He knew what today was. Was it something he wanted to remember? Not entirely. It still stung, like salt in a wound that had yet to heal, grainy and painful no matter how much time had passed. Things didn't seem real since that day one year ago. Things felt hollow, a sea of tepid actions leading up to something that was a mystery even to him. The future didn't scare him but the certainty of the rest of his life without her did.
"You okay, Aki?" Shinjiro Aragaki's voice cut through the silence. He placed a strong hand on his best friend's shoulder and that seemed to snap him back to reality. He expected a lie, some sort of fabrication. Shinjiro expected to be shrugged off with a 'Yeah, fine', but instead, he was met with grey eyes that did little to hide what he was feeling within.
Akihiko shook his head, "Not really." He murmured. It took him a moment to remember that he was back, Port Island Station giving him some sense of familiarity. He sat beside his best friend, the one who should have died almost two years ago. In his hands was a plush rabbit, fabric crisp and clean, eyes seemingly staring into the very soul of Akihiko Sanada. "It's been a year, Shinji." The boxer said simply, stroking an idle finger across one of the rabbit's ears.
A soft noise left Shinjiro's throat. So, he was lost in his memories again, wasn't he? Another Miki? Lifting his gaze to meet the setting sun, he hummed a reply, "Yeah? That way you're carrying that around?"
It took Akihiko a moment to answer but he nodded, "I guess so. Kinda…wanted her close today, I think."
"She wouldn't want that, ya know. Miki either."
He couldn't stifle the gasp, that sharp inhalation. First Miki, then her. He almost lost Shinji too but he had been spared. The two girls that were his world had become nothing more than stars in his sky, rays of sunlight on his face, memories that both haunted his nightmares and painted in dreams with color. They were always smiling. Always. Biting his bottom lip, he returned his gaze to the plush rabbit in his hands. Shinjiro was right, of course. As painfully blunt as Shinji could be, his words weren't far from the truth. Akihiko's memories were very alive, very vivid and just knowing that today had finally come after a year of missing her, a year of being without her, was just too much for him to bare at this very moment. But he was strong, wasn't he? He was a fighter.
"Listen," Started Shinjiro, lifting to his feet. He felt Akihiko's eyes following him, "She meant a lot to all of us and I know it hurt to lose her. She knew what she was doing. She was the strongest out of all of us." He shoved his hands in his pockets and focused his gaze on the sun, watching the reds, oranges and purples bleeding across the sky, "She did it for us, for everyone. You're allowed to feel sad, Aki, allowed to mourn for her but…you need to cherish that gift she gave you."
"Gift…?" Akihiko echoed in a small voice.
Looking over his shoulder, steel colored eyes met grey. Shinjiro allowed one simple word to leave his lips, "Life."
She gave Shinjiro that gift and nothing would convince him otherwise. She gave the rest of SEES that same gift, the rest of the world. It was something she did with that pure heart of hers, something that she had sacrificed her very being for. Sitting and wallowing in his sorrows was only wasting precious time, wasting that gift. Aigis, Mitsuru, Junpei…all of them were making use of their time with a renewed sense of vigor and purpose. Were they sad? He assumed. He was too. However, he woke up each morning with the knowledge that he was given this reality, given this beautiful sunset and everything around it by the one person who couldn't be here to enjoy it. Shinjiro hated the thought of Akihiko wasting even a second of it.
"Don't be stupid, Aki." Shinjiro muttered, "She can still see you, carrying around that rabbit, looking like an idiot with that sad look on your face. Smile. Don't do it for yourself. Do it for her."
For her. Akihiko found himself looking back at that rabbit, back at what he thought reminded him of not only Miki, but of her…maybe it was foolish to cling to an object for some sort of comfort. Shinjiro's words struck something within him, her memory now clearer. He wasn't remembering the fact that she was gone, but her smile, her laugh, her convictions and the beauty that still lingered even if her body wasn't present. Her heart, her light still surrounded them and it always would. Always.
A smile graced the boxer's lips as he rose to his feet, standing beside Shinjiro' In a slow, fluid movement, he returned the little rabbit to the bag he carried, his hands now free to embrace the day, touch the sky and cherish that gift he was given. "Come on, Shinji…I'll treat you to some ramen." He started off with a new bounce in his step.
Shinjiro watched him, chuckling to himself as he fixed the hat that sat atop his head. Once his best friend was a few steps ahead of him, he withdrew something from his coat. It looked to be a pocket watch at first glance, but its entire being was warped and bruised from blunt trauma. A crooked little smile tugged at the corners of Shinjiro's mouth as he looked at what had saved his life, remembered who had saved his life. The way things worked out sometimes truly did amaze him. The little things often did astound him more than most.
"You comin' or what?" Called Akihiko, a hand upon his hip. The boxer impatiently waved his friend over which spawned a laugh, soft and almost ignorable, from Shinjiro. He shoved his hand, watch included, back into his pocket and started off towards Akihiko. March 5th would come and go every single year without fail but the memories attached to that date would never get easier to manage. There would always be hurt, always be that thought of 'what if'? But maybe there didn't need to be. They could be satisfied with the time they were given with her, knowing that what she had done, that selfless deed, had allowed them to live, allowed them to share their love and laughter in her absence. They were fools to believe that she'd vanish that easily. She was always there and she always would be. Always.