and… and you're having a good time. Yeah.
I hope I'll see you again one day. Then, we'll be able to play music together, and eat cakes, and it'll be fun- just like the old times.
But I won't keep thinking about that, because I have to move on. I have to.
I won't let the past hold me back.
I don't know, but I think… if I'm with all the others… I'll be alright…
It was then that Azusa felt something wet and cold drop onto her head. The sensation began to multiply, pinpricks of cold jabbing at her arms and legs and head- and, with a small 'huh' of surprise, she opened her eyes and looked up.
It was snowing.
"Whoa!~" Ritsu exclaimed, jumping up and down like a child, trying to catch flakes on her tongue.
"Ritsu, calm down!" Mio shouted after her, exasperated. "You shouldn't be running around at a place like this- it's not a theme park! It's a shrine. You have to show some respect."
"But Mio, what if it's a sign? What if it's a sign from Yui?"
"D-don't be ridiculous, such things can't happen."
"But what if it did? Humph~" Ritsu rolled her eyes- though she was still transfixed with the snow. She looked around her with a childish glee, a grin plastered to her face she couldn't quite shake. "Mio, why can't you believe in stuff like this? It's a sign, I'm sure it is~"
Mio sighed. "I don't want to know what sort of weird stuff goes on in your head."
"It's not weird," said Azusa softly, without thinking about it.
Mio turned to look at her in surprise. "What?"
"It's not 'weird', Mio-chan," said Azusa. Her voice was steady and serious, but even she was smiling, just slightly. "It's called being hopeful. And I hope that Yui-senpai heard us. B-but even if she didn't, it doesn't matter… I-it doesn't matter, because I'm sure, 100% sure… That we're going to be alright."
a/n: this ending was fun to write :3 I think it's kind of cute, and nice payoff when compared to all the horrible things that happened before XD
Y'know, I originally didn't like K-On very much, and I didn't like Yui at all for being so irritatingly stupid XD But as I wrote this, I began to like the characters and the series more XD It's funny how that works, rite?
And, as I said I would on my profile, I put up a download of all the songs I used for chapter titles in the fic, and some extra ones I used for inspiration ^_^ The earlier songs are very… angry XD But they get slowly more mellow and soft towards the end. I really love the last song in this 'CD', and I hope some people enjoy it ^_^
www . megaupload . com /?d=7PPSSQFH
Thank you for reading and enjoying my fic ^_^